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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Friday, January 06, 2006

It may not be our church property, but it's still our Church

Over at In the Light of the Law, Dr. Ed Peters offers a succinct and enlightening summary of the possible (likely?) fallout from the recent Oregon bankruptcy court holding that parishes and schools within the Archdiocese are diocesan property and can be liquidated - if necessary - to pay judgments in lawsuits brought by sex abuse victims. Here's a sample:
Under civil law, parish properties across the United States are registered in at least four very different ways (corporation sole, religious corporation, various trust models, and fee simple). But to complicate unavoidably an already complex situation, under canon law all parishes are "juridic persons" (1983 CIC 515). Thus, regardless of civil registration forms, Catholic parishes canonically own the assets assigned to or acquired by themselves (1983 CIC 1256). Pastors, who administer parish assets (1983 CIC 532, 1279), and bishops, who exercise vigilance over property belonging to juridic persons in their territory (1983 CIC 392, 1276), are sworn (1983 CIC 833) to act in accord with canon law in the performance of their duties lest, among other things, their actions be null and they themselves be derelict performance of their duties (cit. omm.). The stage is now set for a classic "free-exercise" conflict.
Read the article. What do you make of what Dr. Peters has to say? Are you among those who think individual parishes and schools should not be touched because a) the parishioners have given to their parish (and have frequently built the parish) with the understanding that it is a local entity distinct from the diocese, and/or b) to do so might end up treading on Canon Law and render meaningless the juridical status of the parish? Or are some of us just called to suffer because we may live in a diocese which will lose one or more parishes/schools because the diocese had its share of priest molesters and kept its corporate structure centralized? Have a different opinion?

I'm with those who believe we may be called to suffer (more) as a result of poor decisions that have been made by our bishops and cardinals on so many levels. In many ways, this suffering has begun in spades. Most obviously, the victims themselves have suffered immensely...and many of them will never see a penny for all that they have been through. The good priests in this country, too, have suffered: from losing the right to minister to the faithful due to a false accusation, to the everyday snickers and dirty looks, these men have endured and carried on. I know one priest who is now so sensitive to the stereotypes that he refrains from even hugging his juvenile nieces and nephews. Too much? Try walking a day in his shoes. Another priest I know -- my college roommate for three years -- can no longer invite me to his room at the rectory to have me look at something, say, on his computer there. Nor can he put his old roommate up for a night in a spare room at the rectory, as he did in the past when I was visiting, because of the zero-tolerance policy now in place in his diocese. Although the policy has only minor impact on me, it is something he has to deal with every day.

And the Church Militant as a whole will continue to suffer the temporal consequences of the sins that have been committed in this scandal. It will suffer the inconvenience of having to travel further for mass, of having fewer options as to where to place children in Catholic school, and it may even lose nearby church buildings and be forced to improvise and rebuild. Without wanting to oversimplify these unfortunate circumstances, I think those who experience them would do well to offer them up for the real Church Suffering...the souls in Purgatory whose pain is such that we'd go back to actual catecombs for mass before swapping places with them.

While in Austria recently, I visited the cathedral in Salzburg -- the Dom -- which was bombed (by the Allies, no less) during WWII. There was extensive damage to the cathedral and the dome itself collapsed as a result, but it was completely rebuilt by the Austrian faithful. If memory serves, the restoration took from the end of the war until 1959. But rebuild they did, and so will those of us who lose our churches to the spiritual battle that was fought and lost in the hearts of so many severely misguided priests...and the hierarchy that enabled them for so long.