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

Who owns parish property? The parish does

by Father Steve Dublinski, Vicar General, Diocese of Spokane

(From the May 3, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Most of the parishes of the Spokane Diocese have begun the process of incorporation and soon will have all ownership of parish property transferred into the new parish corporation.

The dispute over who owns parish property has been the most disputed question in the Chapter 11 process of the Diocese of Spokane.

As part of the Plan of Reorganization, approved by Judge Patricia Williams on April 24, the parishes of the diocese will cease being unincorporated associations which cannot by law hold their own property and will incorporate as nonprofit, nonmember corporations with all interest to parish property quick claimed to the parish. The parish will now own and hold its property. Who owns parish property will never again be a question.

The formation of parish corporations raised some difficult questions. The foremost question has been: Can parish corporations be structure so that they conform both to Canon Law and to Civil Law?

It was obvious from the beginning that there was no way to perfectly accomplish this task. Compromises would have to be made. How can a parish corporation both be independent of the bishop, while at the same time be in union with the bishop? How will the bishop exercise his responsibility for overseeing the parish while not compromising the pastorís role of representing the parish and operating the daily affairs of the parish? What role does the laity have in the governance of the parish?

These tensions found lively expression during discussions regarding the membership of parish boards of directors.

A compromise was finally reached.

For most parishes, members of the Board of Directors will be the pastor, the chair of the Parish Finance Council, and a representative of the Presbyteral Council, which is the Priests Council of the diocese. The membership on the Board is intentionally kept small so that there is no impression that the board is taking over any of the responsibilities of the Parish Finance Council or the Parish Pastoral Council.

Most Boards will meet once a year to take care of corporation business. The pastor will serve as the chair of the Board; the Presbyteral Council representative will provide perspective from the broader Church; and the chair of the Finance Council will link the Board to the lay consultative bodies of the parish.

It is important to note that the parish owns its own property. The bishop does not own it, the pastor does not own it, and the parishioners do not own it. The parish owns the property.

Therefore, all decisions about parish property must be decided by a unanimous vote of the Board of Directors. One or two Board members cannot control the Board. All must agree.

Parishes entrusted to the care of a Religious community, such as the Franciscans at St. Francis of Assisi and the Jesuits at St. Aloysius, both in Spokane, will have five-member Boards. The added members will be a representative from the provincial and the chair of the Parish Pastoral Council.

Though having a Board of Directors sounds impressive, these Boards will not effect the everyday operations of the parish. The pastoral life of the parish will still be directed by the Pastoral Council and the financial life of the parish will be directed by the Finance Council. The new parish corporation will solve one fundamental question: Who owns the parish property?

The parish does.

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