Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Works of Religion

A call from Boston advised me to look into something in the other paper up there.... Headline says it all: "Vatican: O’Malley can’t have closed church cash"
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.
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.
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.

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.



Blogger Disgusted in DC said...

It depends on how the corporation sole is structured. If somewhere in the incorporation documents of the corporation sole, there is language that states that it must abide by the laws of the Roman Catholic Church, then there is clearly no conflict. Still, an interesting question.

11/8/05 11:42  
Blogger Jeff said...

It's not a CONFLICT between canon and civil law at all. Civil law states that the diocese has ultimate control over the money, sure. But that's only with respect to the civil entity.

That means, if Rome tells Boston that they don't have the right to the money but the parishes do, and Boston refuses to do that and keeps the money, Massachusetts won't enforce Rome's judgment, see? Of course, O'Malley wouldn't do that because it would mean schism, but Massachusetts doesn't care about that.

But just as Church law doesn't bind Massachusetts, so Massachusetts law doesn't bind Rome. They govern different spheres, that's all. Massachusetts doesn't care if Rome says to Boston, "Give the money to the parishes." "That's between you guys, do what you want," is Massachusetts' answer. "You make the rules for your own relationship; it's up to you if you recognize Rome's authority or not," says the State.

Under State law, canon law is voluntary rules for the relationships between Rome, American dioceses and other Church entities which are uneforceable under civil law.

Now if civil law refused to ALLOW Rome to tell Boston what to do, that would be different. But it doesn't FORBID Boston to follow Rome's directive.

Think of it this way. The law might say an eighty year old geezer gives all his money to his twenty year old bimbo wife when he dies. But if she wants to yield the money to his children because she's a sensitive and moral bimbo and recognizes their superior moral right to it, the State doesn't give a hoot. No conflict there at all.

11/8/05 12:02  
Blogger Disgusted in DC said...

"Under State law, canon law is voluntary rules for the relationships between Rome, American dioceses and other Church entities which are uneforceable under civil law."

Not true. You may want to check out the recent case of Dixon v. Edwards. Civil courts can enforce canons.

11/8/05 12:11  
Blogger Jeff said...

Okay, Patrick. How about this:

Under State law, *unless State law has incorporated some aspect of canon law*, canon law is viewed as voluntary rules which are unenforceable, but not prohibited.

The point is, unless civil law has somehow incorporated a provision or principle of canon law, there's no VIOLATION of civil law if canon law mandates an outcome not included in civil law. UNLESS of course, canon law REQUIRES an outcome FORBIDDEN by civil law or, FORBIDS where civil law REQUIRES.

That's not the case with the Boston case, as described. There, it would seem, if the State says it belongs to the Diocese, not the parish, there's still nothing to FORBID the diocese from handing it to the parish if Rome says CANON law requires. The State just won't enforce that. IF that provision is not incorporated as a part of civil law. IF.


The point is, there's no CONFLICT in any case. Not as there would be if, say canon law said a parish MAY NOT cede money to a diocese and civil law said it MUST.

Of course, if civil law DID incorporate canon law in this case, or canon law civil, there would STILL be no conflict, i.e, no mandated difference in outcomes. Right?


11/8/05 15:43  
Blogger Disgusted in DC said...

Again, wrong.

Check out the case of Parish of the Advent vs. The Protestant Episcopal Diocese of Mass. The Supreme Judicial Court of Mass stated thus

"It is entirely appropriate, therefore, to recognize that a hierarchical religious corporation, organized under Massachusetts law, has the power to subordinate itself to a higher tribunal, at least for the purposes at issue here. (34) The Parish did just that, in all likelihood at its inception, but at the very least by 1960 when its constitution was amended to make explicit its accession to the authority of the Diocese and PECUSA."

In other words, if the founding documents of the Archdiocese makes explicit its accession to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, Rome's determination is legally binding on the Archdiocese of Boston. In theory, if the Archdiocese of Boston, ignored Rome, and absconded with the funds from a "merged" parish contrary to Rome's explicit determination to the contrary, a Mass. court could enforce Rome's judgment as to the disposition of the assets of the parish because the Archdiocese voluntarily . The real question is who has standing to sue the diocese, such as a pastor or a member of the parish.

11/8/05 22:01  

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