Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Finally getting it right in Tuscon

It took a bunch of lawyers' fees, and an ill-advised bankruptcy filing, but the Bishop of Tuscon is finally doing something right with respect to his administration of the temporal goods of the church there. He's separately incorporated parishes, and their property will be administered by 5-member boards of directors, with two independent laymen on each board. The result is that the parishes will be recognized in civil law and protected from diocesan creditors as separate legal entities--just as they are recognized in canon law as separate juridic persons (Can. 515). In each parish, the property is still under the ultimate control of the Bishop, who by membership on the board and appointment of two other members, controls the board (as is clear from the whining of progressives in this article), but with a minority of independent directors (as finance and bankruptcy folks'll tell you) the parishes get much more protection from a civil law perspective, and from a canonical perspective as well. So, Tuscon's Ordinary is finally fulfilling his obligations under Can 1284. It's not good that it took the Scandal and the fleecing of parishioners by scoundrel plaintiff's lawyers to get it done, but at least it's done.

There are some Catholics I know of who are appalled at the thought that an Ordinary would have anything less than autocratic powers with respect to parish property within his diocese, and can't imagine any layman or parishioner having any say whatsoever with respect to parish property. Among those Catholics we can number at least two Archbishops: Burke (reneging on the St. Stanislaus deal) and O'Malley (putting the Church out of business in Boston). I would disagree, as would some canonists I've read, whose work I'm going to grossly oversimply. In Europe, I understand, the separate ownership of parish property is, and always has been, much more clear (at least until the secular state intervened). Parishes were, while still being under the jurisdiction of the local ordinary, of course, given far more practical and legal/canonical protection and prerogatives in the administration of their property than in the United States. In Europe, historically, the Catholic principle of subsidiarity seems to have been followed in this respect. In the United States, however, Bishops started from scratch, so to speak, and with typically-American contempt for custom and the wisdom of the ages, from the Council of Baltimore on, generally kept that power in their own hands through the administration of their dioceses as corporations sole. They also practically eliminated any autonomy of parishes by making pastoral appointments for a limited term of a half-dozen years, or, practically (with the power of removal by almost-unappealable administative process) at the Bishop's pleasure. European pastorships were historically for life, with removal for cause by juridic process, of course. Pastors in the American system can't afford to represent their parish's interests properly, because they've got a conflict of interest--they depend on the Bishop for the next job.

Funny how the American Bishops, as a body, throw fits about collegiality and subsidiarity when Rome corrects them for forcing crappy Mass translations on us and whatnot, but they can't seem to apply that same principle of subsidiarity to their own local Churches, eh?

Well, hopefully other dioceses will follow suit and straighten out their own messes before the black-robed enemies of the Church get their vile hands in the basket as they have in Portland and Spokane.

I need to get on line and see how the local dioceses have their property titled. For articles on this and other topics, I do suggest you visit St. Joseph's Foundation online. This group has a number of very interesting articles on parish property issues which can be downloaded.


N. Trandem said...

"Collegiality" and "Subsidiarity" as expressed by the Bishops at V2 and lived by them and their successors, means making every local Bishop a tyrannical mini-Pope. There was a reason that Cathedral Chapters and Metropolitan oversight of Suffragans existed for over a thousand years in the Church - an unfettered Bishop is much more likely to do damage to the local Church, and that kind of unfettered power attracts exactly the wrong sort of people into the Priesthood and Episcopacy.

Anonymous said...

Could you clarify what you think Bishop Burke reneged on in regard to St. Stanilaus? I am not sure where you are coming down here to be honest. My household is friends with the priest who was booted out and have followed this quite closely. A lot of this really was out of Bishop Burke's hands and there is one place where I think he made a strategic mistake but I can't say for sure. Still, erring in tactic to a situation that started under Rigali but had to be cleaned up by Burke and even Finn is entirely different then saying he reneged on something. Please explain, I am curious.

Anonymous said...

Ok, I keep thinking about this. St. Stanilaus was not within the code of Canon Law. They were told so by the dioceses when Rigali was there by their parish priest who is a canon lawyer and a very orthodox and holy priest. The Bishop had lost control some where along the way to make appointments. The board hid assets from the parish priest's control. Rigali, Burke or anyone in the dioceses of St. Louis were only doing what they were suppose to be doing as shepherd of the flock.

Curmudgeon said...

I don't know enough about the personalities involved or how the matter was handled before it made headlines to offer comment on anything other than the basic arrangement. And the basic arrangement, not the personalities involved, is what matters. Frankly, I'm pretty confident that St. Stan's wasn't the sort of place I'd have gone to Mass, even before things heated up (I'd be at St. Francis de Sales, I'm sure, if I lived in St. Louis), so I've got no personal issues here.

The deal was that the physical plant and the parish's temporal goods were under the parish's control. Maybe that's not the way it should have been set up, and that's not the way it would have been set up today under current canon law, but that's the arrangement--the contract--that the parish had with the archbishop. It was, apparently, a licit arrangement when it was established, and so it remains a licit arrangement until the parties mutually agree to change it.

The archbishop still had full control of the priests and matters spiritual, but he had no right to try to take control of the parish assets--he's bound by his predecessor's deal. He may even elect to suppress the parish, for good reason, but when the archbishop demanded control of the parish assets he threatened a breach of the contract. And the parish's refusal to cede its long-established rights alone is hardly a good reason to escalate the situation.

I've always wondered what else was going on there--perhaps from a liturgical or theological point of view--that might otherwise justify Burke's actions, but when the matter turns to issue is simply one of control of parish. assets . . . sorry, he loses in this case.

What if we take this a step further and look at a more recent example. As you may know, in New Jersey, there's a traditional chapel that has reconcilied with its ordinary (Myers in Newark, I think). The deal was that the board of trustees for the chapel (representing the donors who bought and maintained the chapel without the support of the diocese) could retain ownership of the property. The arrangement resolved legitimate issues of mistrust, and now both the traditionals who attend the chapel and the diocese as a whole are benefitted by it. Can Myers' successor supress or refuse to support the chapel if he has a reason to? Yeah. Should Myers' successor be able to cite new a new canon to demand that the chapel board deed the property to the diocese in contravention of the agreement his predecessor made? No. And if he did, what is the likelihood that the tens or hundreds of thousands of traditional Catholics who are (we pray) on the verge of reconciliation would take notice and back away?

Anonymous said...

The original agreement did give the Archbishop the right to appoint the board and the Civil Corporation changed the original agreeement so that the Bishop and pastor were not recognized.
I have to believe the Archbishop when he wrote, "there has never been a question that the money and all the other temporal goods of the parish belong to the parish, as is the case with every other parish in the archdiocese. I have no authority to seize the funds of any parish for any purpose, no matter how noble. My interest in the right ordering of parish life at St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish involves money only to the extent that it includes the stewardship of the goods of the parish, according to ecclesiastical and civil law, and the vigilance over the administration of the temporal goods of the parish, so that they are used for the good of the parish. For that reason, from the beginning, I have insisted that a public audit of the parish’s goods be conducted, so that there could be no question of any misappropriation of the parish’s goods."
The St. Stanislaus Board agaist the advise of the Archbishop appealed to Rome and the Congregation of the Clery. They were told to comply with the Archbishop. They were told that they were attempting to make the role of the priest impotent. The forced the Archbishop's hand.
I am not a canon lawyer but Archbishop Burke is considered a excellent one. Taking the track recorded of the Archbishop and the former pastor and the the Board of St. Stan's and their new pastor, I am going with team Archbishop Burke.
Further, the Archbishop could have maintain a legal claim by leaving his priests in residence there but he did not.
You can fake every virture but one and that is obedience.

Curmudgeon said...

You can fake every virture but one and that is obedience?

Sounds good, but then there are chanceries, rectories and universities around the world full of folks who are faking obedience.

It would be helpful, in furthering this analysis, to know who first disturbed the status quo and broke the customary order of business--whether Rigali or his priests did, or whether the board did. Alas, that's something that's not appropriately fleshed out in this forum, so I'll let it drop.