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Archdiocese seeks to move funds to receiving parishes

By Christine Williams
Posted: 1/26/2007

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BRIGHTON -- The Archdiocese of Boston plans to seek permission from the Supreme Judicial Court to transfer $3 million of restricted funds from closed parishes to the parishes that received their sacramental records, according to Kathleen Heck, special assistant to the moderator of the curia.

Those receiving parishes would be required to use the monies as near to their intended use as possible, she said.

“Welcoming parishes have been waiting to hear about this,” Heck said. “This is very good news for them. We’re delighted.”

The over $3 million worth of restricted funds would greatly benefit parishes that have welcomed parishioners from parishes closed during reconfiguration, she added.

The process is called 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. The archdiocese is now notifying the public of the process and receiving comment for a 30-day period, she said.

The SJC’s ruling will affect 58 of the 59 parishes that have closed since reconfiguration began in 2004. However, it will not immediately affect the 11 closed parishes still under canonical appeal or involved in civil litigation. Funds from those accounts will not be forwarded unless and until the appeal is completed and the parish remains closed, Heck said.

In addition, the decision will not impact the 16 parishes that have merged into eight during reconfiguration since, in those cases, the assets of the merging parishes went directly to the new, combined parish.

Over $4 million worth of unrestricted funds from closed parishes have already gone to a parish fund and been used to pay the debts of other closed parishes, Heck said.

When the parishes closed, the restricted accounts were frozen and any funds in interest-gaining accounts have continued to collect interest. The average of the accounts is $50,000, and they range in amount from $28.56 to $921,000. The largest account had been earmarked for the care and upkeep of parish buildings and would go to an inner-city parish, she said.

The bulk of the accounts consist 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 the campaign went to the donor’s parish. While parishes could use that money for any purpose, it was often earmarked for building projects. The restricted funds also include some bequests and scholarship monies, she said.

The funds will be used as near to their original purpose as possible. The archdiocese has been working with the Division of Charities of the Office of the Attorney General to review those funds since the summer of 2004, she said.

“In the summer of 2004, the attorney general and the Archdiocese of Boston began talking about how to go about an orderly transition for these funds,” Heck said.

Auditors for the archdiocese identified all of the accounts, their balances and intended uses. That information has been reviewed and verified by the attorney general, she said.

The next step is public notice.

The archdiocese will be publishing legal notice of the Cy Pres proceeding in the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald and The Pilot. Notice will also be placed in parish bulletins. The parishes also have a list of common questions and answers.

The public will have the opportunity to comment on the process before the request is filed with the SJC. They can comment by calling 617-746-5758, mailing the archdiocese, sending an e-mail to cypres@rcab.org or visiting the archdiocesan Web site at www.rcab.org.

Posted on the archdiocesan Web site will be the notice, a list of questions and answers and a form for contributing comments. As more people respond with comments and questions, the answers will be added to the online list. The archdiocese will also respond individually to comments and questions.

At the end of the 30 days, all questions and comments will be shared with the attorney general, Heck said. She would not speculate as to how long it would take for the court to reach its decision.