OSV News published a letter submitted to them by “a priest in a diocese near the Diocese of Steubenville.” It is billed as “An open letter to the priests of the Diocese of Steubenville, and, as you read it, you’ll note the anxiety that this priest admits to concerning this “template” for the extinctive merger of smaller dioceses.
Two notes: first, note that this priest retains his anonymity. Is that to avoid retribution from his own bishop? We know that priests, by and large, do not trust their bishops to have their, or their diocese’s best interests at heart. That’s a massive problem for the Church, especially since the same study shows that bishops overwhelmingly think they’re doing a great job.
Second, as I predicted in a previous post, this priest admits that the way this process carried out — among the bishops, who discussed it amongst themselves, over more than a year, only coming to the clergy and laity at the last minute — is terrifying for priests in other smaller dioceses. Steubenville has a much higher rate of Mass attendance among Catholics, a higher percentage of the overall population that is Catholic, a higher priest-to-faithful ratio than other dioceses, hasn’t suffered a terrible sexual abuse crisis (though we recently learned that Bishop Monforton is subject to two Vos Estis investigations), and the Diocese of Steubenville is financially solvent even after the $4 million financial scandal.
Not many dioceses can boast that kind of stability and fervent faith among the laity. Indeed, Columbus — the diocese we are supposed to be merged into — will close up to 20 percent of its parishes next summer!
Understandably, this terrifies priests in other dioceses that are less well-off than we. If this secretive, non-consultative, non-synodal, non-listening process is the “template,” how many more dioceses are already on the chopping block though the clergy won’t know it for another year or so.
This effort by the bishops to suppress one of the more healthy and vibrant dioceses in the country already is causing ripples throughout the Church in America. Should it be fully carried out, should our local Church be smothered by her bishop, I expect we’ll see more such moves in the not-too-distant future.
Lord, please send us true shepherds after your own heart, to be little with us, to love and pastor us and be among us, men who despise the corporate pleasures and status, who lose themselves in their office, and who never forget that they are here to serve, not to be served.