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Mike Humphrey wrote:

Hi, guys —

I was recently talking with my mother about Church-related issues in the secular news.

I explained to her how at least seven dioceses in America have filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy due to the priest crisis scandal in 2002 and its after effects.

She said if the Church has so much money, why can't it just step in and do something.  For the same reason, she was wondering why the Holy See doesn't step in to stop some of these church closings.

I went on to explain to her that the local bishop, and only the local bishop, is still responsible for the total financial, pastoral, and spiritual well being of his diocese and that no bishop has a right to infringe on another bishop's diocese.

This still brought up another point I couldn't answer.

If there is a diocese that has filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy, the Church isn't going to leave its members without the needed sacramental life and the things required for them to receive it.

  • Would the Church let members of a particular diocese suffer due to the financial incompetency of a bishop?
  • When, if any, would the Nuncio or Vatican step in?
  • Does anyone know how situations like these are addressed:

    • by the local diocese?
    • by the American Nuncio?
    • and, by the Vatican?


  { Would the Church let members of a diocese suffer due to the financial incompetency of a bishop? }

Mary Ann replied:

Mike —

Bankruptcy doesn't mean that all assets are liquidated. Even if it did, the priests would still be there to dispense the sacraments.

As for the Church's power, she had the power, and still has the power, to immediately remove priests and bishop malefactors. The Church should have stepped in and stopped the abuse, rather than knowingly tolerate and promote it. 

Read Leon Podles' book, Sacrilege, the best book by far on the topic — no agenda, and he is a faithful Catholic.

Mary Ann

Anonymous Andrew replied:

Hi, Mike —

The idea that the Church has so much money is pretty much a misconception. The Holy See owns some fantastic real estate and a lot of great artwork, but they don't produce cash flow: they're a drain on cash. The Holy See runs a deficit most years, with donations making up the difference. The Knights of Columbus is usually the biggest single donor, giving tens of millions each year to support the Holy See.

Dioceses have to support themselves and can't look to the Holy See for a bailout. Occasionally,
if a bishop is incompetent about finances, to the point where it causes harm to his diocese,
the Vatican may get him to resign. It's not that common, but I think there was a case of that in Rwanda just a few weeks ago. Some of the resignations of U.S. bishops in recent years have involved financial issues too, as well as mishandling of abuse cases: e.g., that of Bishop Pilla in Cleveland.

Your mom's questions mentioned church closings as well:
For the same reason, she was wondering why the Holy See doesn't step in to stop some of these church closings.

In this country, finances are usually not the reason for most church closings. They happen because some parish populations have declined badly, and the number of priests has declined as well.

There are many old city churches whose younger generations have all moved to the suburbs,
so while my big suburban parish has 2,600 people attending Mass on the weekend; there are old city churches like St. Stanislaus in Chelsea, with 216 people attending on Sunday.

It just makes sense to close those little city churches and merge them into neighboring parishes.

If there is a financial angle, it's because 216 elderly people cannot possibly donate enough money to keep up a 100-year-old church building when it needs some major repair that costs a million bucks.

On the question of whether bishops get removed in cases of financial failure, here's an article where Bishop Martino of Scranton may have resigned due to a failure to control the budget:

— Andrew

Mike replied:

Hi, Andrew —

Based on what you said, it looks like the initiative was by the bishop who fouled up the finances himself.

I guess it would require something from the faithful to the Vatican, if the bishop had not resigned on his own.


Andrew replied:

Hi, Mike —

In cases like this, it's hard to know whether someone expressed a concern to the Vatican, or the nuncio, or the local metropolitan (in this case Cardinal Rigali).

That's not public communication, so if it happened, we have no way of knowing about it.

— Andrew

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