UNDERSTANDING
THE FABRIQUE

A GUIDE TO A FABRIQUE'S FUNCTIONS

One of the ways that the province of Quebec is rather unique in the world is that its civil law includes a special statute on the governance of Roman Catholic parishes. The purpose of this article is to help people understand the practical ecclesiology of Roman Catholic parishes in Quebec.

To know more detail information you can buy the Gratianus Commentary on the Act Respecting Fabriques

WHAT IS

THE FABRIQUE

THE SIMPLE DEFINITION

According to the Fabrique Act, "Fabrique" is a legal person constituted under this act and consisting of the chairman, the pastor of a parish or the ministering cleric of a chapelry and the church wardens of that parish or chapelry. This means that the fabrique is a civil corporation created by the government of Quebec. It is a special corporation to process the assets

ECCLESIASTICAL CORPORATIONS IN QUEBEC

Quebec is a very special civil jurisdiction with regards to the way it recognizes ecclesiastical corporations. There are at least three separate laws dealing with how Roman Catholic organizations are specifically handled:

  • The Roman Catholic Bishops Act (RSQ, chapter E-17) permits the creation of a corporation for each diocesan bishop, so that when the bishop is replaced as head of the diocese the corporation continues under the leadership of the new bishop; it also allows the diocesan bishop to himself incorporate new organizations, which then have automatic legal recognition as well.

  • The Religious Corporations Act (RSQ, chapter C-71) generally governs corporations for religious orders. They have their own law because traditionally they possess a certain independence within canon law vis-à-vis the diocesan bishop, and so it would not be appropriate for them to be incorporated (and therefore governed) by the bishops as would be the case were they to be incorporated under the first law mentioned above. Because of this independent structure it is also possible for a non-Catholic group to seek incorporation under this law as well, although in practical terms most choose to simply get incorporated under the non-profit section of the regular law governing Quebec corporations (as it is more flexible).

  • The Act Respecting Fabriques (RSQ, chapter F-1) is a special law meant to govern the most common form of ecclesiastical corporation: the parish. In canon law, a parish comes under the jurisdiction of a bishop but also possesses a certain independence of action. There are many stories of bishops who tried to boss around (or even dissolve) a parish and who found themselves having to defend their actions before a Roman ecclesiastical tribunal. Quebec recognizes this distinction by having its own parallel law specifically for parishes.

There are also many private laws on the books regulating specific Church institutions, but this is beyond the scope of this article. With regard to parishes, the typical legal situation in Quebec works as follows:

  1. The diocesan bishop decides to create a new parish. He issues an ecclesiastical decree to that effect, and the parish is constituted under canon law.

  2. This new parish is a legal person under canon law, but still has no right to represent itself under civil law (as this is a separate jurisdiction). The bishop therefore registers the existence of this new ecclesiastical corporation with the Quebec government.

  3. The Quebec government, rather than simply extending recognition of this ecclesiastical corporation, instead creates a separate civil corporation called a “fabrique”. The fabrique acts like a trustee on behalf of the parish, owning and managing all its assets for the sake of the purposes of the parish.

In short, under the Quebec system two separate but related corporations actually come into existence. The parish comes into existence by the bishops decree but does not have any civil recognition within the province of Quebec, and so cannot own property or defend its rights in civil court. The fabrique comes into existence once this episcopal decree is deposited with the government (specifically, the Enterprise Registrar) and so therefore does have these powers, but the law that governs it restricts the use of those powers to the promotion of the purpose of the underlying parish.

PARISH & FABRIQUE

COMPARISON CHART

ECCLESIASTICAL CORPORATIONS IN QUEBEC

PARISH

FABRIQUE

JURISDICTION

Roman Catholic Church

Province of Quebec

NAME

Parish of Our Lady of the Annunciation

Fabrique of the parish of Our Lady of the Annunciation

PURPOSE

The purpose is religious: strictly speaking it is undefined in canon law, but generally it is to engage in divine worship and acts of charity in accordance with the gospel.

The purpose is strictly temporal: to acquire, possess, hold and administer property for the practice of the Roman Catholic religion in the parish for which it is constituted.

MEMBERSHIP

Hundreds, possibly thousands of people: the Catholics that live within its territorial bounds (sometimes also limited by ethnic or ritual criteria), also known as parishioners.

Seven or eight people: the pastor, six churchwardens elected from among the parishioners, and possibly an additional person appointed by the bishop to act as chairman.

LEADERSHIP

The pastor, aided by the pastoral council and finance council (constituted according to the directives of the bishop). The pastoral council is a consultative body only, and sometimes does not even exist: the pastor usually has final say in pastoral matters. The finance council must exist, and where it does not two or three other persons are designated to assist the pastor in governing the temporal matters of the parish. The pastor often also has final say, but must consult for certain matters according to the directives of the diocesan bishop. (Note that, in Quebec, given that parishes each have a corresponding fabrique, they do not usually have a finance council: these duties are delegated to the fabrique.)

The pastor is the automatic chairman if no external chairman has been appointed by the bishop. The chairman (pastor or not) has no special powers apart from the right to call and chair meetings of the fabrique. Only the fabrique as a whole may make decisions. It delegates to whom it chooses the right to act on its behalf (such as delegating the right to sign cheques). A vice-chairman may also be appointed by the bishop, but only from among the current churchwardens; the vice-chair does not have the power to call meetings of the fabrique, but may preside over duly called meetings in the case the regular chairman is absent. A fabrique cannot hold a legal meeting without either the chairman or vice-chairman present.

PRACTICAL ADVICE

TO MANAGE A FABRIQUE

FINDING A FAIR EQUILIBRIUM FOR THE GOOD OF THE COMMUNITY

To help keep things running smoothly, the following points should be kept in mind:

  • A fabrique can only make legal decisions at a legal meeting of the churchwardens. For a fabrique meeting to be legally valid, the churchwardens need to be given proper advance notice (i.e. they get the notice on Monday for a meeting on Friday, with Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday being the three clear days typically required). This advance notice also needs to mention the business that will be discussed at the meeting – no new items may be added at the meeting itself except for information purposes only, or in rare cases, an unforeseen emergency item. While many fabriques set out a schedule of meetings for the entire year to allow the churchwardens the chance to reserve the dates in their agendas, a formal notice of meeting must still be sent for each individual fabrique meeting.

  • For a fabrique meeting to be legal it must be presided by the chairman or vice-chairman.

  • A fabrique may only make decisions according to the powers given to it by the Fabrique Act. Many of these decisions require the approval of the bishop before they can be implemented; others also require approval by a meeting of the parishioners.

  • If churchwardens put into practice any decisions that were made at a meeting that was not legally valid, or any decisions that required the approval of the bishop and/or parishioners but for which this approval was not obtained, those churchwardens (including the pastor) become personally liable for the financial consequences of that decision. For example, if a fabrique signs a renovations contract without prior diocesan approval, and problems arise, the churchwardens can be personally sued by the other company (instead of just the fabrique being sued).

  • The items discussed at a fabrique meeting should be limited to the acquisition and management of the property required for the activities of the parish. This is, after all, the legal purpose of the fabrique. The actual spiritual life and direction of the parish is for the parish itself, as a separate entity, to look after.

Church warden leadership intertwined with the pastoral leadership of a Roman Catholic parish in Quebec is a tricky thing. The wardens and pastor must exercise leadership with patience and diplomacy, and most of all, with the best interest of the community at heart. The churchwardens have a legal responsibility to act in the best interests of the parish, and the pastor should help them as best he can in this duty. Transparency and tidy administration are critical to foster trust and attain the best results desired for the parish. In short, just as the parish and fabrique are partner corporations, the pastor and his churchwardens are also partners.

ACT RESPECTING THE FABRIQUE:

ABRIDGED DESCRIPTION OF ROLES

A QUICK INTRODUCTION TO THE F-1 ACT

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THE

ARCHBISHOP

bishop” : the cleric who, according to the rules of the Roman Catholic Church, is appointed to administer a diocese; this term includes an archbishop, a diocesan bishop, an archeparch, an eparch, an exarch, a vicar apostolic, a military ordinary, a prefect apostolic, a territorial prelate, a territorial abbot, an apostolic administrator, a diocesan administrator, a vicar general, a provicar in a vicariate apostolic, a pro-prefect in a prefecture apostolic and a vicar deputed to a vicariate apostolic or to a prefecture apostolic.

The bishop of a diocese may, by decree, erect within his diocese parishes and chapelries, dismember, divide and abolish the same or annex them to other parishes or chapelries and change their limits. He also determines by decree the conditions which a person must fulfill to be a parishioner of such parish or chapelry.

THE LAWS OF 
THE FABRIQUE

A GUIDE TO A FABRIQUE'S FUNCTIONS

Catholics growing up in Quebec are sometimes surprised to discover that there is no corresponding statute in other jurisdictions. On the other hand, Catholics coming to Quebec are usually quite surprise to discover the degree of legal “interference” that exists in the internal management of the Roman Catholic Church. This is especially true of priests and lay persons involved in parish leadership, who (if they come from elsewhere in North America) are often used to the model of a “corporation sole”. In this model, an episcopal corporation (headed by the diocesan bishop) actually owns all the parishes of a diocese: the subdivision of the diocese into parishes is handled internally within that overall legal structure (much as how a company might be divided into operating divisions that are not themselves separate corporations). A individual coming from this sort of environment often does not understand how to legally administer a parish within the Quebec context.

THE ROLE OF

THE WARDENS

A GUIDE TO A FABRIQUE'S FUNCTIONS

The role of the Churchwarden is defined in the Province of Quebec through a legislative act called: “An Act Respecting Fabriques”. The “Churchwarden is a Director of a civil Corporation which has the Roman Catholic religion as its sole objective.” The Churchwarden is elected by the Assembly and must live within the parish’s geographical boundaries. The term is for three (3) years and may be renewed, if elected, once. The election process takes place in November.


Some of the attributes required of a Churchwarden are: A sense of the Mission of Christ; has some administrative skills, and, is a “common sense” person. If you would like to present yourself as a candidate, you may discuss it with the parochial administrator, or solicit someone to nominate you prior to the election.
If you wish to learn more about the Fabriques Act and the role of the churchwarden we invite you to go to the following pages

ABOUT US

Our community at Our Lady of the Annunciation is dedicated to God, whose faithfulness endures to all generations. (Psalm 100) We honour Mary in the angel's annunciation, when she was chosen to conceive the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ. We also honour the priests and lay members who have served in this faithful community.

ADDRESS

(819) 777-6931

189 Rue Archambault,
Gatineau, QC

J8Y 5E3

 

ola@bellnet.ca

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