Cleveland Bishop Richard Lennon has announced his early retirement. Due to his declining health, Lennon sent a letter to Pope Francis in late November asking that he be relieved of duty, and the Pope has honored that request.
Lennon said at a press conference Wednesday morning that he has been diagnosed with vascular dementia.
Lennon arrived via Boston, and has served as leader of the Cleveland Catholic Diocese for more than 10 years. He presided over a tumultuous era of church closures (and re-openings) from 2010-2012. It was an era that embittered many local Catholics toward Lennon, particularly those from urban and ethnic parishes who felt targeted by the Bishop's consolidation strategies.
Lennon maintained that the church closures were financially motivated, and that many of the urban parishes he'd closed had become, in effect, "drive-through chapels," with congregations largely from the suburbs.
[Scene spent a day with Lennon in 2013
, to understand the man behind the controversy.]
Lennon will be replaced in an interim capacity by Bishop Daniel Edward Thomas, who currently serves as the Bishop of the Diocese of Toledo. Thomas will split his time between both cities until a permanent Bishop is appointed. Thomas' official title will be Apostolic Administrator. That's the same role that Lennon held in Boston after Cardinal Bernard Law repaired to Rome in the wake of the sex abuse scandal there.
During remarks at Wednesday's press conference, Bishop Thomas, 57, a native of Metro Philadelphia, said he intended to "hit the ground running" in governing and shepherding the Northeast Ohio flock. Because he'd only been informed of his appointment recently, he said he was unfamiliar with the major issues confronting the Diocese, but certainly had no trouble referencing the Cavs' championship, the Indians' procession to a "magnificent" Game Seven in the World Series, the RNC and the "Christmas miracle" of the Browns' first win.
He said he was "grateful for the opportunity" to serve, and that local Catholics could rest assured he would be a "humble, holy, and ardent" administrator.
Thomas, at first blush, scanned as a more buoyant shepherd than Lennon. He spoke with ease and happily answered questions, making a point address all reporters by their first names. Of Lennon, Thomas said that the request for early retirement was a "humble and courageous act, one that speaks volumes to his love of the local church."
Thomas has been Bishop of Toledo since October, 2014. He was asked whether or not be might be "in the running" for the permanent position of Cleveland's next Bishop.
"The only person who knows who's in the running," Thomas rejoined, "is the Holy Spirit."