REVIEWED BY MARY KATHYRN GRANT, PhD
Canonical and Civil Legal Issues Surrounding the Alienation of Catholic Health Care Facilities in the United States
Rev. Daniel C. Conlin
Rome: St. Thomas University
2000, 254 pp., paperback
One does not generally exude interest and enthusiasm about reading a dissertation — unless
one is required to do so. This case is different. Rev. Daniel C. Conlin's dissertation,
Canonical and Civil Legal Issues Surrounding the Alienation of Catholic Health
Care Facilities in the United States, is an exception. This study, encompassing
as it does both the history of the subject matter and projected future issues,
is both interesting and engaging.
From the opening chapter, in which Fr. Conlin poses the question: Has the
hare of change in health care outrun the tortoise of canonical regulation? to
the discussion of pending mergers circa summer 2000, the volume reads smoothly
and provides the reader with detailed background information and commentary.
The footnotes alone are interesting reading. The bibliography is both extensive
and current (not always the case in a dissertation). Fr. Conlin addresses both
the civil, albeit briefly, and canonical complexity of alienation and its many
ramifications for the ministry and the issue of preservation of assets and Catholic
The volume opens with a discussion of the current environment of health care
ministry, highlighting the increasing complexities of partnerships, growing
diversity, severe financial constraints, tightening regulatory oversight, and
the pressure to be both faithful and flexible in delivering health care services
today. With that as a background, Fr. Conlin moves into a discussion of the
intersections and divergences between canon and civil law. Acknowledging the
thicket and arguing that civil courts would not enter into resolution of canonical
matters, he establishes the case for clear examination and careful explication
of issues before entering into any contractual agreement or transaction.
The most interesting section includes Fr. Conlin's tracing of the history
of the McGrath-Maida controversy, which called into question whether institutional
ministries — health care and education — were in fact "stable patrimony" ecclesiastical
goods or public trusts. Not only does he spell out the differences in each approach
and perspective, he offers a solid critique of the inherent errors of the McGrath
thesis and weaknesses of Maida's. He then proceeds to illustrate the results
of applying either of these positions and the lingering fallout that has ensued.
Also of note and much appreciated is Fr. Conlin's carefully researched tracing
of the origin and use of the word "sponsorship." He points out the first authenticated
use of the reference to "sponsor" occurred in John McGrath's 1968 work, in which
he referred to the "sponsoring body." From that starting point, he traces the
continued effort to define the term, which has no basis in canonical or civil
law. His well-researched efforts clarify a number of issues, including the crying
need for a common definition of sponsorship (he has embraced the definition
of Jordan Hite) and the relationship between reserved powers (artifacts of legal
documents to protect "sponsorship rights") and the emerging notion of sponsorship.
Fr. Conlin's work is an important and helpful addition to the growing literature
about sponsorship and a reflection on the ability of canon law to apply to the
demands of the times in this juggernaut of change.
Mary Kathryn Grant, PhD
Ministry Leadership Development
Catholic Health Association
St. Louis, MO
To inquire about obtaining copies of Fr.
Conlin's disseration, contact Fr. Conlin at the Church of St. Columbia, St.
Paul, MN, 651-645-9179.
Copyright © 2001 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.