Tuesday, January 03, 2006

St. Louis and Portland under the same cloud

Ed Peters' canon law blog has shed some light on the Oregon bankruptcy court decision to reject the Portland Archdiocese's disavowal of ownership of its individual parishes. Very informative:
- "Under civil law, parish properties across the United States are registered in at least four very different ways (corporation sole, religious corporation, various trust models, and fee simple)."
- "Under canon law all parishes are 'juridic persons' (1983 CIC 515)." - In order to sell parish property, dioceses need to gain authorization from Rome for alienations over $ 3,000,000 (1983 CIC 1292).
Plus some commentary:
But let's prescind from law for a moment, and look at this matter common-sensically: exactly how is it just to make individual parishes pay for diocesan (read: episcopal) negligence? Consider: parishes have no say in who will be their pastor (1983 CIC 523), parishioners in many of these cases were themselves the direct victims of priest predators, and now parishes are being told they might have to pay—and pay dearly—for the gross offenses of men over whom they had no control. Does that sound fair?

Let there be no mistake: a way should to be found, and I think will be found, to compensate justly the victims of clergy sex abuse. The way will doubtless be painful. Nevertheless, justice cannot be satisfied by shuttering parish churches and schools or by disbanding community service organizations, and it cannot be served by letting stand lower court rulings that could provoke a major Church-State show-down with serious international repercussions.
Until someone actually names that alternate "way," the American public will only relish this slow public torture of the institutional Church. Peters is absolutely right about the injustice of making those parishioners whose blood, sweat, and tears built the American Church and those beneficiaries whose blood, sweat, and tears the apostolates are wiping pay for episcopal incompetence. It doesn't really matter how canonically correct Abp. Burke's excommunication action was; the St. Stanislaus rebellion did not occur in a vacuum.

We love saying proudly the Church is no democracy; but that deal presumes that our leaders remain vigilantly subservient not to the clergy alone but to the virtue and honor code of the Cross and the Eucharist. The extensive absence of moral fiber and spine in the American episcopate has not only diminished public sympathy for the institutional church but has infected the laity with a nihilism that will fester and ooze in ever more open dissent before it heals. It's exactly what Kafka warned us of. Burke's excommunication and the Portland Archdiocese's attempt to now recognize parishes as "juridic persons" both come too little, too late, and too off-target.

Yes, we get the bishops we deserve. But that's just 50% of the equation, especially when that "we" is not democratically defined. Unless we want to institute democratic procedure to the episcopacy (not a good idea), we need to raise lay standards, for it is from lay Catholic families that our priests and bishops come.