An impending court battle in Tucson, Arizona, could affect every Catholic in the US. At issue is who owns parishes? The diocese or the parishes themselves? Now, canon law is clear. Parishes are juridical persons in themselves, at the disposition of the bishop. In other words, they are independent of the diocesan structure in most things, although still subject to control of the bishop who may suppress them, merge them, and so on, within the bounds of canon law. But does canon law hold up in secular court?
If the courts decide that parishes are the property of the diocese, then watch out because the lawyers will be coming. Lawyers for abuse victims will see dollar signs and they will be coming with liquidation orders. If you think parish closings are bad now, you haven’t seen anything yet. And they won’t use kid gloves. The lawyers liquidating parishes will come with eviction notices and sheriff’s deputies, not the kid gloves of the archbishop of Boston.
The question then becomes what happens if a parish’s church is closed and sold off to pay some legal settlement at the order of a judge and then the people of that parish build a new church? Can the judge come along and claim that too? Is any money given by laypeople for a Catholic charitable purpose automatically available for seizure by plaintiffs seeking payment on their damage claims? What will happen to the ability of Catholics to practice their religion in freedom? There are some ugly potential ramifications in all this.