BY: FR. FRANCIS G. MORRISEY, OMI, JCD, PhD
Fr. Morrisey is on the faculty of canon law, Saint Paul University, Ottawa,
Ontario. This article is based on a presentation he made to the Canon Law Forum
in Tampa, FL, in April 2001.
Some 17 years ago, shortly after the 1983 Code of Canon
Law was promulgated, CHA asked me to prepare a brief study
of the administration of ecclesiastical goods; the resulting
article, "Canonical Duties, Liabilities of Trustees and Administrators,"
appeared in Health Progress in 1985.1
Although many of the points made in that article remain valid
today, some do not because, in the intervening years, the canons
have been applied and interpreted so as to adapt the law to
new situations. I would, therefore, like to address a number
of the newer issues, especially those that apply to members
of boards of trustees, who must make decisions affecting the
future of the health care apostolate. In canonical literature,
such persons are usually referred to as "canonical stewards."
In this article, I will limit my remarks to the temporal dimension
of the trustee's role, leaving the spiritual dimension, which
is equally important, for another occasion.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul reminds his listeners that
they are to be regarded as Christ's subordinates and as stewards of the secrets
of God. Stewards are expected to show themselves trustworthy, he says (1 Cor
4:2). The call to be trustworthy is fundamental to any type of stewardship,
spiritual or temporal. We can therefore ask ourselves, "What is an attitude
of 'trustworthy stewardship' as it affects the administration of temporal goods
belonging to the church or to one of its juridic persons or recognized entities?"
Many persons are selected for board membership or stewardship
positions, not because of their knowledge of Catholic teachings
and laws, but rather because of their esteemed places in the
community and their expressed interest in a particular apostolic
undertaking. It would not be fair to expect such people to have,
at the time of their appointment, the knowledge and experience
that comes from years of involvement in Catholic health care.
Even those who are familiar with church teachings need to keep
updated. For instance, Pope John Paul II's August 29, 2000,
address on cloning and transplants to the International Congress
on Transplants provided the church's position regarding those
issues an update that has not yet appeared in textbooks.2
The recent announcement of human cloning raises
further questions for which we do not yet have all — or perhaps
any — of the answers.3 Although these issues
do not relate directly to canon law, they do have serious implications
for the continuing Catholic identity of our health care institutions.
Because of the close relationship between "members" of the corporation and
"trustees," I will be using the terms interchangeably, although I recognize
that in many instances a clear distinction is made between the two levels of
involvement, particularly concerning canonical sponsors and civil trustees,
but also in the secular sphere, where we have multitiered structures. Different
systems assign responsibilities to one level or the other; there is no hard
and fast rule concerning which responsibility is exercised at a particular level.
What counts most is that the duties be faithfully carried out, whether by the
"members" or by the "trustees" who serve on the board. Although we don't find
the word "trustee" in the Code, we do find a number of other expressions,
such as "steward," "administrator," and "council member," which give us sufficient
insight into what is expected of a "trustee." Similarly, because we deal more
frequently today with health care systems than with single institutions, I will
refer more directly to systems. What applies to the whole can also be applied
to the parts, with the appropriate adaptations.
In a recent Health Progress article, I traced the development
of various structures used in contemporary health care.4
In the present article, we should, when distinguishing between
"members' and "trustees," keep in mind the evolution of works
that were once totally controlled by the leaders of religious
institutes into works that today are directed by multitiered
boards. In the same vein, we should not forget the notion of
separate and distinct civil corporations, with the appropriate
reserved powers. Catholic health care is in the midst of a lengthy
process of change; and it is possible that the structures we
use today to respond to needs of the apostolate might, at some
future date, be replaced by other structures, considered to
be more appropriate to the world in which we will then be called
to exercise our mission. (New tax laws and antitrust regulations
could, for example, have a significant influence on our structures).
If such changes were to occur, our understanding of the role
and mission of "members" and "trustees" might have to be reconsidered
in light of the new circumstances.
Canon Law and Health Care
For some unknown reason, there is no reference in the Code to health
care and its various institutions. Likewise, this most important apostolate
was very rarely mentioned explicitly in Vatican Council II. Yet the Catholic
Church is the largest provider of health care in the world. In one sense, this
lack of reference is good because the law does not accordingly establish a number
of restrictions on the health ministry, as it does for schools. On the other
hand, we must recognize that, practically speaking, Catholic health care institutions
are much more closely governed by the church's ethical teachings than by its
laws. Thus, in one very restricted sense, trustees do not have to know
much about canon law, provided that they are aware of the church's moral teachings.
But, if their mission is to be apostolic, then the provisions of the law do
come into play.
For this reason, the canons on apostolic activities and on the ministry of
religious are applicable to health care institutions. Also, and perhaps more
directly, the norms relating to temporal goods (Book V of the Code) are
those with which canon law is most identified in our institutions. However,
as is often the case with the ethical and religious directives issued by the
church in different countries, people tend to note the things the church forbids
rather than those it promotes.
The canon law governing health care institutions can be of three types:
- Common or universal law, binding on all Catholics. This is the law found
in the Code and subsequent universal legal texts.
- Particular law, relating to territory, such as the diocese or the territory
of the nation's conference of bishops.*
*For the United States, see the National Council
of Catholic Bishops, Implementation of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, Washington,
DC, 1991. For Canada, see the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Complementary
Norms to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, Ottawa, 1996.
- Proper law, relating to religious institutes and their members; this is
usually found in the constitutions and rules of the various institutes.
Because these three types of law often overlap, their interpretation
can vary from place to place, just as civil law varies from
state to state. The law is also interpreted differently over
time.† Matters considered vital in the early 1980s might now
be seen as less important than other concerns, such as protection
from terrorism.‡ The same tendency can be seen in the ethical
world: Questions relating to cloning were not primary in the
early 1980s, for instance, but they certainly are today. 5
Might the same soon be said about end-of-life issues? 6
New situations call for new approaches.
† Following the 1983 promulgation of the Code, for
example, church leaders focused on "bricks-and-mortar" issues concerning church
property; today the focus is much more on mission than buildings, because
buildings, unlike mission, eventually become obsolete and must be replaced.
‡ After the promulgation of Pope Paul IV's apostolic
exhortation Evangelica Testificatio (June 29, 1971), for example, church
leaders paid much attention to differences among religious institutes' charisms.
However, the identification of particular charisms has since become less important
as institutes have begun to work more and more closely together, pooling their
resources and focusing more on the apostolic work than on their various heritages.
I mention this point so that we will not be surprised to find
that things are done somewhat differently in different places,
depending on the time and the circumstances. A medical procedure
considered extraordinary just 20 years ago may well be seen
as routine today.§ We must keep in mind that, because of this
and similar changes in the church, not every Catholic health
care institution operates in the same way. The general principles
of the law must be tempered by concrete policies and practices.
Because of the emphasis the Code places on temporal
goods and their proper administration, a number of the canonical
obligations of trustees that I will mention here are derived
from Book V of the Code (on temporal goods). However,
this does not mean that other duties, arising from other sources,
such as papal allocutions, are not as important. 7
The Basic Principle Canon 1279 sets out the general principle: "The
administration of ecclesiastical goods is the responsibility of the individual
who immediately governs the persons to whom the goods belong," unless otherwise
provided in law or custom. This individual is usually called a "canonical steward."
When we speak of "ecclesiastical goods," we refer to those temporal goods that
belong either to the church as a whole or to one of its public juridic persons.
At times, goods are simply "entrusted" to a juridical person for a specific
purpose, but are not "owned" by it. In such instances, the goods are not ecclesiastical
goods but would be subject to general norms governing proper administration.
When we speak of "public juridic persons," we must keep in mind that these
are the church's equivalent of corporations or similar entities found in the
secular world. A public juridic person is usually established to further a recognized
apostolic endeavor. Dioceses, parishes, religious institutes (and many of their
component parts), and institutions that have been granted such personality by
the canonical legislator — all these are public juridic persons. Although a public
juridic person exists and has perpetual succession, its functions are carried
out by physical persons who have been formally designated to see to its interests.
These representatives are often referred to as "trustees." They are not the
juridic person itself but its canonical representatives.
It is not easy to distinguish between canonical "stewards" and canonical "administrators."
Only in canon 1273 is the word "steward" used. Therefore, one must go beyond
the letter of the law to discover its spirit and intent. It seems to me that
the term "steward" has a more spiritual side, whereas "administrator" focuses
more on the material dimension of the office.
However, the administrator does not carry out the office alone. There are
usually others who, to various degrees, assist in the operations. It is here
that "trustees" often come into play.
The Term "Trustee" The term "trustee" could have many
meanings. It could be used, as it is in secular law, to designate
the person appointed or required by law to execute a trust.
Another meaning of the term would be: "A person who holds title
to property and administers it for the benefit of another."8
§For instance, the progress made in dealing with
AIDS and HIV. See John Paul II, "Message to U.N. Session on
HIV/AIDS," Origins, August 2, 2001, pp. 186-187.
In a strict sense, a trustee is one who holds the legal title to property
for the benefit of another; in a broad sense, however, the term sometimes is
applied to one who is the agent or attorney of another. The word is also used
to refer to company directors who are "trustees" for the shareholders.
In canon law, the term is applied more particularly to those persons who administer
goods bequeathed for pious causes (c. 1302). The word, however, is also understood,
less precisely, to refer to those persons who are members of boards governing
juridic persons and other church entities. The term "trustee" will be used here
in this broader canonical sense.
Acting together, trustees represent the interests of a juridic person or church
entity, even though the actual board they sit on might not be the board of a
public juridic person itself.* For instance, a trustee of a hospital that does
not have distinct canonical recognition might think that his or her trusteeship
responsibilities are operative only in the secular sphere and that the facility's
religious sponsors should look after matters relating to the church. But such
is not so, especially if, as is often the case today, a number of canonical
functions have been delegated by the religious sponsors to the board of trustees.
* In canon law the term "public juridic person" refers to a group
of persons or things (property) dedicated to helping the church achieve its
mission. In North America it could, somewhat improperly, be described as an
"internal church corporation." For more on this concept, see J. Hite, A
Primer on Public and Private Juridic Persons, Catholic Health Association,
St. Louis, 2000, p. vii.
The person who shares in the superior's office also shares
in the responsibilities. Treasurers and trustees must, therefore,
act with the diligence of a good householder (see c. 1284, para.
1). Not surprisingly, then, they must answer for their actions.
Special Duties of Trustees Relating to Administration
For reasons of convenience, the duties of administrators or trustees can be
considered under a number of particular headings. There is no particular order
to these headings.
In Relation to the Governing Canonical "Statutes" From a canonical
perspective, the primary duty of trustees is to ensure that the institutions
under their supervision operate in accordance with the teaching, discipline,
and laws of the Roman Catholic Church. This is to be done, however, taking into
account the mission, vision, and values of the system they represent.† These
values are usually spelled out in the corporate documents or statutes governing
the institution and its sponsors.
† These terms are used, for example, in Article
2 of the approved (July 7, 2000) canonical statutes of Hope Ministries in
its relationship to Catholic Health East: "As such [Hope Ministries} ensures
that each institution sponsored by [it] operates in conformity with the Mission,
Vision and Values approved by Members of Catholic Health East, consistent
with the teachings and laws of the Roman Catholic Church appropriate to health
This duty implies six elements, three of which are somewhat on a philosophical
or spiritual line, whereas the other three are on a more practical one:
- The (1) mission, (2) vision, and (3) values of the system
- The (4) teaching, (5) discipline, and (6) laws of the Catholic Church
To carry out these duties, the trustees usually exercise certain powers that
relate directly to the philosophy and mission of the system or the institution.
Sometimes these powers are reserved to other persons, depending on the way in
which the organization has been set up. For instance, in some systems, a sponsor's
council assumes direct responsibility for the mission and vision and for ensuring
compliance with the applicable ethical and religious directives.
In some cases, a system's trustees also exercise a sponsorship
role. In such instances, the trustees serve as canonical stewards,
dealing more with ideas than with operations, which are the
responsibility of the system's various officers. Thus, for instance,
the members of Covenant Health Systems, Lexington, MA, are the
members of the civil board; they wear both the secular hat and
the sponsorship hat and carry out their responsibilities accordingly.9
In other instances, and perhaps even more frequently today than
in the past, there exists a clear distinction between the members
of the civil corporation and those of the canonical entity that
has been established to ensure Catholic identity.*
* This is the case with Catholic Health East, Hope Ministries, and
Of course, if the trustees are also functioning on the secular level, then
they must also observe the obligations arising from the corporate documents.
But, from a canonical perspective, the trustees, to exercise their responsibilities
relating to mission, vision, and values, must themselves keep abreast of the
teaching, discipline, and laws of the Roman Catholic Church and apply these
to the best of their ability. Trustees can usually count on the system's mission
integration department for assistance with this. Nevertheless, they have ultimate
responsibility for the decisions they make and will most likely have to arrange
periodically for some form of ongoing formation in these three areas, possibly
using the expertise of the system's members. For health care institutions, the
teachings dimension will be expressed mostly in moral and ethical matters;
the disciplinary aspect can be found in the various diocesan regulations
and policies relating to apostolic activities carried out in the diocese, and
the laws will be those promulgated either by the Holy See or some other
competent legislator, such as the diocesan bishop.
In Relation to Temporal Goods My remarks concerning canonical documents
and a system's mission apply also to matters relating to temporal goods. Trustees
can either exercise both canonical and civil responsibilities or function exclusively
on a single level. I will focus here on the canonical obligations in this area.
The goods owned by a public juridic person are ecclesiastical goods. It will
thus be important to determine precisely, in each case, whether a given system
owns its institutions or works absolutely, on one hand, or has been entrusted
with them for administrative purposes only, on the other. Since the presumption
of the law would be that, in the case of public juridic persons, the goods involved
are ecclesiastical goods, a public juridic person should, when accepting a work
for sponsorship, issue a clear statement concerning the canonical "ownership"
of those goods. If the goods are not ecclesiastical goods, then the norms governing
administration and alienation do not apply in the same way. For this reason,
it is essential that complete and accurate inventories be kept, distinguishing
clearly between those goods owned by a church juridic person or entity, on one
hand, and those entrusted to its care by some other person or body, on the other
(for instance, a municipally owned or public institution that the church has
been asked to operate). Following this principle becomes even more important
in cases involving a freestanding entity that has no previous church relationship
but now wishes to be sponsored or operated by a Catholic system. The mere fact
of operation, or even sponsorship, does not entail that the goods by that very
fact become ecclesiastical goods, subject to all canonical regulations governing
In Relation to the Diocesan Bishop All apostolic works are under the
direction of the diocesan bishop (see c. 394, paragraph 1). The way bishops
decide to exercise their responsibilities will vary from diocese to diocese.
Whether the establishment of these forms of relationship with
the diocesan bishop is the prerogative of the canonical sponsors
or of the trustees will depend on the way the system operates.
We can assume that, in either case, the trustees would be part
of the process. In particular, we know that the diocesan bishop
should be involved in matters relating to chaplaincy services
("care of souls" and the "liturgy") and to the apostolic work
itself (see c. 394, and, by analogy, c. 678). Also, it is the
diocesan bishop who applies in his diocese the Ethical and
Religious Directives. We must remember that just because
a policy exists in one diocese where a system exercises
sponsorship, this does not necessarily mean it applies in all
dioceses in which the system carries out its mission.
As public juridic persons assume the sponsorship of more and more works, they
will have to develop good protocols for relating with the bishops of the dioceses
where they carry out their missions. In fact, in certain areas, diocesan authorities
still do not see lay people as "official" representatives of the church; the
health care ministry may therefore need to establish some type of mediation
procedure between public juridic persons and dioceses. This may be necessary
in some cases despite the fact that a system's designation as a public juridic
person of pontifical right provides for lay involvement at the membership level.
Public juridic persons should keep the relevant bishops informed of the progress
of the apostolate, difficulties encountered, and challenges expected in the
future. The ministry finds itself in a period of revision and restructuring;
it should therefore take special care to establish strong relations with the
bishops or their health care delegates.
In Relation to Sponsorship Boards that exercise canonical sponsorship
roles should keep the following points in mind:
- They should consider developing criteria for the selection
of members or trustees of the system. Are success in business
and reputation in the community more or less important than
knowledge of Christian moral principles? How can a balance
be effected in membership composition? The board should create
an appropriate formation program for new members and encourage
them to follow it.
- No single "Catholic" approach applies to the application
of some of the moral teachings of the church. Many issues
are still open for discussion; it is impossible, in those
issues, to say which opinion will eventually prevail and become
the accepted one. Providing hydration and nutrition to comatose
patients is a question for which we find different approaches;
the same can be said for certain organ transplants. Some people
prefer to take the safest position in regard to such questions.
But if a question has not yet been resolved by a formal church
declaration, the safest approach to it is not always the one
needed. The moral theology of St. Alphonsus Liguori has provided
many valuable insights for those entrusted with resolving
disputed matters. The fact that there are still many unanswered
questions should not be a source of scandal or wonderment,
but rather an occasion for considering the different facets
of a situation and for reflecting on personal attitudes. It
would not be good for the church to pronounce too soon on
new situations; we also have to wait to see what the long-term
consequences are going to be. In the meantime, one should
avoid taking extreme positions in matters that have not yet
been officially settled.
- What can board members do to make certain that they are
involved in a ministry and not simply in a business in which
financial issues prevail? This should be the object of a periodic,
perhaps annual, evaluation.
- To what extent is the system answering a true need? Is
there a place for charity care in its structures? If so, how
can this best be offered, taking into account, as noted above,
the fact that sponsorship does not necessarily entail operations?
Ordinary Duties of the Administrator and Trustee
The Code of Canon Law outlines a number of duties for those who have
assumed responsibility for the administration of ecclesiastical temporal goods.
Although these duties are not all equally important, they nevertheless are of
particular significance if the steward's trustworthiness and the church's credibility
are to be maintained.
The Role According to canon 1282, all persons — clerics or laity — who,
through a legitimate title take part in the administration of ecclesiastical
goods, are bound to fulfill their duties in the church's name and in accord
with the norm of law. Because such duties are to be carried out in the church's
name, they can be considered a form of apostolate (c. 298). As an apostolate,
those who share in these duties do so by virtue of their baptism and share in
the church's royal mission, the mission of serving (cf. c. 204).
This presupposes a basic knowledge of Catholic doctrine relating to baptism
and its consequences as well as an understanding of the notion of apostolate
and its implications for the life of the church. A sense of mission would have
to underlie this knowledge. This is something that must be updated regularly
because of new understandings and developments.
Administrators of church goods at all levels are to have an attitude that
may differ from that of persons entrusted with the administration of secular
temporal goods. Their purpose is not primarily to make a profit but to provide
resources for the pursuit of the church's proper ends, such as the ordering
of divine worship, providing decent support for the clergy and pastoral workers,
and performing apostolic and charitable works, especially toward the needy (c.
1254). Thus the temptation to evaluate an administrator's performance simply
by looking at a balance sheet should be avoided.
Specific Duties10 The Code lists
a number of duties or obligations of administrators of temporal
goods. These can be shared with the trustees.
- To take an oath of office to be efficient and faithful
(c. 1283, section 1).
- To prepare a detailed inventory of the juridic person's
goods (c. 1283, section 2); this would distinguish between
those goods that are owned outright and those entrusted to
the administrator on behalf of another entity.11
- To respect the intentions of donors (c. 1267, para. 3);
this is a principle of natural law.
- To observe civil laws in matters relating to the hiring
of personnel (and payment of salaries), as well as observing
the church's social teachings (c. 1286); usually the ethical
and religious directives applicable in the territory refer
explicitly to such matters.
- To ensure that goods are not damaged and that appropriate
insurance coverage is arranged (c. 1284, para. 2, section
1); of course, the type of insurance will vary according to
the type of work undertaken.
- To use civilly valid methods to protect ecclesiastical
ownership (c. 1284, para. 2, section 2); in North America
this generally entails establishing separate corporations
and carefully maintaining the distinctions between them.
- To observe civil and canon law in all transactions (c.
1284, para. 2, section 3).
- To collect revenues (c. 1284, para. 2, section 4).
- To repay debts, both capital and interest, in a timely
manner (c. 1284, para. 2, section 5); sometimes it is preferable
to retain some debt, particularly if it is at a more favorable
rate of interest.
- To invest funds securely (c. 1284, para. 2, section 6);
in canon law, an "investment" is a long-term placement sufficient
to make the funds part of the stable patrimony; it does not
refer to ordinary banking practices.
- To prepare annual reports (c. 1284, para. 2, section 8);
this is an exercise of accountability.
- To keep documents secure in archives (c. 1284, para. 2,
- To prepare annual budgets (c. 1284, para. 3).
- To present to the faithful an account of the use made of
donations received (c. 1287, para. 2).
- To secure the bishop's permission before initiating or
contesting law suits in secular courts (c. 1288).
- To observe testamentary clauses when goods are left to
the church (c. 1300).
Particular Concerns in Today's World
Several contemporary concerns should be mentioned here.
Liability Issues It is important to keep in mind issues relating to
responsibility. I refer here to canonical liability, but the overlap with civil
liability is evident.
Administrators who carry out acts that are invalid canonically, even though
they might be valid civilly, are, according to canon 1281, paragraph 3, liable
for such acts. Among such invalid acts are selling property or contracting major
debts without the proper canonical authorizations; using funds for purposes
other than those for which the money was originally donated, without authorization
of the donors; not consulting appropriately those who have a direct interest
in the undertaking.
The juridic person is not liable in such cases unless it derived benefit from
the transaction. If the act is valid but illicit, however, the juridic person
is responsible. Among the latter we could mention the sale of property or assets
without obtaining the required canonical authorizations and performing acts
of extraordinary administration without the proper canonical consents.
Indeed, of all the responsibilities incumbent upon administrators, the area
in which liability is high is that involving the sale of property and the signing
of contracts without observing the proper canonical formalities (consent, for
example). If an administrator were to sell personal goods (i.e., patrimony),
a suit to recover damages could be introduced before the church tribunals or
even before civil tribunals. Such a procedure is extremely rare, however.
For religious institutes, canon 639 describes a number of instances involving
liability for actions. For instance, if a juridic person that is part of a religious
institute has contracted debts and obligations, even with the appropriate permissions,
it must answer for them. Thus a province of a religious institute would be responsible
for its debts, but the entire institute would not be responsible.
The institute is not responsible for contracts made by a member concerning
personal patrimonial goods. If, however, a duly authorized religious enters
into contracts regarding goods belonging to the institute, then the institute
itself is responsible for the consequences, not the individual religious. But,
if a religious without authorization enters into a contract regarding patrimonial
goods or goods belonging to the institute or one of its parts, then the religious
is liable if he or she has personal patrimony. If the religious does not have
personal goods, little can be done. If the matter were extremely serious — if,
for example, a religious were to sign labor contracts without authorization
or enter into business dealings for which permission was not asked or was refused — dismissal
from the institute could be considered. Of course, this does not apply in the
case of lay persons working for a religious institute; in those cases, other
provisions would be included in policy manuals or contractual agreements.
What is of the utmost importance, then, is determining clearly whether and
when the person involved is the institute's agent. It does not seem prudent
to state that all religious, or trustees, are at all times agents of the community
(even though this might have advantages for tax purposes) because the liability
of the sponsoring institute then would be high.
Canon 1289 provides that once an administrator has assumed responsibility
for the administration of temporal goods, these duties cannot be relinquished
as long as the office is held. If they are relinquished, and the church or one
of its entities is subsequently harmed, the administrator must make restitution.
The canon does not spell out how such restitution would be effected. Without
recourse to the civil courts, it usually is impossible to enforce such regulations
in North America.
The Health Care Ministry's Future ViabilityThe church's
health care ministry in North America faces many challenges,
from without and even from within. These challenges can arise
from financial pressures, competition, and ethical positions,
among others. Trustees and those involved in sponsorship must
be aware of these pressures and not simply wake up some morning
to find themselves face to face with something that could have
In particular, I am concerned with maintaining the Catholic identity of our
institutions, not just in name but in mission and philosophy as well. We cannot
expect the trustees to perform tasks for which they are not suitably prepared
or for which no on-site formation was made available. If people have not been
suitably formed to take church teachings and discipline into consideration,
it is difficult to blame them for their actions; nevertheless, an institution
can gradually, imperceptibly slide away from sound doctrinal principles, allowing
the pressures of marketing to take over. The Holy See has been willing to grant
public juridic status to various health care undertakings and has accepted the
risks inherent in such a choice. It is up to us to show that the Holy See was
right to approve such undertakings and that we will live up to legitimate expectations.
In addition to the general duties mentioned above, a sound application of
the church's canon law would call for trustees to:
- Remain aware of developments in moral and ethical teachings
- Exercise responsible stewardship over the temporal goods
entrusted to their care
- Make certain that we are indeed dealing with a recognized
apostolate (which calls for communion with the diocesan bishop)
- Make certain that new members and trustees are suitably
informed of situations
- Establish good understanding of their civil responsibilities
and their canonical duties, particularly when these appear
to be in conflict
- Be particularly careful when considering proposed new mergers,
amalgamations, joint ventures, and similar arrangements, making
certain that the philosophies and values are compatible and
that things won't be reduced to their lowest common denominator
Not surprisingly, a number of prescriptions in the Code relate to accountability.
First, canonical stewards and those who assist them are bound to some form
of internal accountability (c. 1284, para. 2, section 8; 1287; 636, para. 2;
and 637). An institution's or system's norms will provide how trustees are to
render an account of their activities. Such is usually organized on the civil
level. There is nothing preventing the canonical administrators from adopting
the same procedures to cover canon law obligations.
Second, a form of accountability to the diocesan bishop exists, not so much
for the temporal goods as for the mission of the institution or system. The
bishop has the right to determine whether a work undertaken in his diocese is,
indeed, in conformity with church teaching and practice. The diocesan bishop
would be involved in the alienation of ecclesiastical property because he must
express his opinion on the matter.
Third, accountability to the Apostolic See can be exercised in certain ways.
For instance, in cases of alienation of property, the permission of the Apostolic
See is required if the transaction exceeds the maximum amount allowed. If the
trustees are also canonical stewards (as in the case of some of the juridic
persons established for health care), then they must make a regular report to
the Apostolic See, detailing:
- The mission
- The people involved
- New undertakings
- Financial situation
- Relations with diocesan bishops
There will obviously be tensions for trustees and members in the years ahead.
These can occur in a number of areas.
Ethical and Religious Directives One area is implementation of the
Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, in
the United States, and similar directives in other countries. Implementation
could be difficult in cases where the directives become particularly narrow,
either in their wording or in their application. Trustees and administrators
should focus strongly on the directives' positive elements, not their few negative
Amalgamations We will inevitably see further amalgamations between
Catholic health care providers in the years ahead. For this reason, a clear
guiding "philosophy" is needed to govern systems and their operations. For instance,
questions of justice — as specified in the Ethical and Religious Directives — must
be kept foremost in mind, even in times of serious budget constraints. Recent
groupings have put less emphasis on the particular charism of the original sponsoring
religious institute and more emphasis on a general charism related to consecrated
life and the service of others in the following of Christ.
Will or Desire Trustees and members must ask themselves whether they
truly have the will or desire to carry out a mission in harmony with church
A Possible Threat "from Within" Choosing trustees thoughtfully,
seeing to their ongoing formation, and ensuring their involvement
with the teachings of the church are essential if our various
institutions are to carry out their missions. Lack of care in
doing so is probably the greatest weakness of our present ministry;
if appropriate action is not taken, we run the strong risk of
losing our institutions "from within" because we have no consistent
plan of action for the trustees.
A Special Gift
Rather than taking a somewhat negative approach and considering the duties
of trustees from the perspective of possible dereliction of duty, our ministry
should approach the issue positively. As stewards, administrators, and trustees,
such persons have been entrusted with responsibility. As members of the people
of God who are sharing in Christ's royal mission, they must do all they can
to be faithful to the trust.
A good administrator or trustee requires a special gift. Those
who have received such a gift from the Lord should use it to
build up the body of Christ and to allow the church to continue
its saving mission in the world.
- Francis G. Morrisey, "Canonical Duties, Liabilities of Trustees and Administrators,"
Health Progress, June 1985, pp. 47-51, 70.
- John Paul II, "On Organ Transplants and Human Cloning," The Pope Speaks,
vol. 46, 2000, pp. 21-24. See also the pope's message of July 1, 2001, to
the Pontifical Academy, "Guidelines for Transplants of Animal Organs to Humans,"
The Pope Speaks, vol. 46, 2001, pp. 373-374.
- See, for example, www.globalchange.com/clonaid.htm, which contains many
items related to this relatively recent phenomenon.
- Francis G. Morrisey, "Toward Juridic Personality," Health Progress,
July-August 2001, pp. 27-31, 51.
- See, for example, Origins, August 30, 2001, pp. 205, 207-215, concerning
the debate on stem cell research.
- See the letter of the Illinois bishops, "Facing the End of Life," Origins,
June 21, 2001, pp. 105, 107-109.
- See, for example, John Paul II, "Pastoral Care of the Sick and Imprisoned,"
Origins, January 24, 1998, pp. 560-561, for a number of practical principles
to be applied, particularly with regard to suffering as seen from a Christian
- See B. A. Garner, ed., Black's Law Dictionary, 7th ed., West Group,
St. Paul, MN, 1999, p. 1,519, for various definitions.
- See The Canonical Statutes of Covenant Health Systems, approved
by the Holy See, July 15, 1995, Article 5. See also Bob Stephens, "The Public
Juridic Person in Action," Health Progress, May-June 2001, pp. 21-24,
- For a practical commentary on this part of the Code, see R. T. Kennedy,
"The Temporal Goods of the Church," in Canon Law Society of America, New
Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, Paulist Press, New York City, 2000,
- For an excellent study of the significance of an inventory and the distinctions
to be found in it, see D. C. Conlin, Canonical and Civil Legal Issues Surrounding
the Alienation of Catholic Health Care Facilities in the United States,
Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, Rome, 2000, pp. 57-72 ("Stable
Patrimony and the Need for an Accurate Inventory").
Copyright © 2002 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.