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  • Ordinary, Extraordinary and Something in between:Administration of the Temporal Goods of Dioceses and Parishes
  • John P. Beal (bio)

I. Introduction

Once temporal goods have been legitimately acquired by a diocese, a parish or some other public juridic person in the Church and have so become "church property" (bona ecclesiastica) in the strict canonical sense of the term,1 they must be administered. "Administration" comprises the whole range of activities required to preserve, maintain, repair, and improve a juridic person's property and to put it to productive use in service to the purposes proper to the Church,2 above all, the ordering of divine worship, the support of the clergy and other ministers, and the works of the apostolate and charity.3

Administration of church property is carried out by the physical persons entrusted with this responsibility by the law or by the statutes of the [End Page 109] juridic person or, when both of these are silent, by designation from the ecclesiastical authority with oversight of the juridic person.4 For dioceses, it is the diocesan bishop who is responsible for the administration of diocesan property;5 for parishes, it is the pastor6 or, if a pastor is lacking or impeded, the parochial administrator.7 Although administration of church property has sometimes been described as a merely housekeeping or domestic responsibility,8 it seems clear from the tenor of the revised code that administrators of church property enjoy executive power of governance. "Administration" is to temporal goods once they have been acquired what "governance" is to persons. "Just as through governance persons are kept safe and sound and guided to their proper end, so too through administration things already acquired are conserved and applied to their proper ends."9 As canon 1279, §1 explains, "the administration of ecclesiastical goods pertains to the one who immediately governs (regit) the [ juridic] person to which the goods belong." Just as the Roman Pontiff 's role as supreme administrator and dispensator of all the temporal goods of the Church derives from his primacy of governance,10 so too lower-level administrators' authority over the temporal goods of the Church entrusted to their care entails has it source in the power of governance that is theirs in virtue of office or designation.11

II. Being Clear About Terminology

A. Related but Distinct Categories of Activities

Although the tem "administration" is sometimes used in a very broad sense to encompass the entire range of activities involved in the management of [End Page 110] temporal goods, its proper scope is more limited. Administration in its strict canonical sense is the range of activities by which one responsible for a juridic person conserves, maintains, repair and uses fruitfully its property. Asserting the right of the Church with regard to temporal goods, canon 1254, §1 clearly differentiates the retention and administration of temporal goods both from their acquisition and from their alienation. This tripartite division of the responsibilities of those charged with the management of church property is also reflected in the principle subdivisions or titles of Book V of the present code: Title I. The Acquisition of Goods, Title II. The Administration of Goods, and Title III. Contracts and Especially Alienation.

Although, at first blush, it may seem counterintuitive, some acquisitions of church property may be financially risky or morally problematic. A gift with conditions attached, no matter how generous the gift may be, may impose future burdens on the juridic person so onerous that its solvency is jeopardized. A large donation to a parish for the purpose of constructing a new parish church may, if the additional funds needed for construction cannot be raised, leave the parish with a debt it cannot service; even if the gift is sufficient to pay all the costs of construction, the parish may find itself with an imposing structure it cannot afford to maintain. Other gifts may not be in keeping with the juridic person's purposes and priorities. A large donation to a parish school's athletic program may divert energy and resources away from the school's primary mission. As a result, administrators of public juridic persons may not lawfully accept gifts burdened with conditions or...


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pp. 109-129
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