Saturday, April 9, 2016

Doctrine of "corporation sole" and the churches, dioceses, and religious societies


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In solving the problem thus submitted to our consideration, We can say the following: 

A corporation sole is a special form of corporation usually associated with the clergy. Conceived and introduced into the common law by sheer necessity, this legal creation which was referred to as "that unhappy freak of English law" was designed to facilitate the exercise of the functions of ownership carried on by the clerics for and on behalf of the church which was regarded as the property owner (See I Couvier's Law Dictionary, p. 682-683).

A corporation sole consists of one person only, and his successors (who will always be one at a time), in some particular station, who are incorporated by law in order to give them some legal capacities and advantages, particularly that of perpetuity, which in their natural persons they could not have had. In this sense, the king is a sole corporation; so is a bishop, or dens, distinct from their several chapters (Reid vs. Barry, 93 Fla. 849, 112 So. 846).

The provisions of our Corporation law on religious corporations are illuminating and sustain the stand of petitioner. Section 154 thereof provides:

SEC. 154. — For the administration of the temporalities of any religious denomination, society or church and the management of the estates and the properties thereof, it shall be lawful for the bishop, chief priest, or presiding either of any such religious denomination, society or church to become a corporation sole, unless inconsistent with the rules, regulations or discipline of his religious denomination, society or church or forbidden by competent authority thereof.

See also the pertinent provisions of the succeeding sections of the same Corporation Law copied hereunder:

SEC. 155. In order to become a corporation sole the bishop, chief priest, or presiding elder of any religious denomination, society or church must file with the Securities and Exchange Commissioner articles of incorporation setting forth the following facts:

xxx xxx xxx.

(3) That as such bishop, chief priest, or presiding elder he is charged with the administration of the temporalities and the management of the estates and properties of his religious denomination, society, or church within its territorial jurisdiction, describing it;

xxx xxx xxx.

(As amended by Commonwealth Act No. 287).

SEC. 157. From and after the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commissioner of the said articles of incorporation, which verified by affidavit or affirmation as aforesaid and accompanied by the copy of the commission, certificate of election, or letters of appointment of the bishop, chief priest, or presiding elder, duly certified as prescribed in the section immediately preceding such the bishop, chief priest, or presiding elder, as the case may be, shall become a corporation sole and all temporalities, estates, and properties the religious denomination, society, or church therefore administered or managed by him as such bishop, chief priest, or presiding elder, shall be held in trust by him as a corporation sole, for the use, purpose, behalf, and sole benefit of his religious denomination, society, or church, including hospitals, schools, colleges, orphan, asylums, parsonages, and cemeteries thereof. For the filing of such articles of incorporation, the Securities and Exchange Commissioner shall collect twenty-five pesos. (As amended by Commonwealth Act. No. 287); and.

SEC. 163. The right to administer all temporalities and all property held or owned by a religious order or society, or by the diocese, synod, or district organization of any religious denomination or church shall, on its incorporation, pass to the corporation and shall be held in trust for the use, purpose behalf, and benefit of the religious society, or order so incorporated or of the church of which the diocese, or district organization is an organized and constituent part.

The Cannon Law contains similar provisions regarding the duties of the corporation sole or ordinary as administrator of the church properties x x x.

X x x.

That leaves no room for doubt that the bishops or archbishops, as the case may be, as corporation's sole are merely administrators of the church properties that come to their possession, in which they hold in trust for the church. It can also be said that while it is true that church properties could be administered by a natural persons, problems regarding succession to said properties can not be avoided to rise upon his death. Through this legal fiction, however, church properties acquired by the incumbent of a corporation sole pass, by operation of law, upon his death not his personal heirs but to his successor in office. It could be seen, therefore, that a corporation sole is created not only to administer the temporalities of the church or religious society where he belongs but also to hold and transmit the same to his successor in said office. If the ownership or title to the properties do not pass to the administrators, who are the owners of church properties?.

Bouscaren and Elis, S.J., authorities on cannon law, on their treatise comment:

In matters regarding property belonging to the Universal Church and to the Apostolic See, the Supreme Pontiff exercises his office of supreme administrator through the Roman Curia; in matters regarding other church property, through the administrators of the individual moral persons in the Church according to that norms, laid down in the Code of Cannon Law. This does not mean, however, that the Roman Pontiff is the owner of all the church property; but merely that he is the supreme guardian (Bouscaren and Ellis, Cannon Law, A Text and Commentary, p. 764).

and this Court, citing Campes y Pulido, Legislacion y Jurisprudencia Canonica, ruled in the case of Trinidad vs. Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila, 63 Phil. 881, that:

The second question to be decided is in whom the ownership of the properties constituting the endowment of the ecclesiastical or collative chaplaincies is vested.

Canonists entertain different opinions as to the persons in whom the ownership of the ecclesiastical properties is vested, with respect to which we shall, for our purpose, confine ourselves to stating with Donoso that, while many doctors cited by Fagnano believe that it resides in the Roman Pontiff as Head of the Universal Church, it is more probable that ownership, strictly speaking, does not reside in the latter, and, consequently, ecclesiastical properties are owned by the churches, institutions and canonically established private corporations to which said properties have been donated.

Considering that nowhere can We find any provision conferring ownership of church properties on the Pope although he appears to be the supreme administrator or guardian of his flock, nor on the corporation sole or heads of dioceses as they are admittedly mere administrators of said properties, ownership of these temporalities logically fall and develop upon the church, diocese or congregation acquiring the same. Although this question of ownership of ecclesiastical properties has off and on been mentioned in several decisions of the Court yet in no instance was the subject of citizenship of this religious society been passed upon.

We are not unaware of the opinion expressed by the late Justice Perfecto in his dissent in the case of Agustines vs. Court of First Instance of Bulacan, 80 Phil. 565, to the effect that "the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila is only a branch of a universal church by the Pope, with permanent residence in Rome, Italy". There is no question that the Roman Catholic Church existing in the Philippines is a tributary and part of the international religious organization, for the word "Roman" clearly expresses its unity with and recognizes the authority of the Pope in Rome. However, lest We become hasty in drawing conclusions, We have to analyze and take note of the nature of the government established in the Vatican City, of which it was said:

GOVERNMENT. In the Roman Catholic Church supreme authority and jurisdiction over clergy and laity alike as held by the pope who (since the Middle Ages) is elected by the cardinals assembled in conclave, and holds office until his death or legitimate abdication. . . While the pope is obviously independent of the laws made, and the officials appointed, by himself or his predecessors, he usually exercises his administrative authority according to the code of canon law and through the congregations, tribunals and offices of the Curia Romana. In their respective territories (called generally dioceses) and over their respective subjects, the patriarchs, metropolitans or archbishops and bishops exercise a jurisdiction which is called ordinary (as attached by law to an office given to a person. . . (Collier's Encyclopedia, Vol. 17, p. 93).

While it is true and We have to concede that in the profession of their faith, the Roman Pontiff is the supreme head; that in the religious matters, in the exercise of their belief, the Catholic congregation of the faithful throughout the world seeks the guidance and direction of their Spiritual Father in the Vatican, yet it cannot be said that there is a merger of personalities resultant therein. Neither can it be said that the political and civil rights of the faithful, inherent or acquired under the laws of their country, are affected by that relationship with the Pope. The fact that the Roman Catholic Church in almost every country springs from that society that saw its beginning in Europe and the fact that the clergy of this faith derive their authorities and receive orders from the Holy See do not give or bestow the citizenship of the Pope upon these branches. Citizenship is a political right which cannot be acquired by a sort of "radiation". We have to realize that although there is a fraternity among all the catholic countries and the dioceses therein all over the globe, the universality that the word "catholic" implies, merely characterize their faith, a uniformity in the practice and the interpretation of their dogma and in the exercise of their belief, but certainly they are separate and independent from one another in jurisdiction, governed by different laws under which they are incorporated, and entirely independent on the others in the management and ownership of their temporalities. To allow theory that the Roman Catholic Churches all over the world follow the citizenship of their Supreme Head, the Pontifical Father, would lead to the absurdity of finding the citizens of a country who embrace the Catholic faith and become members of that religious society, likewise citizens of the Vatican or of Italy. And this is more so if We consider that the Pope himself may be an Italian or national of any other country of the world. The same thing be said with regard to the nationality or citizenship of the corporation sole created under the laws of the Philippines, which is not altered by the change of citizenship of the incumbent bishops or head of said corporation sole.

We must therefore, declare that although a branch of the Universal Roman Catholic Apostolic Church, every Roman Catholic Church in different countries, if it exercises its mission and is lawfully incorporated in accordance with the laws of the country where it is located, is considered an entity or person with all the rights and privileges granted to such artificial being under the laws of that country, separate and distinct from the personality of the Roman Pontiff or the Holy See, without prejudice to its religious relations with the latter which are governed by the Canon Law or their rules and regulations.

We certainly are conscious of the fact that whatever conclusion We may draw on this matter will have a far reaching influence, nor can We overlook the pages of history that arouse indignation and criticisms against church landholdings. This nurtured feeling that snowballed into a strong nationalistic sentiment manifested itself when the provisions on natural to be embodied in the Philippine Constitution were framed, but all that has been said on this regard referred more particularly to landholdings of religious corporations known as "Friar Estates" which have already bee acquired by our government, and not to properties held by corporations sole which, We repeat, are properties held in trust for the benefit of the faithful residing within its territorial jurisdiction. Though that same feeling probably precipitated and influenced to a large extent the doctrine laid down in the celebrated Krivenco decision, We have to take this matter in the light of legal provisions and jurisprudence actually obtaining, irrespective of sentiments.

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