By Jack Smith
Catholic Key Editor
On September 24, the Diocesan College of Consultors and Diocesan Finance Council gave their consent to a reorganization of the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph, bringing its structures more in line with canon law. Soon, the 87 parishes of the Diocese will be in civil law what they always have been in Canon Law – corporate legal entities.
Currently, parishes in the Diocese of Kansas-City St. Joseph are not separately incorporated. Under Missouri law, each parish would be considered an unincorporated association, which is the default category for an organization which operates as a separate legal entity but has no other legally recognized status. This creates difficulties because there is little statutory or case law defining the rights and responsibilities of unincorporated associations.
Under canon law, each parish is a separate juridic person. Since 1911, the Vatican has encouraged U.S. dioceses to create separate, non-profit parish corporations in order to reflect in civil law the reality in canon law that parishes are distinct “persons”.
While this restructuring will create more legal certainty about the identity of parishes under Missouri law, as a practical matter not much will change in day to day operation of parishes since the diocese already treats parishes as separate entities under both civil and canon law.
The Diocesan Finance Council has been discussing the concept of diocesan reorganization for the last couple years as (arch)dioceses around the country, including Detroit, San Francisco and Phoenix, have adopted separate, non-profit parish corporations. At its meeting on January 13, 2014, the Diocesan Finance Council recommended to Bishop Finn that the diocese initiate the study and implementation of a structural reorganization.
Interim Chancellor and Judicial Vicar Father Ken Riley and Diocesan Finance Officer Dave Malanowski began exploring the idea in earnest last February. In their investigations, they turned to attorney Bernard Huger who had shepherded similar reorganizations in the Diocese of Jefferson City and Archdiocese of St. Louis. Huger began meeting Riley, Malanowski, other staff, diocesan counsel and Eileen Hutchinson of the Diocesan Finance Council beginning in April.
In June, the Diocesan College of Consultors and Diocesan Finance Council members were given an overview of the reorganization plan and on August 26, the plan was presented to pastors and business managers. Wednesday’s consent given by the College of Consultors and Finance Council and Bishop Finn’s approval were the final steps to set the plan in motion.
The reorganization calls for a number of other changes in addition to the creation of individual, non-profit parish corporations. The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph, which is a non-profit corporation filed under chapter 352 of the Missouri statutes will now accept the provisions of non-profit corporation law under Chapter 355 of the Missouri Revised Statutes. According to Huger, this statute has more flexibility than Chapter 352 and provides for more ease of operation, including an easier process for amending the Articles of Incorporation.
Cash and securities of the Diocese and parishes will be held in a new charitable trust called “The Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph Fund,” and diocesan and parish properties will be held in a real estate trust which is a charitable trust formed under Missouri law. Both latter moves make clearer under Missouri law that the properties and funds are held in trust for the parishes and diocesan entities.
“The principal reason for restructuring the Diocese and its parishes,” Fr. Riley told the Key, “is to create a civil legal structure which has a stronger and better recognized foundation in civil law and which better reflects canon law.”