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Canon Law on belonging to/registering with a parish
Question from victoria on 6/26/2005:

I read recently on the "Ask an Apologist" Catholic Answers site that one may register at any parish in the diocese in which you live under the current code of Canon Law. This is a little different than what I had understood previously, and I'm not sure that all parishes follow that policy. Could you please identify where in Canon Law this is stated? (I know that the Code is available online but wasn't able to independently confirm the answer given. ) I do understand that one may attend Mass, go to confession, etc in another parish, but I would dearly appreciate being able to participate fully in the parish life (in terms of lay ministries, financial support, where my children receive the sacraments) of an orthodox parish (and there are some in my diocese). By an accident of geography, the parish in which our home is located is fairly loose in terms of liturgical practice, doctrine and so forth. In fact, our parish is oriented toward the Cafeteria Catholic mentality and permits people looking for a less "conservative" parish to register irrespective of where they live. Apparently they are not limited to the parish in their area. As a result, our parish is quite heterodox and that is not likely to charge when the next pastor comes along. Other, more orthodox parishes state that they won't register anyone from outside their boundaries. That puts our family in an unfortunate and frustrating position. Maybe the only solution is to move, but it would help to get the facts on the Canon Law. Thanks...

Answer by Rev. Mark J. Gantley, JCL on 6/30/2005:

The idea of parish registration is NOT found in the Code of Canon Law at all. Any norms on parish registration would be determined by the local diocese. In fact, in many cultures and countries, the idea of registering in the parish is unknown.

Parish membership is ordinarily determined by geography -- i.e., by domicile, by where one lives. (Dioceses are also determined by territory.)

There are also personal parishes, that are determined by other qualities -- e.g., a parish may be established in a diocese for those who speak Spanish. In such a situation, the territory would be the territory of the diocese, unless it was determined otherwise by the diocesan bishop.

The purpose of determining parishes by territory is to make sure that no one falls through the cracks -- that everyone has a bishop and a pastor. This is especially important because it involves the rights of Catholics. For example, a Catholic has a right to Catholic funeral services. It is important that each and every Catholic has a defined parish to make sure that there is some parish that has the obligation to fulfill the rights of the Catholics in those areas, even if the person is not officially registered in the parish.

I would not see any canonical objection to a diocesan bishop permitting individuals to also be a member of a parish by reason of parish registration for some just cause. For example, a family might join a parish that has a school because the parish in which they live does not. Or maybe a parish has a particular activity or organization associated with it that appeals to those who live outside the territory. There are lots of possible just causes to permit the joining of other parishes in such a situation.

I understand the situation you are in. However, it is sad that the reason for having to look for another parish is because of a lack of orthodoxy in a parish. In this situation, if the diocesan bishop permitted people to join another parish for this reason, it would seem like he was doing this just to avoid conflict and that he would be failing in his responsibilities as a bishop.


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