Bethlehem Press

Monday, January 21, 2019

Vatican rejects Panther Valley congregations’ pleas

Tuesday, June 27, 2017 by Chris Reber in Local News

A high-ranking priest has turned down a request to reopen two Panther Valley-area Catholic Churches.

The Congregation of Clergy, the church’s equivalent of an appeals court, recently decided on two separate cases involving St. Katharine Drexel in Lansford, and St. Francis of Assisi in Nesquehoning.

The two parishes were consolidated last year by the Allentown Diocese. Most members now attend St. Joseph’s of the Panther Valley in Summit Hill.

The decision did not faze the former church members who have been fighting the closure with help from a nun with a law degree. The Coal Region Catholics for Change have been fighting since the consolidation took effect last June.

“We’ve already agreed that we are going to continue the appeals process,” Steve Behun said, a former St. Katherine’s member. “We’ve filed all the paperwork for appeal process to start moving forward.

The Diocese’s administrator, Monsignor Alfred Schlert, said he hopes that the decision means that parishioners can focus on building St. Joseph’s as a parish. He replaced

“It is the Diocese’s hope and prayer that with this ruling by the Vatican, all efforts will be directed toward helping to make St. Joseph Parish in Summit Hill, the spiritual home of all the faithful in the Panther Valley,” the administrator, Schlert said.

The Cardinal in charge of the Congregation of Clergy issued his own decree on June 14, about a year after the appeals were first sent.

In an excerpt provided by the Diocese, the decree read that Cardinal Benjamin Stella “accepts the evidence that the actions taken by the Ordinary (Bishop) were necessary to prevent all three parishes in Panther Valley becoming nonviable and insolvent. It is satisfied that he has sought to establish one viable parish, which will be able to carry out the mission of the Church in that area well into the future.”

The Cardinal also referred a separate appeal, for Our Lady of Angels, to the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, which handles matters involving schools.

For the churches, the members have 30 days from that date to send yet another appeal, this one to the Apolstolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court.

The members of St. Francis of Assisi haven’t announced their next move. Behun said that the members at St. Katharine Drexel will file an appeal.

Behun said that they are continuing the fight because they believe their church was closed for unjust reasons, and they have no issue with St. Joseph’s or its parishioners.

“We all think that’s a good church, a good place to go. I don’t think anyone’s arguing that. the argument was that they incorrectly closed St. Katherine’s,” Behun said.

The group has managed to raise enough money to continue their fight. The entire appeal could cost them more than $10,000, Behun said.

With St. Katherine’s closing its doors more than a year ago, there are concerns about the building getting exposed to the elements. Repairs to the church structure were one of the reasons that the Diocese cited when they announced the plan to close St. Katharine.

“We sent letters over the winter asking ‘is the heat on,’ are things working properly?’, and they sent back that the oil tanks are full, the furnace is running, and everything is ok,” Behun said.