It is my hope that you have not skipped to this point in this article without reading through the previous sections. They have been written as they are equally important to any effort aimed at preventing the loss of a parish or the relegation of a church to profane but not sordid use through canonical litigation; canonical appeals are but one tool for averting these outcomes. If you have skipped to this point, go back and read those sections of the article which precede this one. If you do not it is exponentially more likely that you will end up failing at any attempt you may make to prevent the loss of your parish or church.
If negotiation with an ordinary concerning the future of a parish or church he earmarks for closure fails or if he is not interested in having any discussions concerning alternatives to closure, a canonical appeal will be the only means by which it can be challenged. The formal name for a canonical appeal of this type is a “petition for hierarchical recourse.” If you have reached the point where you need to file a petition for hierarchical recourse to attempt to stop the loss of a parish or church, you have come to a critically serious point in your efforts. The quality of the document you prepare to appeal against the decree and the evidence in your favor will determine whether you prevail or whether you are unsuccessful in your efforts. It is thus essential that prior to filing a petition for hierarchical recourse that you understand the proper procedure for filing such a petition and furthermore the proper manner for constructing it, in order that you do not fail at the outset. Simple mistakes at the beginning of the process can doom even the most promising appeal to failure; it is thus important that you pay the most extreme attention to detail possible as you move forward with the preparation and then submission of your petition for hierarchical recourse.
Prior to discussing how to construct a petition for hierarchical recourse and the method of properly filing it (including the three main stages of the canonical appeals process,) we need to discuss who has “standing” (the right) to file an appeal under these circumstances to begin with. An individual seeking to bring a petition for hierarchical recourse against the elimination of a parish must have been a parishioner of the parish whose elimination has been decreed, and this individual must also live within the parish’s boundaries, i.e. the territorial area defined as being part of the parish if it is either a “territorial” or “personal” parish. If an individual is not a parishioner or is one who lives outside the boundaries of the parish as they are found on a diocesan or archdiocesan map of parishes, any challenge they bring regardless of the merits of the challenge will be ruled out of order and thus dismissed owing to the fact that the person bringing it did not meet the specific requirements laid out above that a person bringing a petition for hierarchical recourse must satisfy. Similarly, a Catholic seeking to challenge the relegation of a church to profane but not sordid use must have standing to bring a petition for hierarchical recourse. Just as is the case with appealing the elimination of a parish, a Catholic lay person seeking to challenge the relegation of a church to profane but not sordid use must reside within the parish boundaries of the parish which owns the church in question and be a registered parishioner of the parish. In the case that a parish is being eliminated at the same time its church is being relegated to profane but not sordid use, the appellant must be a parishioner of the soon-to-be eliminated parish. In the case that the church has already been merged into a new parish following the elimination of the parish it was built to serve, the appellant challenging the relegation of the church to profane but not sordid use must be a parishioner of the new parish and reside within the geographic boundaries of the parish as they are established on the diocesan or archdiocesan map of parishes. Any Catholic who is a parishioner of the parish which owns the church being targeted for relegation to profane but not sordid use, regardless of whether they were originally a parishioner of the parish for which the targeted church was originally built to serve can bring a petition for hierarchical recourse against its relegation to profane but not sordid use, so long as they reside within the geographic boundaries of the parish and meet all other qualifications for parish membership, such as those qualifications associated with membership in a personal parish.
It is important if possible that a petition for hierarchical recourse against the elimination of a parish or the relegation of a church to profane but not sordid use be brought by multiple people who have standing to do so. This is on account of the fact that a peculiarity of canon law is that if all of those who bring a petition for hierarchical recourse die prior to a decision being reached on the case, the appeal is automatically dismissed, as the case is said to die with the petitioners. If a single individual is the only signatory to an appeal against the elimination of a parish or the relegation of a church to profane but not sordid use and that individual unfortunately dies, the case they are bringing is dismissed as it is said to die with them, regardless of how strong the case might be. Thus, every effort should be made to find multiple Catholics with standing to challenge a decree to sign a petition for hierarchical recourse, in order that the death of one or more of the appellants does not also cause the appeal to be dismissed. It is unlikely that all of those bringing a petition for hierarchical recourse will die prior to the case being decided if the group of individuals signing the appeal is large and young enough. This being said, a single Catholic, even one of advanced age can bring a petition for hierarchical recourse against a decree; they must simply keep in mind that the chances of the case being dismissed increase under these conditions.
A petition for hierarchical recourse against the elimination of a parish or the relegation of a church to profane but not sordid use cannot be brought until a canonical “DECREE” officially ordering this action to be taken has been promulgated (issued and signed) by the ordinary of the diocese or archdiocese within whose boundaries the target church or parish lies. If you submit a petition for hierarchical recourse prior to the official promulgation of a decree ordering the action you wish to challenge, your appeal will be out of order for having been prematurely filed. You can cure this by simply refiling the petition for hierarchical recourse you prepared in the window which exists after the promulgation of a decree for you to validly do so, but you will need to revise whatever you initially sent to ensure that the specific points made in the decree justifying the action being taken are challenged. Rather than prematurely drafting and submitting a petition for hierarchical recourse which can’t possibly be effective owing to its lacking specific challenges to the causes being advanced by the ordinary in his decree to justify the action he wishes to take, it is just better not to make this mistake on timing in the first place and wait until the decree you wish to challenge is actually issued before filing your appeal.
It has unfortunately been the case in some parts of the United States that ordinaries have chosen not to issue required canonical decrees to eliminate parishes and relegate churches to profane but not sordid use. Other ordinaries have unlawfully refused to make copies of the decrees they have promulgated to eliminate parishes and relegate churches to profane but not sordid use available to the faithful. Both of these practices are absolutely forbidden by canon law and the jurisprudence of the Holy See. The guidelines on church and parish closure issued by the Congregation for the Clergy of the Holy See, the “Dicastery” (department) of the Vatican which among other things regulates the norms surrounding the proper elimination of parishes and relegation of churches to profane but not sordid use, make clear that without a canonically valid decree being promulgated by an ordinary, it is impossible for a parish to be eliminated or for a church to be validly relegated to profane but not sordid use. Similarly, it is a canonical requirement that any decree issued to eliminate a parish or relegate a church to profane but not sordid use must be made freely available to all of those who are impacted by it and who could validly challenge it, i.e. parishioners of a parish or church which is to be eliminated by the decree. It has been made clear that the window in which a valid appeal against a decree can be brought does not open until the decree has been properly promulgated and communicated to the faithful. This is to say that if a decree is issued to relegate a church to profane but not sordid use and then never made public, if a parishioner with standing finds out a month afterward that the decree was issued and not properly released, they continue to have standing to challenge it even though the window to do so would have closed weeks before had the decree been properly made public.
Situations in which decrees are not issued or not made public in accordance with canon law and the jurisprudence of the Holy See after they are issued are among the most difficult to navigate. On the one hand, lay Catholics are in these situations having to contend with gross abuses of the canonical process which make any attempt on the part of a diocese or archdiocese to eliminate a parish or relegate a church to profane but not sordid use canonically illegal until a proper decree to take these actions is issued. This being said, if a diocese or archdiocese has chosen not to follow proper protocol with regard to promulgating a decree or making it public, it is highly likely they will move forward with potentially irreversible actions associated with the elimination of a parish or relegation of a church to profane but not sordid use, such as the sale of parish property or the demolition of a church following its closure. Thus, if you are in a situation where it has been made clear that a diocese or archdiocese is closing your parish and/or your church, and if plans for the closure are moving forward over an extended period of time and you are being told that no decree exists, that you aren’t entitled to a copy, or nothing at all by your pastor, administrator, or diocesan leadership, you need to file a petition for hierarchical recourse so as to be able to stop the process. If a decree is issued later you can always refile your appeal. While closing a parish or church permanently without a decree is canonically illegal, in a situation where the law is being broken with regard to a decree’s promulgation or publication, irreparable damage might occur if you do not appeal immediately. Just be sure to be ready in this instance to refile your appeal if a decree is published or produced at a later time, otherwise your case will be automatically dismissed based on the fact that you appealed prior to the publication of a decree.
When a canonical “DECREE” is validly promulgated to eliminate a parish or relegate a church to profane but not sordid use, strict time limits take effect with regard to challenges being brought against it. A Catholic who has standing as described above has 10 “useful days” to bring a petition for hierarchical recourse against the decree. The term “useful days” is a canonical term defined by Canon 201 of the Code of Canon Law of 1983. Under canon law, there are two types of time. “Continuous Time” is a term which applies to time as it naturally flows, i.e., uninterrupted time. “Useful Time” is a canonical term that applies to time during which an individual is able to act. This is to say, if a particular action requires something to be possible in order for it to be taken which is lacking or impossible due to circumstances beyond the control of the individual who would be taking the action, the time during which this impediment exists is not counted toward any time limit which may be in place regarding the taking of the action in question. A concrete example of how useful time comes into play with regard to the filing of a petition for hierarchical recourse against the elimination of a parish or the relegation of a church to profane but not sordid use is as follows.
A physical copy of a petition for hierarchical recourse must be delivered within 10 “useful days” to the ordinary who promulgated the decree which the petition for hierarchical recourse is being brought against. During the course of the 10 days which follow the valid publication of a canonical decree, at least one Sunday will fall on the calendar. It is also possible that a Federal Holiday might fall within the 10 days which follow the promulgation of a decree. In both instances, the U.S. mail does not run. Diocesan and archdiocesan offices will also be closed on Sundays and Federal Holidays. On account of both of these points, it is impossible to deliver a physical copy of a petition for hierarchical recourse to an ordinary on a Sunday or Federal Holiday. Thus, neither Sundays nor Federal Holidays can be counted as part of the 10 day window following the publication of a canonical decree during which a Catholic with standing to do so is able to challenge it. The fact that these days are being omitted from the total number of 10 days during which an appeal against a decree may be brought mean that when the tenth day upon which an appeal may be filed finally dawns, it will be more than 10 continuous days from the date on which the decree was published. The tenth useful day on which the window to bring a petition for hierarchical recourse in these cases is calculated by removing those days during which action cannot be taken from the days which transpire after a canonical decree is published. In this way, the difference between “continuous” and “useful” time can be clearly seen. ALL OF THIS BEING SAID, some diocesan and archdiocesan ordinaries have insisted that no days can be skipped in the counting of useful time. To guard against any game playing which an ordinary may wish to undertake to invalidate an appeal on the grounds that it was not timely filed, all petitions for hierarchical recourse should be in the ordinary’s hands no later than the end of the 10th day following the issuance of any decree.
In order to have been validly filed, a petition for hierarchical recourse against the elimination of a parish or the relegation of a church to profane but not sordid use must be brought within 10 “useful” days of the publication of the canonical decree ordering the taking of this action. IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE CATHOLIC WITH STANDING WHO WISHES TO BRING A PETITION FOR CANONICAL RECOURSE IN SUCH A SITUATION TO TAKE THE INITIATIVE TO OBTAIN A COPY OF THE DECREE. While it is true that a decree eliminating a parish or permanently closing a church must be made public, this can take many forms. Dioceses and archdioceses are not universally transparent. While some dioceses and archdioceses have a clearly designated page on their websites which contains all of the decrees which have been issued in recent years to bring about the elimination of parishes and the relegation of churches to profane but not sordid use, this is not always the case. At times decrees are posted on the wall within a church, in a place which may or may not make them readily visible to parishioners. In other instances decrees are held in the offices of pastors or administrators of parishes who don’t give them to parishioners unless they are requested.
Failure of a parish or diocesan/archdiocesan leader to make someone aware of the fact that a decree was promulgated to eliminate a parish or relegate a church to profane but not sordid use does not stop the clock and give a person with standing more time to file a petition for hierarchical recourse. Thus when it is announced that a parish is being eliminated or a church is being relegated to profane but not sordid use, anyone wishing to challenge the taking of this action needs to immediately begin searching diocesan/archdiocesan websites, looking inside the churches of the parish, calling diocesan/archdiocesan offices, including those of the “chancellor” and “judicial vicar” to ask for copies of decrees, and doing the same to the parish pastor/administrator until a decree is produced or they can be reasonably certain that the diocese/archdiocese has no intention of producing one as the law requires, forcing them to move forward without a decree.
The period of 10 “useful days” during which a Catholic with standing may bring a petition for hierarchical recourse against a decree of this type begins ON THE DAY IT IS PUBLISHED, NOT ON THE DAY THEY DISCOVER IT. Thus, if a Catholic with standing to bring a petition for hierarchical recourse against a canonical decree discovers the existence of the decree three useful days (days when they could have acted) after the decree was made public, they have a total of 7 useful days left during which to file their appeal. Diligence in searching for decrees on the part of those who wish to challenge them is thus essential; it cannot be assumed that they will be willingly provided by parish or diocesan/archdiocesan leaders. Given that canon law makes clear that the day a canonical decree is published does not count as a useful day for purposes of bringing a petition for hierarchical recourse against it, the clock begins to run on the 10 useful days during which it is possible to challenge a canonical decree on the day immediately following its publication. Common sense and careful adherence to the information contained in this article will guide you toward understanding when the window of 10 useful days you have to challenge a canonical decree opens in your specific case.
YOU MUST FILE YOUR PETITION FOR HIERARCHICAL RECOURSE BEFORE THE CLOSE OF THE WINDOW OF 10 USEFUL DAYS DURING WHICH YOU HAVE TO DO SO. If you fail to do this, you have forever lost your right to challenge the elimination of your parish and/or the relegation of your church to profane but not sordid use. There are no exceptions to this rule for any reason whatsoever. While it would be tremendously sad were it to be the case that a family member were to die during the period of 10 useful days during which you have to bring a petition for hierarchical recourse against a decree, or you were to be incapacitated, diagnosed with a terminal illness, or experience any other tragedy, YOU WILL NOT BE GIVEN ANY ADDITIONAL TIME TO BRING YOUR APPEAL. The law is the law, and in this case it is strictly enforced. Thus, given that we can never be sure of what life will throw at us, it is important that you bring your petition for hierarchical recourse as quickly as possible after being made aware of the existence of a decree while at the same time taking great care to ensure that it has been properly prepared.
Aside from it being legally premature to bring a petition for hierarchical recourse against the elimination of a parish or the relegation of a church to profane but not sordid use prior to a canonical decree ordering these actions being promulgated, it is important to wait for the decree to be published as a properly drafted petition for hierarchical recourse will respond to the specific points made in the decree by the ordinary to justify the elimination of your parish or the relegation of a church to profane but not sordid use. Canon law requires that each decree issued to eliminate a parish or relegate a church to profane but not sordid use contain the specific reasons (just or grave causes depending on the action the decree is ordering) which justify the elimination of the parish or the relegation of the church to profane but not sordid use. A person bringing a petition for hierarchical recourse against a canonical decree must address each of the causes listed by the ordinary in the decree and explain in the appeal why either the cause the ordinary has stated is inaccurate, does not justify the parish’s elimination or the church’s relegation to profane but not sordid use, or what additional information the ordinary did not include in the decree eliminates the cause as one which would justify the taking of the action the decree orders.
A petition for hierarchical recourse must provide as much detail as possible in responding to each of the causes cited by the ordinary to justify the action the decree orders. Additionally, all information which would illustrate why an ordinary lacks sufficient just or grave cause to eliminate the parish or relegate to profane but not sordid use the church targeted by the decree must be included in a petition for hierarchical recourse. If documentation exists which illustrates that a cause cited by an ordinary to justify the elimination of a parish or the relegation of a church to profane but not sordid use is not in fact present it must be included with the petition for hierarchical recourse at the time it is submitted to the ordinary. DO NOT INCLUDE DOCUMENTATION WITH A PETITION FOR HIERARCHICAL RECOURSE WHICH HAS NO RELATIONSHIP TO THE APPEAL; such is improper and could cause less weight to be given to the arguments made within the petition for hierarchical recourse.
The signature of the individual(s) who are bringing the petition for hierarchical recourse MUST BE PLACED ON THE DOCUMENT AS FOLLOWS. In the upper right-hand corner of page 1 (one) of the petition for hierarchical recourse, the following information must appeal. The top line must include the name of the primary appellant (the individual to whom all correspondence throughout the appeal process will go.) Below the name of this individual must be written their address as follows, house/apartment number, street, village/town/city, state/province, zip/postal code. Below the primary appellant’s address must appear a telephone number at which this individual can be reached if it is the desire of anyone who may be reviewing the petition for hierarchical recourse to reach out to them in this way. Whichever phone number is listed must be in working order and belong to the primary appellant. The primary appellant must be prepared during the course of the appeal process to accept calls from numbers they do not recognize as it is impossible to know from which number or at what time someone wishing to discuss the appeal may call. Below the telephone number must be printed an email address at which the primary appellant can be contacted if it should be the case that someone reviewing the appeal should wish to reach out to them by email.
On the final page of the petition for hierarchical recourse, the primary appellant MUST SIGN THE APPEAL. This signature should be just that, a signature. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD ANYONE SIGNING A PETITION FOR HIERARCHICAL RECOURSE INCLUDE ANY OTHER INFORMATION WITH THEIR SIGNATURE, SUCH AS THEIR MEMBERSHIP IN AN ASSOCIATION OR PARISH COMMITTEE OR THEIR ROLE AS AN OFFICER IN ANY ORGANIZATION. IF ANY INFORMATION IS INCLUDED WITH A SIGNATURE, THE PETITION FOR HIERARCHICAL RECOURSE WILL BE RULED INVALID AND IT CANNOT BE REFILED, MEANING ALL RIGHT TO APPEAL THE DECREE WILL BE LOST. After the primary appellant has signed the petition for hierarchical recourse, all others who have standing and who wish to sign the appeal may also do so. They should provide their signatures, addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses just as was done by the primary appellant. If there is insufficient space on the final page of the petition for hierarchical recourse for others to sign and provide their contact information, they may provide their signatures and contact information on a page with clearly indicated fields for this information. The page with additional signatures should be attached to the petition for hierarchical recourse following the last page of the document. All signatures, including the signature of the primary appellant, MUST also be accompanied by a date, to illustrate the date on which the signature was affixed to the appeal.
Once a petition for hierarchical recourse has been written and signed, the appeal, a copy of the canonical decree it is challenging and any documentation being included with it to support its contents must be delivered to the ordinary who promulgated the decree it challenges. IT IS ALWAYS BEST TO HAND DELIVER A PETITION FOR HIERARCHICAL RECOURSE AND SUPPORTING DOCUMENTATION TO THE OFFICE OF THE ORDINARY WHO ISSUED THE CANONICAL DECREE IT IS BEING BROUGHT AGAINST. Hand delivery ensures that the petition for hierarchical recourse has not become lost in the mail and guards against an ordinary arguing that he did not receive a petition for hierarchical recourse within the 10 day window available for it to be brought. If it is not possible to hand deliver a petition for hierarchical recourse to an ordinary’s office, it should be sent through the United States Mail in the manner that ensures it will arrive at the ordinary’s office as quickly as is humanly possible and which will give you as much proof as possible that it was received by diocesan/archdiocesan staff. This usually means overnighting a petition for hierarchical recourse and ensuring that a receipt with the signature of the staff member who signed for the envelope at the diocesan/archdiocesan office at the time it arrived is mailed back to you. This receipt will be important later if the ordinary claims he never received your petition for hierarchical recourse as sometimes happens.
Even if it is the case that you have been able to hand deliver your petition for hierarchical recourse to the diocesan/archdiocesan office and obtain the signature of the employee who has received it from you, you should still send a copy of the documents you delivered through the mail to the office in such a manner that a receipt will be sent back to you from the person who signs for the package. While the time and expense of sending your petition for hierarchical recourse through the mail after you’ve delivered it to the ordinary’s office may seem unjustified, you need to have as much proof as possible that your appeal and any documents you sent with it was delivered to the ordinary. If you cannot prove this and the ordinary claims it was not received, you will lose any right to challenge the elimination of your parish and/or the relegation of your church to profane but not sordid use.
Once an ordinary has received a petition for hierarchical recourse, he has 30 (thirty) days in which to respond unless he states in writing that he wishes to take additional time to review the material he has been sent. In the event that he does not give himself additional time for review, he can respond in one of four ways to a petition for hierarchical recourse. He may accept the petition, meaning that he agrees with the points made in the appeal, and withdraw his decree. This means that the action the decree ordered, i.e. the elimination of a parish or the relegation of a church to profane but not sordid use has been canceled. He may reject the petition for hierarchical recourse, meaning that your appeal has been denied and that you will have to move to the next stage of the appellate process if it is the case that you wish to continue challenging the ordinary’s decree. The ordinary may also respond with silence; rather than writing to state that he agreed with your appeal and is withdrawing his decree or that he is denying your appeal, he may write nothing and ignore your petition for hierarchical recourse altogether. An ordinary’s response of silence equals a rejection of your appeal, i.e. it requires you to move to the next stage of the appellate process if you wish to continue challenging the canonical decree in question. Some of those bringing petitions for hierarchical recourse have mistakenly believed that an ordinary has to respond in writing to their appeal. In so doing, they have missed the deadline to move forward in the appellate process, forever losing their right to challenge the decree they are seeking to overturn. Finally, an ordinary could state that he was suspending the canonical decree he issued for either a fixed or open ended period of time to allow for negotiations to occur between those bringing the petition for hierarchical recourse against the decree he promulgated and either him personally or a representative of his choosing. Just as it is the case when an ordinary gives himself additional time to review an appeal, negotiations between appellants and diocesan/archdiocesan leaders place the appeals process on hold until either an agreement is reached between all parties or diocesan/archdiocesan leaders announce that there is no agreement, thus moving the appeals process to the next stage.
If the ordinary rejects the petition for hierarchical recourse which was filed with him or responds with silence, those bringing the appeal must proceed to the next step in the process if they wish to continue challenging the decree. Within 15 (fifteen) days of either the rejection of the petition for hierarchical recourse or the passing of the 30th day after the ordinary received the appeal without having received any reply from him, those bringing the petition for hierarchical recourse must file a further petition for hierarchical recourse with the Vatican department which reviews these appeals, the “Congregation for the Clergy of the Holy See.” The same information which was presented to the ordinary must be included in a petition for hierarchical recourse to the Congregation for the Clergy, along with any additional arguments those bringing the appeal must make in response to any points the ordinary made in his rejection of their initial petition for hierarchical recourse (if the ordinary raised issues not addressed in the initial appeal or made points to counter those raised in the appeal, these need to be addressed in the appeal filed with the Congregation for the Clergy.) If any additional documentation to support the arguments the appellants are seeking to advance in the petition for hierarchical recourse they are bringing is discovered between the time the initial petition for hierarchical recourse was filed with the ordinary and the subsequent petition was filed with the Congregation for the Clergy, this documentation must also be included.
The complete package of documents which must be sent to the Congregation for the Clergy to constitute a valid petition for hierarchical recourse to it are as follows: a document containing the petition for hierarchical recourse which is being made to the congregation, signed by one or more of the original appellants, the original petition for hierarchical recourse filed with the ordinary that was rejected, any rejection letter the ordinary sent to the appellants, a copy of the decree which is being challenged, and any additional documentation sent to the ordinary along with the original petition plus any additional documentation which it is believed by the appellants should be reviewed by the Congregation for the Clergy. NO NEW APPELLANTS CAN ADD THEIR SIGNATURES TO A PETITION FOR HIERARCHICAL RECOURSE BEING BROUGHT TO THE CONGREGATION FOR THE CLERGY; only those who signed the original appeal are able to sign this second appeal.
When sending petitions for hierarchical recourse to the Congregation for the Clergy, A VERY SPECIFIC SET OF INSTRUCTIONS MUST BE FOLLOWED TO THE LETTER. Departments of the Holy See require the following process to be observed with regard to the receipt of all official correspondence, such as petitions for hierarchical recourse against decrees. Rather than directly sending official correspondence to the Holy See, lay Catholics should instead send it through the “Diplomatic Pouch” of the “Apostolic Nunciature” in the country in which they reside. In addition to being the headquarters of the world-wide Catholic Church, the Holy See is also a sovereign nation, just as the United States, United Kingdom and more than 180 other nations are considered sovereign nations. In each nation with which the Holy See has diplomatic relations, an “Apostolic Nunciature” (the office of the “Apostolic Nuncio,” the official term for a papal ambassador) is located in the national capital. Like all embassies, Apostolic Nunciatures routinely exchange official documents and correspondence with their government (the Holy See) through a special mail shipment known as the “Diplomatic Pouch.” A diplomatic pouch is not necessarily a bag, though it can be. It is a shipment of mail which is generally sealed and always free from interception or scrutiny by foreign governments owing to the diplomatic immunity it enjoys through the provisions of Article 27 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Petitions for hierarchical recourse and all communication associated with them are transmitted to the Holy See through the diplomatic pouch. In order to enter the diplomatic pouch, they must first be mailed to the apostolic nunciature by the individuals bringing the appeal.
Sending petitions for hierarchical recourse to an apostolic nunciature for transmission to the Congregation for the Clergy of the Holy See through the diplomatic pouch is in and of itself an action which requires the following of a specific set of instructions. First, two large envelopes must be addressed as follows. One envelope must be addressed with the address of the Congregation for the Clergy, in the following manner, Archbishop Lazzaro You Heung-sik, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Palazzo delle Congregazioni, 00193 Roma, Piazza Pio XII, 3. it is without question the case that the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy will change at some point in the future; while every effort will be made to update this website, individuals transmitting a petition for hierarchical recourse to the congregation should independently determine the identity of the prefect in order that they will both be able to properly address the envelope containing the appeal and properly address the prefect within the body of the petition for hierarchical recourse. The second envelope should be addressed to the Apostolic Nuncio at the Apostolic Nunciature of the country from which the petition for hierarchical recourse is being sent to the Congregation for the Clergy. An example of this, using the nuncio and nunciature address of the United States, is as follows. Archbishop Christophe Louis Yves Georges Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America 3339 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W, Washington, DC 20008-3687. Just as the prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy will change over time, so too will the apostolic nuncio to a nation, so it is imperative that the identity of the nuncio be confirmed prior to the addressing of the envelope.
Once both envelopes have been properly addressed, they must be filled in the following manner. Two (2) copies of each page of material which is being sent to the Congregation for the clergy must be printed, so that when printing has concluded, two copies of every document are present. One set of documents must be placed in the envelope which has been addressed to the Congregation for the Clergy, and the envelope must be sealed. No postage is required on the envelope addressed to the Congregation for the Clergy of the Holy See. The sealed envelope addressed to the Congregation for the clergy must then be placed inside of the envelope addressed to the apostolic nunciature, and the remaining set of documents then must be placed in this envelope as well. Once all of this has been done, a cover letter addressed to the apostolic nuncio which explains that you are sending him a petition for hierarchical recourse to be transmitted through the diplomatic pouch to the Congregation for the Clergy of the Holy See and that you have included a copy of your documents for the files of the nunciature should be placed within the envelope. After all of these steps have taken place, seal this envelope, and place sufficient postage on it to ensure that it reaches the apostolic nunciature.
Once the petition for hierarchical recourse arrives at the Congregation for the Clergy, it will be reviewed. The primary appellant will likely receive a letter acknowledging the arrival of the appeal. This letter will state whether the congregation believes the appeal was properly filed, and that in the event it was, the congregation will be studying its contents. During the course of the next several months to a year, the Congregation for the Clergy will study the petition for hierarchical recourse and ask the ordinary whose decree is being challenged to provide a response. When it has weighed all of the facts of the situation, it will make a decision and send the primary appellant the results of this decision through the mail.
The Congregation for the Clergy has two choices, to either uphold the decree of the ordinary which is being challenged and deny the petition for hierarchical recourse which was filed against it or to overturn the decree and grant the petition for hierarchical recourse. Whichever side loses at the Congregation for the Clergy has sixty (60) days in which to file a final appeal with the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura of the Holy See, a tribunal which serves as the Supreme Court of the Vatican. If this step is desired, a canon lawyer resident in Rome who has the right to present cases to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura must be retained by the party who wishes to bring the appeal; this is not a step individuals can take on their own. The party seeking to bring this appeal must make contact with a canonist in Rome who has the right to practice before the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura (a list of these canon lawyers can be obtained from the apostolic nunciature of the country in which the appellant(s) reside upon request,) and agree to pay their fee.
A party seeking to appeal a case to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura must also send a letter to the court announcing their intent to appeal against the judgement of the Congregation for the Clergy through the diplomatic pouch in the manner outlined above (two envelopes, one addressed to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura containing a letter notifying them of the appeal and mentioning the name of the canon lawyer you have retained, as well as containing a check for 1550 Euros, the filing fee the court requires be paid to hear the case. The other envelope will contain the sealed envelope addressed to the court plus a second copy of the letter to the court, as well as a cover letter explaining the contents of the envelope and requesting its transmission to the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura through the diplomatic pouch. The second envelope once sealed must be addressed to the apostolic nunciature. The address of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura is as follows. Dominique Francois Joseph Cardinal Mamberti, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura Palazzo della Cancelleria, 00186 Roma, Piazza della Cancelleria, 1. Like the Congregation for the Clergy, The Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura can take as much time as it wishes to review appeals brought to it. Generally though, review of these appeals is complete within one to three years of their being filed.
The appeals process may seem quite complicated, and the truth is that it is. If you can avoid having to go through it by reaching a canonically valid agreement for the future of your parish or church, you should. If you do not feel capable of doing what is necessary to bring the petitions for hierarchical recourse which are necessary in the process, you can retain a canon lawyer to assist you with doing so. I would caution you prior to retaining a canon lawyer to assist you with the drafting of petitions of hierarchical recourse in these matters that you be absolutely sure they are competent to handle challenges to the elimination of parishes and the relegation of churches to profane but not sordid use. A quick internet search will reveal that there are numerous canon lawyers out there. Some are lay people who had an interest in canon law and took the time to get a degree in it. Some of these individuals may at one point have worked as diocesan officials, perhaps as chancellors or tribunal staff members, all positions open to the laity. Others may be former priests or religious who gained a canon law degree while they were in religious or clerical life who are now using it to make a living. Some active priests and religious who have canon law degrees and are not serving in diocesan positions also take private canonical clients.
In the United States, most who obtain a canon law degree are doing so in order to deal with marriage nullity cases, i.e. individuals who are seeking annulment of a marriage. These matters make up a majority of the cases handled by diocesan and archdiocesan tribunals, and ordinaries need staff trained to handle them. Specialization in marriage nullity cases however does not automatically prepare a canon lawyer for other matters, including challenging the elimination of a parish or the relegation of a church to profane but not sordid use. Some canonists may say they have a great deal of experience in these matters; some might even say they are “experts” in this area of canon law. It is extremely important before retaining one of these individuals that you do your homework to determine whether they are in fact qualified to help you.
There are two types of canon law degrees which a canon lawyer can gain. The first, a “Juris Canonici Licentiata,” (JCL,) is commonly known as a “Licentiate of Canon Law.” This degree is a graduate level degree in canon law; it is an academic degree called a “license.” If I were comparing the JCL to a U.S. academic graduate degree, I believe it could best be compared to a master’s level degree. A JCL is not a terminal degree in the field; it is simply the most common way of training an individual to become a canon lawyer. Alternatively, one who studies canon law can earn a “Juris Canonici Doctor,” (JCD.) The JCD is a doctoral level degree in canon law and serves as the “terminal” (final) degree for studies in the field, i.e. there is no degree of a higher level one can earn in the discipline of canon law. I would encourage anyone seeking to retain a canon lawyer to assist them with the preparation of petitions for hierarchical recourse to challenge the closure of their parish or church above all other things to retain a canon lawyer resident in Rome who has the ability to practice before the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura at the beginning of the appeals process. It is not necessary to wait until you need to bring a case to the Apostolic Signatura to retain one of these canonists; in the event you do need to bring such a case it will be far easier to do so if the same canon lawyer has handled the case from day one. While there is expense involved in doing this, it is money well worth spending, as the very existence of your parish or church is on the line if you are being forced to file an appeal.
In the event that you cannot retain a Roman canonist and you still wish to retain a canon lawyer, I would encourage you to seek out a canonist who has earned a JCD. Just by virtue of the fact that a canon lawyer who holds a JCD has undertaken additional levels of study not pursued by the holder of a JCL it is more likely that they have had exposure to those areas of the Code of Canon Law which relate to the elimination of parishes and the relegation of churches to profane but not sordid use. Regardless of whether a canon lawyer holds a JCL or a JCD, prior to retaining them you need to ask them point blank how much experience they have in bringing petitions for hierarchical recourse against the elimination of parishes and relegation of churches to profane but not sordid use. You need to ask them also what their success rate in the cases they have handled is and how much experience they have on proposing compromises to ordinaries in an effort to make canonical appeals unnecessary. If they state that they have proposed such compromises, ask them what they have consisted of, to see if they resemble those discussed in this article. DO NOT LET ON THAT YOU KNOW AS MUCH AS THIS ARTICLE HAS TAUGHT YOU ABOUT CANON LAW AS IT RELATES TO PARISH CLOSURES AND THE COMPRIMISES WHICH CAN AVERT APPEALS. You need to ensure that the canon lawyer you retain is going to deal fairly with you and that they are above all other things competent to handle these matters.
If you choose to retain a canon lawyer to assist you, your choice in this matter will have far-reaching consequences both for your case and for your bank account. If a canon lawyer lacks an understanding of how to proceed in these matters or overestimates their ability to handle them, the success of your appeal will be greatly imperiled. The balance of your bank account, which will almost certainly decrease regardless of the canon lawyer you choose, will decrease without any benefit if you retain a canonist who will not only fail to provide you with assistance but potentially through bad advice do irreparable damage to your case. Thus, thorough research on your part and your ability to tell the difference between someone who truly knows what they are doing verses someone who says they do but honestly doesn’t is key. Sadly, as church closures have increased in frequency, so too have the number of canon lawyers holding themselves out as experts in combatting them. Those desperate to avoid the loss of their parishes and churches, unaware that they can do much of the work which can potentially save them on their own and nearly always lacking sufficient information so as to make an informed choice too often pay considerable sums of money to individuals whose mistakes leave them with nothing to show for it when all is said and done.