What's Next For Struggling Steubenville Diocese As Bishop Monforton Departs?
Financial troubles coupled with misallocation of funds from employee paychecks may spell merger of Steubenville with Columbus diocese.
Pope Francis announced last Thursday that Bishop Jeffery M. Monforton, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio, would return to his hometown of Detroit, Michigan, to become an Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit. Bishop Monforton also assumes the titular see of Centuria.
Monforton graduated the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, and the Pontifical North American College in Rome before his ordination to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Detroit in 1994. He later obtained a Doctorate in Spiritual Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Among his pastoral assignments, he served as Parochial Vicar at the National Shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak - a suburb 0f Detroit, as Personal Secretary to Cardinal Adam Maida, Archbishop of Detroit, and Rector of Sacred Heart Major Seminary.
Monforton was named the fifth Bishop of Steubenville by Pope Benedict XVI in July of 2012, and was consecrated that September. Monforton became a member of the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Subcommittee on Aid to the Church in Central and Eastern Europe that year and was named Chairman in 2019. That same year, he also became a member of the USCCB Committee on National Collections.
Monforton leaves behind a Diocese in financial and spiritual peril. Just last year, he asked the Ohio Council of Bishops, and the USCCB to consider merging the Diocese of Steubenville with its neighboring Dioceses of Columbus and Youngstown. The announcement shocked and outraged clergy and faithful alike, who were not consulted about these plans.
After a short period, Bishop Monforton listened to the faithful and asked the USCCB to rescind his motion. Despite the initial outcry, he knew what factored into his decision, and it’s a reality that the faithful are well-aware of.
In May 2018, a financial crisis began in the diocese, when the diocese discovered that the financial department had been misallocating funds from employee paychecks since 2004. After Monforton ordered an audit into the handling of diocesan finances, the Diocese of Steubenville was ordered to pay $3.5M in back taxes to the federal government
In a October 4 interview with Monforton, he said that he attributes his decision to launch the final audit to the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to whom he re-consecrated the diocese just 6 months prior. When asked if he had any regrets about his time as bishop, Monforton answered that he wished he had launched the audit as soon as he became bishop so that the malfeasance might have been discovered sooner.
Monforton, who previously announced plans to renovate the crumbling Holy Name Cathedral, suspended those plans in 2022 because of the financial situation. The parishioners of Holy Name Cathedral have worshiped at nearby Holy Rosary Parish since the Cathedral’s closure for renovations in 2014. The Diocese has yet to announce its intentions for the Cathedral’s future.
Raymond Cardinal Burke enters St. Peter’s in Steubenville OH, to celebrate a Solemn Pontifical High Mass
The public opinion among parishioners is mixed. While some parishioners and clergy argue that the diocese shouldn't be merged with Columbus because clergy to laity ratios would be effected, others just want something to be done. Currently, the diocese has 14 active priests among the total of 35 priests, while parishes have about 300 congregants each. Parishioners have confirmed in interviews their view that several parishes should be closed, while some even say that Holy Name cathedral should be closed, and that St.Peter's parish (which has the oldest church in the diocese) should become the new Cathedral.
With Monforton’s departure, Pope Francis appointed the recently retired Most Rev. Paul J. Bradley, Bishop Emeritus of Kalamazoo, Michigan, as Steubenville’s Apostolic Administrator until a decision is made to appoint a new bishop or merge the diocese. In a letter to the faithful, Bishop Bradley says “To be successful, it is essential for me to listen closely to you, the people I have been sent to serve; I intend to consult broadly with clergy, religious and lay leaders to learn about your concerns.”
Thomas Payeur is an independent journalist based in Steubenville Ohio.