Many of us first heard about this potential suppression of the Diocese of Steubenville on Monday, October 10 when The Pillar reported about the meeting Bishop Monforton planned for that evening with diocesan clergy and staff. That meeting did happen.
The Pillar ran a new report yesterday, including quotes from diocesan priests, and new details that were not in the previous report. Some of them are rather shocking.
First is the Vos Estis investigation. The only sexual abuse instance I’m aware of is Fr. Foxhoeven down in Athens. We had been reasonably sure that Bishop Monforton had been pretty good on this topic. Perhaps we were mistaken.
Second is the situation with our cathedral. At present we don’t have one. Within the past year, Bishop Monforton pulled the plug on the renovation, already underway, of Holy Name Cathedral. This was understandable, given to the financial hit the Diocese took when we found out our previous vicar general and comptroller had embezzled a lot of money. It’s hard for a poor diocese to rebound from something like that. Hard, but not impossible.
So why did the Bishop bother announcing that he was pulling the plug on the Holy Name Renovation if he was actively working to suppress the Diocese? He had to have known the consternation this would cause at the other parishes that would be on the short list to take on that role. Rather than announce that Holy Name is dead and begin listening sessions and discussion about where to move the cathedral why not just let the Holy Name renovation project die with the Diocese he was acting to kill?
Next interesting revelation is on the timeline. The Pillar reports:
In an Oct. 11 interview, Monforton told The Pillar that he began speaking with apostolic nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre and the Vatican Congregation for Bishops about the prospect of merging the Steubenville diocese more than 18 months ago. The bishop subsequently confirmed that the bishops of Ohio voted approvingly of the plan – in a consultative vote required by the Vatican – in September 2021.
So the overall process began more than 18 months ago, when he approached the nuncio and the Vatican about the possibility, and the vote with the other bishops of Ohio was in September of last year. All we had been told up to this point was that the process started more than a year ago, and the bishops of Ohio voted.
One important note: Bishop Fernandes of Columbus — the bishop most directly affected by this merger — was not yet bishop of Columbus when that vote was made.
But then the next paragraphs get interesting.
The bishop said that pastoral demands on his aging presbyterate had caused him to begin a process of consulting with a small group of trusted friends.
“I talked with my vicar general and just some advisors – local entrepreneurs and business people – about what we saw in the diocese 10 years from now, and that’s what’s governed my decision. Right now we can still rub two nickels together, but barely. Ten years from now, it’ll be a totally different story.”
“I have a few friends here in Steubenville that are entrepreneurs. And they’re the ones who really shed light on our employment situation here. And, you know, we can either sugarcoat, or, you know, do people want the truth? So they were very instrumental [in the decision],” Monforton added.
To date we were told that no one in the Diocese at all was consulted on the matter. Maybe some people who had been sworn to secrecy simply haven’t said that they were consulted, so it appears that no one was consulted.
But the line about “entrepreneurs” in the area being consulted jumps out. As I outlined yesterday, the population and job growth question isn’t as bleak as the Bishop makes is seem. I’ve sat in on a number of panels of job creators over the past few years where the entrepreneurs and heads of companies lay out a very different picture — one of hope and good future prospects.
I’m not sure which entrepreneurs His Excellency spoke with, but I would respectfully suggest he expand his circle.
Also, let’s be frank, 10-year back-of-the-napkin projections on the question of job growth is hardly a reason for a spiritual reality like a Diocese to be suppressed — especially in a region as beneficially situated and sitting on as much oil and natural gas as we are.
But then it gets downright infuriating.
But while Monforton said that Steubenville’s priests are his “heroes,” he told The Pillar that he had not consulted the diocesan presbyteral council or college of consultors – a senior priest advisory group – before announcing plans for the merger.
In fact, the bishop told The Pillar, he had not spoken directly with his priests about the prospect at all.
So he didn’t talk to his “heroes,” those who would be most significantly affected by the merger, about this.
With respect, Bishop Monforton would become Ordinary in another Diocese, or perhaps even co-adjutor of Detroit. (Archbishop Vigneron is about to turn 74, just one year shy of mandatory retirement age, and Bishop Monforton, 59, is originally from Detroit.) The priests of Steubenville, men who discerned being “married” to this local Church, would suddenly be subject to assignment in the far western reaches of Ohio, in a place very different from their home here along the Ohio River.
Sure, a priest’s life is about no longer being your own master, but for Bishop Monforton not to even consult the priests about this displays something unflattering.
Bishop Monforton, however, insists that he did consult. In a way. Again from The Pillar.
“The consultation has been occurring over the past few years,” Monforton told his priests.
“I just have not brought things up by saying ‘this is regarding a possible merger.’”
When speaking with priests he did bring up the problems he was using as the reasons to suppress the Diocese, but he never mentioned he was using them as reasons to suppress the Diocese.
He was saying one thing to the bishops of Ohio, the Nuncio, and the Vatican, while saying something else to the local priests an faithful — something more along the lines of “we’ve got some struggles here, so let’s work together to see how we can chart a path forward.” That is a significant difference. As one Steubenville priest wryly put it to The Pillar, “That’s obviously not a consultation.”
That priest also, rightly, pointed out,
That’s someone already having his mind made up. And we don’t even have the information available to us that the bishop says make such a difference. When we look at the numbers, and what we would have told him, is that it does not seem to us that this is necessary, or going to solve any problems.
That kind of “consultation” certainly wouldn’t suffice for the closure of a parish, so why should he say it’s enough here? Why wouldn’t he ask us? Or the people? Isn’t that synodality?
It feels like a father saying to his son, “so I understand you’ve been struggling to keep gas in your car and make needed repairs, let’s see what we can do together to get you a better-paying job,” all the while he’s negotiating selling the car to the neighbor.
Or, more analogously, a husband saying to his wife and kids, “we’ve got struggles, but we’ll work through this together,” while he’s also contacting a divorce attorney and arranging for another man to take care of his family.
The article in The Pillar also talks about a letter that 18 priests of the Diocese signed and sent to the other five bishops of Ohio, and that letter contains some excellent response material. I’ll use that in future posts about the other ways in which the Bishop’s given reasons don’t add up.