Bishop Monforton gave an interview to Crux back on January 26 about the future of the Diocese of Steubenville. Not much new was said, but some of the phrasing is interesting, and the question, “ok, so now what” still hasn’t been answered.

Though just today the Diocese announced that an audit of the Diocesan books is underway.

Sticking with the audit for a moment, we’re told that officials from the dioceses of Youngstown, Columbus, and Cincinnati will be involved, and Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, our metropolitan down in Cincinnati, will be the facilitator.

No timetable is set for the results, but we can hope that the findings will be shared with the faithful. Bishop Monforton used a poor financial position of the Diocese as one of his reasons for seeking to suppress the Diocese, but at the same time he insisted that the Diocese is financially stable… “for now.”

To our knowledge, Bishop Monforton has not released the actual financial numbers to anyone, even to the other Ohio bishops, so everyone has been going on his word. Hopefully this audit will show that the Diocese is stronger and more stable than previously believed.

Now, regarding the interview given to Crux. An important passage from early on in the article:

“Absolutely not,” Monforton said when asked if a merger was inevitable. “Everything is on the table.”

“I’m going to see what the future holds at this point, so I’m not going to say I’m holding steadfastly towards a merger,” he continued. “I’m just stepping back. That’s the best way to take a look at it, and to see just exactly how we continue to proceed forward in looking at the diocese.”

So a merger is no longer “inevitable.” Taking His Excellency at his word, that is progress. Back in October, he said that the survey he authorized was just giving the faithful of the Diocese a “chance to vent” as he was metaphorically closing the windows and selling the furniture.

So all options are on the table. Great.

But then the article says that the bishop still hasn’t spoken to the leadership of Franciscan University of Steubenville about this possibility. The given reason is that, since the University is owned by the Franciscans Third Order Regular of the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, the merger shouldn’t affect the University at all.

On its face that is a puzzling explanation, and the failure to talk to FUS is itself puzzling.

FUS is one of the more significant Catholic institutions in the nation. It brings in students and their families from all over the nation and the world. Religious communities from around the world send students, and many set up communal houses within the Diocese. Some of the best catechists, theologians, and activists within the Catholic sphere work at or are connected to Franciscan University.

The idea that FUS, its faculty, and its student body would neither be affected by the loss of a local diocese, nor would have anything to contribute to developing a plan to save the Diocese just boggles the mind.

The next part of the article goes into what Bishop Monforton has been doing about this potential merger since November when he asked the USCCB to remove the vote about the merger to be removed from the fall meeting docket.

That list is kinda short: he’s talked with the Vatican and Archbishop Schnurr, and it says he’s spoken with some of the consultative bodies within the Diocese, though it doesn’t say which.

Then it says that he is taking seriously the responses to the survey the Diocese put out in November. I hope everyone gave their frank and helpful feedback to that survey, because one of Bishop Monforton’s final comments is certainly true: “doing nothing is not an option.”

No, and I hope His Excellency will truly call on the people of God in this Diocese to work toward a new springtime of the faith within the 13 counties of the Diocese of Steubenville.

Again: with the resources and energy of the faithful associated with Franciscan University and the many Catholic institutions that are in this Diocese because of the University, I’d be shocked if the energy, creativity, and desire weren’t present in this Diocese to do what is needed to keep our Diocese.