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1911 Vatican Directive
Bishops of the United States Concerning Church Property

Christine M. Roussel, Ph.D.

The following is a directive written to the Bishops of the United States by the Sacred Congregation of the Council in Rome on July 29, 1911. As discussed by Bouscaren et al in Canon Law: A Text and Commentary (Milwaukee, 1963) on pages 805-6, there were many reasons for issuing this directive:

Because of the diversity of laws in force in individual states regarding the tenure of church property, various methods of holding such property have been resorted to. No one of these methods is in perfect conformity with the prescriptions of canon law. During the course of a century [the nineteenth century] many problems and difficulties had arisen. In 1911, the Sacred Congregation of the Council, at the request of certain bishops who had asked the Holy See for suitable regulations, after having consulted the Apostolic Delegate and the Most Reverend Archbishops, issued the following norms.... No matter what method of tenure be followed, ownership of the property is vested in the moral person (c. 1499, Sec. 2). The Bishop is merely the administrator of such property, even though according to civil law the property is owned by him.

These norms were in effect during the entire period of the so-called Pio-Benedictine or 1917 Code of Canon Law and were referenced in every copy of that Code published in the United States, in Chapter XXII on Church Property. They do not seem to be referenced in the New Code of Canon Law. That means that, although these directives do not seem to be in force at the present, they were supposed to have been enforced for the middle 72 years of the twentieth century, and all the dioceses in existence in the United States during that time were supposed to be brought into conformity with these provisions.

The translation below is a cooperative effort coordinated and transcribed by Christine M. Roussel, Ph.D. David Efroymson, Ph.D., obtained the original text and translated the opening three paragraphs; the middle three provisions are from Bouscaren, 805-6; and James Biechler, Ph.D., J.C.L., translated the closing and the honorific abbreviations throughout.

Link to Code of Civil Law for the State of New York (From the Ecclesiastical Review XLV [1911], pp. 596-98).












Sacrorum Antistitum Foederatorum Statuum Americae magna laus est quod, inter sedulas curas, quibus pro incremento catholicae religionis et pro fidelium pietate fovenda animum et vires impendunt, etiam rerum temporalium Ecclesiae tuitoni et rectae administrationi prudentur consulere nunquam omiserint. Eorum pastoralis sollicitudinis et in hoc plura praesto sunt argumenta, quae inter profecto adnumeranda sunt quae de bonorum administratione in plenariis synodis Baltimorensibus constituta inveniuntur. It is to the credit of the sacred bishops of the United States of America that, among the diligent concerns on which they expend their will and energies for the growth of the Catholic religion and for the fostering of piety, they have never neglected prudently to consider the safekeeping and administration of the temporal goods of the Church. The many proofs of their pastoral care stand out, among which especially are to be numbered those decisions on the administration of goods found in the plenary councils of Baltimore.
Nuper autem nonulli ex Episcopis, praesentibus attentis circumstantiis et aliquorum locorum peculiaribus necessitatibus perspectis, consilia a S.[anctae] Sede expetere opportunum censuerunt, simulque SSmum [Santissimum] D. N. [Dominum Nostrum] exorarunt, ut aptae normae ad res temporales gerendas pro tota Statuum foederatorum Americana republica constituerentur.
Lately some of the bishops, in light of present circumstances and of the special requirements of certain places, have decided to seek the advice of the Holy See and at the same time they petition Our Most Holy Lord [i.e., the pope] that appropriate norms be set up for taking care of temporal things for the whole republic of the United States of America.
Sacra autem haec Concilii Congregatio, cui negotium demandatum est, omnibus mature perpensis, ac prius per R.[everendissimus] P.[ater] D.[ominum] Delegatum Apostolicum exquisito voto Rmorum [Reverendissimorum] Archiespiscoporum istius regionis, atque huic voto praesertim inhaerens, in plenariis comitiis diei 29 Iulii postremo elapsi, sequentia proponere et statuere censuit: This Sacred Congregation of the Council, to which the request was made, having taken into account all these things, and first, through the Apostolic Delegate, having carefully sought out the opinion of the Most Reverend Archbishops of that region, and sticking to that opinion, in plenary session on last July 29, have decided to propose and legislate the following:
1. Ex methodis quae pro possidendis et administrandis ecclesiasticis bonis nunc vigent in Statibus Americae Foederatis ea ceteris praeferenda est, quae vulgo dicitur Parish Corporation, cum illis tamen conditionibus et cautelis, quibus in statu Neo-eboracensi in usu est. Hanc igitur methodum Episcopi, si lex civilis consentiat, quoad bona temporalia in suam dioecesim introducere statim curabunt. Si vero lex non consentiat, apud civiles auctoritates efficaciter instabunt ut quam primum concedatur


1. Among the methods which are now in use in the United States for holding and administering church property, the one known as Parish Corporation is preferable to the others, but with the conditions and safeguards which are now in use in the state of New York. The Bishops, therefore, should immediately take steps to introduce this method for handling property in their dioceses, if the civil law allows it. If the civil law does not allow it, they should exert their influence with the civil authorities that it may be made legal as soon as possible.
2. In locis tantum in quibus a lege civili non admittitur Parish Corporation et donec eius concessio obtineri nequeat, permittitur alia methodus quae dici solet Corporation sole, ita tamen ut Episcopus in administratione bonorum ecclesiasticorum procedat, auditis interesse habentibus et consultoribus dioecesanis, et in negotiis maioris momenti de eorum consensu, super hoc ipsius Episcopi conscientia onerata.


2. Only in those places where the civil law does not recognize Parish Corporations and only until such recognition is obtained, the method commonly called Corporation Sole is allowed with the understanding that in the administration of ecclesiastical property, the Bishop is to act with the advice, and in more important matters with the consent, of those who have an interest in the premises and of the diocesan consultors, this being a conscientious obligation for the Bishop in person.
3. Methodus quam vocant in Fee simple omnino est abolenda.

Haec quae EE.[Eminentissimus] PP. [Patri] salubriter constituere opportunum duxerunt, A. T. de auctoritate SS.[Santissimum] D.N. [Dominum Nostrum] communicare gaudeo, spe fretus ex eorum executione in ista praenobili regione maiora bona esse Ecclesiae profutura.

3. The method called in Fee simple is to be entirely abandoned.

These are the conclusions which the most eminent fathers have managed to establish, from the throne of the apostles. By the authority of Our Most Holy Lord [the pope] I am happy to forward these, relying on the hope that their execution in that celebrated region will be for the greater good of the Church

Interim fausta omnia Tibi ex corde adprecor a Domino, et qua par est reverentia me profiteor. A. T.

 uti fr.

C. CARD. GENNARI, Praefectus

B. POMPILI, Secretarius


In the meantime I heartfully ask the Lord for all blessings for you and at the same time profess my own highest regard.


C. Cardinal Gennari, Prefect

B. Pompili, Secretary


From Ecclesiastical Review, XLV (1911), 585-86; 596-98.

Link to Acrobat Reader PDF file of this document.

Link to Acrobat Reader PDF file of the Code of Civil Law for the State of New York (From the Ecclesiastical Review XLV [1911], pp. 596-98).

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