Tucson Parishes to Separate Financially

Associated Press, carried in The Arizona Republic
January 30, 2006

TUCSON - All 74 parishes in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson will be legally separated by the end of February as the church rebuilds from bankruptcy caused by a slew of priest sexual-abuse lawsuits.

Each parish will incorporate and take legal title to its property, transferring it from the diocese.

The legal separation doesn't mean they'll be run as standalone operations, however. Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas will sit on each parish board, as will diocesan Moderator of the Curia Al Schifano and the pastor of each church. The five-person boards will be rounded out with two lay members.

Kicanas called the move a "new dawn" for the diocese.

But some parishioners already are expressing doubts about the arrangement, which they say leaves power with the diocese and isn't inclusive.

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

When it filed for bankruptcy in September 2004, the diocese claimed its parishes were not part of the bankrupt estate. A court-sanctioned reorganization plan approved last year called for the separate incorporation.

The bankruptcy came as the church faced a raft of lawsuits by people claiming they were sexually abused by Arizona priests.

In other diocese bankruptcy cases in Portland, Ore., and Spokane, Wash., federal judges ruled that parishes and schools are part of the diocese's total assets.

The Tucson diocese's exclusion of parishes from its bankrupt estate wasn't challenged and it eventually set aside $22.2 million to settle the suits, including $2 million from parishes.

The incorporation does give parishes more independence by setting up the boards, but ultimately they 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.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.