Catholics protest 'big fat mess'
Angelo Ripepi and about three dozen other members of St. Anthony's Catholic Church in Monongahela came to Pittsburgh Wednesday to plead with Bishop David A. Zubik to keep their 108-year-old church open.
“We feel we have an argument,” said Ripepi, 82, a retired school teacher and chairman of the newly formed group, Society for the Preservation of St. Anthony's Church. “We haven't been able to get to the bishop. We get answers from the vicar or a priest. They give us that corporate stuff — downsizing.”
The St. Anthony contingent is part of a growing number of Catholics nationwide who are taking sometimes extraordinary measures to persuade church leaders to keep open their churches.
St. Anthony's, which remains open for funerals and weddings, was merged in August with Transfiguration, another Monongahela parish, to form St. Damien of Molokai parish, named after the priest who served the leper community in Hawaii.
Zubik was out of the office, and the group met with the Rev. Ron Lengwin, vicar general, who said a decision on closing the church has not been made.
Yesterday was the first time Ray Evans, 84, has protested anything, he said, but he holds close the church where he got married 63 years ago.
“When you go there so long, it kind of grows on you,” he said.
Ripepi delivered a three-page letter for Zubik making the group's case, including its offer to provide funding to maintain the church.
“We feel we're not in a merger, we're in a takeover,” Ripepi said.
Catholics across the country are protesting the closing of churches and reorganization of parishes that church leaders maintain has been forced by declining populations, dwindling resources and a shortage of priests. More than 1,350 parishes have closed in the last decade, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. So deep are the battle lines that some parishes have broken away from their dioceses.
“It's just a big fat mess all over the country,” said Nancy S. McGrath, founder of the group, Endangered Catholics.
About two dozen people barricaded themselves inside churches in Cleveland and Akron in January to protest planned closings. The standoffs ended after Bishop Richard G. Lennon agreed to meet with the protesters and discuss their concerns. In March, the Vatican reversed Lennon's closing of 11 parishes.
“Some Catholics are opposed to the ‘McDonaldization' of churches — same size, same color, same hymns,” said McGrath, 72, of Akron who likened Lennon's reorganization plan to “ethnic cleansing.”
“They don't respect the ethnic history of the church,” she said.
Parishioners at St. Anthony's, with Italian and Slovak origins, do believe their ethnic traditions are under attack, Ripepi said. Their annual “Festa” was changed to “St. Damien's Summer Fest” because the new priest, the Rev. William Terza, thought it was too ethnic, he said.
Terza said the change better reflects the new parish, sponser of the festival. “We have a merged parish,” Terza said. “It's not their festival.”
The church-closing crisis is most acute in Rust-Belt states, where about 40 million Catholics are concentrated, said Peter Borre, chairman of the Council of Parishes, a Boston-based advocacy group for imperiled parishes.
“That's where diocese after diocese ... is showing signs of malaise,” he said from Rome, where he is representing two dozen parishes that want to stay open. “You can get a quick sugar high by selling some (parishes) off, but it's not good for the franchise.”
Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers’ Harrison eyes stretch run
- Penguins co-owner Lemieux snuffs rumored rift with Crosby
- Starkey: Artie Rowell’s incredible odyssey
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin ends practice with third-down work
- Emotional send-off awaits Pitt seniors
- Michigan State takes bumpy road to finale against Penn State
- House fire displaces family of 6 in Somerset County
- HS highlight reel: Pair of title games to be on tape delay Saturday
- Gorman: Thomas Jefferson quarterback Kelley savors run after injuries, illness
- Palestinian artist who appealed blasphemy sentence of 800 lashes, prison sentenced to execution
- Pirates sign free agent 1B-OF Goebbert, RHP Webster