LAKEWOOD, Ohio - FutureChurch. It may sound like a new age religion, but according to the organization's founder and executive director, the group is focused on today's Catholic Church.
"We're a part of the church and we want to be part of the solutions to the problems facing the church," said Sr. Christine Schenk CSJ, who is also a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph religious order.
FutureChurch was founded in 1990. Their offices are in a storefront on Madison Avenue in Lakewood. And according to Schenk, they count about 8,000 members, donors and activists nationwide.
"We're a church renewal organization," said Schenk. "Our role is to support the Catholic laity."
When asked about FutureChurch, the Diocese of Cleveland provided the following statement:
"FutureChurch is not an organization affiliated with the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland nor does it have the support or approval of the Bishop of the Diocese. FutureChurch is an independent organization of individuals who promote an agenda that is not consistent with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, and who are fully responsible for the arrangement of their own programs and activities."
Schenk said one main focus of the group is the "Save Our Parish Community" project.
According to the FutureChurch website , the project is "designed to provide support and resources for parishioners facing the loss of their vibrant parish communities because our institutional leaders have not yet welcomed all the priestly vocations God is sending us."
Bob Kloos is a member of FutureChurch and " Endangered Catholics ", an organization formed by parishioners of the thirteen parishes which appealed their announced closures in 2009 by the Bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland, Rev. Richard Lennon.
Kloos told NewsChannel5, FutureChurch was instrumental in helping save the parishes.
"FutureChurch provided a toolkit - a number of canons, procedures, examples of letters that could be written, addresses of who to write to," said Kloos. "FutureChurch provided an avenue of hope."
In all, eleven area parishes won their closure appeals to Rome. All but one church has been reopened as of this writing.
According to FutureChurch, the closure of some parishes is directly related to the ongoing Catholic Priest shortage.
"There are some 3,000 parishes in the United States that do not have a resident priest," said Schenk.
FutureChuch is urging reconsideration of the current prohibitions against priests marrying and the ordination of women as ways to address the priest shortage going forward.
Said Schenk, "My hope is that sooner rather than later, the institution will see the need to open and change the mandatory celibacy rule and will welcome women deacons."