SJC signs off on transfer of funds to receiving parishes

BRIGHTON -- The Archdiocese of Boston announced that on Aug. 15 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court approved a plan to transfer $2.6 million from 46 parishes closed in reconfiguration to their successor parishes.

Those parishes that received sacramental records from suppressed parishes will be required to use the restricted funds as near to their intended use as possible.

Kathleen Heck, special assistant to the moderator of the curia, said that receiving parishes are “delighted” by the SJC ruling.

“There are a lot of very relieved and happy parishioners and pastors out there,” she said.

Many of the parishes have been waiting three years for the funds and already know how they will use them, keeping with their original intent, she said.

“They are very much needed,” she said. “They are the kinds of funds that will enable parishes to enhance their outreach and their support for the Catholic mission in their area.”

In order to transfer the funds, the archdiocese made a request for the application of the Doctrine of Cy Pres. The legal doctrine allows the court to amend the terms of donations if the named recipient, in this case a parish, no longer exists.

On Aug. 15, Justice Judith A. Cowin of the SJC signed the court order permitting the archdiocese to transfer the restricted funds to the receiving parishes. The ruling affects 46 parishes closed since reconfiguration began in 2004.

Additional funds from 12 parishes currently in civil or canonical litigation are not included in the $2.6 million. Monies from those parishes’ accounts will not be forwarded unless and until the appeal is completed and the parish remains closed. In addition, the 16 parishes merged into eight remaining parishes are not affected since, in those cases, the assets of the merging parishes went directly to the new, combined parish.

The bulk of the $2.6 million consists of money collected for the Promise for Tomorrow, a capital campaign run by the archdiocese from 2001-2003. A quarter of the money donated through that campaign went to the donor’s parish. While parishes could use the funds for any purpose, it was often earmarked for building projects. The restricted funds also include some bequests and scholarship monies.

The archdiocese has already transferred over $4 million worth of unrestricted funds from closed parishes to a parish fund that has been used to pay debts of other closed parishes.

When parishes closed, their restricted accounts were frozen and funds in interest-gaining accounts have continued to collect interest. The average of the accounts is about $50,000, and they range in amount from about $30 to nearly $1 million. The largest account had been earmarked for the care and upkeep of parish buildings and will go to an inner-city parish.

The restricted nature of the funds required the Archdiocese of Boston to work with the Division of Charities of the Office of the Attorney General. They began to review the funds in the summer of 2004. Auditors identified the accounts, their balances and intended uses, and their work was reviewed and verified by the attorney general.

The archdiocese filed a court document, requesting the application of the Doctrine of Cy Pres, in January this year. Then, the archdiocese gave public notice through local newspapers, parish bulletins and the archdiocesan Web site. For 30 days, the public was able to respond with questions and comments that were shared with the attorney general.

Heck said that the archdiocese received few comments and questions.

“I think that the small number of comments and questions indicated simply that people had the information they needed to understand the situation,” she said.