ASK FATHER: I live in one diocese, but go to church in another.

From a reader…

I recently moved quite a distance and found a home that was, unbeknownst to me, within the territory of another diocese. My territorial parish is, sadly, less than faithful to the liturgy and for a variety of reasons related to that I opted to attend the next closest parish, which is in my old diocese. I know parish registration is a bit meaningless from a canonical perspective, so my question is: who is my bishop? Should I participate in a parish in my territorial diocese? For the sake of which holy days are moved/abrogated, which diocese to I follow? Thank you!

It’s a great line of questioning. There aren’t easy answers right now.

Canonically, your parish and your diocese are decided by your domicile (or quasi-domicile, which I won’t get into here).  That is, where you physically, geographically, live. If you live on the edge of one diocese, and regularly attend a parish in another diocese, you are a member of the diocese where you live. You are bound by the rules of the diocese where you live, where you have domicile.

However, since we are mindful that one is not bound to the impossible, if, say, you live in the Diocese of Pollywoggle, in which the Solemnity of St. Christina the Astonishing is a Holy Day of Obligation, but you work at your office from 8 – 4 in the Archdiocese of Metropolis (which doesn’t recognize the holy day of St. Christina and does not have Mass to accommodate you), then you are not bound by the obligation which you cannot reasonably fulfill.

Most of the laws of diocesan and parochial (parish) boundaries and domicile were written when people were born, lived, worked, married, and died in the same village, many of which had one church.  Figuring out who had jurisdiction and where you belonged was relatively easy then.

As far as these USA is concerned – and other countries too, of course, with immigration and the development of ethnic parishes, some confusion developed.  For example, Meriasek MacPenzance, the son of a Scotch-Irish father and a Cornish-French-German mother: does he belong to St. Mungo’s, St. Kerwin’s, St. Tudwal’s, St. Clodoald’s, or St. Amalburga’s?

Furthermore, as many of the ethnic differences were being extinguished in the melting pot, the variety of – how to put this diplomatically – liturgical styles…? … were proliferating.  People regularly cross parish and diocesan boundaries for good reasons and not-so-good reasons. Arguments for and against this “voting with your feet” can be compelling. Eventually, the Church will have an answer. In the meantime, we live in the middle.

Can one family with traditional tastes and orthodox sensibilities help to move the local but heretofore heterodox parish back to the center? Can they help support the young pastor who is trying to re-impress Catholicism on a church that’s been wreckovated while he struggles with a parish staff that has been entrenched for years by the “empowering” they received by the now-retired Fr. Lovebeads?

Or should they travel ten miles for Mass each Sunday, down the road to the parish that has the more beautiful church, an active men’s group for dad to join, regular confession times through the week, decent liturgical music and inspiring preaching?

Or should they drive 30 miles each Sunday to the downtown parish that has weekly celebrations of the Extraordinary Form, a homeschooling support group, a great food shelf apostolate, but with an older ethnic priest who is hard to understand when he preaches?

Every case must be considered on its own merits.

Meanwhile, we live in a Catholic world that is still divided up into geographical territories. There are personal parishes, too.  And the Latin Code also describes a parish as a “portion” of the people of God, which opens up new possibilities in an ever more mobile world.

Sooner or later this will get sorted out.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. TWF says:

    I’m in a situation where I have a domicile and a quasi-domicile in two different dioceses, which I alternate between. In 2013, I would argue that I had at least two quasi-domiciles as well as a domicile in three different dioceses. I needed an important dispensation not too long ago which the bishop of one of the dioceses granted. Had I requested it in the other diocese, I have a feeling it wouldn’t have been as readily granted. The pastor who petitioned the diocese on my behalf fully knew of the hesitant response of the other pastor who equally had jurisdiction over me. Is this “playing the system”? I dunno.
    It gets confusing because the fasting and holy day requirements are quite distinct between the two, so I have to keep track of both and note where I am in the moment.

  2. benedetta says:

    I think that, in these times such as they are, all Catholics need pastoral outreach and encouragement, perhaps in a special way given the persecutions going on now, than in previous eras in the recent history of our country. Therefore, I hope that our shepherds can, albeit on such limited resources as the Church has now, see to it that every parish provides for OF and EF worshipping Catholics within the orthodoxy of our communion. That way people do not have to travel outside of their home area for sacraments, and the local communities will be enriched that much more in all areas wherein Catholic identity and voice are required in these discouraging times, such as the public square, in politics, in academia, in science, the professions and the arts, in all the domestic churches, so crucial to the future of the Church. I am praying for our shepherds who undoubtedly are burdened with difficult decisions.

  3. Matt Robare says:

    I think the Church would be better served by people building neighborhoods around parishes again. The suburban churches that you have to drive miles to and fight over parking spots at are too dispersed to have a good parish life, I think.

    That being said I realize we don’t all live in Medieval Italian hill towns, but I think the “rule” ought to be based on the parish it’s easiest for you to get yourself and your family to.

  4. Supertradmum says:

    When my son was a young adolescent, the only Roman Catholic Church in town had a priest who regularly changed the words of the Mass, spoke heresy from the pulpit, and where the people at Sunday Mass wore shorts (men and women) and talked on the way up to Communion, slapping each other on the back and saying howareya in the Communion line. Obviously, for the sake of raising a young person in proper worship, I asked permission to go regularly to the only other Catholic Church in town (we lived in a very small town in northern Canada, far from other places) which was the Byzantine Catholic Church. I even got permission for my son to be charismated there through the bishop. One has to consider children and one’s own soul.

    The priest in the Byzantine parish was instrumental is fostering my son’s vocation, as that priest was not only straight down the wicket orthodox but charitable, a real saint. We did not formally switch rites, but asked for this temporary accommodation. My tithe went there as well.

    I think each case has to be taken individually, but if one has children, one needs to make prudential decisions about where to go to Mass.

  5. Nicholas says:

    Supertradmum brought up an important reason one may not attend a territorial parish, but what about more simple, less good reasons, such as: I just moved and like my old parish more, etc.

  6. drohan says:

    I live in rural northern Nebraska. We have a new priest from India who is really devout and a holy man. However, I make a point that if I am running errands in the area, and that could be 100+ miles away, to go to mass as convenient, even on Saturday nights.

    I still tithe to my registered parish. But if I am running errands and I pass by St. Leo’s church in Lusk Wyoming, as the people are going to mass, I go then. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

  7. asperges says:

    The Church is in crisis and riven with divisions. The liturgy is barely recognisable at my local parish and I cannot attend it. Accordingly I drive 35 miles south to the next city for the Dominican rite masses or attend the EF masses in this city when they are celebrated. I used to be part of a traditional Cathedral choir from the age of eight, over 50 years ago, until the advent of a ‘reforming’ administrator who destroyed everything in the 70s/80s. Therefore for the last 35 years I have been unattached to any parish and do not regret it in the least. Many can tell similar tales. In these bad times we need to go where we can best uphold and foster our faith. If I had a family I would do exactly the same.

  8. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Indeed. What Pater said. In the meantime, pay special attention to marriage issues (better put, wedding issues) for as long as form goes to validity.

  9. jimrb3 says:

    Thanks for the reply! I shall dutifully assist at mass in my territorial diocese on the Solemnity of St Christina the Amazing, and ensure my children don’t illicitly wed in the parish in which I actively participate (thanks Dr Peters!)

  10. OrthodoxChick says:

    I’m not the o.p. in this instance, but I fall into this same category. Thank you, Father, for answering this question.

    I live in one diocese in one state, and that puts me only 7 miles away from the neighboring diocese in a neighboring state. At the moment, there is only one EF Mass between the two dioceses and it’s a good 45 minutes away from me (one way). I keep praying for a more reverent N.O. to begin to be offered closer to home; still dealing with banners, tambourines, and folk bands in both dioceses for now.

    There is no Catholic parish in the town that I live in. There never has been one in the history of the town. However, back in the mid 1800’s, a mission priest did come to town once every couple of months and offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the home of a Catholic resident. Other than that, the town I live in is dominated by Congregational churches. I’ve never seen so many of them in one town.

    Given all of this, my only other question is this: if there is no Catholic parish in the town one lives in, how does one go about finding out which parish in the diocese in which they live is their official domicile? Is it simply the parish that is geographically closest and within the same diocese in which one lives? I’ve been assuming this is the case, but I’ve never actually thought about it before now. I guess it’s because I parish hop, mostly due to our family schedule. Plus, there’s nothing special about any of these “Spirit of VII” parishes to make me want to call any of them “home”, except for Holy Communion, of course. Honestly, I have a tough time dragging us to any of them sometimes because it seems so much like Protestant worship. Anyway, we tithe wherever we land each weekend and in my mind, we’re not parishioners of any one place, we’re just a Catholic family without a place to belong, until the last of this stupid protestant-catholic liturgical movement finally goes the way of the dinosaur. I’m not on a mailing list for any one parish and no one’s ever sent me budget envelopes, even though I did formally register at the parish that seemed to be closest geographically.

    I’m really glad someone asked about this because it’s giving me a reason to actually stop and wonder about my own situation.

  11. Thorfinn says:

    This is a great topic that needs a lot more attention. Although if there were easy answers, they may have already been implemented instead of people still being stuck in the middle.

    OrthodoxChick describes a fairly typical experience of the single, often mobile, 20- or 30-something observant Catholic in America. I registered in what I guessed was my territorial parish (blessed with 3 priests, of which 2 soon after left the priesthood – yikes), but explored several other churches, changed cities, changed cities again, and finally registered again at a selected parish (I have no idea what my territorial parish is now) when it was time to get married. In the meantime I had attended several other parishes, some for extended periods, contributing to parish life, sometimes more and sometimes less. But I almost certainly would have been a more active parishioner and all in all a better Catholic had I benefited from one stable parish membership (or 2 or 3, over the years). Of course, when I was ready to settle down, can you guess whether my new parish welcomed my registration with open arms?

    How many people out there are left wandering in their 20’s? How many are active in their church? How many can even find a parish that has an appealing spiritual life? How many churches do they go to seeking Jesus and instead getting another insipid sermon on the One Commandment (“Do Not Judge”) or Father’s Latest Surgery?

    I believe each diocese has secret maps – seriously – that the people don’t pay attention to, and that parish administration only cares about when they are making sure the maps draw the affluent neighborhoods into their parish and the poor neighborhoods into the neighboring mission/order/inner city parish – “After all, that’s what ‘that parish’ is for, right?”

  12. sirlouis says:

    And another dimension is being added to the complexity. Consider the extra-territorial Anglican Ordinariates.

    An Episcopalian is resident in the Episcopal parish of St Goalong. He and his family are moved to swim the Tiber and are received in the Ordinariate parish of St Comonover. There they are registered and attend Mass and participate in the life of the parish. Then the family, because of a job transfer, moves to the Diocese of Faraway, where there is no Ordinariate parish within hundreds of miles. They attend Mass at St Rockinmass, where the liturgy is seriously defective, but is the best the family can find within a reasonable distance of their new home. They try to integrate with the parish but find themselves overwhelmed. Must they, none the less, tithe to St Rockinmass? Can St Comonover retain the family on its parish register? Does it make a difference if the family continues to tithe to St Comonover? Who is the family’s ordinary? Are they obliged to follow the calendar of the Diocese of Faraway when it conflicts with the Ordinariate’s calendar?

    I’m not expecting answers to these questions, I’m only pointing out that the advent of an extra-territorial entity that nevertheless has parishes (it’s not quite the same structure, nor in the same context, as the Military Ordinariate) is raising some complexities that I believe have yet to be addressed. Maybe no one is in the situation I describe above, but if the Ordinariates grow, such cases are bound to arise.

  13. Apart from what Dr. Peters rightly observed about marriage, attending Mass regularly outside one’s territorial parish seems not to matter much these days. However, in light of the latest controversy regarding the Venerable Archbishop Sheen, the thought occurred to me that in my case, should I somehow by the grace of God be admitted to heaven, and the question of my canonization arises, probably about 800 parishes, eight dioceses, and at least four archdioceses would all be fighting for the rights to my remains. There are advantages to staying in one spot.

  14. LeeF says:

    I don’t think one needs much of an excuse to attend regularly at a parish other than your territorial one. But as Dr. Peters noted it does have consequences for marriages. Another consequence is that one’s standing to complain about say liturgical abuses in an official manner via letters to the bishop and possibly Rome, only pertains to one’s territorial /personal parish if I understand canon law correctly. Although if one did wish to complain about a parish one was not domiciled in, one can get someone who is to name you their canonical procurator and proceed on their behalf (I know because I’ve done it).

    This topic also brings to mind the concept of “associate membership”. While not canonical, it is often used by conservative urban core parishes whose membership consists mostly of those resident elsewhere. It is mainly for financial purposes to get some contributions from those officially belonging and minimally tithing elsewhere. But at least you are a member there and likely there would be no problem having a funeral for you since that does not seem restricted canonically in the way marriages are.

    So if you don’t care about getting married or lodging canonical complaints (unlikely in a second parish else you would just go somewhere else), then I don’t see how it can matter much as long as one makes a tithe somewhere to insure being given a Catholic funeral as opposed to a funeral home ceremony (such a refusal by one’s territorial parish where you have not tithed/participated may not be legitimate canonically but can happen and has happened).

  15. RJD says:

    Funny…I’m not in this situation, but I was wondering about this and ALMOST submitted the same question last week…

  16. acardnal says:

    I drive 55 minutes each way on Sunday’s in order to attend a TLM/EF Mass. It’s well worth it for my soul!

  17. Magash says:

    I got to the parish I’ve been at purely through chance. When I got out of a 20 year military career, where I attended Mass at on-base Churches overseen by the Military Diocese, I went to the chaplain to get help in finding a parish. He pull out the “Great big book of all the parishes in the land” and we found that where I lived was about equidistant from no less than 3 parishes. Since one was across city boundaries he figured I was probably outside it’s parish boundaries. That placed me about half way between St. Jerome to the north and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in the south. I picked the north (to my great luck I learned later.) The northern Church did the youth choir thing, but had a priest that was scrupulous about reading the black. My favorite quote, “The Church did not ordain me to make up the Mass as I go along.” The south does not even have kneelers.
    As for being able to report liturgical abuse if you’re not part of the parish; We had a local priest who was famous for his liturgical abuses and heretical preaching. He use to keep a book full of letters which had been sent to the bishop to complain about his activities which stretched back over decades. The bishop never took action to curb any of his activities, until a parishioner from a neighboring diocese, who had chanced to be at one of father’s masses while on a visit, sent a letter to his bishop with specific documented complaints. Obviously my bishop did not appreciate father’s activities being bandied about among his fellows. Father was relieved of his pastorship post haste and shortly had his faculties removed.

  18. JesusFreak84 says:

    When I was living in the Louisville area, I lived in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, but regularly attended the TLM parish that Fr. Z recently graced with his presence. Thankfully, the HDOs were always the same, but I never did have Father bless my apartment because I didn’t know if he was allowed to do so outside of the (arch)dicoese in which he has faculties.

    Now, I attend our local Ukrainian-Catholic parish under the Eparchy of St. Nicholas in Chicago. I’m registered there, though I do wonder about if they’d be allowed to bury me out of there…

  19. Gerard Plourde says:

    As Fr. Z points out, there are a number of ways that licit parish membership within a diocese in the Latin Rite can be determined, ethnicity being one. In our case a consolidation of parish schools and the closure of ethnic parishes within the archdiocese led us to our present parish. We were able to register in the parish whose school our daughter attends. The fact is that this double connection has benefitted my spiritual life. (It helps and is probably no accident that the parish also has reverent OF liturgies, strong preaching, and excellent music.)

  20. Skeinster says:

    Would an EF parish, staffed by the FSSP, not just a church that offers the EF along with the OF, be considered the same as an ethnic parish? I cannot be a member of ours, b/c I live in the next diocese, but so do about a quarter to a third of our members.
    As you can imagine, we’re far-flung.

  21. Skeinster says:

    Sorry-hit ‘post’ too soon-
    I think not, since the parish office has two sets of files- actual members and the rest of us. But I don’t see why not, in these cases.

  22. Imrahil says:

    As for the “tithing to whom” question,

    as long as there is no written law that specifies exactly what to do for Church upkeep, and assuming you want to tithe (thus leaving out the questions whether you must and in what amount),

    I think it is fairly obvious that you can tithe to whatever pious cause you will. There would be nothing wrong with giving the customary one-dollar to the parish you attend Mass in, at the collection, and send all the rest of the tithe straightly over to the FSSP, or whatever else cause you want to further.

    In an ideal Catholic world, i. e. if the state of the Church is such that you don’t think there is a need of furthering one cause over the other, just help to the Church’s upkeep – in such an ideal world I think it should go to one’s proper – diocese. It’s the diocese that is the Local Church; the parish is principally a territorial (or personal) subdivion of the diocese to fulfil the diocese’s functions.

  23. TWF says:

    I believe this would only be the case if the bishop determines so. In the Archdiocese of Vancouver, the Archbishop declared Holy Family parish a “personal parish” (that is, non-geographical) for all who are “attached” to the EF mass…thus anyone who feels drawn to the EF mass can become a canonical member of the parish by presenting themselves to the pastor…much like a personal, non-geographic ethnic parish.

  24. HyacinthClare says:

    I like the idea that our FSSP parish is “ethnic”! For all you good people who have prayed for our Fr. Terra who was so seriously injured on June 11, he is returning to Mater Misericordiae in Phoenix on September 16. Deo Gratias!!

  25. St Donatus says:

    HyacinthClare, I am so happy to hear that he is returning. I belong to Immaculate Conception in Colorado Springs, CO which is an FSSP parish 60 miles north of Pueblo where I live. (I am a member there.) I have been praying for Father Terra and Mater Misericordiae since that terrible incident with the break in and murder of Father Walker. We also had a Memorial Mass for Father Walker. We are all family you know. God Bless

  26. We don’t seem to have these crises in Australia, but we don’t have a parish ‘registration’ system here. You just go to Mass where you go.

    Our parish is a classic example of how a lone orthodox parish and priest can become an oasis for parishioners from across an entire metropolitan area, over a period of around 30 years. Not that many people who attend Mass there actually live in the parish boundaries, although I suspect that is slowly changing now. We have parishioners who drive for well over an hour to come to Mass at our church, and it’s Novus Ordo, too.

    And I left my first domicile-parish with my family as a small child when the liturgy went WEIRD, and after that we ‘floated’ as nomads. But I am now pleased to report that I am actually living within the boundaries of the parish where I attend Mass!

  27. eulogos says:

    I do not attend my territorial parish. I attend a Ruthenian Rite parish in a nearby town which is also near where I work. Sometimes I attend the EF mass in a nearby small city. When I travel to visit my children I usually attend an Ordinariate mass-they all seem to live in cities which have one.(Boston, Scranton, Baltimore, Houston.)

    I have the same question JesusFreak84 wondered about. When I die, can the Ruthenian parish bury me? Can the FFI fathers who say the EF mass bury me? Either would be reverent and beautiful and I would be happy with either. There isn’t any rule about having to go to one’s territorial parish for that, is there? Is there a rule about having to be buried Latin rite if one is canonically Latin rite? What about the Ordinariate? It would not be my number one preference, but if I die before my husband, he would probably get the most comfort from that ritual. I am getting to the age when the eventuality of death is not remote, and I would really like to know.
    Susan Peterson

  28. chuckharold says:

    It has been a long time since I have heard this question. Most of the people I know attend the local parish that is closest to their home, because it is convenient, not because it has “jurisdiction” over them. Those who live close to a church that is in another parish’s boundary generally don’t consider the boundary. I would say that in our area, where there are several parishes, about 75% attend their neighborhood church. The rest go where they feel more comfortable, where there is an EF or where there are a lot of family services available, such as AA, family counseling, sports activities for the kids, women and men’s groups, etc. Geography doesn’t make much difference in the world of tweets.

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