CLEVELAND -- Two St. Emeric parishioners left a meeting with Bishop Lennon feeling insulted and threatened.
Miklos Peller was invited to a July 27 meeting with Bishop Richard Lennon to discuss the planned reopening of St. Emeric Hungarian Church. Peller's wife accompanied him. His written account of the meeting was obtained by WKYC.
"We were very courteous and very respectful of him," Peller said, of the opening of the meeting held at the diocesan offices downtown. He says the discussion deteriorated at several points.
One was at Peller's suggestion that the returning parishioners of St. Emeric, all of whom he says speak Hungarian, would be best served by a full-time, Hungarian-speaking pastor.
As for Lennon's reponse, Peller says Lennon told him, "Don't give me that ethnic stuff! He pointed his finger in my face and said 'don't give me that ethnic stuff.'"
Peller says he was taken aback and tried to press his case, based on the needs of the parishioners.
"It is rather important for the congregation to have a Hungarian-speaking priest available at any time during the week," he says he told Lennon.
"Many of them are elderly, and you know, the human mind is such that, when you get olde,r you revert back to your mother tongue. And prayers and spiritual advice is best served in the mother tongue."
Peller claims Lennon became angry and made a veiled threat against St. Emeric and the parishioners.
"He says 'you are driving a wedge into me,'" Peller recalled. "He says 'if you continue this talk it will not be good for the congregation.'"
The Diocese of Cleveland would not comment on the content or tone of the meeting, but did issue a statement saying:
"This was private meeting. The Bishop invited Mr. Peller to meet for an update on the St. Emeric's opening. Mr. Peller did not request the meeting. In addition to Mr. Peller, his wife also was received. The Bishop explained that the opening of the parish is a priority and is being actively pursued with a hoped-for opening in the near future."
No date has been set for St. Emeric to reopen.
The Diocese is searching for a new pastor and plans to assign a Hungarian-speaking priest to say Mass on Sundays. It has ruled out the return of Fr. Sandor Siklodi, who served as pastor of St. Emeric for more than 25 years until it closed in June, 2010.
Siklodi has since moved to Chicago and has indicated his willingness to return if asked, but Peller said the bishop told him there is absolutely no chance that will happen.
Peller says he was asked by members of the congregation to represent them from the beginning of parish's appeal process in 2009. He uses the title "Procurator for the Hierarchical Recourse of St. Emeric Parish."
The Vatican ordered in March that the closings of 11 parishes in the diocese be reversed. Nine of the churches are open with new pastors. St. Peter's has been assigned a pastor but has yet to reopen.
St. Emeric is the only one of the 11 parishes yet to have a pastor assigned or an opening date scheduled.
When the church closed on June 30, 2010, about six people staged a sit-in for about 18 hours. They only exited the locked church when Lennon agreed to meet with them.