Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Parishes united pleno iure to clerical institutes of consecrated life, 3 October 2009, Private.


The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts issued a decree to a parish clarifying the status of a parish joined pleno iure to a clerical religious house under canon 1425 §2 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law and the current status of the parish under the 1983 Code. The response of the Pontifical Council follows.




Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts

Attached to Prot. N. _____

As regards parishes joined pleno iure to a religious house in accordance with canon 1425 §2, of the 1917 CIC Canon 1425 of the 1917 Code provided two principal means of joining parishes to a house of a religious institute: one was called pleno iure, and the other was concerned only with temporal goods:

§1. Si a Sede Apostolica paroecia domui religiosae uniatur ad temporalia tantum quod attinet, domus religiosa particeps fit solummodo fructuum paroeciae, et Superior religious sacerdotem e clero saeculari in eadem instituendum, assignata congrua portione, Ordinario loci praesentare debet.

§2. Sin autem pleno iure, paroecia fit religiosa, et Superior potest sacerdotem e sua religione ad curam animarum exercendam nominare, sed Ordinarii loci est eundem probare et instituere, eiusque iurisdictioni, correctioni et visitationi ipse subesse debet in iis rebus quae ad curam animarum pertinent, ad normam can. 631.1

Moreover canon 631 §1, confirmed the Ordinary’s right of visitation and the subjection of the pastor appointed by the religious Superior to his jurisdiction.2 Canon 452 §1, established that the pastor of these parishes was the moral person.3 And canon 741 §1, required that a vicar would be named for the care of souls.4

In 1966, the Motu proprio Ecclesiae Sanctae,5 I, 21 §2, established that “Paroeciae ne amplius uniantur pleno iure Capitulis canonicorum. Si quae unitae exstent, auditis tum Capitulo tum Consilio Presbyterali, separentur et parochus instituatur – sive inter capitulares selectus sive non – qui omnibus facultatibus gaudeat, quae ex iuris praescripto parochis competunt.” In the next paragraph (§3) it mentioned that “iura (…) quaesita, cum iisdem [any holders of such rights] a competenti Auctoritate res apte componantur.” It did not add anything about parishes joined pleno iure to houses of religious Institutes; nevertheless, in n. 33 §1, provided that the Ordinary could entrust a parish to a religious Institute, be it in perpetuum or ad tempus, “mediante conventione scripta.”

In the 1983 code, canon 520 §1, expressly states that, “Persona iuridica ne sit parochus.” Therefore a religious Institute or a religious house, as such, cannot be a pastor and new pleno iure unions are prohibited.6 However, the canon allows the diocesan Bishop to “entrust a parish to a clerical religious institute or to a clerical society of apostolic life, even by establishing it in the church of the institute or society, subject however to the rule that one priest be the parish priest.” The following paragraph precisely states: “The entrustment of a parish, as in §1, may be either in perpetuity or for a specified time. In either case this is to be done by means of a written agreement made between the diocesan Bishop and the competent Superior of the institute or society. This agreement must expressly and accurately define, among other things, the work to be done, the persons to be assigned to it and the financial arrangements.”7

This Pontifical Council has taken into consideration the parishes united pleno iure to Institutes of consecrated life as passive subjects of the ordinary diocesan tribute, in a Decree on February 8, 2000 concerning an appeal of an inconsistency between a particular law and canon 1263 CIC.8 The text of the Decree quotes a June 25, 1979 answer of the Pontifical Commission on the Interpretation of the Vatican Council II Decrees. In it, it is explicitly asked whether the power of the Ordinary to entrust a parish to a religious Institute also might include the faculty to dissolve the union between the Institute and the parish. The Commission responded affirmatively, save any acquired rights, if they exist.9 This Decree precisely stated again: “The meaning of this resolution […] (is that) the unions of parishes to religious houses (both paragraphs of canon 1425 CIC 1917 and therefore including those joined pleno iure) can be separated by the Ordinary of the place (…). This Interpretation leads to distinguishing between the acquired rights and the union: the first remain, the second can be regulated in a different way” (n. 4.5).10

In regard to the possibility of imposing the diocesan tribute on parishes united pleno iure to a house of a religious Institute, the aforementioned Decree concluded: “Therefore, generally, also those parishes considered as united pleno iure, being parishes, are subject to the diocesan Bishop and, as a consequence, can be subjected to the ordinary tribute as regards its income, save any possible and documented specifically acquired rights” (n. 4.5).

In fact, in the past, the pleno iure union of the parish to a religious house conferred the office of pastor to that same house (cf. cc. 452 §1; 471 and 1425 §2, of the 1917 CIC), and so represented a fundamental characteristic of their juridical configuration, which, however, is contrary to the current canon 520 §1, CIC.11 On one side, the new Code has abrogated the benefice system and all the questions that were related to it, such as the pleno iure union between parishes and religious Institutes. On the other side, in its norms there are no explicit indications about the acquired rights linked to the union of benefices or of institutes occurring in the past. However, as is noted, canon 4 determines that “Iura quaesita, itemque privilegia quae, ab Apostolica Sede ad haec usque tempora personis sive physicis sive iuiridicis concessa, in usu sunt nec revocata, integra manent, nisi huius Codicis canonibus expresse revocentur.”

The unions and divisions of juridical persons are provided for only in very general terms in the new Code, in canons 121 and 122 CIC. On the contrary, for the entrustment of parishes one needs to refer to canon 520 CIC, while for the previous rights, canon 9 ought to be applied, according to which, “Leges respiciunt futura, non praeterita, nisi nominatim in eisde praeteritis caveatur.”

As a consequence, the disappearance of the benefice system and the impossibility of new entrustments of pleno iure parishes does not automatically imply the modification of the previously agreed upon rights between the subjects (cf. c. 4 CIC), because the 1983 Code protects the previously acquired rights. The parishes joined pleno iure to houses of religious Institutes when the 1917 Code was in force, with the entrance into force of the new Code, should be considered as entrusted to the institute (cf. c. 520 §1 CIC). Such entrustment cannot come up for discussion because it deals with acquired rights which cannot be touched (in this case, in fact, the same juridical figure of pleno iure union was suppressed from the right, therefore not being able to invoke rights which are based exactly upon that juridical figure, and not on other reasons); instead, it would be suitable to establish a new convention that adapts the agreements to the new Code.12

As regards the power of the diocesan Bishops to dissolve the pleno iure unions of parishes to religious Institutes, it is useful to recall that the Motu proprio Ecclesiae Sanctae ordered the Bishops to proceed with the separation of the parishes from the Chapters (I, 21 §2) and the new Code took up the norm in canon 510 §1: “Capitulo canonicorum ne amplius uniantur paroeciae; quae unitae alicui capitulo exstent, ab Episcopo dioecesano a capitulo separentur.” Regarding the parishes joined pleno iure to a house of a religious Institute, neither the Motu proprio nor the new Code establish the necessity of the permission of the Holy See in order to proceed with such separations. This ought to be considered together with the content of canon 515 §2, CIC: “Paroecias erigere, supprimere aut eas innovare unius est Episcopi dioecesani, qui paroecias ne erigat aut supprimat, neve eas notabiliter innovet, nisi audito consilio presbyterali.” Or perhaps more properly, the parishes are essentially diocesan structures and the diocesan Bishop has all the necessary power to carry out his work, with the conclusion that he would be competent to rescind the union of a parish to an Institute, having heard the Presbyteral Council. The Moto proprio Ecclesiae Sanctae states that “Paroecias erigere aut supprimere vel eas quoquo modo innovare Episcopus dioecesanus propria auctoritate, audito Consilio Presbyterali, potest, ita tamen ut, si sint conventiones inter Apostolicam Sedem et Gubernium civile vel iura aliis personis physicis vel moralibus quaesita, cum iisdem a competenti Auctoritate res apte componantur” (I, 21 §3). Doctrine has reaffirmed the validity of the norm that requires an agreement between the interested parties even after the promulgation of the 1983 code, given that the subject is not dealt with there.13

The adaptation of the new codified norms of the links between the parish and the religious Institute, by means of a new written convention between the interested parties (cf. c. 520 §2 CIC), must respect the acquired rights originating in the original agreement and in the Decree by which the parish was joined pleno iure to a house of a religious Institute.

As regards parishes joined pleno iure to Institutes of consecrated life already in existence, there is no explicit legal provision, but one needs to observe the prohibition of naming a juridical person as pastor: the office of the pastor must be provided for in conformity with the Law in every case in favor of a physical person. The Bishop can separate the parish from the house of the religious Institute, always having to respect the acquired rights: the parish must be entrusted to the same religious Institute reviewing the convention. The change brought about from this intervention requires the opinion of the Presbyteral Council.

Vatican City, October 3, 2009




1 The comment on this canon is particularly clear in V. DE PAOLIS, De paroeciis institutis religiosis commissis vel committendis, in “Periodica” 74 (1985) pp. 392 ff.

2 Canon 631, §1: “Idem parochus vel vicarius religiosus, licet ministerium exerceat in domo seu loco ubi maiores Superiores religiosi ordinariam sedem habent, subest immediate omnimodae iurisdictioni visitationi et correctioni Ordinarii loci, non secus ac parochi saeculares, regulari observantia unice excepta.”

3 Canon 452 §1: “Sine Apostolicae Sedis indulto paroecia nequit personae morali pleno iure uniri, ita nempe ut ipsamet persona moralis sit parochus, ad normam can. 1423 §2.” This can. 1423 §2, established that the Ordinaries of the places “Nequeunt vero paroeciam unire cum mensa capitulari vel episcopali, cum monasteriis, ecclesiis religiosorum aut alia persona morali, neque cum dignitatibus et beneficiis ecclesiae cathedralis vel collegiatae; sed possunt eam cum ecclesia cathedrali aut collegiali, quae in territorio paroeciae sita sit, ita unire ut reditus paroeciae cedant in commodum ipsius ecclesiae, relicta parocho vel vicario congrua portione.” Even the doctrine stressed that the true pastor of these parishes was the Institute or the religious house, and the priest appointed was considered, according to can. 471, a parochial vicar (cf., for example, the comment on can. 1425, in L. MIGUÉLEZ – S. ALONSO – M. CABREROS DE ANTA, Código de Derecho Canónico y legislación complementaria, Madrid 12 1980, pp. 557-558; M. CONTEA CORONATA, Institutiones iuris canonici, vol. II, Taurini Romae 1939, p. 375). Wernz stated precisely that the cura animarum habitualis of these parishes was entrusted to the Institute but its exercise actualis was conferred on the vicarius curatus (cf. F.X. WERNZ, P. VIDAL, Ius canonicum, II, Romae 1943, n. 740 p. 943), also called vicar in actu (cf. A. GAUTHIER, L’affidamento della parrocchia ad un gruppo di sacerdoti in solidum o a fedeli non sacerdoti nonché ad un istituto religioso, in AA. VV. La parrocchia, Cittá del Vaticano 1997, pp. 57-58).

4 Can. 471, §1: “Si paroecia pleno iure fuerit unita domui religiosae, ecclesiae capitulari vel alii personae morali, debet constitui vicarius, qui actualem curam gerat animarum, assignata eidem congrua fructuum portione, arbitrio Episcopi.”

5 August 6, 1966, in AAS 58 (1966) 757-787.

6 This is the way it is expressed in V. DE PAOLIS, De paroeciis institutis religiosis commissis cit. p. 404: “prohibitio unionis pleno iure personae iuridicae ad mentem cann. 510 et 520.” And it added that the prohibition of can. 520 §1, is valid also for the parishes already entrusted to the religious: “Quoad prohibitionem quominus parochus non sit persona juridica, haec praescriptio videtur valere etiam quoad paroecias institutis religiosis iam commissas” (ibid. p. 416).

7 Canon 520 §1: “Persona iuridica ne sit parochus; Episcopus autem dioecesanus, non vero Administrator dioecesanus, de consensu competentis Superioris, potest paroeciam committere instituto religioso clericali vel societati clericali vitae apostolicae, eam erigendo etiam in ecclesia instituti aut societatis, hac tamen lege ut unus presbyter sit paroeciae parochus, aut, si cura pastoralis pluribus in solidum committatur, moderator, de quo in can. 517 §1.”

Canon 520 §2: “Paroeciae commissio, de qua in §1, fieri potest sive in perpetuum sive ad certum praefinitum tempus; in utroque casu fiat mediante conventione scripta inter Episcoporum dioecesanum et competentem Superiorem instituti vel societatis inita, qua inter alia expresse et accurate definiantur, quae ad opus explendum, ad personas eidem addicendas et ad oeconomicas spectent.”

8 Cfr. Communicationes, 32 (2000) pp. 15-23.

9 “Utrum norma, de qua in Litteris Apostolicis Motu proprio datis die 6 augusti 1966, ‘Ecclesiae Sanctae,’ I, 33, relate ad potestatem Ordinarii loci, de consensu competentis Superioris, committendi paroeciam religioso Instituto, includat quoque facultatem scindendi eandem unionem, vi can. 1425 CIC statutam, absque interventu Apostolicae Sedis. R.: affirmative, salvis iurisbus quaesitis, si quae extent” (cfr. PONTIFICIO CONSIGLIO PER L’INTERPRETAZIONE DEI TESTI LEGISLATIVI, Decreto sul ricorso di congruenza fra legge particolare e norma codiciale, 8 febbraio 2000, cit. n. 4.5).

10 However, in the case of _____ this problem does not arise because the agreement through which the parish is joined pleno iure to the Institute (cf. Attachment 1, Document 2, p. 6) states that “cathedraticum will be paid” (the cathedraticum is considered by many to be the predecessor of the current ordinary tribute) and that “tributes will be paid.”

11 Cf., in this sense, A.S. SÁNCHEZ-GIL, comment on can. 515, in AA.VV. Commentario Exegético al Código de Derecho Canónico, II/2, Pamplona, 2002, pp. 1202-1205.

12 Cf. V. DE PAOLIS, De paroeciis institutis religiosis commissis, cit. pp. 416-417.

13 Cf., for all, A.S. Sánchez-Gil, commento al can. 515, in AA.VV., Commentario exegético al Código de Derecho Canónico, II/2, Pamplona 2002, p. 1206. The author gives the interpretation offered by the Pontifical Commission for the Interpretation of the Decrees of Vatican Council II of July 3, 1969 (AAS 61 [1969] 551) to identify the competent authority of the Bishop and of the Congregation for the Clergy.




Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Parishes united pleno iure to clerical institutes of consecrated life, 3 October 2009, Private, CLSA, Roman Replies and Advisory Opinions, 2010, 5-10.