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  • Church Property—A Commentary on Canon Law Governing Temporal Goods in the United States and Canada
  • Phillip J. Brown S.S.
Church Property—A Commentary on Canon Law Governing Temporal Goods in the United States and Canada by John A. Renken. Ottawa: Saint Paul University, 2009.

Canonists note the desperate need for a comprehensive English commentary on Book V of the 1983 code adapted to conditions in the United States and Canada. Robert Kennedy's commentary in the New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law remains indispensible. Others are scattered about in journals and non-English publications, e.g., De Paolis in Italian. Quite often, however, they do not account for the conditions in the United States and Canada. Church Property—A Commentary on Canon Law Governing Temporal Goods in the United States and Canada is Renken's attempt to fill the void. Practitioners with sufficient expertise will find the text useful. Its didactic value is limited, but certain sections provide helpful outlines and course readings. The treatment of acquisition and administration is especially good.

Renken explains carefully and clearly the supervisory power of the Holy [End Page 273] See and diocesan bishops. The text emphasizes the important role of the administrator of public juridic persons; likewise, it differentiates between the public juridic persons administered by the diocesan bishop and those not subject to his administration.

The differences in meaning between moral and juridic persons in the 1917 and 1983 codes is a conceptual minefield for students and practitioners. More detail and clarity on these canonical institutions would have been helpful. Likewise, the USCCB complementary norm on canon 1277 confuses extraordinary administration and alienation, something the 1983 code described as clearly distinct. This problem should also be clarified, since it perplexes students and poses a nightmare for practitioners. Greater attention to such difficulties would have been helpful. The effects of trust obligations on property ownership differ, sometimes significantly, in canon and civil law. Greater depth and detail would have been helpful here. "Canonization" of the civil law of contracts opens endless traps for the unwary: Is the Statute of Frauds merely an evidentiary rule, allowing oral testimony at odds with a written land contract pursuant to canon 1547? Or does it concern formation of the contract; hence, no contract-no testimony? Canon 1295 provides the application of the norms of canons 1291-1294 to transactions placing ecclesiastical property at risk of alienation. Attempting to do this involves complexities that literally boggle the mind, e.g., how to apply the minimum and maximum amounts to such transactions.

The text contains several typographical errors that require careful editing, since they could lead to confusion even regarding the substance of the book. The author seems partial to the past perfect and a tendency to repetition. That being said, Church Property contains many useful references and a helpful overview of canon law on temporal goods law for discerning readers, researchers and well-guided students. Canonists working in this area should have this text as a useful resource. [End Page 274]

Phillip J. Brown S.S.
Theological College
Washington DC


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