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Christine Roussel, a member of ARCC and former ARCC Board member and Editor of ARCC's newsletter ARCC Light, has been so troubled by the parish closings in the Boston area, and especially the plight of the parishioners of St. Albert the Great, that she wrote a couple of long letters to Archbishop O'Malley in October 2004.  She also sent the following letter to the NCR.  It was not published, and she has now authorized ARCC to publish the letter in the ARCC website.


From: Christine M. Roussel <rsvpcmr@juno.com>
To: letters@natcath.org
Date: Wed, 6 Oct 2004 19:03:01 -0700
Subject: Re: Saving Parishes

Dear Sir,

In regard to the Cover Story of your very interesting issue of October 1, 2004, "Saving Parishes" and particularly Geri Dreiling's fine piece on the plight of St. Stanislaus in St. Louis, mention has been made of a 1911 provision in Canon Law for the establishment of trustee systems to administer US parish properties. That provision is, in fact, a Letter of Norms or Directive, sent to the American bishops by the Congregation of the Council, in response to a request for guidance by the bishops, due to the multitude and complexity of American laws on incorporation of parish property.

This July 29, 1911 Directive is now available at
http://arcc-catholic-rights.net/1911_vatican_directive.htm. A PDF version is at http://arcc-catholic-rights.net/1911_Vatican_Directive.pdf.
The New York State legislation referenced in the Directive is also available at the same site.

This Directive states in relevant part:

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. 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. The method called in fee simple is to be entirely abandoned.

Some canon lawyers say this Directive is no longer in force because it is not referenced in the American version of the new Code of Canon Law as it was in the 1917 Code. However, some bishops, and presumably the canon lawyers advising them, obviously believe it is in force because they have been invoking it in the last few years (Bruskewitz in Lincoln, NE and Vasa in Baker, OR, to name only two) and reorganizing their parishes as parish corporations in conformity to it.

This Directive is, in fact, a 2-edged sword in a situation such as St. Stanislaus. On the one hand, Archbishop Burke has offered St. Stanislaus a trustee set-up somewhat similar to those mentioned in the New York State law referenced in the Vatican Directive. On the other hand, paragraph 2 of the Vatican's instruction clearly states that the bishop must confer with the concerned parties on all matters pertaining to the property *and must have their consent in important matters.* But, the mechanism created clearly can allow an unscrupulous, autocratic or financially- pressed bishop to do what he wants, since he appoints all the members of the board of trustees. Where, then, is consent?

The bishops have become accustomed to treating their dioceses as units in which they own or at least unconditionally control all the pieces. Where is consent? If bishops can demand the deeds to parish churches/property as the price for providing priests and therefore the sacraments, and can take both away when they decide to close and sell off whatever churches they wish, where is the consent mandated by the Vatican? What are the People of God to do? Seeing the diocese as a unit which canon law regards as synonymous with its bishop, is another example of making the people for the institution and not vice versa.

The attempts of Bishop Kicanas of Tucson and Bishop Vlazny of Portland to shelter parish properties from abuse survivors' lawsuits by making them the property of individual parish corporations shows the two very real areas of conflicting justice raised by recent events. Survivors of the horrors of clerical abuse have a right to compensation. On the other hand, parishioners who have built churches and supported them financially all their lives have a right to their churches. Also, these parishioners had no control over the protecting and shuffling of pedophile priests.  They also were the victims of the bishops in the periods of abuse. In a sense, parishioners were double victims: their children were the preferred prey of the abusers and the bishops made them impotent to prevent their being victims again. The bishops made them further victims by refusing them control over their own churches.

Now these parishioners are to lose their churches (and have no say in it) because of the incompetence and criminal behavior of the bishops for something over which they - the parishioners - had no control. They are doubly punished and the bishops are rewarded with pensions, honors and emoluments in Rome. The bishops have the hypocrisy to blame the media and lawyers for creating these problems, whereas they only exposed them,
and without that exposure, the abuse would likely have continued indefinitely. The bishops, abetted and encouraged by Rome, have behaved criminally. Now the People of God have the honor of closing and selling their parish houses of worship to pay for that criminality.

Further, the present crisis even provides the bishops with the perfect opportunity to silence anyone who dares to speak up against their criminality and incompetence. Those who do so find their churches being closed because of the need to raise money to pay settlements: the irony is complete and the total corruption and bankruptcy of the present system of making bishops all-powerful in their dioceses and laypeople their helpless sheep is revealed in all its anti-Christian horror.

No scandal of the last centuries in this country has better revealed the need for Catholic parishes to be independent entities as our Protestant brother churches are. Independently-owned churches, maintaining themselves financially, choosing and supporting their clergy, contributing a small amount for a minimalist diocese. Catholic charities independently-funded and professionally-run. Wealthy churches aiding poorer ones because it is Christian stewardship. The Gospel preached once again.

Bishops and priests have a right to be compensated financially, to be maintained in an appropriate manner for exercising their ministries of service in preaching, teaching, counselling, administering the sacraments, according to their individual gifts and training. Trained laypeople have the right to manage, direct and control the churches and institutions their money has built. It is time to restore sense, balance and Christianity to the administration of the Church.

Christine M. Roussel, Ph. D.

Posted 11 Dec 2004

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