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Rev. Richard Lennon, town native, dies

The Rev. Richard Lennon, an Arlington native who served the Boston Archdiocese after former Cardinal Bernard Law stepped down during the clergy sex-abuse crisis in the early 2000s, died Tuesday, Oct. 29, in Cleveland. He was 72.

The Rev. Richard Lennon. / Undated Plain Dealer photoThe Rev. Richard Lennon. / Undated Plain Dealer photo

He had bishop emeritus of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland for more than 10 years.

“Bishop Lennon faithfully served the Church through parish ministry, archdiocesan administration, leadership of St. John’s Seminary and as Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley said in a statement reported by the Boston Herald.  “At all times Bishop Lennon fulfilled his roles of service with confidence in the Lord and recognition of the importance of the work of the Church, always focused on the needs of the people under his care.”

Lennon attended Boston College, then earned an master of arts in church history a master of theology in sacramental theology at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton. He was ordained in the priesthood in May 1973.

He rose to an auxiliary bishop in 2001. The following year, Law resigned amid revelations he had transferred priests who had molested children from parish to parish without notifying parents or police. Lennon had been one of the cardinal’s top aides, and he ended up leading the archdiocese for less than a year before O’Malley arrived.

Critics in Boston accused Lennon of being complicit during the clergy sex-abuse crisis, the Herald reported, noting a 2000 letter in which he certified that Paul Shanley, a priest who was later defrocked and convicted of child rape, was in good standing when Shanley applied for a transfer.

Lennon also alienated many Catholics by barring Voice of the Faithful, a lay group that formed at the onset of the crisis, from meeting on church property. Yet he was extremely popular among young priests who got to know him as rector of St. John’s Seminary.

In 2006, Lennon was named bishop of Cleveland by Pope Benedict XVI. Lennon defended his Boston tenure during his first news conference in Cleveland.

“I think the healing has moved forward in Boston very definitively in the past three years,” he said at the time. “I think that I was able to be an instrument in a small way in that.”

He served as the bishop for nearly 800,000 Catholics in Northeast Ohio. He resigned in December 2016 because of poor health. At the time of his resignation, the diocese said Lennon suffered from vascular dementia, a cognitive impairment caused by reduced blood flow to the brain.

Lennon is best known in Cleveland for closing about 30 churches in Northeast Ohio in 2009 and 2010, a decision that sparked fervent backlash from some of the 700,000 parishioners in the diocese. More recently, his career was marked by much-needed and successful fund-raising campaigns, raising an estimated $170 million, according to the diocese, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported

Lennon was progressive at times in Cleveland, choosing to stop charging $450 for marriage annulments two years before the Vatican ordered all Catholic churches to do so. He could also be more conservative, preventing students at Catholic schools in the diocese from participating in the social-media phenomenon known as the ALS ice-bucket challenge. Although the challenge raised money to fight Lou Gehrig’s Disease, the research includes the destruction of embryonic stem cells. He also required teachers in Catholic schools to sign a morality clause.

Among the special recognitions Lennon received were being named as a domestic prelate in April 1998, and his installation as a Knight of Malta and as a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre in June 2001.

Cleveland Bishop Nelson Perez, who has succeeded Lennon as bishop, said Tuesday that Lennon had a “tremendous love of the Church and the people he shepherded ....

“In his service to the diocese, Bishop Lennon showed a deep dedication to the faithful governance of the diocese and a tremendous love of the church and the people he shepherded," said the Rev. Nelson Perez, who has succeeded Lennon as bishop. "May the Lord grant him eternal rest.”

Further obituary information is not yet available.


This news obituary was published Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019.

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