Frustrated by a lack of progress as their deadline looms, about 100 friends and supporters of the Rev. Thomas Leyland met last night for a second time to try to find a way to keep him as pastor of St. Rose Parish in Perrysburg.
The emotional meeting included an opening prayer by Father Leyland, who is to retire July 1. The 69-year-old Catholic priest has said he is being forced into retirement by Toledo Bishop Leonard Blair because he criticized the bishop in the media.
Father Leyland's supporters last night said they collected 1,386 signatures asking Bishop Blair to change his mind. But the bishop has never wavered from his plan for the Rev. David Nuss to take over July 2 as pastor of St. Rose, which has 8,100 members and average attendance of 2,500.
The diocese maintains Father Leyland is not being punished for his public comments, and that the personnel moves were routine and no reflection on Father Leyland's abilities.
"It took me a long time to decide what to do, but I feel good about it," Father Leyland said before last night's meeting. He said he filed an appeal with the Vatican this month asking it to overturn the bishop's decision.
After supporters clapped and chanted Father Leyland's name, he opened with a brief prayer and left a few minutes later. The older brother of Detroit Tigers Manager Jim Leyland, Father Leyland quoted St. Ignatius of Loyola, the 16th-century Spanish priest and founder of the Society of Jesuits: "Teach us Lord ... to give and not count the cost; to fight and not heed the wounds."
When speakers discussed long-term strategies and painted a broad picture of a diocese and a church struggling with a growing priest shortage, parishioners asked what can be done yet to prevent their pastor's retirement. The answer from the podium: not much.
Letters haven't worked, said parishioner Stuart Salmon and Dan Thiel, president of United Parishes. Calls to the bishop's office and requests for meetings have not yielded results.
The best strategy is to keep collecting signatures on the petition, said Mr. Thiel of Kirby, Ohio. He said St. Rose members can learn from United Parishes, a group founded after the diocese closed 17 parishes in 2005. "You don't have to get the ball rolling. It's already been rolling, only now it's in your court," he said.
Mr. Salmon, a former parish council member, and Steve Johnson, from the closed St. James Parish in Kansas, Ohio, said St. Rose parishioners should start a trust fund and donate to it instead of to the church, keeping their money out of the diocese's hands.
Mr. Johnson said St. James' parishioners learned after taking their case to the Vatican that laypersons who fight the church using Canon Law are almost doomed to failure. "I wouldn't say the deck is stacked against you. You don't even get dealt any cards," he said.
Frustration among Father Leyland's supporters was expressed in a number of angry comments about Bishop Blair.
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