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Temporal Goods Q & A
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25 Q&A

on Temporal Goods of

Religious Institutes and
Societies of Apostolic Life

1.   What are ecclesiastical goods?

          Ecclesiastical goods (sometimes referred to as ecclesiastical property) are the temporal goods (assets) belonging to a public juridic person such as a diocese, parish, religious institute, or a ministerial public juridic person[1] that are acquired to carry out a specific mission.

2.   What is a public juridic person?

          A public juridic person is often defined by its characteristics (cc. 113-116). It is a construct of canon law, an artificial entity of persons or things which has both rights and obligations in the Church. It is similar to a civil corporation but not synonymous with it. It is established either by the law itself or by decree of a competent ecclesiastical authority to carry out a mission entrusted to it in the name of the Church in accord with canon law. It is perpetual unless legitimately suppressed. Its assets are ecclesiastical property governed by canon law.

3.   What does it mean to fulfill a mission “in the name of the Church”?

          To carry out a mission “in the name of the Church” means that the activities of the public juridic person are the work of the Church and not simply the work of the individuals who act on behalf of the public juridic person. In other words, the work of Catholic education, Catholic health care or social services which is entrusted to a religious institute/society (c. 116) is carried out in the name of the Church through the bond of communion.

4.   What are the laws on temporal goods for religious institutes/societies of apostolic life?

          The Church’s law governing the temporal goods belonging to religious institutes is found in the universal law of the church applied to religious institutes/societies, the canons applying to the temporal goods of the Church (cc. 634-635§1, 731-746 and the canons Book V), and the proper law of each institute/society. Canons governing

5.   What is the purpose of temporal goods?

          The fourfold purpose of temporal goods is listed in canon 1254§2: for divine worship, for the support of clergy and other ministers, for the apostolate and for works of charity, especially toward the poor and needy.

6.   To whom do temporal goods that are legitimately acquired belong?

          Canon 1256 states that temporal goods belong to the public juridic person that has legitimately acquired them. Legitimate forms of acquisition include forms that are recognized in canonical legislation or civil law.

7.   What is the meaning of canonical stewardship?

          When referring to ecclesiastical goods as belonging to a religious institute, the secular understanding of “ownership” is not used to describe the relationship. Rather, the ecclesiastical goods have been “entrusted” to the institute/society for specific purposes; the institute/society becomes the canonical steward of the ecclesiastical goods (c. 1273).

8.   What are the duties of canonical stewards?

          Canonical stewards are the administrators of temporal goods. Their duties are outlined in canon 1284, including protection in civil law. Other duties include

  • vigilance over ownership of ecclesiastical goods,
  • observance of the prescripts of canon and civil law,
  • payment of debts and investment of money,
  • maintaining receipts and archival of documents

9.   What is the effect of civil incorporation on temporal goods belonging to religious institutes/societies?

          All temporal goods belonging to religious institutes/societies are ecclesiastical goods subject to Book V of the Code of Canon Law even if they are separately incorporated civilly. Civil incorporation alone does not change the canonical status of ecclesiastical goods belonging to religious institutes/societies.

10.  What is the meaning of canonical alienation of ecclesiastical goods?

          Canonical alienation is the conveyance or transfer of ownership of ecclesiastical goods to another. This can be carried out by sale, gift, exchange or other recognized means. Alienation of ecclesiastical goods is subject to formalities outlined in canons 638, 1291-1294.

11.  Are there canonical restrictions on property to be alienated?

          Alienation is restricted when the property to be alienated is part of the lawfully designated stable patrimony of a public juridic person and of a value that exceeds the maximum level set by the Holy See.

12.  What is stable patrimony?

          Stable patrimony is “all property, real or personal, movable or immovable, tangible or intangible, that, either of its nature or by explicit designation, is destined to remain in the possession of the owner for a long or indefinite period of time to afford financial security for the future.”[2]

          For religious institutes/societies, stable patrimony most often refers to immovable property that has a monetary value and is intended for the long term security of the institute’s/society’s mission, apostolic works, and its members.[3]

13.  Has the Holy See issued guidelines for what constitutes stable patrimony?

            The 2014 Circular Letter from the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life entitled “Guidelines for the Administration of the Assets in Institutes of Consecrated Life and in Societies of Apostolic Life states:

            “In general, the following assets are considered elements of the stable patrimony: [1] the foundational endowments of the entity; [2] donor-restricted gifts received by the entity; [3] assets so designated by the governing body of the entity. In order for an asset to be considered a part of the stable patrimony of a juridic person a ‘legitimate designation’ is required.”

14.  What are examples of stable patrimony?

            Stable patrimony includes assets that are intended to enable a public juridic person to carry out the purposes for which it was created. It is the immovable goods and fixed capital of the juridic person.

  • real estate such as land and buildings
  • other types of property such as historical or cultural property
  • long term investments in stocks, bonds, treasury notes, endowments
  • restricted funds set aside for a specific purpose such as pension funds, ministry funds or educational funds

15.  How do assets become part of an institute’s/society’s stable patrimony?

          Assets become stable patrimony by explicit or implicit designation usually made by the canonical stewards at the time the property/assets are acquired. The designation may be implicit if the nature of the property is ordinarily acquired for a long period of time such as land, buildings, fine furniture.

          The designation of stable property was not a requirement prior to the 1983 Code of Canon Law since the norms on alienation applied to all real property under the 1917 Code. Following the promulgation of the 1983 Code, many religious institutes/societies did not designate whether or not newly-acquired real property was stable patrimony. 

16.  Is property not designated explicitly or implicitly as stable patrimony subject to the canonical norms on alienation?

            Assets not designated as part of an institute’s/society’s stable patrimony are not subject to the canonical norms governing alienation. Because it is not always clear whether or not a particular asset or parcel of property was intended to be part of the stable patrimony, canon 1283 prescribes that the administrators of juridic persons to prepare an up-to-date inventory of the temporal goods to be administered.

17.  What are examples of transactions that are considered acts of canonical alienation?

            Depending on the value of the property involved in the transactions, the following transactions are examples of acts of alienation:

  • transfer of the title to property to another
  • spending a portion or all of immobilized goods (real property) for a purpose different from the one for which they were immobilized (e.g., land, building)
  • sale of historical or precious works

18.  What are the canonical procedures for the alienation of stable patrimony?

          If the value of the property to be alienated is below the maximum amount set by CICLSAL for religious institutes/societies in a particular region (e.g. U.S), the institute/society observes its internal procedures regarding written permission, consultation and consent required for the transaction (c. 638§3).

          If the value of the property to be alienated exceeds the maximum amount set by CICLSAL for religious institutes/societies in a particular region (e.g. U.S), the procedures outlined in canons 1291-1294 should be followed.

19.  What are the current limits set by the Holy See?

          The current limits for alienation of stable patrimony in the United States, above which the approval of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life is required for validity, is based on the number of Catholics in the (Arch)diocese in which the property is located.

(Arch)dioceses with less than 500,000 Catholics – limit is $5,705,000.

(Arch)dioceses with more than 500,000 Catholics – limit is $11,408,000.

20.  What are the canonical steps for petition CICLSAL?

          The canonical steps for alienation can be found in the Procedures and Documents for Canonical and Civil Administration on the RCRI website or obtained from the RCRI office.

  • Request of the competent person
  • Vote of provincial or general council
  • Rationale for the petition for alienation
  • (Two) valuations of the property (one could be the tax assessment of the property)
  • Purchase offer (if known)
  • Explanation of use of the proceeds from the transaction
  • Audited financial statements
  • Written opinion of diocesan bishop of the place where the property is located
  • If request is from a province,

o   Statement of support from superior general for the request

o   Vote of general council

o   Reference to letter of provincial

21.  Is there a tax for the rescript for approval of alienation?

CICLSAL will send an invoice for the tax with the rescript for the approved alienation.

22.  What are the civil law procedures for the alienation of stable patrimony?

            The civil law procedures found in the articles of incorporation and the bylaws should be followed as well as any procedures established by the board of directors of the civil corporation.

23.  Do the norms for alienation of ecclesiastical goods apply to other financial transactions?

          Canon 1295 states that the requirements of canons 1291-1294 on alienation are to be observed not only in cases of alienation but also in transactions which might jeopardize or worsen the patrimonial/economic condition of the juridic person.

24.  What are examples of transactions that have the potential to pose a risk to the overall financial well-being of a religious institute/society, that is, property intended to remain in the possession of the institute/society for a long period of time?

          Canon 1295 transactions depend upon the potential impact of the transaction on the economic condition of the institute/society. For example, while an act of alienation alters the patrimonial condition of the institute/society, a canon 1295 transaction leaves the stable patrimony unchanged but is judged to entail a risk to its future financial stability or economic condition of the institute/society.[4]  Such 1295 transactions could be borrowing a certain level of money or taking out certain mortgages which depending on the economic situation of the institute/society could be canon 1295 transactions.

25.  What are the canonical procedures that apply to canon 1295 transactions?

          Canon 1295 states that the same requirements and procedures for acts of alienation (cc. 1291-1994) are to be followed in transactions that could jeopardize the patrimonial condition of the institute/society.

Sr. Sharon Euart, RSM
Resource Center for Religious Institutes
December 2017



[1] A ministerial public juridic person is a public juridic person erected by decree of competent ecclesiastical authority such as the Holy See or a diocesan bishop. Examples of MPJPs include some Catholic health care systems and Catholic education systems. 

[2] R. Kennedy, “Book V: The Temporal Goods of the Church,” in Beal, Coriden and Green, eds. The New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2000) 1495.

[3] F. Morrisey and P. Martin, Temporal Goods at the Service of the Mission of Ministerial Public Juridic Persons (St. Louis, MO: Catholic Health Association, 2017) 51.

[4] Kennedy, 1501-1505.

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