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  • Official Documents of the Holy See:Letter from the Congregation for the Clergy and Procedural Guidelines for the Modification of Parishes and the Closure, Relegation and Alienation of Churches*
  • Catholic Church. Congregation for the Clergy

Vatican City, 30 April 2013

Prot. No. 20131348

To the Eminent, Most Excellent, and Reverend Ordinaries at their Sees

Your Eminence, Your Excellency,

The Congregation for the Clergy is aware of the significant care and pastoral solicitude with which Bishops have approached the modification of parishes (cf. can. 515 §2) and the relegation to profane use or even the simple closure of churches (cf. can. 1222 §2). Despite their best efforts, however, various difficulties concerning these questions have arisen in recent years, both for Bishops and for the faithful. In an effort to provide helpful guidance and thereby to prevent many of the difficulties heretofore experienced, [End Page 211] this Dicastery presents the attached descriptions of the canonical procedures and jurisprudence concerning the above-mentioned processes.

Before proceeding to more specific information, some preliminary observations will prove helpful. First, it is necessary to distinguish clearly between three separate and distinct canonical processes: (1) the modification of parishes, (2) the relegation to profane use and/or the permanent closure of churches, and (3) the alienation of current or former sacred edifices. Each process has its own procedures, and each must be followed carefully and correctly. It should be noted that no process at all is required to close a church temporarily, such as for repairs. The same is true for restricting its use by such things as eliminating the celebration of Sunday Mass, provided that the church remain open for the access of the faithful (cf. can. 1214).

Secondly, when treating the modification of parishes and the relegation or closure of churches, there is a need for much greater clarity in distinguishing the juridic person of a diocese from the juridic person of a parish. Nowhere is this more apparent than in questions concerning the ownership of churches, and who is responsible for their upkeep. Likewise, it should be noted that some commonly-used terms in these processes, e.g., "suppression", have both a broad non-technical meaning as well as a precise canonical meaning. In order to avoid unnecessary confusion, it is best in canonical documents to avoid the non-technical use of such terms.

In determining whether or not the required just cause is present in the case of a proposed parish modification (cf. can. 515 §2) or the required grave cause in the case of church closure and relegation (cf. can. 1222 §2), each case must be considered separately. Although the Bishop may take into consideration the needs of surrounding parishes or even that of the diocese as a whole, he must always motivate his decree with a cause that is specific, i.e., ad rem, to the individual parish or church under consideration.

Lastly, each administrative decision must be enacted by a separate written decree, issued and lawfully communicated at the time that the decision is given. Because the just cause for a parish modification and the grave cause for the relegation or closure of a church are not the same, decisions regarding these processes should be issued in separate decrees. [End Page 212]

In a spirit of fraternal collaboration, keeping in mind the responsibilities incumbent upon every Diocesan Bishop, and desiring always the good of the Church, I take this opportunity to renew my sentiments of esteem and collegial affection, and I remain

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Mauro Cardinal Piacenza

Celso Morga Iruzubieta
Titular Archbishop of Alba marittima

with Enclosure [End Page 213]

Procedural Guidelines for the Modification of Parishes, the Closure or Relegation of Churches to Profane but not Sordid Use, and the Alienation of the Same

  1. 1. Modification of Parishes

    1. a. The relevant canons are chiefly can. 515, and also cann. 50, 51, 120, 121, 122, 123, 127, and 166.

    2. b. A parish is a community of the faithful which, being a juridic person ipso iure, is perpetual by its nature (cf. can. 120 §1, and can. 515 §§1, 3). It cannot be extinguished or even notably altered without just cause.

    3. c. There are four possible types...