ASK FATHER: The faithful put blood, sweat, and tears into the building, revival of churches, parishes. Given how bishops treat them, is there recourse in Canon Law?

From a reader…


I’d love to hear your thoughts on where things go from here with the traditional liturgy, given the developments in DC and Chicago, as the faithful have put real blood, sweat, and tears into the building and revival of churches and parishes. I can’t help but believe that Rome will have to intervene, especially given the way that Cardinal Cupich has been treating the ICKSP’s Shrine in Chicago. Which, is there any recourse in canon law? The issue clearly isn’t going away….

Correct. It is not going away. In the meantime there will be a lot of unnecessary pain and damage.

However… not all pain is fruitless and not all damage is waste. There is such a thing as “creative destruction”, even outside of economic theory. It works in the economy of salvation as well.

We must persevere in prayer and confidence, resisting in devotion.

There would be recourse in canon law, if we were in normal times. Alas, today those appeals fall on deaf ears.

Canon 1300 establishes that

“The intentions of the faithful who give or leave goods to pious causes whether by an act inter vivos or by an act mortis causa, once lawfully accepted, are to be most carefully observed, even in the manner of the administration and the expending of the goods…”

These goods, including the labor, were given for a specific purpose: to order the churches to make them appropriate for the celebration of the Old Mass.

These goods were accepted.

It is incumbent upon the bishop to see that the wishes of the donors are respected, or, in justice, he needs to return those gifts to the donors.

An appeal could be lodged with the Holy See, but, again, such an appeal in these days would fall on completely deaf ears.

One might have more success making an appeal in civil court.

One wonders if the appellant would have any success in proving that the Church is not following it’s own internal law and therefore is violating stated rights. I don’t know civil law enough to to offer anything useful about that. Also, courts are reluctant to get involved in Church matters.

Certainly such a case would potentially draw a lot of press attention, and that might not be an altogether bad thing.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. JohnMa says:

    From a lawyer: The chance at winning on canon law grounds in a civil court are zilch. The only road that has a chance of success is a fraud or consumer-protection claim.

  2. C.G. says:

    It is also worthy to note that many fruits of martrydom (red or white or any other color) may not be visible for generations past the shedding of blood, sweat, or tears. St. Thomas More for example, was martyred for refusing the King of England’s control of the church. Little less than 500yrs later, the church of England is still present.

    God plays the long and short game, omnipotent as HE is. Jews in Egpyt, any of the heresies that plagued the clergy, took time to clear. So too will HIS will be made known to all and manifested. The gates of Heaven will not fall, despite the shape those gates may become.


  3. Not says:

    Bella Dodd was a 21 year member of the Communist Party. After leaving the Party and going back to the Catholic Church , she lectured in the 1930’s , we put 1,100 men into the priesthood in order to destroy the Church from within. Further , Right now they are in the highest places and they are working to bring about change in order that the Catholic Church will no longer be effective against Communism.

  4. Recusant5 says:

    Generally Civil Courts abstain from Ecclesiastical controversies but they will decide the matter based on neutral legal principles. So a cause of action based on fraud could exist for misused donations or misrepresentation The law is specific to each state and counsel should be consulted. The State Attorney General usually has oversight re Charitable organizations like the Church.

  5. cajunpower says:

    I don’t think you’re going to get anywhere in civil court—unless you conditioned the donation.

  6. JesusFreak84 says:

    I’m actually quite skeptical of Dodd because she had the entire rest of her life to name names and never did. I won’t accept anything less. Speculation is hardly a good idea for such a grave issue.

  7. Jim Dorchak says:

    Fraud Plain and simple. Sue the bishop and Abp as well.
    Pray for the wolves……….
    Prey on the wolves……..

  8. rhig090v says:

    JohnMa has my thoughts exactly – one could pursue the tort of fraud. I’d be curious to see how that would play out and specifically if canon law would be admitted insomuch as to establish an implied contract. St. Thomas More Society?

  9. Recusant5 says:

    I am arguing for legal creativity and zealous advocacy based on the local situation as constrained by State Law ;so what do you suggest we do Cajunpower? Nothing? I guess it’s back to tambourines and felt banners

  10. praequestus says:

    Although it does not cover all the issues raised in this post (or the comments), Berthiaume v. McCormack, 153 N.H. 239 (2006) may be instructive as to some of the civil law issues raised therein.

  11. praequestus says:

    Although it does not cover all the issues raised in this post (or the comments), Berthiaume v. McCormack, 153 N.H. 239 (2006) may be instructive as to some of the civil law issues raised therein.

  12. “Downtown” depends on the civil law system in the US staying out of its actions (good or bad) unless it rises to the level, I’m thinking, of being an unavoidable confrontation played out in the public square.

    Maybe public, visible agitation is not necessarily the worst path (prayerfully) to follow? Squeaky wheel and all that (respectfully)? Use their own techniques and concept of operations against them.

  13. Lynn Diane says:

    Try the St. Joseph Foundation in Texas. Their website is They’ve taken cases to the Apostolic Signatura to prevent bishops from closing parish churches. This organization provides canon law help to the laity since the bishops have to problem getting canon law help for themselves.

  14. Lynn Diane says:

    I meant “no problem.”

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  16. Not says:

    In the Archdiocese of Boston the New Archbishop at the time was sent to close and sell churches to pay for the sex scandals. He was absolutely brutal. He made no concessions to the people who built or their families who built the churches. For his ruthless behavior he was given the Red Cap.

  17. mburduck says:

    Thanks to a post here I read up on Bella Dodd. I looked into her story quite extensively, amd it’s fascinating. If you have not done so, do some research on Bella Dodd!

  18. TonyO says:

    Even if suing in civil court is unlikely to bring a win in that civil court, we too can learn to play the long game: in winning the “hearts and minds” of ordinary Catholics, part of the play is to get coverage of the corruption and nonsense. Suing in court may open eyes that otherwise never notice. On the other hand, it costs money, and someone is footing the bill, so they better have deep pockets if they don’t have any hope of winning.

    But at the same time, play other cards, to get the media on our side. We are, after all, the underdogs in this fight, and the media loves an underdog. Nobody loves a bureaucrat, and most chanceries are chock full of bureaucracy (including most bishops, who appear to have their spines surgically removed in process of being made bishop).

    No reason we cannot also stage protests, both at affected churches, and at the cathedral when we know the bishop will be there (as well as at the chancery). Airing our grievances is via public protest part and parcel with the modernist method of getting change, no reason we cannot use their technique.

  19. RosaryRose says:

    Deja vu. I was 6.
    We could no longer receive communion on the tongue. Kneeling for communion had been banned months before. A new Mass – with its new Protestant memorial acclamation- that did not acknowledge Christ’ Divinity on the altar – was thrust upon us. Catholics who believed in Christ’ Real Presence, who had followed the warnings of Fatima, prayed their rosaries daily as a family, who remembered people dying to receive Christ worthily- were told this New Mass is more “meaningful.” With No TLM, no priest to give communion while kneeling and on the tongue- these people prayed rosaries, they fasted, they cried to Heaven. The Remnant and The Wanderer spread hope. Archbishop LeFebvre was allowed to form the SSPX. He came out of retirement and was given permission. So the faithful had Mass in hotels and homes, and as they raised money, they built their chapels. The families suffered great insults, as they still do, waiting for the mainstream Church to wake up. Deja vu – Allowing the SSPX to form was just to placate those squeaky wheels, because when it was time to continue it, authorities would not allow it. My friends in the SSPX are faithful Catholics. They went through ALL of this in the early 70’s. The SSPX has flourished. Great conversions are happening there. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we need to bring back the SSPX. When I have questions of Faith, they know the answers. I use the SSPX missal at our one diocesan TLM.
    Deja Vu – we need someone to come out of retirement and say the Bishops are in full union the the Holy See.

    What do we do? We pray. We fast. We follow Our Lady’s instructions at Fatima like there’s no tomorrow. Does it work? Heck yes. Here I am today, seeing the chaos in my Church, watching as people wake up! I quietly whisper “alleluia! Alleluia!” And keep praying and fasting.

    If you can, DO!! If you cannot, pray, fast and follow Fatima. We will all die. When you are before Christ, looking in His eyes and He asks what you did for His Church, what will you say?

    By all means – get to confession!

  20. Matt R says:

    In the US, Serbian Orthodox Diocese is precedent. The courts cannot decide matters of canon law and of its interpretation in a hierarchical church. In fact, the Serbian diocese was alleged to have violates its own laws and procedures, but the civil courts could not provide relief.

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