CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Members of each of the 12 northeast Ohio Catholic churches ordered reopen by the Vatican have started to hold private meetings with Bishop Richard Lennon about what happens next for each of their parishes.
A delegation from St. Barbara Church on Dennison Avenue in Cleveland was first to meet with the Bishop on Tuesday.
Michael Minnich described the tone of the meeting as “cordial” and “informal,” telling Fox 8 News that there was a great deal of give and take between the church representatives and the Bishop.
Minnich said the Bishop seemed particularly interested in hearing about the experience each member of the delegation has had at their church in the past and what their expectations are for the future.
But he said there is no exact timetable for actually reopening the doors of the church .
“Everything we had questions about, they answered,” said Minnich, who added that the Bishop did mention that the diocese is not subsidizing the parishes once they do reopen.
Minnich said the Bishop was also interested in the specific needs of the parish, which has historically had a large polish congregation.
On Wednesday, Lennon met with members of St. Adalbert Church on East 82nd Street, and later with members of St. James in Lakewood.
“He’s very pleasant,” said Phillis Fuller Clipps, of St. Adalbert, following their meeting. “We laughed, we joked. He’s very forthcoming ... very open, very honest.”
The St. Adalbert representatives said Lennon asked and answered many of the same questions he did for representatives of St. Barbara, again making sure everyone knows the process of getting the churches reopen will still take some time.
Diocese spokesman Bob Tayek says the money each of the churches had when they closed has been held in escrow and will be returned to the churches along with the relics that were removed after they were closed.
But St. Adelbert’s money was given to the church’s school so questions remain about what will be done with their finances to start.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Fuller Clipps, who added the church delegations are up to the challenge.
“We had a very productive meeting. We talked about where we had been, where we will go and what we expect to see. We know that there is a lot of work ahead of us, and we and the Bishop and his staff are very encouraging,” said Fuller Clipps.
She acknowledged that since the 12 churches closed their doors two years ago, some of their members have moved on to other parishes, others have died, and some will not be returning for one reason or another.
Brother Tom Bowman, also a member of the St. Adalbert delegation, said he was very encouraged by their meeting.
“We're hoping that things proceed as quickly as possible,” Bowman told Fox 8 News.
Referring to the Bishop’s interest in finding the right pastor for each of the parishes, Bowman said, “I don't think we are being boiler plated. There's a general plan, but again, in a sense he’s looking at each parish, their needs and we are very happy about that.”
Among the members of St. James to meet with the Bishop Wednesday afternoon was Darlene Hood.
“I think that we are encouraged by the fact that we at least have a meeting, you know, because up until this time, we have not had a chance to sit down and talk,” said Hood prior to their meeting.
“I have to say it was very understanding. He was very gracious to us, a nice exchange, nice conversation,” said Minnich. “Nothing intimidating.”
Parties from each of the first three churches to hold meetings with the Bishop say he plans to hold additional meetings with them to keep them informed of their progress.