QUAERITUR: If I move, can I still go to my old parish?

From a reader:

If one has been a particular parish for 40 odd years and now just because he has moved to a new place, bought a house and so comes under the jurisdiction of another parish, wants to continue coming to old parish and fulfill all obligation of providing support to church etc. Can he be stopped by the old parish priest to continue the membership?

“Membership” in a parish is a matter determined by law, not by the wishes of individuals.

Membership in a parish is determined by domicile, or by membership in a particular group for which a personal parish is established (ethnic parishes, college parishes, etc.).

One is not required to attend one’s territorial parish, and ordinarily, one cannot be prohibited from attending another parish, unless there is some sort of a penal precept involved.  Or… now that I think of it, you have been a complete jerk and there is a court order prohibiting you from going there.

Remember, regular attendance does not equate to membership.  Regular attendance does not give one the rights of a member (burial from that parish, inclusion in the intentions of the Missa pro populo or other spiritual benefits, right to have one’s marriage solemnized there…).

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  1. Even if canon law defines the obligation of the parish to provide for those Catholics residing within the parish boundaries, my experience in numerous parishes in different dioceses and areas of the country is that, as a practical matter–for weddings, funerals, enrollment of children in a parish school, etc–membership in a parish is determined by one’s registration in the parish and donations using the parish envelopes. I certainly have never heard of a parish rejecting the membership of a contributor for living in another parish. Nor for being simultaneously registered also in another parish. Indeed, wouldn’t one want in good conscience to be registered in every parish he attends regularly? As, for instance, when one attends Sunday Mass in one parish and daily Mass in another.

  2. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    Maybe it would be a good idea to explain the difference between how Americans understand “membership” in the parish and how Canon Law understands it? Does Ed Peters have something concise on the subject, perhaps?

    Here’s an intentionally provocative thought: is the American notion of “membership” in a parish in part responsible for turf wars between parishes (WE have a ministry to youth, Mass in 16 Languages, ministry opportunities for all and sundry, and none of that pre-Vatican 2 nonsense) which sometimes feels like salesmanship gone horridly wrong?

  3. Supertradmum says:

    I am sorry, but I think those of us who have been in sacramental prep want membership. Too many young people want marriages and baptisms without practicing their religion, and merely want to do something in a church. Membership helps with pre nuptial classes and determining whether a baby will actually be brought up Catholic. Also, what happened to tithing? We have a duty, which is one of the laws of the Church to support the Church, which is not the same as charity or alms giving.

    Too many people want the priest and Church to be there for their needs without wanting to be part of the parish community. This is wrong.

  4. Rouxfus says:

    Is a diocesan cathedral parish different in its scope than a territorial parish within a diocese? Are all members of the diocese members of the cathedral parish? Is a cathedral even a parish church in that sense that it has a defined territory carved out from the diocese?

  5. Supertradmum says:

    Rouxfus, in the States, as in the Davenport Diocese, one is a member of the Cathedral parish if one lives in that geographical area, or if one signs up as a member. We were members of the Cathedral parish by geography, but we went to the Latin Mass at another parish nearby for awhile. However, one was allowed in the TLM community, which was at St. Anthony’s and is now at St. Alphonsus, to be part of that parish, because of the TLM, without living in that parish. We decided to tithe to the TLM parish, but some people split their tithes.

  6. Austin Catholics says:

    Thank you, Father Z, for saying that! Too many Catholics think they are too good for their parish and want to “belong” to a parish where the priest gives homilies they like or with a different liturgy (e.g. in Latin). We can call these people “concierge Catholics” – they want a church that conforms to their preferences and think nothing of driving across town to a parish that makes them feel part of a special group of the faithful who have it figured out. When I was a kid it was the Protestants who drove to a church that they chose – Catholics went to the closest Catholic church.

  7. Ralph says:

    In my opinion, parish life as we once knew it is dying in most places. People are mobile, priests are mobile, schools are closed, “liturgical camps” have formed. The old days of one big parish family are gone. “Membership” is based more upon ones allegiance to a specific political or social camp supported by the leadership (note I didn’t say Pastor) of a particular parish rather than geographic boundaries. If you fit in and pay your money – you are welcome.

    I long for the return of the geographic parish, the long term, paternal Pastor, the faithful liturgy, the parish school. I am not holding my breath.

    Sorry to be pessimistic, but we are going through a difficult change at my home parish right now and it doesn’t feel like it’s going to be for the best. I hate the thought that I may have to move my family to avoid scandalizing my young children.

  8. APX says:


    As Catholics, we are not obligated to “tithe” (tithing is a very specific term). We are obligated to support our parishes and pastors according to our means, either through money, time, or talent.

  9. OrthodoxChick says:

    I’m with you Ralph. There are some N.O. parishes where, unfortunately, if one is honest about the fact that one attends two parishes (1 an N.O. and the other, a TLM) then I have had the experience of being made to feel (by some parishoners, not the pastor) that I belong to a cult if I choose to continue to attend the TLM parish. My response has been to search for another N.O. parish. I don’t give a flying frog about attending my territorial parish if it comes at the cost of my spiritual nourishment.

  10. anilwang says:

    Supertradmum says: “I am sorry, but I think those of us who have been in sacramental prep want membership. Too many people want the priest and Church to be there for their needs without wanting to be part of the parish community.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by membership. As Fr Z states, your territory determines your membership, not your registration (if any), or where you tithe, or even your church communities. They don’t need to coincide, especially when one considers daily mass, Parishes that are associated with one’s child’s Catholic School (where he/she will be Initiated), and apostolates such as Legion of Mary, Opus Dei, and Third Orders.

    Case in point, I’m a block outside the territorial parish of the Catholic school my children will go to, and I go to daily mass in a parish close to my work during lunch. I don’t go anywhere near my territorial parish or tithe there but do so in the other parishes. I have looked into being part of an apostolate, but those are associated with other parishes. I’m not registered anywhere (except indirectly through my child’s Catholic school and its where I got my first communion), but even if I were, the parishes where I go to are not obliged to provide any of the sacraments (although it’s a given that the parish associated with my children’s schools Initiate my children), but my territorial parish is required to.

    Unlike Protestant Churches, the Catholic Church is universal and sacramental, so the boundaries of the communities one is bound up with is hazier by design. There is no perfect solution. If “registration” is tied to service (i.e. sacraments) and “community participation” as it is in the Protestant world, people will fall through the cracks because of paperwork and the Church would lose its Catholicity. Territorial parishes are a simple low overhead way to ensure that people don’t fall through the cracks. Registration may help alleviate some of the imperfections of territorial parishes, but priests where you are registered are under no obligation to, for instance, perform a wedding or funeral in their parish if that is not your territory.

  11. incorpore says:

    Recently I was surprised to learn that the Diocese of Lincoln actually enforces the law on parish boundaries (I was only initially surprised… then I remembered where I was visiting ;) ). It seems that the Pastors are all very clear about parish and school registration with new folks, and that one can only be dispensed with a good reason and with the permission of both the pastor in whose parish you reside and the parish where you wish to register.

  12. moon1234 says:

    What Ralph said is really the norm now, at least for many of the more devout Catholics that I have met. They can no longer tolerate the odd ball stuff that they find in their local parish, so they travel to parishes where it does not happen or they can at least tolerate it better.

    What is even more interesting is the parish within a parish that seems to happen where Mass is said in multiple languages. I know of several parishes where there are Spanish Masses, English Masses and Latin Masses all in the same parish. Rarely if every do these “groups” mix together. I almost never see English and Latin Mass attendees at the Spanish Mass and vice versa. Where there are festivals in the Parish they are themed around the cultural backgrounds of the different Masses.

    There is a Cinco De Maio (spelling?) festival that seems like only the Spanish speakers attend. There is usually a Spanish Mass with the same people attending. The “regular” parish festival seems to have mostly the English Mass attendees with some of the Latin crowd, but to a lesser degree. There are religious retreats that seem to be attended mostly by the Latin crowd with some English Mass attendees and no Spanish Mass attendees.

    It seems that the more languages Mass is offered in, the more balkanized the parish becomes. With people developing parishes within parishes. I guess I can say we sort of fall into the same trap, but after have the EF now for almost 6 years in our Parish, we never attend the English Masses. We do go to some of the parish festival activities and do participate in some of them. We have noticed though that many of the English Mass attendees no longer routinely come or have switched to other parishes. The EF attendees were seen as invaders. To date none of the parish council has any members from the Latin Mass crowd even though several have run for the council over the past years (and we all voted for said person).

  13. I too would be interested in an authoritative statement of what canon law says on this question, having seen past allegations that the 1983 code defines the obligation of a parish–and, in particular, its pastor– to those living within its boundaries, but not the obligation of Catholics within its boundaries to the parish.

    Among the questions that I have not seen answered definitively is whether it is proper for a parish to refuse parish service or impose non-parishioner fees for parishioners (by residence and/or attendance) who are are not registered and financially contributing members.

  14. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Austin – That’s a little harsh for those of us who have children. Sometimes the geographic parish has severe issues that can be a real hazard for a child’s faith and sacramental preparation. For instance, in our diocese some of the parishes withhold first confession until the child is 10. Others have children make their sacraments in the order outlined by canon law.

    One document on the Vatican website says that it is ‘spiritual abuse’ to withhold confession until late elementary school. As a parent, my first duty is to my children, not to geographic boundaries. Why would I remain in a parish that refused them confession?

  15. Ben Kenobi says:

    Where I teach is not my home parish – thanks to my landlord selling the apartment we shared. It’s not just a matter of someone not wanting to contribute to parish life, but rather someone wishing to continue their service and ministry. I move around about once a year and where I work is far more stable. It’s nice to have that connection with the community that doesn’t change even if my home address does from time to time.

    As for the ‘conceirge’ Catholics – I have to ask this question. Many parishes voluntarily divide along cultural lines – hispanic parishes, black parishes, etc. Why the criticism for folks who choose to attend a TLM, but not at the folks that go to the ‘parish that looks like them’? Or the one with a Spanish mass, etc. I see plenty of handwringing over the TLM folks (horrors if they drive to get to one), but very little said about this. I used to get stares when I attended my home parish and the father there asked what I was doing here! I tried to tell them that this was my home parish, and offered to help, etc. I suppose I’ll get an email one of these days from them, but I’m not expecting it. Should I forgo an active ministry today in order to attend the parish that I currently live within the boundaries (even though that might change in a year), or should I continue doing what I’ve been doing for the past three years even if I have a longer drive?

  16. mamajen says:

    With parishes varying so wildly, I am glad there is no requirement to stick with one’s geographical parish. We recently left our geographical parish after toughing it out for almost five years. It just became unbearable, and I wanted my oldest son to have a good example instead of the lackadaisical attitude he was seeing before. We drive to another town now, and I’m happy with the change. I do understand the importance of registering now, and we asked to do so after the second mass at our new parish. It is our first time being registered anywhere.

  17. rodin says:

    However, if one’s territorial parish considers a Paganini violin concerto liturgical music, or the words of the consecration to be “Change them,” or chooses not to provide time for a Latin Mass when it has been requested, is one then permitted to drive for an hour each way to attend an extraordinary form at a distant facility?

  18. mamajen says:

    I agree with Deirdre above. Things are different when you’re a parent of young kids. I’ve watched as most of my large family have either fallen away or are rapidly headed in that direction. That, and the state of society at large helped me realize that providing the strongest foundation possible for my boys is the best chance they have. I also want to ensure that neither my husband or myself “go soft” someday. Call me a silly name if you want, I’m just trying to get my family to Heaven. Territorial boundaries? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

  19. NoTambourines says:

    Hmm. What happens to membership when you’re lucky enough to have one parish grow enough to launch another?

    We’ve gone from one parish for the whole town to three parishes in the last twenty years as the population has grown. So if you’re in the territory of (and a member of) Parish A, but Parish B opens up on your side of town, do you automatically become a member of Parish B?

  20. In my diocese, one is expected to register at the parish of one’s domicile, with permission to do otherwise at the discretion of the parish priest of the would-be “adopted” parish. My territorial parish is run by heretics — yes, I can prove this — so I crossed the main drag to register at another one. Even then, I don’t attend there, as I work every Sunday morning at a parish several miles away.

    If that were not enough, I’ve been dual registered at a Byzantine Rite parish for many years.

    Generally, I expect three things from a parish: 1) that the Mass is celebrated properly and with due reverence, 2) that the homilies are free from errors against the Faith, and 3) that the priests act their age. Most of the time, I am not disappointed.

  21. Fr AJ says:

    NoTambourines, when a new parish is opened, new territorial lines are drawn. This should be made known to the people.

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