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St. Bruno's faithful plead with Vatican

| Friday, Aug. 2, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Members of one of the oldest parishes in the Roman Catholic Greensburg Diocese have appealed to the Vatican to overturn Bishop Lawrence Brandt's decision to remove a popular pastor and place the church under the administration of another parish.

More than 100 parishioners of St. Bruno's Catholic Church in South Greensburg joined in the appeal to the Congregation for the Clergy, a ruling body for administrative issues relating to priests and parishes, to stop what they fear is the first step toward closing the 94-year-old church that has been staffed by Benedictines from St. Vincent Archabbey since it began as a mission in the early 1900s.

Diocesan spokesman Jerry Zufelt said Brandt is aware of the appeal but does not know any details.

But one expert believes St. Bruno's parishioners face an uphill battle.

“There are probably very few that are overturned,” said J. Ritty, a canon lawyer from Feura Bush, N.Y.

He said bishops usually merge smaller parishes with larger ones to avoid closing them. It's a move that makes the Vatican less inclined to overturn such a ruling, Ritty said.

Parishioners of five churches in Fayette County that were merged into St. Francis of Assisi Parish also have appealed to the Vatican to keep their churches open.

The diocese also closed St. Boniface in Acme and St. Hedwig in Smock in Fayette County.

St. Bruno member Mark Parker of Greensburg said a committee of parishioners negotiated with Brandt in hopes of reversing the decision, but the discussion was futile. Parker said parishioners then hired a canon lawyer from New York to file the appeal, which was sent Wednesday to Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, who heads the Congregation of the Clergy, which oversees the legislation governing organizations of priests worldwide.

The appeal argues that Brandt's actions signal “an intention to eventually close the parish.”

“Throughout the entire process of learning about the changes and the lack of results from a meeting with the bishop and representatives from St. Bruno, there was an attitude of ‘them versus us.' The representatives for the parishioners were treated condescendingly,” the appeal states. “The bishop and his representatives at the meeting stated there was no guarantee that St. Bruno would remain open upon the bishop's imminent retirement.”

Brandt will turn 75 next year and faces mandatory retirement under church rules.

Ritty said the documents sent to Rome technically are not an appeal but a process formally known as “hierarchal recourse.” Canon law requires parishioners to meet with the bishop as the first step in persuading him to reverse a decision. If that fails, the matter is sent to the Congregation of the Clergy at the Vatican.

If the recourse is rejected, St. Bruno parishioners could appeal their case to the Apostolic Signatura in Rome, which acts as a type of supreme court.

“But there has to be cause (to move the case along) at each level,” Ritty added.

Parker said the changes are “financially devastating and demoralizing” to longtime St. Bruno members.

“This move in one sweep drastically cut St. Bruno's collections by almost two-thirds and is driving parishioners away from our parish,” Parker said.

Leroy Ferri, 73, of Greensburg was baptized in St. Bruno's.

“I was hatched there, I was matched there, and I will be dispatched there,” he said. “People of the church are devastated.”

Ferri said diocese officials have not explained why the three Benedictine priests were removed from the parish when the diocese attributed recent organizational changes in part to a critical shortage of priests.

Ferri said St. Bruno Parish grew by 120 families under the former pastor, the Rev. Martin Bartel, and has a budget surplus of $600,000.

Bartel is the former president of St. Vincent College near Latrobe. This summer, Brandt removed Bartel and two assistant pastors from St. Bruno and placed the church under administrative control of St. Paul's in the Carbon section of Hempfield.

In July, Bartel was named administrator of St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church in Aliquippa, Beaver County.

Kim Metzgar, public relations director at St. Vincent Seminary, said in June that Bartel had served at St. Bruno for a five-year term, beginning in 2008. It is typical for the bishop to transfer priests to a new parish for a five-year term, she said.

Benedictine priests still serve at parishes in Vandergrift, Youngstown, Hempfield and at St. Vincent Basilica in Unity, Zufelt said.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or at

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