Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jun 23, 2020 / 12:50 pm
The Vatican has written to the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, to remind dioceses that filing for bankruptcy could require the consent of the Holy See.
A June 15 letter from Cardinal Beniamino Stella, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, to Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles notes that “In recent months, the Congregation has received news of the declaration of bankruptcy by several diocesan bishops of the United States” acting on behalf of their dioceses.
Declarations of bankruptcy, the letter said, require Vatican permission, “whenever it is foreseen that the legal proceedings could involve the alienation of temporal goods whose value exceeds” a threshold set by the U.S. bishops’ conference in 2011.
That threshold value is $7.5 million for dioceses with more than 500,000 Catholics, and $3.5 million for dioceses smaller than that.
The Code of Canon Law explains that “the permission of the Holy See is required” for “any transaction which can worsen the patrimonial condition of a juridic person” when the value of that transaction exceeds the amount set by each national bishops’ conference.
“In most of these cases, the permission of the Holy See was sought, in conformity with the prescripts of law,” Stella wrote. “In some, however, the necessary permission was not requested.”
“Therefore,” Stella said, “I would ask [Archbishop Gomez, as head of the USCCB] to kindly remind the Most Reverend Ordinaries of the United States” that filing for bankruptcy often requires prior Vatican approval.
The letter from Cardinal Stella raises the prospect that some bankruptcy proceedings could be canonically invalid. Canon 1296 provides that “Whenever ecclesiastical goods are alienated without the required canonical formalities but the alienation is valid civilly, it is for the competent authority, after having considered everything thoroughly, to decide whether and what type of action, namely, personal or real, is to be instituted by whom and against whom in order to vindicate the rights of the Church.”