Monday, May 12, 2014

Cdl. Burke: Bishops must have a grave reason to close a church

When considering the suppression of parishes or the closing of church buildings, bishops should hew closely to canon law not simply because it’s a legal requirement of the church, Cardinal Raymond L. Burke said, but because it helps foster unity.

In a May 7 interview with the Catholic Review, the prefect of the Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature, the Vatican’s highest court, said following proper procedures helps ensure legitimate decisions.

“When we don’t follow the requirements of the law, then people rightly claim that they’ve been aggrieved by this,” said Cardinal Burke, who was a featured speaker at the Eastern Regional Conference of the Canon Law Society of America, held May 6-8 at the Hotel Monaco in Baltimore. The cardinal’s presentation was closed to the media, but he granted a brief interview to the Catholic Review.

“(When) we do follow the requirements of the law,” he said, “even if we take a decision that’s unfavorable to people, at least they know that it was taken legitimately with respect to what the church requires for that decision.”

According to canon law, a bishop has the authority to suppress (close) a parish when there is a “just” reason. He must consult with his diocesan presbyteral council, and parishioners have the right to make their views heard.

Closing a church building, a process canon law refers to as relegating it to “profane, but not sordid use,” requires that a bishop have a grave reason for the closure.

Cardinal Burke noted that when discerning whether to reduce buildings to profane use, dioceses should “avoid presuppositions that are not correct,” including the notion that a parish can have only one church. It is possible for a parish to have two or more church buildings, he said. Although a parish may be suppressed, its buildings may continue to be used as part of another parish.
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