114. Can a Vicar General, Episcopal Vicar or Dean unilaterally levy a tax?
114. Can a Vicar General, Episcopal Vicar or Dean unilaterally levy a tax?

114. Can a Vicar General, Episcopal Vicar or Dean unilaterally levy a tax?

Today’s post explores if the Vicar general, episcopal Vicar, or Vicar forane (dean) can unilaterally levy a tax on a public juridical person such as a parish, mission school, seminary or a public association of the faithful. Canons 134 and 1263 help in the analysis. Canon 134 states:

Ҥ1 In law the term Ordinary means, apart from the Roman Pontiff, diocesan Bishops and all who, even for a time only, are set over a particular Church or a community equivalent to it in accordance with can. 368, and those who in these have general ordinary executive power, that is, Vicars general and episcopal Vicars; likewise, for their own members, it means the major Superiors of clerical religious institutes of pontifical right and of clerical societies of apostolic life of pontifical right, who have at least ordinary executive power.

§2 The term local Ordinary means all those enumerated in §1, except Superiors of religious institutes and of societies of apostolic life.

§3 Whatever in the canons, in the context of executive power, is attributed to the diocesan Bishop, is understood to belong only to the diocesan Bishop and to those others in can. 381 §2 who are equivalent to him, to the exclusion of the Vicar general and the episcopal Vicar except by special mandate.”

Canons 368 and 381 §2 refer to a Prelate, Abbot, Vicar apostolic, Prefect apostolic, apostolic Administrator. The judicial Vicar is not a local Ordinary. The above means that when the Code uses the term ‘local Ordinary’, it excludes the vicars.

Regarding imposition of levies, Canon 1263 states:

“The diocesan Bishop, after consulting the finance committee and the council of priests, has the right to levy on public juridical persons subject to his authority a tax for the needs of the diocese. This tax must be moderate and proportionate to their income. He may impose an extraordinary and moderate tax on other physical and juridical persons only in a grave necessity and under the same conditions, but without prejudice to particular laws and customs which may give him greater rights.”

Two points are noteworthy from the above. Only the Bishop has the right to levy a tax on public juridical persons subject to his authority. Yet, even though the Bishop has the right, he is to consult the finance committee and the council of priests (presbyterial council) before he imposes a levy. However, the Bishop is not obliged to follow the advice he receives during consultation. 

Can the Bishop delegate the Vicar general or episcopal Vicar to do so? Technically, the Bishop can delegate this role because levying a tax is an administrative duty. However, the criterion to consult the finance committee and the council of priests poses a problem. This is because while the Vicar general may convoke the finance committee as the Bishop’s delegate (Canon 492 §1) or as the Moderator of the Curia whose duty is “to coordinate activities concerning administrative matters and to ensure that the others who belong to the curia properly fulfil the offices entrusted to them” (Canon 473 §2), he cannot convoke the council of priests. Canon 500 states:

§1 “It is the prerogative of the diocesan Bishop to convene the council of priests, to preside over it, and to determine the matters to be discussed in it or to accept items proposed by the members”. §2 The council of priests has only a consultative vote. The diocesan Bishop is to consult it in matters of more serious moment, but he requires its consent only in the cases expressly defined in the law. §3 The council of priests can never act without the diocesan Bishop. He alone can make public those things which have been decided in accordance with §2.”

Since paragraph two requires the Bishop to consult the council of priests before levying a tax on public juridical persons subject to his authority and the vicars cannot convoke the council, the vicars cannot impose a levy on anyone in the diocese.

Canon 49 states: “A singular precept is a decree by which an obligation is directly and lawfully imposed on a specific person or persons to do or to omit something, especially in order to urge the observance of a law.” Since precepts are administrative acts and, therefore, can be issued by the Vicar general and episcopal Vicar, does this mean that a Vicar can levy a tax as an obligation?

Precepts are given to urge the observance of a law. In this case, the Vicar can write to a parish priest or the competent administrator admonishing him or her to pay a tax already imposed. However, the Vicar cannot impose the tax himself because the law forbids him. One must clarify that a Vicar who does so acts invalidly and illicitly, irrespective of the diocesan need requiring funds. Two scenarios are possible.

First, the Bishop consults, decides on a levy, and informs the Vicar general or episcopal Vicar to notify the juridical persons. In this case, the Vicar acts validly and licitly in putting across information as long as he specifies the Bishop instructed him. A second scenario is the Vicar passing the information without specifying if the Bishop instructed him to levy a tax. If this happens, it suggests ignorance of the law, outright contravention, or something sinister between the Bishop and the Vicar. Nevertheless, the Vicar can always discuss with administrators to agree on a tax and amount to be paid for a project. In this case, it is not an imposition but an agreement.

What of a Vicar forane (dean)? The Vicar forane is not an Ordinary; hence, the norms of canon 134 do not apply to him. The duties of the Vicar forane include promoting and coordinating common pastoral action in his vicariate forane (deanery); seeing that clerics within his jurisdiction lead a befitting life, discharge their duties, and are cared for when in need; ensuring that religious functions are celebrated according to liturgical laws, that parish registers are correctly entered and safeguarded, and that ecclesiastical goods are carefully administered (cf. Canon 555). Since Canon 134 does not apply to the Vicar forane, he acts illicitly and invalidly if he unilaterally levies a tax on a parish within his vicariate to support the diocese. Nevertheless, he can always discuss with the parish priests how much the parishes will contribute to a diocesan project or at the cathedraticum. In this case, it is an agreement rather than an imposition.

It is fitting that levying a tax is restricted to a bishop who is to consult the finance committee and council of priests. This is to help evaluate the “genuineness and relative importance of the diocesan need for which the tax is to be imposed” (English Commentary on Canon 1263, p.1463) and prevent over-taxing or under-taxing of a public juridical person.

Since the law is explicit in this case, one who contravenes the requirement can incur ecclesiastical penalties for abuse of ecclesiastical power. Canon 1378 §1 states: “A person who, apart from the cases already foreseen by the law, abuses ecclesiastical power, office, or function, is to be punished according to the gravity of the act or the omission, not excluding by deprivation of the power or office, without prejudice to the obligation of repairing the harm.”

 Moreover, the diocesan Bishop exercises ordinary and proper legislative and judicial power in a diocese. The Vicar general, episcopal Vicar, and Vicar forane do not have these. Hence, it is also fitting that only the Bishop levies a tax on public juridical persons because he can also impose a penalty if the administrator of that juridical person refuses to fulfil the tax obligation.

May God continue to help us🙏🏾


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