Congregation for the Clergy, Closing a church and relegation of the church to profane but not sordid use, 2012, Private.
A Diocesan Bishop, having completed a pastoral planning process, received a request from the pastor of a parish recommending that one of the remaining churches in the parish be closed. The Diocesan Bishop requested the relegation of the Church to profane but not sordid use and obtained the necessary approvals in accord with canons 1222 §2 and 127 §2. Several “recurrents” requested reconsideration of the decision by the Diocesan Bishop. After the Bishop indicated that he would not revoke or change the decree, the recurrents sought hierarchical recourse from the Congregation for the Clergy in accord with canon 1737. Below is the Congregation’s response.
CONGREGATION FOR THE CLERGYVatican City, ______ 2012
Prot. N. ______
This Congregation has received and thanks Your Excellency for your letter of ______ last, concerning the relegation of the church of X to profane but not sordid use.
The Dicastery has now issued a canonical response to this recourse, which is enclosed for the timely information of Your Excellency, together with a copy of the letters of transmission both to the recurrents and the diocesan procurator-advocate.
In keeping with the dignity which inherently belongs to buildings once used as churches, the relegated church is not to be alienated to any purchaser who is likely to use it for non-Christian worship or for any other purpose contrary to the doctrinal or moral teaching of the Church. Your Excellency is courteously reminded that, in certain circumstances (cf. 1292 §2), the permission of this Congregation is required before alienation of the property may take place.
In order to avoid the danger of scandal or of profanation of sacred objects, moveable altars and sacred objects are to be transferred to another Catholic church, or otherwise entrusted to ecclesiastical care. With regard to fixed altars and other fixed sacred objects, the relics deposited in or below any altar are to be removed and entrusted to ecclesiastical care, after which such altars and any other fixed sacred objects are to be removed for future use in another Catholic church, if possible, or otherwise destroyed (cf. cann. 1238, 1212).
I avail myself of this opportunity to renew my sentiments of esteem and with ever best wish, I remain,
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+ Celso Morga Iruzubieta
Titular Archbishop of Alba Maritima
Prot. N. ______
DECREE1. Whereas, by a decree of July 24, 1992, the then Bishop of ______, the Most Reverend ______, merged four parishes in ______, establishing a new territorial parish of ______ (can 515 §2), and relegated two churches to profane but not sordid use (can. 1222 §2), retaining the churches of Y and X and establishes the church of Y as the center of pastoral activity of the parish, and the location of the parish school and rectory;
2. Whereas, following a pastoral planning process in 2007-2009, it was recommended that one of the remaining churches in the parish of ______ should be closed, and one should remain open as the parish church;
3. Whereas on May 14, 2011 the pastor of the parish of ______ presented a petition to the Bishop of ______, the Most Reverend ______ (hereinafter called “the Ordinary”), requesting the relegation of the church X to profane but not sordid use, such petition being co-signed by members of the Parish Finance Council and Parish Pastoral Council, with three members indicating their dissent;
4. Whereas on May 24, 2011 the Ordinary consulted the Presbyteral Council on the possible reduction of the Church X to profane but not sordid use, in accordance with cann. 1222 §2 and 127 §1;
5. Whereas on July 1, 2011 the Ordinary issued a decree relegating the church X to profane but not sordid use, and in that decree set forth his motives for its issue in accordance with can. 51, and notified its contents to the members of the parish on July 16, 2011.
6. Whereas on July 25, 2011 ______, ______, ______, ______, ______, and ______ (hereinafter called “the recurrents”) wrote to the Ordinary requesting the reconsideration and reversal of his decree, in accordance with can. 1734;
7. Whereas on August 12, 2011 the Ordinary wrote to the recurrents indicating that he would not revoke or amend his decree, and giving his reasons for that decision;
8. Whereas on August 29, 2011 the recurrents sent their request for hierarchical recourse to the Congregation for the Clergy in accordance with can. 1737, this recourse being considered to have been legitimately placed within the peremptory time limits;
9. Whereas on November 21, 2011 in response to the inquiry of this Dicastery into the matter, the Ordinary submitted his votum and the acts of the cause;
10. Whereas on July 5, 2012 the recurrents submitted further observations to this Congregation, taking issue with the motives contained in the decree of July 1, 2011, and challenging the assertions of the Ordinary as to the financial state of the parish;
11. Whereas on July 16, 2012 the Ordinary submitted a further votum and further acts to this Dicastery, including a detailed analysis of the financial state of the parish, and presenting a more thorough explanation of the motives for his decision: since the establishment of the parish of ______, all parish and school activity has been based at the church Y, owing largely to the state of the parochial buildings at the church X; the location of the church Y is more convenient for the large majority of the diminished number of parishioners, the neighborhood in which the church X is situated is considered unsafe and many local, commercial and residential buildings having been abandoned; only one weekly Mass was celebrated in the church X and, owing to the shortage of clergy, this situation would not improve; the lack of parish funds to maintain two churches, coupled with the inability to make the capital investment required to demolish the parochial buildings adjacent to the church X and to make necessary repairs and improvements to the church itself, which would ultimately lead to it falling into ruin.
12. Whereas an hierarchical recourse is, by its nature, a documentary process which proceeds on the basis of examination of authentic documents provided by interested parties at the request of this Congregation; thus having provided by interested parties at the request of this Congregation; thus having provided ample opportunity for all interested parties to respond and having carefully examined the documents submitted by both the Ordinary and the recurrents, this Dicastery judges as complete the documentation in its possession and proceeds therefore to its decision per cartas;
13. As concerns the procedure required by can. 1222 §2, the acts show that, having received the formal petition of the parish priest of May 14, 2011 to relegate the church X to profane but not sordid use, the Ordinary consulted the Presbyteral Council on May 24, 2011. The minutes of the meeting show that the members unanimously favoured the relegation of the church to profane but not sordid use. The only person revealed in the acts who could lawfully claim rights over the church within the meaning of can. 1222 §2 is the parish priest, whose consent is manifested in his letter to the Ordinary and the accompanying petition of May 14, 2011. The acts further show that the Ordinary issued a motivated decree on July 1, 2011. This Congregation considers that the procedure followed is both valid and lawful.
14. As concerns the decision taken, can. 1222 §2 imposes a duty on the Ordinary to show a grave reason that a church should no longer be used for divine worship. The motivating causes contained in the decree of July 1, 2011 are the enhancement of the liturgical, pastoral and spiritual unity of the parish, the lack of financial resources to maintain the church X, the lack of architectural, historical or artistic significance to the building and the continuing maintenance diminishing the care of souls. Although some of the reasons expressed do not constitute a grave cause in themselves, this Dicastery finds that there are sufficient reasons provided by the Ordinary both within his decree and his statements to this Congregation, as summarized in paragraph 11 hereof, which, when taken together, are indeed grave. This Dicastery further finds that the Ordinary has taken suitable steps to ensure that the good of souls will not be harmed by the relegation of the church X, to profane but not sordid use.
This Congregation hereby decrees that this petition for hierarchical recourse as presented, with regard to the decree of relegation of the church X in the Diocese of ______ to profane but not sordid use does not have a canonical basis either in law or in fact and is rejected both in procedendo and in decernendo.
Recourse against this Decree may be made before the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura within the peremptory time limit established by the Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio, Antiqua Ordinatione 34 §1.
Given at the Seat of the Congregation for the Clergy,
Mauro Cardinal Piacenza
Celso Morga Iruzubieta
Prefect Titular Archbishop of Alba Maritima
Congregation for the Clergy, Closing a church and relegation of the church to profane but not sordid use, 2012, Private, CLSA, Roman Replies and Advisory Opinions, 2013, 13-17.