The WSJ has run a pretty good op-ed about the Washington Bankruptcy Court decision that made individual parish assets part of the bankrupt diocese for purposes of paying creditors. Link. The writer raises good points, and I wish his conclusions were right, but I think there are two glaring problems and one minor problem with his piece:
1. He fails to address the fact that the title holder is the diocese. Legal title is almost always conclusive regarding ownership.
2. He misrepresents the nature of the diocese fund “appeal.” He writes:
Lay Catholics certainly assume that their churches enjoy financial autonomy. They donate to the Sunday collection or to special fund-raising projects with the expectation that the money stays put–as it mostly does. A diocese supports itself through the bishop’s annual appeal, to which contributions are entirely voluntary . . .
I can’t speak for other dioceses, but in mine, the bishop tells my parish how much we must raise as part of the annual “appeal.” If we don’t raise it, he takes it. It’s that simple. There’s no voluntariness about it, as far as the parishioner’s parish is concerned. If a parishioner wants his parish to keep money raised through Sunday collections, he needs to give to the bishop’s “appeal.”
Furthermore, in my experience, the “appeal” is often set higher than reasonable expectations (because the amount is often based on outdated and/or inflated membership rolls).
3. He mentions that “parish assets are not his to dispose of as [the bishop] pleases.” Well, that’s not entirely true, at least in my experience. As I mentioned above, a bishop can demand a parish to relinquish a portion of its general funds if the annual “appeal” isn’t met. Moreover, if the parish has real estate titled in the bishop’s name, the … Read the rest