With the case of the Archdiocese of Portland declaring bankruptcy and Archbishop John Vlazny saying that he can’t sell parish property because of canon law, the Oregon media is interested in what canon law actually says. So The Oregonian newspaper did an interview with Msgr. Ronny Jenkins of Catholic University of America. I’m a little confused by his answers.
He says that, under the 1983 Code of Canon Law, parishes are juridic persons, that is it has rights and obligations as a legal person. Okay. Jenkins also agrees with Vlazny by saying that the archbishop can’t do what he wants with parish property, e.g. he can’t order the pastor to sell off parish property and give the money to the diocese or seize parish bank accounts. Okay, I can see that too.
But at the end of the interview, Jenkins is asked to comment on the parish closings in Boston and says that the archbishop can’t sell the property of closed parishes. “No. The archbishop can close parishes but not to confiscate their assets. He doesn’t own them.” I don’t think that’s right. Perhaps Jenkins’ full answer was abbreviated. After all, if a parish is suppressed then it doesn’t exist anymore and there is no juridic person to own the property. Or is all that property supposed to stay on the books in perpetuity, long after the parish is gone? I think what he must have said is that the archbishop can’t make a unilateral decision to sell off the property, that decrees of suppression or to alter parishes must first be presented to the presbyteral council. (can. 515)
I’d love to hear a canon lawyer’s clarification of this.