Area Catholic Parishes May Change

By Paige Lauren Deiner
Yuma Sun [Tucson AZ]
January 15, 2006

The 74 parishes within the Diocese of Tucson may be becoming their own corporate entities, but the church experience for parishioners will remain unchanged.

INCORPORATION PAPERS have been filed with Arizona that will make the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church its own parish. The move by the Diocese of Tucson was a legal one as part of the parish reorganization plan, said Bishop Gerald Kicanas.

"People won't experience any change," Bishop Gerald Kicanas said. "It's a legal procedure like changing the legal ownership of a house."

He said if a house changes from one landlord to another the lives of the renters aren't changed. The house still looks the same, and renters still partake in everyday activities within the house, but there may be minor changes like the signing of a new lease.

In the case of the parishes within the diocese, the change is that a board of directors, comprised of the pastor and two lay people, will be created. This board will oversee the running of the parish, but the pastor will still have the final say.

"The pastor and the two lay volunteers share in the leadership of the church," Kicanas said.

Their responsibilities include hiring personnel, approving the budget and managing the finances of the church.

Kicanas said the board must act with transparency and maintain communication with the parishioners. He said that communication could be in the form of "town hall meetings" or newsletters.

Breaking the churches into separate entities is part of the bankruptcy settlement the church has reached. Kicanas said that the reorganization helps the diocese better reflect "what parishes are in common law."

In Cannon Law, or the law of the Catholic Church, each parish within a diocese is its own entity, but until the reorganization in civil or common law, the all of the parishes were part of one entity — the diocese. As one sole entity if a church was sued, the entire diocese was sued.

Under the reorganization, a lawsuit against a parish will only impact that parish and will not threaten the assets of the entire diocese.

The rest structure of the diocese though will remain always has been.

Monsignor Richard O'Keeffe of Immaculate Conception Parish in Yuma said he feels the reorganization is a positive step.

"I suppose it's bringing us into the 21st century and we are meeting the challenges that we should meet," he said.

He said the reorganization will make the parishes more efficient and more transparent.

"I have no problem with it," he said.

Kicanas said the only drawback to this organizational structure is that there is a fear that the independence of the parishes may create "a separation from the guidance of the bishop and the diocese, which goes against Cannon Law."

"I don't expect that to happen," Kicanas said.

Kicanas said that this type of organizational change was proposed almost a 100 years ago, but few diocese organized themselves this way. He said notable exceptions are the New York and Milwaukee Diocese, whose parishes have been separate entities for many years.

Kicanas said that for those diocese, parish being separate entities has been a positive experience.

"There has been no difficulty. Lay people feel enthusiastic and closer to the church and that they share in the direction of the parish," he said.

Other Yuma County priests said they also think the reorganization is a positive step forward.

Father Tomas Munoz, of St. Joseph's in Wellton, said that the it will create better discipline in the church and will "help so that Catholics will come back to and have more confidence in the church."

Father Javier Perez of Immaculate Conception in Somerton said it will be better because there will be no question of the legal status of the parishes.

"It's something that helps everyone," said Father Raul Valencia of St. Jude Thaddeus of San Luis.


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