Clergy will report to Vatican on Cleveland bishop

By Meghan Barr

Associated Press

Published: Monday, July 11 2011 7:00 p.m. MDT

CLEVELAND — A Roman Catholic bishop in Cleveland who has publicly battled with parishioners over church closings said Monday that another bishop is visiting Ohio on behalf of the Vatican to investigate his performance.

Cleveland Bishop Richard Lennon said Monday that he asked the Most Rev. John Smith of Trenton, N.J., to visit northeast Ohio this week for an "objective assessment" of his leadership. Lennon, who has overseen the closings of 50 churches in the Cleveland diocese during the past two years, has clashed repeatedly with Catholics who tried to thwart the closings.

"While I am confident that I am faithfully handling the responsibilities entrusted to me, I personally made this request earlier this year because a number of persons have written to Rome expressing their concerns about my leadership of the diocese," Lennon said in a statement. "This visit will be an opportunity to gather extensive information on all aspects of the activities of the diocese and will allow for an objective assessment of my leadership."

Lennon did not specify how long the visit would last, but said Smith would submit a report to the Vatican afterward. The Trenton diocese declined to comment on the visit.

Lennon, who became bishop of Cleveland in 2006 after overseeing church closings in Boston, is viewed by many Catholics as an outsider who was brought in solely to shut down churches. A group called Endangered Catholics, which opposes the closings, has demanded the appointment of a bishop to oversee Lennon's work.

Amid rising anger from parishioners, Lennon canceled plans for some farewell Masses and warned congregations not to set up "renegade" churches. When the bishop did attend Mass, he was often escorted by police officers.

The massive downsizing of mostly older, ethnic parishes was decreed by the diocese because of falling attendance, a priest shortage and financial problems.

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