20 December 2023, The Tablet

Ohio dioceses begin talks on possible merger

The announcement comes after a prior discussion about merging the dioceses in 2022 was put on hold by the then-Bishop of Steubenville.

Ohio dioceses begin talks on possible merger

Holy Name Cathedral in Steubenville, Ohio.
Wikimedia Commons

Bishop Earl K. Fernandes of Columbus, Ohio, and Bishop Paul J. Bradley, apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio issued a joint letter indicating that they have begun early discussions about the possibility of merging the two dioceses.

The apostolic nunciature to the US has asked the dioceses “to work together to consider how different dimensions of the dioceses, including the temporal aspects of life, might be affected by such a proposal,” the bishops said.

“While no decision has been made, due diligence is needed so an educated and responsible decision can be discerned in a timely manner.”

The announcement comes after a prior discussion about merging the dioceses in 2022 was put on hold by Bishop Jeffrey Monforton, then the Bishop of Steubenville.

The diocese, which covers much of south-eastern Ohio and was created in 1944, has only 30,000 Catholics. It is also home to one of the most conservative institutions of Catholic higher education in the US, the Franciscan University at Steubenville.

Monforton was criticised by some conservative commentators when he ended the celebration of the Tridentine rite at the university following Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Traditionis custodes. He permitted the rite at a chapel in the city, but not on the campus.

The Diocese of Columbus, erected in 1868, has some 290,000 Catholics. Columbus is also the state capital and is home to Ohio State University and the Pontifical College Josephinum, a seminary founded in 1888 which is currently on academic probation due to declining enrolment and other problems.

In September, the 61-year-old Monforton was named an auxiliary bishop in his home city of Detroit. No reason was given for this rare shift from being an ordinary to an auxiliary.

In 2020 the Diocese of Juneau, Alaska, which like Steubenville has an exceedingly small population, was re-joined with the Archdiocese of Anchorage.

That merger proved difficult because of divergent incorporations of ecclesial structures in civil law. At least a dozen other dioceses might be ripe for folding back into the original diocese from which they were carved, given demographic decline.

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