Parishioners sue diocese, claiming financial mismanagement

In a new twist to the fractured relationship between parishioners of the closed Mater Dolorosa Parish in Springfield, Mass., and the Springfield diocese, which is trying to actually close the parish, the parishioners have filed a lawsuit alleging mismanagement of parishioner-donated funds.

To my recollection, this particular claim could be a first for lawsuits against a diocese. It could have wide-ranging implications, as the governance of parishes under state law is usually controlled by priests and bishops (i.e., the pastor and diocesan vicar general).

Priest-pastors, of course, promise obedience to the bishop on ordination day. It has always been puzzling how a pastor, as a fiduciary under civil law, can act independently of his bishop to whom he has promised obedience.

Funds donated to charities, even faith-based charities, have to comply with state statutes and a board's fiduciary duty to manage such donations appropriately. Of course, in this environment, the diocese may deploy some religious liberty right to the mismanagement of donations by parishioners. It will be interesting to watch.

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According to Boston.com:

The suit filed this week by the Friends of Mater Dolorosa is in response to a suit filed by the diocese seeking to the removal of the parishioners.

Parishioners holding vigil at a Holyoke church closed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield have filed suit against the diocese alleging mismanagement of parishioner-donated funds, civil rights violations and inflating estimated repair costs.


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