By GEORGIA BULLETIN STAFF, firstname.lastname@example.org | Published January 24, 2019
ATLANTA—The Archdiocese of Atlanta recently completed another step in a decade-long review of its legal structure by incorporating its parishes. The review and its implementation, begun in 2006, are being overseen by a task force of canon lawyers, outside civil attorneys and members of the archdiocesan finance council. It is led by Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM.
The change is part of a trend in the United States for dioceses to recognize parishes as separate legal entities, mirroring in civil law what exists in church law, archdiocesan officials said. Each newly incorporated parish will have a board of directors, and Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory will serve as its chair.
“The driving consideration in the process has been to find in state law a structure that most closely resembles the canon law structure of the archdiocese and parish,” said Msgr. Edward Dillon, J.C.D., pastor of Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta, and the canon lawyer who led the task force at its outset.
For Catholics in the pews, parish life will remain unchanged.
“The fact that the parishes will now be separate nonprofit civil corporations will not change the basic patterns of parish and archdiocesan life,” according to the archdiocese.
Documents were filed Dec. 18, 2018, with the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office to create these new structures. All parishes in the archdiocese will be nonprofit parish corporations, with all churches in the archdiocese having completed the process.
In church law, each parish is recognized as unique and separate from the archdiocese and the archbishop. The incorporation cements that structure in civil law also, said church leaders
Guidance from the Holy See in 1911 encouraged parishes to incorporate as separate structures, where allowed. But since 1956, when Atlanta was made a diocese, parishes have been considered “unincorporated associations,” a catch-all designation allowed under Georgia law, which doesn’t recognize purely religious entities and makes it necessary for them to organize around typical corporate entities.
This move is another phase in a review of the legal structure of the Archdiocese of Atlanta which began in 2006, said Msgr. Dillon. Other changes in the structure include the creation of a parish real estate trust in January 2013. Archbishop Gregory oversees the trust.
Brad Wilson, the archdiocesan chief financial officer, said incorporation allows for “ease of business,” such as dealing with banking laws and for parishes to have an “easily recognizable civil structure.”
The new structure requires a board of directors for each parish. According to church leaders, these boards will have three members, including the archbishop, a vicar general and the pastor. Others involved in this new corporation are the archdiocesan chancellor as corporate secretary, and a corporate treasurer named by the pastor. The pastor will serve as the president of the corporation.
The scope of oversight of parish life for the directors is to be narrow. The board is to consider the “temporal affairs of the parish,” such as the purchase and sale of land and borrowing money.
According to the archdiocese, the board “is not intended to replace the main consultative groups” such as the parish council or the parish finance council.