Monday, August 16, 2010


Eternal Optimist read an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer about St. Peter's, a Catholic parish in downtown Cleveland that has decided to defy its bishop by retaining its worship services at a new building after the bishop closed the church. Of course the article's viewpoint is a kind of sympathetic "power to the people" "democracy in action" take. To be expected. The bishop wouldn't comment for the article, which meant all the talking was done by the priest and his congregation.

St. Peter's in Cleveland

Lots of dioceses around the country are merging parishes and closing churches, usually because the parishes and their dwindling congregations can no longer afford to stay open. The closings usually affect inner city parishes, because they are older, their populations have moved or are aging, and they have big, old, expensive buildings to support. They can't make it financially. The closings are usually unpopular and often face vocal opposition.

The bishops take enormous flak for these decisions. I am relatively sure none of them like or enjoy closing churches. The congregations are not simply turned out into the street. Parishes are typically merged with other parishes, and one of the priests involved may lose his pastoral role and be reassigned elsewhere.

The Cleveland situation is made more painful by the open disobedience of a priest. The bishop directed that the congregation not celebrate mass except in a church or other location authorized by the bishop. Under church rules, this is the bishop's right. The priest and the congregation have decided to disobey.

My suggestion to the priest and his congregation is that they are now "protestant." They've found something they can't tolerate about the Catholic church, and are now in revolt.

Famous Protestant.

Having lived most of my life as a Protestant, here are some things you may want to iron out before they become problems. You will be amazed at how quickly they come up.
  • Your priest is now your new Pope. Or something more like a Pope than he was before. That is, there will be some type of authority structure in your church. The question is typically "who," not "whether."
  • From whence does his authority arise?
  • If from his personal virtue, that's good, except who determines what is virtuous? Do you use the norms of the Church? Why?
  • If from God's anointing, when and where?
  • At some point he will exercise some authority to balk someone's good idea for reasons that seem unconvincing to you. What happens then?
  • Why him? Why not a Council of Elders? A Board of trustees? Presbyters? No one?
  • Why not you?
  • What happens when he dies?
  • Bible still authoritative? Why? Historically the Catholic Church wrote and selected the books of the New Testament. Does that part of Church law still apply? Which parts do and don't, and why?
These and many more questions will arise and have to be ironed out. All of them, and 10,000 besides, have vexed Protestantism since its advent in the 16th century.

Another Famous Protestant. Different denomination.

I wish you all well on your journey, and hope you find what you are looking for. My long and painful experiences with church splits suggest otherwise. There are presently about 30,000 separate Protestant denominations out there. So chances are you'll get to experience more than one split during your Protestant career.

Each split will leave its own, distinct taste of bitterness in your mouth, its own distinct aroma of failure.

Double Ditto.

A little insight on how this usually pans out. Some of you will wind up back in Catholic Church, some in a dwindling congregation under an increasingly irascible and bitter former priest, some in another Protestant congregation, and some in no church at all.

Neither Famous Protestant nor famous
Enlightenment Philosopher.

I don't wish this on anyone. But experience - unfortunately, copious amounts of painful experience - tells me I'm right.

Peace be with you all. God has a wonderful way of bringing his children home to himself by ways as diverse as they are mysterious.

PS: A Navy ship saves a man on a desert island, where he has lived for 3 years by himself. The man proudly shows the captain all he has built in order to survive and even thrive. The captain is quite impressed with the man's expansive palm hutch, which contains a kitchen, dining room, living room, bath and two bedrooms.

The captain sees another, even bigger grass hutch a little way down the path. The captain asks what the building is and the man responds warmly "that's my church." The captain sees another grass hutch nearby and asks what it is. The man's lips tighten and he says "that's my old church."

1 comment:

  1. I pretty much agree. Unless something truly heretical is going it's usually best to stay where you are and work toward improving things. Of course, the problem is deciding what is truly heretical. God bless our country which allows us the freedom to figure it all out ourselves!