Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Vatican decision supports Spokane Diocese’s assertions in Chapter 11 process

the Inland Register

(From the Aug. 18, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

One of the key questions in the Diocese of Spokane’s Chapter 11 process regards what is called the Property of the Estate. Just exactly what does the diocese own?

Plaintiff attorneys have asserted that Bishop Skylstad has ownership of parishes, schools, and other entities in the diocese. The diocese’s position, based on canon (church) law, is that the bishop holds those properties in trust. This is a position based on Washington State trust law as well.

The recent decision by the Vatican regarding the Boston Archdiocese supports the Spokane Diocese’s interpretation of canon law.

Shaun Cross, one of the attorneys representing the Spokane Diocese in the Chapter 11, pointed out that “The Vatican’s decision regarding Boston is not binding in any way on what is transpiring in Spokane.

“The Tort Litigants in our case have, however, argued frequently that the Catholic Church in the United States is taking different positions on both canon law and civil law in different dioceses around the country,” said Cross. “Exhibit A for the Tort Litigants has been the activities in Boston, which the litigants say shows the bishops have unfettered power over parish assets.”

That has been an inaccurate read on the events in Boston, said Cross.

“The Vatican decision clarifies that a bishop does not have unfettered power over parish assets, even in a suppresion setting,” he said. Canon law limits a bishop’s powers. The Vatican’s Boston decision “is positive for Spokane, in that it reaffirms the position Bishop Skylstad has consistently taken: He does not own the parishes. Under both civil and canon law, he does not have unfettered discretion to deal with parish assets. He holds the parish assets in trust for the benefit of the parishes.”

At press time, Judge Patricia Williams, the Federal Bankruptcy Court judge hearing the diocese’s Chapter 11, has yet to rule on the question of the property of the estate.

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