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More US Catholics take complaints to church court

•  Recent Cases     updated  2012/01/16 09:28


Parents upset by the admission policy at a parochial school. Clergy and parishioners at odds over use of their building. A priest resisting a transfer to another parish.

It was once assumed that disagreements like these in the Roman Catholic Church would end one way: with the highest-ranking cleric getting the last word.

But that outcome is no longer a given as Catholics, emboldened following the clergy abuse scandals that erupted a decade ago this month, have sought another avenue of redress.

In recent years, clergy and lay people in the United States have increasingly turned to the church's internal legal system to challenge a bishop's or pastor's decision about even the most workaday issues in Catholic life, according to canon lawyers in academia, dioceses and in private practice. Sometimes, the challengers even win.

In one example cited by veteran canon lawyers, parishioners wanted to bar musical performances in their church that weren't liturgical. Their priest had been renting space to a local band. In another case, a nun filed a petition after a religious superior disclosed the nun's medical information to others — a potential violation of privacy. Regarding bishops' often contentious decisions to close parishes, the liberal reform group FutureChurch posts a guide on its website called "Canonical Appeals for Dummies" on seeking Vatican intervention to stay open.

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