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Ecclesiastical Shell Game ( Thu Dec 15, 2005  12:27 pm )

by Bob Schutzius

Imagine, if you will, that the pea used in the well-known shell game is your parish property, bought and paid for by you and you community. To play this game you must guess under which shell is the pea of parish control/ownership. Is it under the shell of parish itself, or is it under the shell of the diocese, or is under the bishop's shell called "corporate sole" or "trustee"? According to Canon Law, the pea should always be under the parish shell. But then the shuffle begins. All three shells look church-like, the parish gives the money, the diocese manages the whole, and the bishop controls it all (in the U.S.). Round and round it goes. In the end, the pea of control/ownership is always under the shell of the bishop. This game is based on slight of hand and secrecy. The bishops use different names for their shell, i.e. "Trustee," "Corporate sole," "Parish Incorporation," etc., but somehow the control pea is always ends up under his shell. The legal hand is quicker than the eye. The bankruptcy cases in Tucson, Portland, and Spokane, demonstrate that even State governments cannot figuring out how the game works. In Tucson the bishop convinced the State that he owns everything, and that he will settle up on all the abuse cases. In Spokane, the State guessed that the ownership is under the parish shell. In Portland the shell game is still in the shuffle stage.

Are we tired of this game yet? Might we ask our bishops who legally owns our parish properties, who controls the parish money and where is it deposited, why the members of the parish finance committee are not elected by the parish, and who are the corporate officers of the parish if it is incorporated? But watch carefully as the hand is quicker than the eye and each bishop has his own way of scuffling. Ask him what version of the shell game is he using to get around Canon Law No. 1256, "Under the Supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff, ownership of goods belongs to that juridical person that lawfully acquired them." Your parish is just one such juridical person that has "legally acquired" its property. But perhaps your bishop is not playing games and ownership and control is in the hands of the parish. You have a right to know who your money empowers. Let your WELL RE-INFORMED conscience suggest the contents of your Sunday envelop!


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