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Archdiocese issues new rules for parish contracts

By Jim Lockwood
Posted: 10/15/2010

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BRAINTREE -- Concerned that some parishes and schools are finding themselves trapped in vendor agreements they no longer want or can't afford, the archdiocese has issued new rules on the type of contracts they can sign.

Effective Oct. 8, Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley promulgated a "particular law," a binding rule in the archdiocese, forbidding parishes to sign new contracts with vendors for initial terms of service longer than three years, any contract that automatically renews when it expires, or any agreement that locks a parish into dealing with only that vendor.

The law does not prevent parishes and schools from negotiating renewal terms with the same vendor. It also does not require existing contracts to be terminated.

The law was announced in an Oct. 8 memo from the archdiocese's general counsel, F. Beirne Lovely, to all pastors, business managers and school principals.

"It was because we were finding a number of parishes and other organizations would realize too late in the game it had a contract with a renewal condition or boilerplate in the back," Lovely said. "This was surprising a lot of folks out there and it caused them some concern."

Parishes and schools, however, can request special permission for exemptions from this rule from Lovely. However, he noted that "they would have to be very extraordinary circumstances."

Lovely's memo said in some cases parishes may have thought they were free to negotiate with another vendor after a contract had expired, only to discover later that the first contract had an automatic renewal provision.

That situation would result in a parish having a contract with two vendors for the same service, often requiring a termination penalty to end one of the contracts.

The memo also pointed out another possible situation where a new pastor who was transferred into a parish would not be aware of an existing contract and then negotiate with another vendor.

"The purpose of this new law is predicated upon the fact that Cardinal Seán does not wish Parishes to be surprised by such contract provisions," Lovely's memo stated.

The memo went on to say that the cardinal "believes that each Parish should be permitted to consider all possible vendors" and that the new law also creates "a much better bargaining position" for parishes to negotiate new contracts.