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John Vines wrote:

Hi, guys —

This is a question about canon law.

Our Diocese is vacant. The Bishop has been installed in another diocese and a replacement has not yet been found. The Diocesan Administrator has made changes concerning material goods.

There is a new Financial Administrator who had previously been working at an insurance company.

First, he changed all the bank accounts in the diocese so they require two signatures. He has also been auditing the bank accounts of parishes. It is my understanding that no changes are to be made in a diocese without a bishop.

  • Is it usurping the rights of the pastor of a parish to audit the parish bank accounts without any indication of any wrongdoing?
  • If so, what can be done about it?

Thank-you,

John

  { Can this be done while our diocese is vacant without usurping the rights of the pastor of a parish? }

Fr. Jonathan replied:

John,

The answer to your first question is not as clear in Canon Law but the answer to your question seems clear to me.

The canon you are referring to is Canon 428 which says that no innovations can happen during the time of the Diocesan Administrator; however how the Church interprets this question varies.

For example, the previous canon, Canon 427, seems to define this by saying the Diocesan Administrator cannot do anything prohibited to him by the law.

There are some factors that are unknown from your original question which would be needed for an accurate answer.

  • Is he really a Diocesan Administrator or is he an Apostolic Administrator?
    (The first is identified by the College of Consultors and the second is named by the Pope.)

From what you say, I will assume he is a Diocesan Administrator but just in case he is an Apostolic Administrator know that the Apostolic Administrator has all the powers of the Diocesan Bishop.

  • How are you defining Financial Administrator?

That is not a canonical term.

  • Is he literally the Diocesan Finance Officer, is he the Chancellor?
  • If he is the Finance Officer, then what happened to the old one?
  • Did he resign or was he fired?

If he resigned legitimately, the Diocesan Administrator could appoint a new one after consulting the College of Consultors.

  • Is changing the way finances are done by requiring two signatures an innovation such that it would be illegal?

That depends on what was happening before. If there was a real problem such that the new Finance Officer was alarmed and the Diocesan Administrator consulted with the College of Consultors and it was clear that a problem needed to be fixed — I do not see that as an innovation.

As to your second question, the Finance Officer clearly has the right to audit parishes without any indication of wrongdoing. Backing this up by canons is complex but start at Canon 1278.

From your question it sounds to me like the Diocesan Administrator has inherited some problems and he is trying to see how widespread it is.

Hopefully you will get a new Bishop soon who will restore some stability to your diocese.

Fr. Jonathan

John replied:

Dear Fr. Jonathan,

Thank you for your quick response. He is an Apostolic Administrator.

The new Diocesan Finance Officer was appointed by the Bishop before he left but did not actually fill the position until about a month after the Bishop left.

The old Finance Officer retired and was only working part-time for several years before he left.

My concern is that the change to two signatures, instead of one, makes it very difficult for many of the parishes.

We are in Mission territory. Often there is only one person in charge of a mission. Two signatures means that bills can no longer be paid on-line. Regular mail can take up to 2 weeks here and debit cards can no longer be used to purchase day-to-day supplies.

Even though I am sure the new Finance Officer has the best of intentions, he seems to be treating the Diocese like a secular corporation rather than a Church. I am not sure if he knows anything about Canon Law or if the Apostolic Administrator is very well informed. I am not exactly a Canon Lawyer myself and we do not have a Chancellor or Canon Lawyer in the Diocese.

I was under the impression that the pastor is responsible for the financial affairs of his parish and how the material goods of the parish are managed (Canon 532) with, of course, the obligation of keeping proper books and making regular reports to the Financial Officer.

For my part, things have already been settled. They changed things back to the way they were for me after I complained but I am still very curious about the whole situation.

Pax,

John

Fr. Jonathan replied:

Hi John,

Nothing in what you have told me is contrary to Canon Law. Your Apostolic Administrator and Finance Officer may have to learn their diocese and jobs a bit.

Canon 532 is not a stand-alone canon so it cannot be cited as you do. Unfortunately, you are going to have to learn to work with them.

It is good for you to comply the best you can and, when you have the opportunity, point out to them the difficulties on your end.

Fr. Jonathan

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