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Noting that 'the interests of individual parishes are distinct from those of the Archdiocese', two diocesan priests have taken the bold and, to my mind, unprecedented step of securing independent legal counsel for their parishes, with the goal of working out a separate global resolution to liability claims against individual parish communities.

In one sense, this is the fullest expression of canon 532, which states '
in all juridic affairs the pastor represents the parish according to the norm of law.' I am not as confident that the bylaws of the parish corporations offer a similar level of support for this position. Under Minnesota law, parish corporations are governed by a Board of Directors consisting of five members- the Archbishop, the Vicar General, the Pastor of the parish, and two lay trustees (Minnesota Statutes, Section 315.15). While the pastor and the trustees have the authority to transact daily business on behalf of the parish, proxies from the Archbishop and Vicar General must be sought for acts of extraordinary administration, including resolving individual or aggregate claims by financial settlement. Moreover, certain acts require the consent of either a majority of directors or the unanimous consent of all of the members, including some contracts for services.

Historically, adopting this structure for parishes was thought to guarantee that the bishop (or Archbishop) always retained the upper hand, while at the same time the assets of the parishes were protected by the veil of indirect control. In other words, the administration of the corporation was entrusted to an 'independent' board of directors, despite the fact that the bishop is both a member of the board and has the authority to remove,  effectively, all the other members should their 'independent' judgment conflict with his own.

It is unclear what the Archbishop's position is on this initiative, which apparently originated from pastors and parishes rather than from anyone at 226 Summit Avenue (the Chancery offices). Perhaps he is willing to grant his proxy to each parish that would like to join the effort. Or, perhaps the pastors have realized that he cannot remove them all, and so are trying to generate enough support that they can simply
join with the lay trustees and outvote him if it comes to that. Either way, the explicit acknowledgment that, as a result of this crisis and the way it has been (mis)managed,
'the interests of individual parishes are distinct from those of the Archdiocese', has to be a bitter pill for man that chose for his episcopal motto 'Ut Omnes Unum Sint' ('That All May Be One').

 


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    Jennifer Haselberger is a canon lawyer who served as the Chancellor for Canonical Affairs in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis until April of 2013, when she resigned in protest of the Archdiocese's handling of sexual misconduct by clergy.

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