Congregation for the Clergy, Suppression of a parish and reduction of a church building to profane but not sordid use, 11 March 2011, Private.
Following a pastoral planning process studying the possible realignment of parishes, the Diocesan Bishop, after consulting the Presbyteral Council, notified the faithful of the area of his decision to merge some parishes and issued a Decree affecting the merger. Parishioners of one of the affected parishes appealed the decision to the Congregation for the Clergy. It was not clear in the documentation whether the decision to close the church was a separate consultation and based on a gravis causa. The response of the Congregation follows.
Congregatio pro ClericsProt. No. _______
Regarding the hierarchical recourse of Ms. _______ et alii against the merger (fusio), of _______ Parish, _______ U.S.A. into St. _______ Parish, _______, U.S.A., and the closure of _______ Church.
1. Whereas in 2006 the six Parishes of the North Side of the City of _______, U.S.A., began a pastoral planning process under the direction of the then Most Reverend Bishop of _______, His Excellency _______;
2. Whereas this planning process continued for three years and studied the presence of the Catholic Church in the area, soliciting input from the clergy, religious, trustees, and lay leaders of those same Parishes in accord with c. 50;
3. Whereas this process involved studying the possible realignment of Parishes on the North Side of _______, since it was motivated by a desire (1) to maintain an effective Catholic presence on the North Side, (2) to provide effective stewardship in light of shrinking resources, and (3) to respond to the needs of new inhabitants, (cf. Letter of Bishop _______ to _______, 21 December 2009);
4. Whereas due to the resignation of Bishop _______ as Ordinary, the See of _______ on 21 April 2009 came under the governance of His Excellency, the Most Reverend _______, now Ordinary;
5. Whereas on 24 November 2009, the Ordinary consulted the Presbyteral Council of the Diocese of _______ as required by law (c. 515 §2);
6. Whereas on 7 December 2009 by way of a Letter to the Faithful of the North Side of _______ the Ordinary gave his decision to merge, (i.e., fundere) _______ Parish, _______, into St. _______ Parish, _______;
7. Whereas the Decree of the Ordinary of 16 December 2009 restates the decision already communicated, giving further detail but not amending it in substance;
8. Whereas on 14 December 2009 _______ et alii, Parishioners of _______ Parish, submitted a remonstratio against the decision of the Ordinary, and on 21 December 2009 the Ordinary rejected the remonstratio;
9. Whereas on 29 December 2009 _______ et alii [hereafter the recurrents] presented Hierarchical Recourse to the Congregation for the Clergy against the decision of the Ordinary communicated in the Letter of 7 December 2009 and subsequently in the Decree of 16 December 2009;
10. Whereas it is clear from the text of the recourse itself that its object is to petition the Congregation to “overturn the decree of Merger with eventual suppression and keep _______ open as a house of worship” (cf. Recourse, p. 19);
Evaluation of the Facts:
11. An Hierarchical Recourse is by its nature a documentary process which proceeds by means of examining authentic documents provided by interested parties at the request of the Dicastery. Given that all interested parties have been asked and have had ample opportunity to respond, the Congregation now judges the documentation in its possession to be complete and therefore proceeds to its decision per cartas. If other information pertinent to the situation exists, it has not been presented to the Dicastery.
Suppression/Merger of the Parish:
12. Whereas in support of its ordered merger (fusio) of _______ Parish, neither the Letter of 7 December 2009 nor the subsequent Decree of 16 December 2009 make any reference even in summary form to reasons specific to _______ Parish (cf. c. 51), but mention only general considerations of the situation of the North Side of _______;
13. Whereas despite this fact, it is nonetheless clear from the Acts that against the backdrop of a broad pastoral plan for the North Side of _______, the Ordinary did take into consideration various facts and situations specific to _______ Parish, e.g., the declining number of parishioners, ministries active in the parish, outreach to immigrant populations, etc. (cf. Letter of Bishop _______ to the Congregation, 16 July 2010);
14. Whereas the Dicastery accepts that the procedures followed in the specific matter of the merger (fusio) of _______ Parish into St. _______ Parish were correct and that the motivations presented in the Acts for the same are reasonable and in accord with c. 515 §2;
Relegation of the Church to Secular but not Sordid Use:
15. Whereas the Ordinary’s Letter of 7 December 2009 indicates that “_______ Church will merge...” and the Decree of 16 December 2009 indicates that “the parish of _______ Church will merge...”, which the Congregation understands in both cases to indicate the merger (fusio) of _______ Parish into St. _______ Parish;
16. Whereas neither the Letter of 7 December 2009 nor the Decree of 16 December 2009 gives any further indication as to the future disposition of _______ Church or the legitimate modification of its use;
17. Whereas it is nonetheless clear from the Acts that _______ Church is definitively closed for worship, that the Most Blessed Sacrament is no longer reserved there, that no sacraments are celebrated there, and that the faithful do not have access for the purpose of divine worship (cf. Letter of Bishop _______ to the Congregation 3 February 2011);
18. Whereas the modification or relegation of a Church requires an objective and separate process of consultation and necessitates a gravis causa (cf. c. 1222 §2) and cannot in any way be understood simply as flowing automatically from the modification of a Parish;
19. Whereas the two-step method of employing only c. 515 §2 in the modification of a Parish and the closure of its Church, while delaying the procedures of c. 1222 §2 until such time as intending to alienate the property, is contrary to established jurisprudence and the intention of the canons (cf. F. Daneels, “Soppressione, unione di parrocchie e riduzione ad uso profano della chiesa parrochiale,” in Ius Ecclesiae, 1998, p. 130);
20. Whereas _______ Church, having been definitively closed without application of c. 1222 §2 and its required processes, and without any grave cause having been cited, continues to have the canonical status of Churches in the sense of c. 1214;
This Dicastery decrees that the Hierarchical Recourse as presented against the merger (fusio) of _______ Parish in the Diocese of _______ U.S.A., is hereby rejected de procedendo and de decernendo as lacking basis either in law or in fact, and that the Hierarchical Recourse as presented against the closure of _______ Church in the Diocese of _______, U.S.A., is hereby upheld de procedendo and de decernendo as having basis both in law and in fact.
Recourse against this Decree may be submitted to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura in accord with the norm of law.
Given at the Seat of the Congregation for the Clergy
11 March 2011
Mauro Cardinal Piacenza
Celso Morga Iruzubieta
Titular Archbishop of Alba marittima
Congregation for the Clergy, Suppression of a parish and reduction of a church building to profane but not sordid use, 11 March 2011, Private, CLSA, Roman Replies and Advisory Opinions, 2011, 11-14.