Lay people have rights

I hope people in dioceses where many parishes are being closed - including my home Diocese of Brooklyn - will see this AP story affirming that bishops don't have the right to shut churches as they please. The story looks back on recent determinations the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy made concerning decisions to close parishes in the dioceses of Allentown, Pa., and Springfield, Mass. According to the article:

It appears the Vatican panel, in overturning the decisions in Allentown and Springfield, has ruled that the bishops should have considered the rights of the laity in deciding to close the churches, according to Nicholas Cafardi, a law professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and an expert in canon law.

"If that legal theory has legs, you could see more and more decisions to close churches being overturned," said Cafardi, former general counsel for the Pittsburgh diocese. "It's a very correct reading of the canons. It's just one that I've not seen before."

In my own diocese, many people are deeply worried that their parish will be closed. Since the standard the diocese set was financial self-sufficiency, the worries are most intense in poor neighborhoods. There was a process - inadequate, in my view - to collect input from the laity in every parish. I don't think many people are aware that canon law imposes limits on the ability of bishops to shut parishes and grants certain rights to the laity. The diocese, and many others, face very difficult financial problems. But the whole matter needs to be opened up to greater discussion, and some of the underlying assumptions should be examined. In the case of Allentown, it appears from the AP article that the underlying rationale - that the diocese had to close parishes because of a shortage of priests - was found lacking.I'd be interested to hear how other dioceses are handling this.

Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York’s Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses. 

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