HOW DOES THE DIOCESE OF JOLIET OPERATE?
"You are Peter, and upon this rock I shall build my Church.” When Jesus established His Church, He placed Peter in charge of the Apostles to go forth and teach the Catholic faith and spread the good news. Life was much simpler in those days and it is doubtful if Peter gave much thought to the concept of structure or the many administrative and financial matters required to effectively run our Catholic Church today.
Today, the Catholic Church has grown to over 1 billion people worldwide with the Pope (the successor of Saint Peter) at its head, leading the bishops (the successors of the Apostles) who themselves lead the faithful in their diocese.
Because of our size, the Catholic Church in the United States is divided into geographical territories called dioceses. Dioceses are established by authority of the Pope. Each diocese is governed by an archbishop/bishop who provides spiritual support and pastoral governance to all Catholics living within its boundaries.
In the United States, there are 195 archdioceses/dioceses. There are 18 cardinals in the United States along with 270 active bishops.
How and when was the Diocese of Joliet formed?
In 1948, Pope Pius Xll issued a decree establishing the Diocese of Joliet; separating territory from the Archdiocese of Chicago, from the Diocese of Peoria and from the Diocese of Rockford. At that time, there were 85 diocesan priests and 90,544 Catholics in 71 parishes which pledged their allegiance and loyalty to the new bishop and diocese. Our Catholic schools had an enrollment of less than 13,000.
Today, the Diocese of Joliet ranks 27th in size among dioceses in the United States based on total Catholic population. Our diocese has grown to 120 parishes and 10 missions to support the almost 658,000 Catholics in our seven county geographic territory that extends from the city of Roselle in the North to Paxton in the South. Our Catholic school system has grown to 48 elementary and 7 high schools which annually educate over 21,000 students.
How is our diocese structured?
Like any large, well-run organization in the world today, dioceses need to have some form of structure in order to conduct their affairs. There are various forms of structures that exist for dioceses across the United States.
The Diocese of Joliet was organized and structured as a “trust” at its origin in 1948. The trust formally sets forth the power and responsibilities of the leader, who is called the “trustee”. In the Joliet Diocese, the bishop is designated as the leader of the diocese and “sole trustee.”
As trustee, the bishop has legal powers and responsibilities that exist under both civil law and Canon (Church) Law:
- Civil Law: The Joliet Diocese trust agreement is created under Illinois law which provides the bishop with a means to operate the diocese under civil law. Under Illinois civil law, the trust has ownership of the diocesan assets and provides guidance on how they are to be managed.
- Canon Law: the bishop also holds the responsibilities established by Canon Law in the diocese. The bishop is appointed by the Pope and, as such, leads and guides the 658,000 Catholics along with the various agencies, institutions and parishes throughout the Diocese of Joliet.
Under Canon law, the bishop is granted the power to create parishes by issuing an ecclesiastical decree. Each parish is considered a separate entity under Canon Law. Under his authority, the bishop assigns and grants to the pastor of each parish administrative powers and authority to effectively manage and minister the affairs of the parish. The pastor, upon accepting these administrative responsibilities, is held to similar standards and fiduciary accountability for his parish as the bishop is for the diocese.
While the parishes operate under the diocesan trust, each parish does have a separate tax identification number, which is required to establish their bank account and conduct their affairs. This would include the operation of all parish ministries, paying bills, making payroll and remitting payroll taxes to the state and federal government. Also, many parishes may have their own endowment funds, restricted funds and perpetual care funds (if they operate a cemetery) which they are responsible for managing accordingly.
As trustee, is there oversight or guidance over the bishop’s decision making?
Because of the size of the diocese and to comply with Canon law, a number of advisory boards and councils are in place to provide assistance and guidance to the bishop with running the daily operations of the diocese. Some key examples include:
- Presbyteral Council: members consist of a group of priests who assist the bishop with the governance of the diocese. The Council meets 9 times a year and provides advice to the bishop and votes on many major and important issues facing the diocese.
- Pastoral Council: members meet quarterly to advise the bishop on important pastoral matters. The Pastoral Council provides valuable communication links between the parishes and diocese. The group is comprised of priests, deacons, religious and parishioners from across the diocese.
- Diocesan Finance Council: members meet quarterly and provide valuable advice and counsel on all financial, business and administrative issues which impact the diocese. The Finance Council provides leadership, guidance and oversight in assisting the bishop and the Finance Office in the operations of the diocese. The council consists of 19 members representing various parishes from across the diocese.
- Curia Council: the bishop meets regularly with his Curia Council which is comprised of nine members who lead the key areas of the diocese. The Curia Council members also provide assistance and support to the parishes within the diocese together with staff under their guidance.
So while the bishop acts as the trustee of the diocese, there are a number of checks and balances in place to ensure sound decision making takes place and strong stewardship is exercised over the assets and responsibilities that the bishop oversees.
Under our trust agreement, who owns parish assets?
Under Canon law, the answer is the parish.
While the bishop's name appears on parish property deeds, as required by the Joliet Diocese trust, the property is held by him for the benefit of the parishes and parishioners of the diocese. While all parish assets are owned by the diocesan trust, the bishop delegates oversight and control of the assets and operations to the pastors of the parishes. Under Canon Law, when a bishop retires, his successor automatically assumes the role and responsibilities as the trustee of the diocese.
Do all dioceses operate under trust agreements?
Not all dioceses operate under trust agreements in the United States. Some examples of other structures include:
- Corporation Sole: this structure is very similar to a trust. This structure recognizes church property as being owned by the corporation sole for the benefit of the Church. Similar to a trust agreement, the bishop is the sole member and sole officer of the corporation who holds title to all the assets of the diocese. The Archdiocese of Chicago operates under this type of structure.
- Separate Incorporation: Some dioceses operate under a structure whereby each parish and the diocese are separately incorporated. This type of structure requires more administrative work than a trust or corporate sole agreement. The Bishop also maintains the same responsibilities and oversight of parish affairs and assets. An example of this type of structure would be the Diocese of Rockford.
While several different structures exist across the country, there presently is not a consensus on any one preferred structure.
How does the Diocese of Joliet operate financially under the Trust agreement?
As previously stated, every parish manages their own financial operations. As for the operations of the diocese, it is organized under seven distinct funds to ensure proper management and accountability for the many important services and assistance provided to the parishes. A brief description of each fund follows:
- Deposit & Loan Fund: this fund acts like a “central bank” and is comprised exclusively of parish funds. Parish excess funds are deposited with the diocese where they earn interest. This money is then used to make loans to other parishes that require capital for long term projects. The parishes may deposit or withdraw their funds at any time, and loans are only made subject to specific guidelines and requirements.
- Cemetery Fund: this is a fund which manages the revenue, expenses and daily operations of the 21 diocesan cemeteries.
- Insurance Fund: this fund handles all insurance and risk management matters of the entire diocese - including the parishes and schools. Coverages including: medical, dental, pharmacy, life, disability, liability, casualty theft, property, auto, workers compensation, unemployment, etc.
- Special Purpose Fund: this fund handles contributions made to the diocese for special and restricted purposes. This fund helps offset costs incurred for important matters such as seminarian education, priest retirement home maintenance, clergy continuing education, and nursing and assisted living home support. The fund is managed like an endowment fund with preservation of principal being of significant importance.
- Property Fund: this fund manages all on-going operating expenses to maintain and insure diocesan properties including the Pastoral Center in Romeoville, the Chancery in Joliet and other miscellaneous properties owned by the diocese.
- Development Fund: this fund is used to manage all fund raising activities by the diocese relating to the Catholic Ministries Annual Appeal, planned giving and stewardship together with the related expenses.
- Operating Fund: this fund manages the expenses of the many Catholic ministries that support the parishes and diocesan operations including among many others – Vocations Office; Catholic Schools Office; Office of Religious Education; the Diaconate etc. These agencies are funded by the Catholic Ministries Annual Appeal. The operating fund also accounts for the expenses to operate the administration and service side of the diocese which is funded by assessments from parishes.
A final thought!
Regardless of the structure a diocese may assume, the important thing to keep in mind is that we are one Apostolic Catholic Church. Everything our diocese does, from running the daily operations of the diocese, to providing support to our parishes, is connected to the mission with which God has entrusted to us.