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Financial Checks and Balances
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Q U I C K S C A N

Do Bishops Need Permission for Expenditures?
Can I Contest My Mother's Annulment?
How and When Do I Pray Them?
How Are Parishes Named?
Confirmation Required Before Marriage?


Q: Is there a limit to the amount of money that a bishop who heads a diocese can spend? Does he need anyone’s permission? If so, whose?

A: Before a local U.S. bishop can spend more than $500,000 (or one million dollars if the diocese has more than 500,000 Catholics), he must obtain the permission of the diocesan finance council, the college of consultors and any interested parties, as explained in Canon 1292, #1.

Even with such permission, U.S. bishops must currently obtain the Holy See’s permission for any debt (building or buying, selling or exchanging of property) exceeding five million dollars (10 million dollars for a diocese with more than 500,000 Catholics). These amounts were established by a decree from the Congregation for Bishops on March 31, 2004.

According to Canon 1276, #1, heads of dioceses, archdioceses or religious communities are “to exercise careful vigilance over the administration of all the goods which belong to public juridic persons subject to them....”

A parish’s financial accounts and its immovable property make up part of the “patrimony” for which a bishop has responsibility.

The basic unit of the Catholic Church is the diocese—not the parish. A bishop, however, holds parish property “in trust.” Each diocese establishes how much money a parish can spend on its own authority and beyond what amount of money the parish must obtain the bishop’s permission.

Can I Contest My Mother's Annulment?

Q: I do not think that my mother should have received an annulment. She and my father were married before family and friends, in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in a Christian Church, and they were married for many years. She has since remarried in a Catholic ceremony.

Can family members contest an annulment?

A: Declarations of nullity (frequently called annulments) are given on the basis of testimony (usually written) and documentary evidence. If a declaration of nullity is given, the respondent (ex-spouse who did not initiate the annulment process) can contest it. Family members or others may not.

Annulment cases address whether a given marriage was a valid, sacramental marriage (the kind that can end only in death). There could have been a defect in consent regardless of where the wedding took place and who witnessed it.

Children born to a marriage that the Church has declared not a valid, sacramental marriage may feel that the Church has cast doubt on the legitimacy of their birth. Declarations of nullity do not create illegitimacy for two reasons: The couple had entered a marriage valid in civil law, and the Church presumes that both parties acted in good faith at the time of the wedding.

Declarations of nullity are automatically reviewed by an appellate court to see that proper procedures were followed. If both courts agree that the nullity has been proven, only the respondent could contest that decision to the Roman Rota.

Q: I am trying to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, but I find it somewhat confusing. How and when should I be praying them? Where did this custom originate?

A: The Liturgy of the Hours, once known as the Divine Office, is a series of prayers spread throughout the day. This recalls the Temple in Jerusalem, where prayers and sacrifices were made at different times of the day. The custom of praying the Liturgy of the Hours originated in monasteries of men and women and spread to other Christians.

Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer are the “hinges” in the Liturgy of the Hours, the parts most commonly prayed by people not obliged to pray all of them. You can pray the first one whenever you get up and the other roughly between four and seven p.m. They use psalms, biblical canticles, scriptural readings and intercessions to connect an individual’s or a local community’s prayer to the prayer of the worldwide Church.

Morning Prayer includes two psalms and an Old Testament canticle, introduced and concluded by an “antiphon” (a short verse from Scripture). The Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79) forms part of Morning Prayer. Evening Prayer includes two psalms and a New Testament canticle, plus a reading, intercession and the Canticle of Mary (Luke 1:46-55).

The Office of Readings can be prayed in the evening for the next day or on the day itself. The Midday Prayer hours are mid-morning, noon and mid-afternoon. Night Prayer can be prayed anytime before you go to bed.

Someone who prays the entire Liturgy of the Hours for four weeks will have prayed virtually the entire Book of Psalms.

There is a yearly Guide to the Liturgy for different editions of the breviary (one-volume or four-volume). It can be ordered through www.StFrancis Online.com (1-800-241-6392) or any other Catholic bookstore.

Psalms and Canticles: Meditations and Catechesis on the Psalms and Canticles of Morning Prayer (Liturgy Training Publications) gathers Pope John Paul II’s reflections given during general audiences on Wednesdays. He began a similar series on Evening Prayer. On April 27, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he would complete this series of reflections.

Q: How is the name chosen for a new Catholic parish? What about the merger of two or more parishes? Who decides the name and according to what criteria?

A: The local bishop establishes a parish only after he has consulted the diocese’s council of priests (Canon 515, #2). Each church is to have its own title (Canon 1218). The bishop makes the final decision about that, usually after consulting the Catholics in the territory of the new parish.

A diocese that has a parish named for most of the apostles may want to complete that “series.” A diocese may desire to recognize a new saint particularly important in that area. A number of U.S. parishes, for example, were named for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton or St. John Neumann after they were canonized (in 1975 and 1977, respectively).

A local bishop needs to consult the council of priests about suppressing a parish or merging two or more parishes. If there are two parishes, the new parish may combine the previous names, for example, St. Monica-St. George Parish. More than once, three parishes have been merged into a new one called “Holy Trinity.” Once when three parishes were merged, the new one was called “St. Angela Merici” because all three had been served by the Ursuline Sisters, who were founded by St. Angela (died 1540).

The naming of parishes reminds us of the central mysteries of our faith or the wide variety of holy women and men who have lived that faith throughout the centuries.

Q: In order for a person to be married in the Catholic Church, does he or she have to be confirmed first? I get conflicting answers from members of our parish staff. Is there a single place to find out the truth about the laws of the Church?

A: The Code of Canon Law, the basic law of the Roman Catholic Church, says, “Catholics who have not yet received the Sacrament of Confirmation are to receive it before being admitted to marriage, if this can be done without grave inconvenience” (Canon 1065, #1).

If a Catholic approaches his or her parish at least six months before the wedding—as many dioceses ask—that should provide ample time to make the necessary preparations for Confirmation.

Regarding a resource about Church law, I recommend New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (Paulist Press, 2000). It was edited by John Beal, James Coriden and Thomas Green. Our 2004 Servant book Surprised by Canon Law: 150 Questions Catholics Ask About Canon Law, by Pete Vere and Michael Trueman, may also be helpful.

Free Prayer Booklet: Prayers for Addicted Persons and Their Loved Ones is available from the National Catholic Council on Alcoholism and Related Drug Problems, Inc. (NCCA). Contact them at P.O. Box 420, Lake Orion, MI 48361 or through ncca@guesthouse.org.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.


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