PARMA, Ohio (Churchmilitant.com) - A Roman dicastery has thwarted a Byzantine Catholic bishop in Ohio from merging his parishes against the will of his parishioners.
The Congregation for the Oriental Churches issued an edict earlier this month halting Bp. Milan Lach of the eparchy of Parma from closing two of his parishes in Parma. The congregation's edict, issued June 10, suspends Bp. Lach's March decree, which compressed three local parishes into one conglomerate.
The Congregation for the Eastern Churches, as it is also known, explained in its edict, "Irreparable loss may arise from the execution of [Lach's] decree."
The congregation proceeded to suspend the bishop's merger until September, when it will make a final decision after gathering more information. The statement, authored in Latin, is a response to parishioners of the eparchy of Parma, who are outraged at Bp. Lach's actions.
In April, Church Militant reported on an Ohio merger alliance organized by local Byzantine Catholic parishioners and its efforts to appeal to Bp. Lach to stop his parish merger. Lach ordered the St. Mary's, Holy Spirit and St. John the Baptist parishes to integrate, creating a new parish — the Dormition of the Mother of God.
The merger alliance published a timeline detailing events and communications between Bp. Lach and various advocates for the individual parishes. The timeline reveals that parishioners were making continual efforts to turn St. John the Baptist Cathedral into a thriving center of culture and worship. Bishop Lach dismissed these efforts and made it difficult for the parish to sustain itself, eventually issuing his merger decree, insisting the parishioners need "a single faith community capable of effectively sustaining itself."
The timeline features numerous letters from the cathedral's pastoral council, exploring the parish's potential to sustain itself and contribute to the eparchy. Potential renters and investors showed interest in the cathedral property. The city of Parma's director of community services and economic development, furthermore, stated after a tour, "I was extremely impressed with the facility, and I think [it] offers a wealth of opportunity for the Church."
Pope Francis in 2017 appointed Bp. Lach, a fellow Jesuit, to the eparchy of Parma, with Lach being installed a year later. Parishioners claim Lach immediately began halting parish improvement projects, with one member stating, "I have been a member at the cathedral for 40 years. When Milan [Lach] came, it was instant oppression."
Bishop Lach avoided communicating directly with his parishioners, having instead his lawyer, James Niehaus, issue an ultimatum to the cathedral parish. Niehaus' ultimatum directed the parish to turn away potential renters or the eparchy would remove almost all financial support from the parish.
Father Thomas Loya, a priest of the eparchy, spoke with Church Militant last year after Lach censured him for posting controversial video messages. Father Loya posted pointed conservative messages and explained, "I go after all the hot-button issues."
Despite the censure, Fr. Loya came to the bishop's defense recently, denying a suggestion that Lach is funneling parish money to cover up sex scandals. Loya stated, "The moves by Bp. Milan are not related to sex scandals."
Other critics equated Lach's movements to the archdiocese of Chicago's Renew My Church, a parish grouping effort lead by Cdl. Blase Cupich, a long-time friend of ex-cardinal homo-predator Theodore McCarrick. Along with Chicago, the archdiocese of Detroit is pushing its Families of Parishes campaign to make communities "radically mission-oriented." Detroit's Abp. Allen Vigneron is under fire for persecuting faithful priests under his authority.
There is no evidence, as Fr. Loya stated above, that Bp. Lach is covering up sex scandals. But the eparchy's merger alliance is highlighting the bishop's interest in financial matters. The alliance posted an invitation from the bishop allegedly inviting "high-income earners" to a luncheon.
Parma's indignant parishioners claim Lach cares more about money than about people, pointing to his merger decree as an example.
The eparchy's faithful created their alliance to defend their beloved parishes and communities. They were seeking, in good faith, to understand Lach's true intentions behind the merger. But the bishop forged ahead with his plans, giving his flock a sealed decree instead of an open discussion.
But now, Rome has heard the cries of the faithful, and the relevant dicastery is scrutinizing Lach's intentions. The congregation is giving the bishop until Sept. 15 to justify the execution of his order in question, which would close his churches and possibly cause "irreparable damages" to his flock.