Corporation sole canned by Vatican?

Corporation sole canned by Vatican?

A friend sends along the following information out of Rome. I can’t vouch for how accurate it is because I don’t have a second source, but it’s interesting nonetheless. I hope I can verify it soon.

Cardinal Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW for short), has just ruled that the corporation sole model of episcopal ownership of the entire assets of the diocese of which he is the ordinary is contrary to canon law.  This is a shocker, for this model of ownership of diocesan property has been in universal use for a century and more.  Not the least of its ts results has been to give the local ordinary very deep pockets, a fact of which the plaintiff bar has been well aware and upon which all those law suits have been predicated.  It now appears that each parish owns its own property, including bank accounts, which can, but need not, be turned over to the ordinary by the consent of the pastor and his financial council: on this they must agree.  Just what the ordinary does own is now doubtful: presumably the parish of which he is the pastor, probably the seminary, and similar diocesan institutions, but all of that is now in issue.  I admire the decision, if only because of the despond and alarm it will occasion in the plaintiff bar, a natural ally of and major source of funds for the Democratic Party.

I’m not sure if my friend is referring to the recent decision from the Vatican regarding property in Boston because I don’t think that decision was as sweeping as this email suggests.

  • A federal bankruptcy judge ruled today that all the parish churches, parochial schools and other property of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane can be liquidated to pay victims of sexual abuse by priests.
    The decision, expected to have ramifications for dioceses across the nation, was a defeat for Spokane Bishop William Skylstad, who had argued that he did not control individual parishes and thus they were not available to cover settlement costs.

    “It is not a violation of the First Amendment to apply federal bankruptcy law to identify and define property of the bankruptcy estate even though the Chapter 11 debtor is a religious organization,” U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Patricia Williams wrote in a 50-page decision.

    It is also proper to use state law, rather than church law, to determine the size of the estate, Williams said.

  • The Vatican has for perhaps a 100 years discouraged the corporation sole approach to ownership of Church assets. For the most part bishops have been slow to get on the bandwagon – probably out of inertia.

  • The substance of this sounds reasonable, but why would it come from Cdl. Arinze?

    The ownership of church property and the civil implications thereof probably don’t fall into the CDW’s domain.

    Is it possible that the Cardinal said it, but it wasn’t meant to be an official statement?

  • From what I understand, the Vatican has been encouraging the U.S. bishops to change from Corporation Sole to the incorporation of established parishes.  Several diocese have already made the changes, including the dioceses of Lincoln and Baker.

    I have no objections to either model, however, corporation sole has made it easier for bishops, for they probably feel that corporation sole gives them the psychological advantage in their pastoral planning programs.  An incorporated parish model would give the parishoners of closing parishes fuel to say they are the owners of the parish, despite the fact the Bishop would still be the head of the incorporated parish and Canon Law gives him the right to close the parish after consultation with the Diocese’s Presbyteral College and with the publication of the decree of supression of the parish after the consultation.

    We have a long way to go.  The fast pace demographic shifts of the last twenty years has given pastoral planners a good head spin.

    If it makes it any easier, the demographic shifts is also a serious problem in the urban Midwest and in the Northeast, not only in the Catholic Church, but also in the realm of politics (i.e. the number of U.S. Representatives and Electoral College votes from each state).

    I think, if I were a bishop (thank be to God that I am not one), I would change from a Corporation Sole to incorporated parishes after closing the parishes in the first stage of my diocese’s pastoral planning process.  Just a thought.