Kicanas: 'New Dawn' for Diocese
All Parishes to Be Separate Entities Financially in Sex-Abuse Fallout

By Stephanie Innes
Arizona Daily Star [Tucson AZ]
January 28, 2006

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas is calling it a "new dawn" for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson — all 74 parishes are expected to be separate financial entities by the end of February.

Already 67 of the diocese's parishes have incorporated, a move that occurred after the diocese settled pending sexual-abuse litigation and emerged from federal Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September.

The parishes are separate entities, but Kicanas will sit on all 74 parish boards along with two other clerics — diocesan Moderator of the Curia Al Schifano and the pastor of each church. The five-member parish boards include two lay people; one serves a three-year term, the other a two-year term.

Critics already say the boards have an imbalance of power.

"I think the people should own their own church property — that's the good part," said local Catholic Kenn Block, a retiree, adding that he attended an incorporation meeting in the fall and parishioner input was minimal.

"I would have hoped, though, for a more democratic church, and that's not what it has turned out to be," Block said. "Ownership is on a local level but control is vested in three members with clerical collars. That also means each board is majority male."

Frank Douglas, another local Catholic, said the makeup of the parish boards is "medieval and draconian." But he added that in the long run he's hopeful the incorporations will be positive. Douglas, a retiree, is a member of the local chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a lay Catholic group.

"This legal device of incorporating may be part of a historical process of power and control moving away from the bishop and toward the people. If one takes a look at the long-term historical process, and if Catholics get off their duffs and get involved, this could be the way we look back on it," Douglas said.

The incorporations mean that each parish's name is on the legal title to its property. Previously, the titles were held by the diocese. In bankruptcy, the diocese claimed its parishes were not part of the bankrupt estate.

In diocese bankruptcy cases in Portland, Ore., and Spokane, Wash., federal judges have ruled that parishes and schools are part of the diocese's total assets, which in both cases significantly increased the size of the bankrupt estate, as it would have done in Tucson. Archbishop John Vlazny wrote in the Portland Archdiocese's newspaper earlier this month that the ruling "felt like a punch in the stomach."

In Tucson, the diocese's exclusion of parishes from its bankrupt estate was not challenged, and the settlement pool of money for people who said they had been sexually abused by clergy was set at $22.2 million, including $2 million from the diocese's parishes.

The diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September 2004 in the face of potentially expensive litigation over sexual abuse of children by clergy. Part of the diocese's reorganization plan always included separately incorporating the parishes. Kicanas and parishioner Bob Scala, a member of the diocese's Parish Incorporation Committee, said the move is entirely positive for the local church and its worshippers.

"This is a breakthrough, a first. The bad days are behind us, and we are also smarter, more transparent and must be more accountable in the future," said Scala, one of the two lay members on the parish board for Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic Church, 1800 S. Kolb Road. "For the average parishioner there will be no obvious difference."

Scala noted that the way the corporations are set up puts more burden on parishioners to take action against any wrongdoing in their parish — if not, individual parishes themselves are at a financial risk.

"We know if we misbehave we're responsible. Our fate is in our hands."

And Scala said that having a majority of lay people on the parish boards is not the way the Catholic Church operates.

"This is not governance by the lay people. We are not congregational. The Catholic Church is apostolic and ecclesiastical — governed by the law of the church."

The lay members on the parish boards were appointed by the pastors of their churches, subject to the bishop's approval. According to the bylaws of incorporation, the successors of this group of lay board members will be elected by fellow parishioners.

Tucson is not the first U.S. diocese to separately incorporate its parishes; at least seven others already have made their parishes separate corporate entities. They are the archdioceses of New York and Milwaukee, as well as the dioceses of Rhode Island; Davenport, Iowa; Stockton, Calif.; Baker, Ore.; and Lincoln, Neb.

Kicanas said the feedback he's heard has been positive.

"What I hear is that it's giving people a greater sense of ownership of their parish and responsibility for what happens in the parish," Kicanas said. "I think it more clearly brings out what we have always understood parishes to be — having their own identity as a parish community and bound together and encouraged by the diocese. Now civil law reflects what the parishes already are in canon law," or church law.

Kicanas stressed that having 74 corporations in the diocese does not mean they are separate faith communities — they are still bound by the faith of the Roman Catholic Church.

Indeed, the incorporation gives parishes more independence and includes parishioners on a decision-making board with the bishop, but ultimately the boards are advisory groups, said Robert McClory, a journalism professor emeritus at Northwestern University who is writing a book about what he calls the coming democratization of the Catholic Church.

"Under canon law the bishop runs the diocese and can do anything he wants in terms of parish decisions, as can the pastor," McClory said. "That is church law — all the councils, bodies, are advisory groups. If push comes to shove, the bishop is the boss. But (incorporation) is not a bad move. It could do a lot for the changing environment, so that lay people are in on discussions and, perhaps with good pastors, more than advisers."

The local diocese includes 350,000 Catholics in nine Arizona counties.

• Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at 573-4134 or at Go to for other recent religion coverage.


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