Congregation for the Clergy, Suppression of a parish and reduction of a church building to profane but not sordid use, 25 January 2011, Private.
Following a study of parish modifications, the diocesan bishop determined, after consultation with the presbyteral council, that certain parishes were to be merged and communicated his decisions to the parishioners of the affected parishes. Following issuance of a decree for the merger by the diocesan bishop, parishioners appealed the decision to the Congregation for the Clergy. Citing “canonical confusion” surrounding the decrees for merger of the parishes and reduction of the church, hierarchical recourse was accepted by the Congregation for the Clergy. The response of the Congregation for the Clergy follows.
Congregatio pro ClericsProt. N. ______
Decree1. Whereas the Most Rev. ________, Bishop of ________, [the Ordinary] cre-ated the Office of Pastoral Planning in 2004 in order to address the configuration of the parishes of the Diocese in light of the reduction in the number of priests and faithful in the Diocese.
2. Whereas the Office of Pastoral Planning provided for a consultation of priests and faithful of the Diocese to consider the amalgamation of parishes and the reduction of churches to profane but not unbecoming use, referred to in the acts as the “closing” of a church (cf. can. 50 CIC).
3. Whereas the Ordinary consulted the Presbyteral Council on 5 August 2008 with regard to the amalgamation of the parish of St. ________ with the parish of ________ in the town of ________, citing the requirements of can. 515 §2 CIC, making no mention of the reduction of the church of St. ________ to profane use. The Presbyteral Council was presented with the “Report and Recommendations of the Diocesan Pastoral Planning Committee,” which formed the basis of the consultation.
4. Whereas the attestation to the consultation of the Presbyteral Council referenced only can. 515 §2 CIC, to which no objection was raised with respect to the merger of the parishes in question.
5. Whereas the Ordinary’s decision was communicated to the parishioners of the above named parishes orally on 9 August 2008 and in written form on 15 August 2008, in the format of a letter.
6. Whereas ________ et al [the recurrents] wrote to the Ordinary seeking clarification as to whether the letter of 9 August 2008 constituted his decision, and thus his Decree, or merely manifested his intention with regard to a future canonical act. If a Decree, the recurrent’s letter was to be considered a request for its revocation in accord with the provisions of can. 1734 CIC; if merely an indication of a possible decision however, the recurrent’s letter requested the formal decree.
7. Whereas on 26 August 2008 the Ordinary acknowledged receipt of the recurrent’s letter, noting some motivations for his decision, which the recurrents reasonably assumed to be his negative response.
8. Whereas on 8 September 2008 the recurrents made hierarchical recourse to the Congregation for the Clergy [the Congregation] against the Ordinary’s presumed Decree in accord with the provisions of can. 1737 CIC.
9. Whereas the Ordinary issued a formal decree for the “merger” of the parish of St. ________ with the parish of ________ on 8 October 2008 [the Decree], the seat of the new parish (named ________) being the church of ________, although it is not clear that this formal document was ever communicated to the community of the faithful to which it is addressed (Acts, Vol. I, Exhibit 5).
10. Whereas the Ordinary, having been averted by the Congregation to the deficient nature of his decree of 8 August 2008 with respect to the reduction of the church of St. ________ to profane use, reconvened the Presbyteral Council on 6 October 2009 for the consultation required by ca. 1222 §2 CIC, although noting that the consultation of 5 August 2008 was understood by all concerned to be directed to this act, albeit having neglected to cite can. 1222 §2 CIC: the Ordinary issued a formal Decree to reduce the church of St. ________ to profane but not unbecoming use on 5 November 2009. It is not clear whether this Decree has been communicated to the community of the faithful to whom it is addressed.
11. Whereas, in view of the canonical confusion surrounding the impugned Decrees, which risks injuring the right of the faithful to exercise their canonical right of recourse, the hierarchical recourse is accepted from the recurrents as being within the peremptory time limits both with regard to the amalgamation of the parish of St. ________ with the parish of ________ and the reduction of the church of St. ________ to profane use. The Law provides for certain qualities in an administrative act the better to ensure the rights and duties of the faithful. Consequently a Decree, being a singular administrative act, is, inter alia, to be given in writing (cf. cann. 37 & 51, salvo prescripto can. 55); it is to be issued in a timely manner (cf. can. 57); the competent authority is to collect the information necessary and to consult those whose rights may be harmed (cf. can. 50); it is to give, at least in summary form, the reasons for its decision (cf. can. 51); it is to be directed explicitly and ad rem to a concrete particular situation (cf. can. 48);
Evaluation of Facts:
12. A 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 the Dicastery; thus, having provided ample opportunity for all interested parties to respond, the Dicastery judges as complete the documentation in its possession and proceeds therefore to its decision per cartas.
Suppression/Merger of the Parish:
13. Noting that a Parish is a public juridic person (cf. c. 515 §3 CIC) and therefore enjoys the quality of perpetuity (cf. c. 120 §1) to allow it to reach the ends for which it is established, but also requiring the means sufficient for it to reach that purpose (cf. c. 114 §3 CIC), and that a parish is a specific type of juridic person established within a Particular Church, namely a certain community of the faithful with a priest as its proper pastor, which therefore cannot lack a priest as its proper pastor.
14. Whereas the procedure followed for the suppression/merger of Parishes cannot be faulted and was quite exhaustive, it must nonetheless be pointed out that while demographics, finances and available priestly personnel are elements which must be considered, other arbitrary criteria, while useful statistically, are of doubtful validity in the context under discussion; furthermore, the pastoral situation created by the shortage of clergy has remedies which are to be considered as indicated in c. 526 §1 and c. 517 and in the Inter-dicasterial Instruction Ecclesiae de mysterio (cf. Practical Provisions, Article 4, The Parish Priest and the Parish). In the instant recourse, the possibility foreseen in c. 526 §1 had already been utilized since 2003;
15. Noting that a Decree of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura of 22 May 2009 (prot. n. ________) stated, “Decretum suppressionis feratur, denique, saltem summarie expressis motivis” (cf. can. 51). Qua in re, “Episcopus dioecesanus … iuxta suam prudentem discretionem procedere potest, excluso vero arbitrarietate” (decreta Congressus diei 3 maii 2002, prot. Nn. ________; ________; ________). Hac in ratione perpendenda, non solum condicio paroeciae consideranda est, verum etiam totius dioecesis, ut totius dioecesis saluti animarum meliore quo fieri potest modo, provideatur. Nullam tandem “ius christifidelium agnoscitur ad determinatam paroeciam, cum illis sufficiat paroecia quaedam, quae eorumdem curam pastoralem expleat” (cf. v.g. decreta Congressus dierum 12 octobris 1995, prot. N. ________; 18 ianuarii 1996, prot. N. ________; 12 octobris 1995, prot. N. ________”;
16. Whereas the Dicastery accepts that the procedures followed in the specific matter of the merger of 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 Unbecoming Use:
17. Noting that while the instant recourse of 8 September 2008 to the Congregation seeks the revocation of both the Decree of amalgamation and the reduction of the church of St. ________ to profane use, the recurrents communicated to the Ordinary on 20 September 2008 that “Both Your Excellency and the Parishioners concur that prudent stewardship of resources requires consolidating the two existing parishes and three existing churches in ________ into a single parish … / … Hence the only real controversy concerns whether the ________ /________ site or the St. ________ site is the better candidate to house the parish that will emerge from the consolidation.” The acts verify this as the real object of controversy in the recourse;
18. Whereas the original formal Decree of 8 October 2008 makes mention of c. 515 §2, it makes no mention of the closing of St. ________ church or of c. 1222 §2, and yet the Minutes of the meeting of the Council of Priests of 5 August 2008 merely mentions the “closing” of the “parish” of St. ________.
19. Whereas abstract criteria cannot be applied in the decision to reduce a church to secular but not unbecoming use, and applied to the church of St. ________ in particular, since it already has the canonical status of a church in the sense of c. 1214, to which the faithful have “ius…adeundi ad divinum cultum praesertim publice exercendum,” unless this right is legitimately modified;
20. Whereas the Minutes of the meeting of the Council of priests of 6 October 2009 illustrates that the priests consulted at the aforementioned meeting of 5 August 2008 considered themselves to be deciding on the reduction of the church of St. ________ inter alias to profane use, the minutes do not illustrate that any further consideration was given to the reasons ad rem that the church in question should be secularized;
21. Whereas the modification of a Parish does not in any way automatically include the closure or modification of its Church or its relegation to profane use, but instead requires both a gravis causa and an objective and separate process of consultation (cf. c. 1222 §2). It seems that this understanding was inoperative in the matter of the closure of the church of St. ________ and, as a result, the public access of the Faithful for worship was denied once the Parish was modified, as the church was thereby effectively closed;
22. Neither the acts nor the impugned Decree demonstrate the grave cause which motivates the decision to reduce the church of St. ________ to profane but not unbecoming use, and thereby neglect to demonstrate what avenues have been pursued to preserve its sacred character without detriment to the pastoral care and patrimonial stability of the newly created parish of ________, notwithstanding that such grave motivations may exist in fact.
23. Noting that it is for the Ordinary to determine the seat of a Parish (cf. cann. 1215 §1; 1217; 533 §1 CIC) and to determine the designation of oratories (cf. can 1223 CIC), mindful of the provision of can. 1214 CIC;
24. Observing the provisions of cann. 1254, 1276; 1292 §2 CIC in relation to the church of St. ________ with respect to popular pious practices, heritage, architectural and artistic merit;
Wherefore, the Congregation decrees:
With regard to the recourse against the amalgamation of the parish of St. ________ with the parish of ________ in ________, that this petition for recourse as presented, has no canonical basis in law or in fact and is hereby rejected both de procedendo and de decernendo.
With regard to the reduction of the church of St. ________, ________, to profane but not unbecoming use, that this recourse as presented is rejected de procedendo, since the necessary consultation took place and the Ordinary understood himself to be issuing a decree of reduction to profane use, but the recourse is upheld de decernendo insofar as the necessary grave motivations for the decision are not provided in the acts.
Recourse against this Decree may be made before the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura within the peremptory time limits established in the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, art. 123 §1.
Given at the Seat of the Congregation for the Clergy
25 January 2011
Mauro Cardinal Piacenza
Mons. Celso Morga Iruzubieta
Congregation for the Clergy, Suppression of a parish and reduction of a church building to profane but not sordid use, 25 January 2011, Private, CLSA, Roman Replies and Advisory Opinions, 2011, 5-10.