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Vatican instruction on the property of closed parishes #27957 08/04/06 01:51 PM
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Pavel Ivanovich Offline OP
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Vatican says assets of suppressed parish must go to receiving parish

By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- When a bishop suppresses a parish, its assets and liabilities must go to the parish or parishes that receive the parishioners, not to the diocese, a top Vatican official said in a letter to U.S. bishops.

The letter from Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Clergy to Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, could have significant implications for many U.S. dioceses that are closing parishes because of a shortage of priests or a declining Catholic population. Cardinal Castrillon asked the USCCB head to notify the nation's bishops about the congregation's position.

Last year the clergy congregation ruled that assets and liabilities of several parishes closed in the Boston Archdiocese belonged to the parishes that received the members of the closed parishes, not to the archdiocese.

In his letter, sent in March and distributed to U.S. bishops in mid-July, Cardinal Castrillon said that most parish closings fall under the provisions of Canon 121 or Canon 122 of the church's Code of Canon Law, not Canon 123.

His congregation was concerned that "erroneous use of Canon 123 in the dioceses of the United States is not uncommon," he said.

Canon 121 deals with two or more parishes -- or any other institutions similarly classified in church law as "public juridic persons" -- simply being merged into one.

Canon 122 deals with parishes or other public juridic persons being divided -- as might happen if one portion of the Catholic community in a suppressed parish goes to one neighboring parish and one portion to another.

Canon 123 deals with the simple "extinction" of a parish or other church institution similarly classified.

In the first case, the assets of the suppressed parish should go to the parish it is merged with, Cardinal Castrillon said.

In the second case, the assets should be distributed equitably and proportionately to the two or more receiving parishes, he said.

Only in the third case should the parish assets revert back to the diocese, he said.

"Only with great difficulty can one say that a parish becomes extinct," the cardinal wrote. "A parish is extinguished by the law itself only if no Catholic community any longer exists in its territory, or if no pastoral activity has taken place for a hundred years."

"Often when a bishop calls his action a 'suppression,' it is in reality a merger of two communities of Christ's faithful," he wrote. "Thus Canon 121 applies: 'When aggregrates of persons or of things which are public juridic persons are so joined that from them one aggregate is constituted which also possesses juridic personality, this new juridical person obtains the patrimonial goods and rights proper to the previous aggregates.'"

"If a parish is divided between more than one existing parish then Canon 122 would apply," he added.

"In the case where the portion of the Christian faithful is reallocated among pre-existing or newly created parishes, the corresponding patrimony and obligations of the closed parishes must follow the faithful in an equitable and proportionate fashion in accord with corresponding responsibilities and pastoral duties assumed by the (receiving) parishes," he wrote.

"Thus the goods and liabilities should go with the amalgamated juridic person, and not to the diocese," he said.

Father John P. Beal, a canon law professor at The Catholic University of America, told Catholic News Service that the letter addresses common occurrences in the United States that are not expressly covered by Canon 121 and Canon 122.

The Canon Law Society of America's "New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law," published in 2000, says that Canon 121 does not deal with the situation in which "one juridic person is absorbed by another -- e.g. one parish being absorbed by another -- with only one of the previously existing juridic persons retaining its juridical identity."

Father Beal, concurring with the commentary, said the language of Canon 121 refers only to a situation where a new parish -- a "new juridic person" -- is created and both previous parishes lose their previous juridic identity. He said the cardinal's letter makes clear, however, that in any cases appealed to the congregation, it will rule that this law applies, the same as if the receiving parish was made a new entity by the merger.

Canon 122 speaks of part of a public juridic person -- such as a parish or diocese -- being divided, either to be joined to another or to create a new one, he said.

That canon is the main one governing creation of new parishes or dioceses in areas where the church is growing -- where the old parish or diocese continues to exist, even though its size is reduced. It does not specifically address the case of the original parish being completely dissolved with all its parts being joined to other surrounding parishes.

Father Beal said that when Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington merged or consolidated parishes during his time as bishop of Pittsburgh, he always followed those two laws, treating reconfigured parishes as new public juridic persons and allocating all the assets and liabilities of the former parishes to the new parish or parishes.

Father Lawrence A. DiNardo, Pittsburgh diocesan vicar for canonical services, said that was true and the diocese never took over the assets of a closed parish.

Father Beal said that elsewhere in the country, however, it has not been uncommon for bishops to treat such a change as the extinction of a parish under Canon 123, with part or all of the suppressed parish's assets reverting to the diocese.

He said Cardinal Castrillon's letter gives notice to the bishops that the Congregation for Clergy, which has Vatican oversight over the disposition of parish property, has decided that "as a matter of equity, that's unfair."

He said that Canon 19, which governs in cases where there are gaps in church law, is the basis for Cardinal Castrillon's decision even though it is not explicitly cited in the letter. Canon 19 says that questions not expressly governed by church law must be resolved "in light of laws issued in similar matters, general principles of law applied with canonical equity, the jurisprudence and practice of the Roman Curia and the common and constant opinion of learned persons."

Father Beal said he did not think the cardinal's letter would affect the bankruptcy cases in the Spokane Diocese or the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., because court disputes over diocesan or parish ownership of parish properties in those cases are being decided on the basis of how those dioceses and parishes are set up under civil law, not their status in church law.

Re: Vatican instruction on the property of closed parishes #27958 08/04/06 03:10 PM
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The stories I have read is that once a parish is suppressed, the congregation is merged, but that the assets are reclaimed by the Diocese or Archdiocese to be sold off. My impression is this is often to pay for settlements coming from law suits.

Just his week, there was a story in the Journal and re-printed here in the Post-Gazette of a group that is specifically targeting the acquisition of former RC properties.

There was also a story here in the Philadelphia paper about Transfiguration Parish, which was acquired by the group. You can also look at a site like this to see there are numerous properties of the Philadelphia Archdiocese up for sale. I also recently saw the news that St. Boniface, an old Redemptorist parish, was recently suppressed and their congregation merged. I wonder what will happen to their property.

Andrew

Re: Vatican instruction on the property of closed parishes #27959 08/04/06 03:29 PM
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Pavel Ivanovich Offline OP
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I wonder if those Bishops who were doing their own thing, may now have to pay back to the Parishs what they 'took'.

Re: Vatican instruction on the property of closed parishes #27960 08/04/06 05:44 PM
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Does this 'change' only affect Latin parishes or does it also apply to the CCEO?

It seems that the flurry of parish closing under armed guard may have been to get around this new 'ruling'.

Re: Vatican instruction on the property of closed parishes #27961 08/04/06 07:37 PM
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I don't think it applies to the Byzantine Catholic Church, because none of the money from the bank accounts or property sales of closed Churches has gone to the new "absorbing" congregation. I think that the money has gone to pay off sex-abuse lawsuits.

But is is a great law, and it should be extended to the Byzantine Church, to stop this kind of thing going on in the future. Anyone know what parish is next?

Nick

Re: Vatican instruction on the property of closed parishes #27962 08/04/06 10:12 PM
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Quote
I don't think it applies to the Byzantine Catholic Church
Nick:

You might be surprised. This may just be the beginning of the slow process of the Curia working on behalf of the Holy Father to promote equity and justice in the dealings of bishops with their flocks.

Quote
questions not expressly governed by church law must be resolved "in light of laws issued in similar matters, general principles of law applied with canonical equity, the jurisprudence and practice of the Roman Curia and the common and constant opinion of learned persons."
The Roman Curia is the Holy Father's way of exercising his universal jurisdiction. I know that that doesn't sit well with many members of the Eastern Churches, but this may well be the avenue by which parishioners who have been forced out of their churches obtain justice at long last. I think that, in practice, though it might take time, this is a mechanism by which people can be protected from arbitrary actions by their bishops.

Now, why don't the people from some of the BCC parishes send their stories to the Cardinal and his congregation? It might take some time, but there might be some bishops ordered to appear in Rome for an accounting of their stewardship.

In Christ,

BOB

Re: Vatican instruction on the property of closed parishes #27963 08/04/06 10:19 PM
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Fac ut dixit.

That, I think, is very sound advice, Bob. It would be fascinating to see what the Congregation does with such a petition....

It would have to be phrased gently, as a petition for redress of grievance rather than a demand for something as so many petitions among our people have always turned out to have been. But a gentle exposition of the events as they occurred might well have repercussions way past their original weight.

Staro

Re: Vatican instruction on the property of closed parishes #27964 08/05/06 12:31 AM
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Let's take another look at what I was saying.

What if the folks who were escorted out of their parish by the law officers would take the time to sit down, write it all out, have each and every person present sign it IN THE PRESENCE OF A NOTARY PUBLIC, add their addresses and other contact information, and send it to the Apostolic Delegate to be forwarded to Rome? Add that there was so much in the treasury and that they now have no place to go for liturgy. Add that they even might have to avail themselves of the Council's teaching that those who are cut off from their own clergy may avail themselves of Orthodox clergy as a matter of economy.

I wonder . . .

BOB

Re: Vatican instruction on the property of closed parishes #27965 08/05/06 01:10 AM
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I wonder if the Curia also regularly logs onto theSmokingGun.com, where sadly too many priests and other high level Church officials names are mentioned in conjunction with disgusting behaviours.

Re: Vatican instruction on the property of closed parishes #27966 08/05/06 01:51 PM
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Michael_Thoma:

I doubt that the Curia has time or inclination to go to the internet for information about this sort of thing. Remember that the internet has all sorts of things, both factual and not proven. Look at the recent blogs where people regularly ruin each other's reputation, especially among high profile entertainers and others in the public eye. Anything I see on the internet I try to confirm by other sources.

I've been told that the Curia is not as massive a bureaucracy as many think. There is a staff at each congregation and they have to deal with hundreds of things coming in from all over the world. Hardly time to surf the net to see how things are going in the developed world.

I believe that it's still true that if you want to draw SERIOUS attention, you go about it in the old-fashioned way. You go to the length of writing something down, signing it in the presence of a notary public--making it a legal document--and sending it off by mail (and not email): white paper good envelope. This says, "Take me seriously." And if you REALLY want to be taken seriously, you find a canon lawyer to do it for you.

BOB

Re: Vatican instruction on the property of closed parishes #27967 08/06/06 10:44 PM
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Pavel Ivanovich Offline OP
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Plenty of letters saying the same thing also make an impression as to the seriousness of a situation. A few years ago Australians deluged rome with complaints about their bishops and their alleged failure to do their job properly. it was noted that the number of mailbags coming had increased and they were full of letters from Australia. Thus it registered that all was not well down under. Bisops like the current Cardinal were appointed and the fight then was on to take back the Church from the trendies who had been allowed to do their own thing for so long they had done terrible damage to the Church. So get those letters and in the tone suggested by Staro.

Re: Vatican instruction on the property of closed parishes #27968 08/10/06 11:12 PM
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My understanding is this is true with IRS law as well...I had several people (non parishioners) wanting us to challenge Holy Trinity's closing in Federal Court...The way it had been proposed was that there is IRS code (I'm not a Tax Atty. nor do I ever aspire to be one)that apparently mandates the properties which are sold to have the proceeds go to the parishes donors and benefactors...it went so far as to say there should be monatary compensation to all of the families who gave for 111 years...I didn't get into it to deeply...The Church was closed and the rest is up to the Justice of our Lord...

Re: Vatican instruction on the property of closed parishes #27969 08/10/06 11:32 PM
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In some countries the laws that incoprtorated the Parish require the assets must to to another also incorporated body, the same as the first body. Which means the assets can't be taken by just anyone one. So parish to parish but nowhere else. Might be worth havng someone check that the incorporations laws were complied with. Right now Rome is 'closed' for the summer, so check things out locally first.

Re: Vatican instruction on the property of closed parishes #27970 08/11/06 12:14 AM
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Nobody in his right mind stays in Rome in August, not even the dogs, it is said. The heat and humidity are terrible. Everyone who can possibly do so heads for the Alban Hills. It's Custom Immemorial.

Re: Vatican instruction on the property of closed parishes #27971 08/11/06 12:23 AM
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Nice time to go and visit the good monks at GF.

Mind you it is frezing in the city in winter. I was waiting for students at the Angelicum and took my warm hat off just for a few minutes and it did not take long and a head ache set in. The hat was on in a jiffy.

Hot or cold I just love Rome cool


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