While everyone's hopefully enjoying some Christmas downtime, even the Octave isn't stopping the US docket's most frenetic period of activity in nearly a decade.
At Roman Noon on this fourth day of Christmas, the Pope accepted the early retirement of Bishop Richard Lennon of Cleveland three months before the latter's 70th birthday. While the Boston-born prelate suffered a significant heart attack earlier this year – and has reportedly begun to struggle with "memory issues" – the move brings a rapid end to an extraordinarily fraught tenure marked by significant upheaval in the 700,000-member diocese, Ohio's largest local church (and once again a City of Champions).
In tandem with the move, as no permanent successor was immediately named, the Holy See has tapped Bishop Daniel Thomas of Toledo to temporarily lead the neighboring fold to his east as apostolic administrator. Once the lead staffer for English-language appointments at the Congregation for Bishops, the choice of the energetic, ever-sunny Philadelphia native signals an intent for the extensive local report on the state of the diocese (the first step in the search for its next occupant) to be handled with an expert's speed and an outsider's objectivity, thus increasing the odds for a permanent pick to emerge as soon as possible. (Just to avoid any confusion, Thomas remains at the helm of the Toledo diocese, doubling up his workload with the Cleveland post until Lennon's replacement is installed.)
Upon his appointment to the shores of Lake Erie in 2006, Lennon arrived marked by two experiences that yielded a reputation for storms: overseeing the Boston church as apostolic administrator between the collapse of Cardinal Bernard Law's tenure and the arrival of then-Archbishop Seán O'Malley, then leading the charge as vicar-general on the quick push to close nearly 70 Boston parishes as the embers of the scandals still smouldered.
In Cleveland, the second act proved no less eventful as Lennon's 2009 plan to consolidate 50 parishes – most of them early 20th century ethnic holdovers in a drastically changed city – saw him pilloried and heckled at practically every turn, then made to undergo an Apostolic Visitation on his stewardship of the diocese given what's been termed an unparalleled level of complaints sent both to Rome and the Nunciature in Washington.
Despite surviving the Vatican probe, part of which saw 11 of his closings reversed by the Holy See (and, in a rarity, the parishes fully reopened), Lennon's attempts at mending relationships in its wake seemed to come too late. In one especially bitter example, after a priest who formed an "independent community" with most of his closed parish got the result they wanted – the closing's nullification by Rome – they still refused to return, even despite the cleric's excommunication in 2013.
Though the bishop's friends invariably lament "the hand" he was made to deal with in both cities, such was Lennon's profile as a controversy-magnet in Boston that – following a bruising first three years that once saw O'Malley publicly express his prayer "that the Lord will take me home" – the confluence of the former's departure within weeks of the Capuchin's reception of the red hat is just as frequently seen as the critical moment that began turning the tide of the archdiocese. Much as with Newark – where, in an unprecedented moment for the Stateside church, a cardinal will be installed next week as archbishop – the priority for Cleveland's next bishop is on turning the page, as well as affirming the church's historically strong charitable and community presence on a struggling turf.