“In order to be stronger, we had to make some difficult decisions about closing and merging parishes, but the end result has been a stronger, more vibrant Church across the diocese,” Lennon said. “We are committed to having strong parishes. We are committed to good stewardship of our resources and we are transparent in what we are doing with the assets and the sales of the parishes that have closed.”
Lennon and James P. Gulick, the diocesan financial director, answered questions about diocesan finances in light of the sale of 26 of the churches closed in the eight-county diocese. The closings were part of a reconfiguration that reduced the number of parishes from 224 to 174 between August 2009 and June 2010. The plan was implemented in response to declining attendance, financial hardship, demographic shifts and a worsening clergy shortage.
In saying that the Church is financially stronger, Lennon said that three years ago, the diocese included 84 parishes that were in deficit spending. The number has been reduced to 14.
Details in the report reveal that $7.8 million of the $19.5 million received by the diocese from the assets and sales of closed parishes has been distributed at the parish level. The remainder has been used to pay $4.9 million in expenses, with $6.8 million remaining in the custody of the diocese to be used for the dozen remaining properties that have not been sold.
In addition, there are 14 former parishes that have appealed to the Vatican to have Lennon’s decision to close them overturned. The sale of those properties is prohibited, pending a ruling from Rome, which come could as early as March, according to a letter received by the diocese from the Vatican.
The report shows that the offertory collection in the diocese has been stable over the last five years, fluctuating within a five percent range, with a negative net change of 2 percent.
Lennon used the Museum of Divine Statues as a backdrop for his news conference to highlight it as an example of how the closed church properties are being used to benefit the community. The museum, in the former St. Hedwig Church building at 12905 Madison Ave., opened last April and includes some of the statues and artifacts from the closed parishes.
Among the statues and artifacts in the museum are stained-glass windows from the former SS Cyril and Methodius Church in Barberton (photo by Beacon Journal photographer Ed Suba) and a prie-dieu (prayer desk) from the former Sacred Heart of Jesus Church on Grandt Street in Akron.
Blog Commentary: The Report to the Community, by its very nature, is complex and difficult to digest. Beacon Journal religion writer Colette M. Jenkins has written a clear and balanced summary of the report.
See her full story.