Bishop Richard Lennon Resigns for Health Reasons

Bishop Lennon sits during the press conference where he announced his illness and resignation after 10 years with the Cleveland Diocese. [Phoebe Petrovic / ideastream]
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Bishop Richard Lennon of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland announced his resignation this morning. The position stipulates a mandatory retirement at age 75, but Lennon wrote a letter to Pope Francis in November, requesting early release. He shared his reasons why in a press conference with members of the media.

“Recently it has come to my awareness that my health has declined to such an extent that I should resign as diocese and bishop,” Lennon said. “Specifically, I have recently been diagnosed with vascular dementia, given the progressive nature of this illness, Pope Francis has accepted my request for an early retirement.”

People with vascular dementia suffer cognitive impairments from reduced blood flow to the brain. Lennon underwent emergency heart surgery in February of 2016, and his health has deteriorated since then.

Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Daniel Thomas as Lennon’s temporary replacement. Thomas has served as bishop of the Diocese of Toledo since 2014, and he will continue to do so even as he takes over in Cleveland.

Thomas admitted he is not yet familiar with Northeast Ohio. But he is familiar with Cleveland’s professional sports franchises. He referenced the Cavs, Indians, and Browns, and described his official role as the Apostolic Administrator in similar terms.

“I would say it’s probably like being an interim coach, so any coach that’s interim knows that it’s a weird situation,” Thomas said. “So my job is to be the conduit if you will from the past to the future and that is simply to make sure the diocese knows it is cared for.”

That Diocese spans eight counties in Northeast Ohio, and has almost 700,000 members. Those Catholics belong to 185 parishes. In 2009 and 2010, Bishop Lennon drew the ire of local parishioners after closing 50 churches, citing dwindling attendance, priests, and donations. The Vatican later ordered Lennon to reopen 12.

Thomas seemed unaware of his predecessor’s legacy in Cleveland, and said he would get “up to speed” on the diocese in the coming weeks.

“The Apostolic Administrator does his best to govern in the time prior to the new bishop coming, and then that new bishop, he will take all of those visions forward—please God—into the church,” Thomas said.

No one knows yet who that new bishop will be, but Thomas stressed the impermanence of his position. “The only person who knows who’s in the running to be the Bishop of Cleveland is the Holy Spirit,” said Thomas. “Is it possible that I could be the bishop? Yes because anything is possible. Is it probable that I could be the bishop? That’s a greater question.”

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