Readers who follow me know that I have been interested in the Good Shepherd Rosemont case in Rosemont, Pennsylvania.
This is one where a parish vestry (or group of corporate officers) is fighting the larger diocese officials over who should control the property of the parish. I did a few blogs about this last April.
Around that time, I mentioned that Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation law seems to be pretty clear about what state law governs. In particular, 15 Pa.C.S. § 5107 says:
If and to the extent canon law applicable to a corporation incorporated for religious purposes shall set forth provisions relating to the government and regulation of the affairs of the corporation which are inconsistent with the provisions of this subpart on the same subject, the provisions of canon law shall control to the extent, and only to the extent, required by the constitution of the United States or the Constitution of Pennsylvania, or both.
What the passage seems to be saying is that whatever canons would govern the function of the parish are the ones recognized by Pennsylvania state law. Unless they are ones that are clearly against state law—like a canon that says the children of the church incorporators must be sold into bondage at age 7. Something like that.
It still amazes me that there are so many run-arounds in Pennsylvania about religious society issues. If you are a religious society, and you took a state charter to hold your property, then you are bound by the canon law of the denomination you are allied with.
And the reverse, which is that the diocese is required to show some disregard of canons if it seeks to assert any authority over an incorporated parish.
Really amazed that that case keeps going over an argument as to who should control the property, when in fact it should be an argument over whether the vestry has followed canons as interpreted by a state judge, pursuant to section 5107.
Some might argue that 5107 is a “dead letter” since it is based off a statute enacted in 1972. And then included word-for-word in the adoption of the 1988 Pennsylvania Nonprofit Corporation Law.
But look at what the Pennsylvania Senate has been up to this summer. —-> here
The Senate bill seeks to govern unincorporated Pennsylvania associations in the same manner as incorporated nonprofits. This is to cover all the groups that come together that don’t bother to get a charter from the state. In the bill, it includes a proposed section 9136 covering religious societies. It says:
§ 9136. Subordination of chapter to canon law.
If and to the extent canon law or similar principles applicable to a nonprofit association organized for religious purposes sets forth provisions relating to the government and regulation of the affairs of the nonprofit association that are inconsistent with the provisions of this chapter on the same subject, the provisions of canon law or similar principles shall control except to the extent prohibited by the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of Pennsylvania.
So, again, it’s either that the drafters of these statutes have been asleep at the wheel for 40 years now. Or Harrisburg is trying to say something to the judges in the state.
I think it’s the latter.