Thursday, October 30, 2008

Alienation of Church Property

I am a member of the Knights of Columbus in a city in northern Mindanao. Back in the late 1950s, the diocese—through a verbal contract with the Bishop—ceded to the Knights of Columbus chapter of our city a small lot close to the parish church (now the Cathedral) on which to build our multi-purpose hall. The K of C immediately built a two-storey structure, housing our little office and meeting halls. This structure has served us well, and was even used as temporary classrooms by a catholic college which burnt down in the early 1960s. A few years ago, the bishop—now we have a new one—decided to sell the property for much-needed funds. While we understand the financial needs of the diocese, the K of C also thought we at least have the right of first refusal to the sale of that lot, at fair market value, considering all the years we had been on it and the improvements we had built on it. To our dismay, the sale was concluded even before we were informed. Perhaps it might be too late now to stop the sale, but for whatever it is worth to your readers, can the diocesan bishop really just sell Church properties?

The pertinent provisions of the Universal Law for the alienation of Church property are contained in cc.1291, 1292, §§1-2, 1293 of the Code; c.1296 contains the provision for redress of a possibly unlawful alienation.

Notion of Alienation of Ecclesiastical Property

Can.1291 establishes the general principle: The permission of the authority competent by law is required for the valid alienation of goods which, by lawful assignment, constitute the stable pat­rimony of a public juridic person, whenever their value exceeds the sum determined by law.

Alienation consists in transferring full ownership of goods to a third person by an act inter vivos—whether onerously (e.g., a sale) or gratu­itously (a donation). Therefore the following would be included in this concept: buying and selling, donations, exchanges, credit transfers, etc. We have to note that the stable patrimony of a public ju­ridic person (the only one whose goods are considered to be ecclesi­astical) cannot be confused or identified with immovable goods, although logically the latter is part of the former. Stable patrimony would rather include all goods required by the public juridic person to achieve its proper institutional purposes—i.e., it would also include the goods without which the public juridic person could not exist or adequately achieve the purpose for which it was created. In fact, moveable goods, equities, money in­vested in fixed assets, etc., could also be included in the concept, pro­vided that they were permanently allocated to provide for the needs and purposes of the juridic person in question.

This canon specifies that such goods must form the stable patrimony by lawful assignment—i.e., they must be goods whose stability or attachment to the stable pat­rimonial fund of the juridic person has been determined by its own stat­utes or by its competent bodies, or, if applicable, by lawful authority or by law.

Competent Authority for Granting Permission
to Alienate Ecclesiastical Goods.

The ecclesiastical authority competent to grant permission for the alienation of ecclesiastical property is a function of the value of the said property, as outlined in the first two sections of c.1292 as follows:

— §1. With due regard for the prescription of c.638, §3 (case for Institutes of Consecrated Life), when the value of the goods whose alienation is proposed is within the range of the minimum and maximum amounts which are determined by the Conference of Bishops for its region, the competent authority is determined in the group’s own statutes when it is a question of juridic persons who are not subject to the diocesan bishop; otherwise, the competent authority is the diocesan bishop with the consent of the finance council, the college of consultors and the parties concerned. The diocesan bishop also needs their consent to alienate the goods of the diocese.

— §2. The permission of the Holy See is also required for valid alienation when it is a case of goods whose value exceeds the maximum amount, goods donated to the Church through a vow, or goods which are especially valuable due to their artistic or historical value.

Cutting through the legal jargon, what Canon Law establishes is that permission is required for the valid alienation of Church property if the value of such property falls below, within or above a certain range to be determined by the Episcopal Conference (and approved by the Holy See). For the Philippines, the CBCP has set the following norms:[1]

1) The permission of the diocesan bishop, acting with the consent of the finance council, the board of consultors and interested parties, is needed whenever the values of the goods to be alienated is between the minimum US $20,000 or its peso equivalent and the maximum US $100,000 or its peso equivalent.
2) If the value of the goods is between US $10,000 and US $20,000 or its peso equivalent, the diocesan bishop should hear the finance council and the board of consultors for a valid transaction.
3) The permission of the Apostolic See is required for validity:
a) whenever the value of the transaction exceeds the maxi­mum set by the episcopal conference for the region, i.e., US $100,000;
b) if it is a case of alienation of something given to the church by a reason of a vow, or objects which are precious by reason of their artistic or historical significance (c.1292, §1), regardless of their monetary value.

The norms set by the Episcopal Conference do not apply to alienation cases of religious institutes, for whom the maximum amount is fixed by the Apostolic See for each region. For the validity of an alienation which value is below the maximum set by the Apostolic See, the written permission of the competent superior is required, which can only be given with the consent of the respective council (c. 638,3).

Invalid Alienation and Possible Action

In all the above cases—i.e., when it is a case of alienating goods belonging to the stable patrimony of the public juridic person by lawful assign­ment, and when the value of the goods is greater than the lawfully estab­lished value, the permission to be granted by the competent authority is expressly required for the act of alienation to be valid. Therefore, if alien­ation were completed without permission, the transaction would be in­valid and null as a matter of law (c. 10).

In addition, c.1377 provides for imposing a just penalty upon any person responsible for alienation with­out the required permission. That person would normally be the Ad­ministrator, but in cases where the permission required exceeds the authority of the Local Ordinary—i.e., permission required is from the Holy See—it could happen that even the diocesan Bishop could be the one charged.

The Need to Update the Valuation Limits for the
Alienation of Ecclesiastical Property.

Since the above provisions were based on a Rescript from the Sacred Congregation of Bishops issued in 1984, and the value of the PHP vs. USD has changed since then, it has been asked whether the CBCP can suggest new valuation limits to the Holy See to amend the above provisions. Furthermore, it has also been asked if the adjustment could simply be made based on the inflation of the USD, or should it be based on the inflation of the PHP (and just translate to USD equivalent). I asked some economics experts at the University of Asia & the Pacific this question in 2006, and they came up with the following analysis:

Method 1: Get the 2006 values of the valuation limits originally given in 1984 USD based on inflation of the USD. Then translate to peso equivalent.

Method 2: Get the 1984 peso equivalent of the valuation limits originally given in 1984 USD, then get the 2006 value of that peso equivalent based on the inflation of the peso.

Conclusion: Both methods yielded similar results, and rounding upwards, the recommended valuation limits are as follows:

Valuation in 1984 Recommended Valuation in 2006
USD 10,000 PHP 1,000,000
USD 20,000 PHP 2,000,000
USD 100,000 PHP 10,000,000

[1] Ref. CBCP, Complementary Norms of the Code of Canon Law, given the RECOGNITIO by the Sacred Congregation for Bishops (Decretum, Prot. n.35/84, 27.IX.1985).

Monday, October 20, 2008

Crime and Punishment in the Church

Every now and then, one hears or reads about abusive behavior on the part of ecclesiastics—from sexual misbehavior of sacred ministers or mishandling of parish funds to disobedience to lawful authority. Less frequently, one also hears of less-than-Christian actuations of the lay members of the Church—from intrigues in the parish pastoral council to outright mudslinging among factions in lay associations or movements. In all of these instances, one gets the impression that the Church authorities seem to be helpless to force people to toe the line.Is there such a thing as Penal Law in the Church?

Ecclesiastical Penal Law and the Mystery of the Church

In a perfect world, the ideal of the Church would imply that the faithful submit to ecclesiastical discipline, in order to attain freely and in an orderly manner the end of the Mystical Body. In that case, there would seem to be no need for a Penal Law in the Church. However, the reality of sin and man’s fallen nature makes it necessary to have some means of coercion, without which it would not be possible to maintain order within the ecclesial society. Hence, there exists a Penal Law, as part of Canon Law, whereby certain actions are typified as criminal and proportionate sanctions are likewise established.

The need and justification of punitive sanction are con­tained by direct implication in the correct concept of law it­self. A system of law lacking such sanction would prove ineffective in practice, defeating its own primary purpose of self-enforcement. Those in charge of the common good must be armed with coercive as well as legislative and judiciary powers, for they govern and direct free, rational agents, whose complex nature responds not only to the dictate of reason but also to threat and punishment.

Justification for the ius poenandi in the Church

Several theories have been proposed to justify the punitive right (ius poenandi) of Church authority:
1) Defense of the Juridic Order. The ultimate justifica­tion of penalty is the same as that of Law: The need to maintain the juridic order, without which society (civil or ecclesial) would be impossible. Traditionally, punishment had been justified by three purposes:
a) Retribution of the damaged juridic order. Punishment aims to redress the disorder introduced by the offense, by depriving the offender of a good of a proportionate degree to that which was suffered by the offended, or—in the ultimate analysis—by the society. Hence, the punishment must be commensurate to the gravity of the offense. In any case, retribution cannot be confused with revenge.
b) Reformation of the offender. Since society is for man (not vise-versa), when society inflicts punishment, it must redound to the good of individual man. Thus, punishment must contribute to the correction of the offender, giving him a chance to change for the better. The first two ends of punishment are succinctly summarized by the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the following terms: Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorders introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people’s safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party (n.2266).
c) Deterrence for future offenses. Punishment must deter crime, and it does so to the extent that the severity of the punishment produces fear, which hinders one from committing a crime. Thus, a successful deterrent must be a psychologically effective threat.

2) Perfect-Society Ecclesiology. A perfect society needs a coercive power in order to protect its juridic order against those who may want to disturb or destroy it from within. Since the Church is a perfect society, it needs such power.

3) Magisterium of John Paul II. In an address to the Roman Rota (17.II.1979), John Paul II gave the ultimate justifica­tion for the ius poenandi in the Church: “In the image of a Church which safeguards the rights of every faithful, and which—even more—fosters and protects the common good as an indispensable condition for the integral development of the human and Christian person, penal law is positive­ly included. The penalty inflicted by the ecclesiastical authori­ty (which in reality only acknowledges the situation in which the subject has placed himself) should be recognized as an instrument of communion, i.e., as a means to recover those deficiencies of the individual good and of the common good arising from whatever anti-ecclesial, delictive and scandalous behavior of some members of the people of God.”

Legal Declaration of the Existence of a Ius poenandi in the Church

The Code of Canon Law limits itself to declaring firmly the existence of the ius poenandi in the Church, leaving the question of its justification to Canonical doctrine. In sum, we can quote the following legal texts:
1) The Preface of the Codex states: As an external, visible and independent society, the Church cannot renounce penal law.
2) Can.1311 further declares: The Church has an innate and proper right to coerce offending members of the Christian faith­ful by means of penal sanctions.

From the above-mentioned legal texts, we can conclude the following characteristics of the ius poenandi in the Church:
1) Foundation. The foundation of the ius poenandi in the Church is the damage to the ecclesial public order inflicted by the delinquent action.
2) Finality. The primary end of penalty is the restoration of the perturbed order (common good) and the correction of the offender (particular good).
3) Measure. The measure of the ius poenandi is twofold:
(i) The salus animarum, which is the ultimate preten­sion of the whole canonical order (c.1752); and more specifi­cally the salus animae of the offender himself. This means that the degree and kind of punishment must look at the good of souls in general and even the good of the offender in particular.
(ii) The social harm caused by the delictive act, or equivalently the restoration of the public order which is the immanent common good of the ecclesial society.

Principles of Canonical Penal Law

The Preface of the Codex affirms: As an external, visible and independent society, the Church cannot renounce penal law. However, penalties are generally to be ferendae sententiae and are to be remitted only in the external forum. Latae sententiae penalties are to be reduced to a few cases, and are to be in­flicted only for the most serious offenses. From this, we can deduce the following principles regarding the Penal Law of the Church:

1) Principle of External Forum: The potestas poenandi arises in the Church in the external forum, distinguishing it from that other exercise of the power of the keys in the internal forum proper of the sacrament of Penance. This is a clear departure from the CIC 17, where the confes­sor played a significant penal role in certain theoretically extraordinary situations (cf. CIC 17, cc.2252-2254; 2290), which practically speaking became increasingly ordinary.

2) Principle of Legality: Simply stated, in general penalties should be imposed only after due process, implying previous typification of the delictive behavior by law. Even in the case of penalties latae sententiae (i.e., automatic penalties), such can only be inflicted only in few cases and only for the most serious offenses (again implying previous typification of such cases by law). Nulla poena sine lege—“No penalty without law”—is a modern principle, based on human dignity.

3) Principle of Discretionality: As a counterpoint to the previous principle, c.1399 maintains the principle enshrined in the former c.2222, which stated that the Superior could inflict a just penalty even in the case of violation of a law which does not carry a penal sanction, if such violation implies special seriousness or scandal. This was an old principle, based on the idea of power of legitimate authority.

4) Principle of Subsidiarity: While certain universal norms are deemed necessary for a proper application of penal law throughout the Latin Church, the principle of subsidiarity calls for increased legislative competence for other Church authorities below the level of the Holy See. Thus, aside from the obvious possibility that the universal legislator always has to increase the number of offenses typified by law, Particular Law can also establish other types of crimes which may be necessary or advisable in a given place (c.1315,§3).

5) Preference for Judicial Procedure. Another noteworthy change in the revised law is its theoretical preference for judicial rather than administrative procedure in the infliction of penalties. Nevertheless, given the contemporary demands on church tribunals, because of the sharp increase in matrimonial cases, in practice penalties may continue to be imposed administratively except where judicial procedure is strictly required.

6) Reduction of Latae Sententiae Penalties. Closely relat­ed to the preference for the judicial procedure (over the admin­istrative one) is the concern to ensure the personal involvement of church authorities in dealing with potential offenses. Thus, there is a noteworthy emphasis on ferendae sententiae penalties as a general rule. Accordingly, in contrast to the large number of latae senten­tiae penalties in the CIC 17, the new Codex contains only 17 of them (four interdicts, six suspensions, and seven excommunica­tions), only five of which are reserved to the Holy See. These are incurred only for the most serious offenses.

7) Penalties as an Ultima Ratio. Finally, a renewed recog­nition of the salvific character of Church law and of the dignity of the human person leads to a stress on penalties as a last resort, after all other legal-pastoral measures have proven fruitless.


Answering the original question, then, yes there is Penal Law in the Church of Christ. Perhaps it has not been exercised sufficiently—especially with the so-called pastoral approach of the post-Vatican II era. Perhaps the spate of undesirable—for not to say scandalous—behavior outlined in the original question shows that such Penal Law needs to be applied more.