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.)