The Works of Religion
A powerful Vatican agency is poised to let parishioners from seven closed Catholic churches take millions of dollars of assets to their new parishes – a step that would derail a plan by archdiocesan leaders to use the money for broad church needs.This is messy, and puzzling -- the case was ruled by the Congregation for the Clergy on a recourse from seven parishes which appealed closings. It's certainly a massive slap in the face to O'Malley's reconfiguration plan, and it's the last thing the archdiocese of Boston needs when it's already on the today's front pages for seeming control-freaky and out of touch on issues of finance.
To head off a final ruling to that effect, the archdiocese is trying to persuade pastors of parishes receiving members from closed neighboring churches to voluntarily give up the money.
Whatever the case, it is a vindication of Rome's role in checking the excesses of local bishops, and of the process of canonical appeal. But, stipulations on alienation aside, it presents a conflict between the canons and civil law.
Like most American dioceses, Boston has the juridic personality of "corporation sole," i.e. that, for legal purposes, all its entities are bound up in a single entity. I might be wrong, but it was always my understanding that when entities of a corporation sole are suppressed, that the residual assets remain within that corporation and can be re-allocated any way the corporation sole (the archbishop) sees fit. If a "corporate aggregate" were employed (where each parish is, legally speaking, independent -- an arrangement which greatly reduces liability damages), it would be different. But I've got calls out to my stable of canonists and will have a better answer later in the day.