CLEVELAND -- Critics of Cleveland Bishop Richard Lennon met Tuesday with a Vatican representative sent to investigate the Diocese.
They say the talks with retired New Jersey Bishop John M. Smith were "very encouraging, very hopeful."
"It's very hopeful news that the Vatican is actually listening to the voices of Cleveland," said Patricia Schulte Singleton, leader of the group Endangered Catholics, a coalition of 13 parishes which were ordered closed by Bishop Lennon, beginning in 2009.
"I can tell you that, as to the mood of the conversation, they were very attentive, receptive, in a very relaxed atmosphere," Singleton told WKYC. "It was a good dialog."
Bishop Smith is in Cleveland this week as a representative of the Holy See. Lennon said in a news release Monday that he personally requested this independent investigation into his own leadership as bishop of Cleveland.
Critics and other sources believe the Vatican had already made a decision to send an investigator to look into the persistent complaints about Lennon's leadership and his decision to close or merge some 50 parishes.
"Bishop Smith was very attentive. This was an important case to him. I am gald the Vatican has taken such an interest," said Miklos Peller, a parishioner of St. Emeric's Hungarian parish which was ordered closed by Lennon.
It was the scene of large protests since its closure, and the church building was actually occupied by protestors for a day in 2010.
Peller met with Bishop Smith for more than an hour Tuesday at the Jesuit Retreat House in Parma.
"He came across as a very courteous, holy man. He came here to listen and he did," Peller told WKYC. "He didn't offer any opinions and the questions he asked me were pertinent."
As to the possibility that the closing of St. Emeric, which is now under the care of the Hungarian Scouts organization, might someday be reversed, Peller said," Maybe there is some hope."
Schulte-Singleton, who in 2009 said Lennon possesses a "borderline moral defect," met for an hour with Bishop Smith and his assistant.
"I expressed my feelings, I thought very succinctly, about the leadership of Bishop Lennon, that I don't think he's a good fit for our diocese," Schulte-Singleton said.
"I believe that they are going to do a very objective type of investigation and send their report to the Holy See. I just feel that in my heart."
"Bishop Smith was very open, receptive, the body language, everything. I felt very comfortable that there would be a third party, if you will, examining the whole process."
Schulte-Singleton said she primarily made the case for the reopening of her parish, St. Pat's in West Park. "I came prepared with background information about St. Pat's," she explained.
"The conversation for me was basically communicating about Saint Patrick's Church, the parishioners, the cluster process, and how we felt about communication with the bishop over the course of the last two years."
Bishop Smith was to spend the week in Cleveland conducting his independent investigation.
On Wednesday, he is scheduled to meet with a representative of another church which was closed, St. James in Lakewood. He will prepare a report and submit it to the Vatican, but no timetable has been established for that step.
Bishop Lennon, in his news release Monday, asked for prayers so that "this process will support the vibrancy and vitality of our Diocese going forward."