Sunday, August 28, 2005

Keeping control of the pursestrings.

I'm as far from the "we are church" crowd as one can get, I think. I'm just some right-wing, traditionalist, monarchist nut. But hey, I'm a right-wing, traditionalist, monarchist nut who owns a copy of the 1983 Code of Canon Law.

The 1983 Code isn't great . . . lots of ambiguities, and lots of discretion to bishops to the detriment of their faithful and their priests (most controversies can be handled as administrative matters, rather than as judical ones, under the 1983 Code, which means that there is limited bases for appeal and meaningful redress). I'm not holding myself as an expert on the topic because I am not a canon lawyer . . . I have only read the Code itself in translation and a few commentaries by canonists on it.

Be that as it may, however, the 1983 Code was lawfully promulgated and we're stuck with it, so we might as well use it to our advantage insofar as we can. First, let's apply Canon 1284 to Bishop Skylstad and his decision to continue to hold diocesan property as a corporation sole:

Can 1284 Sec. 1. All adminsitrators are bound to fulfill their function with the diligence of a good householder. Sec 2. Consequently, they must: . . . take care that the ownership of ecclesiastical goods is protected by civilly valid methods; [and] observe the prescripts of both canon and civil law or those imposed by a founder, a donor, or legitimate authority, and especially be on guard so that no damage comes to the Church from the non-observance of civil laws.
Well, what little recourse do the people of Spokane have now? The article reports that Judge Patty says Canon Law doesn't apply (which is the same as saying a contract or a trust document doesn't apply) Well, Judge Patty is the judge, and a lot smarter than us; we're just hapless, ignorant, statue-worshippin' private citizens.

What can we do to help keep Judge Patty's friends on the bankruptcy bench and plaintiff's bar away from our parishes in our own dioceses? Well, there are no guarantees, but there is a provision that we ordinary pew Catholics can (and appear to have every right to) use to our advantage, in Canon 1267, Sec 3:

Offerings given by the faithful for a certain purpose can be applied only for that same purpose.

So, well, implicit in every envelope I drop in the collection is that it be used for furthering the "conversion of sinners and the freedom and exhaltation of Holy Mother Church," as the old Leonine prayer after low Mass goes. I guess that implicit intention needs to be explicit from now on. Ecumenically inspired by the Protestants who were appalled by what the ECUSA has sanctioned and who are starting to work out their salvation (and hopefully work themselves back to Holy Mother Church), I'm thinking that I might start including a little note with each envelope that goes something like this:
This and all sums given by us are given to the pastor and the bishop expressly in trust, to be used solely for the support of the spiritual needs of the Catholic faithful, the preservation and maintenance of the buildings and temporal goods of this parish, and (with respect to the diocesan assessment against this donation, this diocese), and the direct propagation of the Catholic faith. We further direct that no part of this donation is to be used for or intermingled with other funds to be used for (i) the payment of any award or the conferral of any benefit to any person or governmental authority related to any claim for sexual misconduct of any kind, nor for the payment of any legal expenses related thereto, whether the actions giving rise to such claim occur before or after the date of this donation, (ii) any renovation or alteration of any Church building that involves the removal of any architectural feature or furnishing, such as an altar, altar rail, or icon, installed prior to 1950 nor (iii) the maintenance or operation of any other parish in the event that this parish is suppressed. By accepting this donation in trust, the recipient acknowledges that the donor and each and any registered member of this parish is a beneficiary of this trust and as such shall have standing to enforce this trust according to the civil law of this state and according to the prescripts of Canon 1267 of the Code of Canon Law (1983). In the event of a breach of this trust, the beneficiary enforcing this trust shall have the right to designate an alternative Catholic cause to receive all donations made by me from and after the date hereof, plus any other damages awarded in such cause. If the pastor and the bishop cannot accept this donation on the terms set forth herein, please return this check to us within one week, and we will redirect it to another Catholic cause that can commit to using the funds as we direct.

I wonder if it will work? After all, the new church people tell us that it's no longer "pray, pay and obey"; we're to be "good stewards" of the gifts God has bestowed upon us. Being a "steward" suggests a moral duty to see that those gifts are used well, even after they leave one's own hands. I suggest that such a scheme (if widespread, particularly in dioceses where there are substantial problems like New York, Boston, LA, or the bankrupt dioceses) would work and submit (without any credentials to back it up) that it's within our rights under Canon Law. I would be interested to know what a canonist thinks of it.

I would guess that there's little danger of a total loss of parish assets happening in either Kansas City diocese--they don't seem to have quite the liability exposure that some dioceses do, and they certainly have smarter bishops than Spokane does (neither of whom can be accused of voting for Skylstad because neither was an ordinary last year when he took office). But the approach above is (if I may so myself, even to my self) worthy of consideration. Since I don't know a practicing canonist, I'm stuck. If you read this and you know anyone with a JCL or a JCD, do please pass this question on.

No comments: