Suppression or merger

Suppression or merger

Amy Welborn posts a letter from Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos of the Congregation for Clergy to Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, president of the USCCBureaucracy, in which he says that most American parish closings are mergers, not suppressions. The difference is significant, because according to canon law when a parish is suppressed, the assets go to the diocese, but when it’s merged, they go to the parish into which the closed parish is merged. Hoyos tells Skylstad:

A parish is extinguished by the law itself only if no Catholic community any longer exists in its territory, or if no pastoral activity has taken place for a hundred years (can. 120 #1). When a parish is “suppressed” by competent authority in reality the still existing community of Christ’s faithful is actually “merged” into the neighboring community of Christ’s faithful and constitutes a larger community, and the territory of the extinguished parish is added to the other, forming a larger territorial unit.

… Thus the goods and liabilities should go with the amalgamated juridic person, and not to the diocese. This would also seem to be more consonant with the requirement that the wishes of the founders, benefactors and those who have acquired rights be safeguarded, In most cases “suppressions” are in reality a “unio extinctiva” or “amalgamation” or “merger” and as such the goods and obligations do not pass to the higher juridic person, but should pertain to the public juridic person which remains or emerges from the extinctive union. The goods and liabilities should go to the surviving public juridic person, that is the enlarged parish community.

If true, this could have a big effect on the Archdiocese of Boston where most of the parish closings have been characterized as suppressions, not mergers. If Hoyos’ interpretation is correct, one could say that nearly every single closing to date has been a merger in reality (although the nationality-specific personal parishes may be a different case under the law).

Keep in mind that the Congregation for Clergy is the “court” of first appeal for those disputing a parish closing. However, I have to wonder if Hoyos is right, then why haven’t any of the Boston parish closings been overturned?

(Granted, it does seem that, in light of this letter, the Vatican did re-classify some of the closings as mergers, not suppressions, but not all of them, which you’d think would be the case.)

What we need are some canon lawyers to explain this. (Hint, hint.)

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
8 comments
  • Two weeks ago, my parish was merged with an adjacent parish.  Now the new parish, established June 30, 2006 serves four towns, out of two churches.

    The new parish retained all the debts and assets of the new two old parishes.

    NOT a canon lawyer, but very familiar with this.

    IF IT IS A MERGER, A NEW PARISH IS FORMED.

    We had to close out every bank account, contract, employment agreement, P.O. Box, etc, and the start anew on June 30.  Everyone needed to be rehired, new contrats signed, new P.O. Box, ad nauseum…

    So, now our debt is the combined debt of both parishes.

    True merger.

  • To the best of my knowledge all the properties, assets, and debts from the closed parishes have been transfered to the new parishes. 

    As ArchBshp Sean has said time and time again this is not about bankrolling the abuse settlements, what it is about is saving the Diocese from being forced to cover the debts at poor parishes.

    Your question about Holy Trinity though is a good one, I can’t believe that that Church is in need of money, and if it is all the pastor needs to do is ask the Trid mass devotes who tend to be pretty generous.

  • No, this is what I was trying to say in this blog entry. The previous Vatican ruling was very narrowly focused, but what Hoyos says would apply to almost every parish closing, not just the few that the Archdiocese had to modify.

  • This isn’t news for Boston.  Months ago in one of the appeal cases, the Vatican told Boston that the Archdiocese was really performing a merger, so the receiving parish would get the property. 

    The Archdiocesan spin since then is that it would be necessary to “work with” the pastor of the receiving parish in order to get the assets.  That sounds like the receiving parish is entitled by right and law to receive the properties, but the Archdiocese would lean on the pastor to give the gained property to the Archdiocese, supposedly voluntarily.  (Can pastors alienate parish property without the consent of the finance board?  Maybe they can.)

  • RC, you really should read all the comments first to avoid duplicating another. tongue laugh

    As I said, this is different because this wouldn’t apply to just the few parishes previously mentioned, but to nearly every single parish that was closed in Boston. According to Hoyos’ criteria, every territorial parish in Boston would have fallen in this category.

  • So it would appear that any parish in Boston in active dispute of its suppression could successfully appeal, not necessarily overturning the closing, but only turning it into a merger. I don’t think that would satisfy either side in the disputes, although I can picture some of the protesters doing so as a means of spiting the archdiocese.

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