Caring for the temporary goods of the Church

By Fr. Sakhile Ndwandwe

It gives me pleasure to share with readers, the importance of taking care of temporary goods of the Church. What are temporary goods in the life and language of the Catholic Church? Temporary goods are understood as all those non-spiritual things which possess an economic value, including real property as well as intangible rights and assets, more often than not, categorised as movable and immovable.


When we look at the Code of Canon Law, #1284, herein referred as CIC, it provides us with a clear understanding that all administrators are to perform their duties with the diligence of a good householder. They are to be vigilant that no goods placed in their care in any way perish or suffer damage, therefore it becomes necessary to arrange insurance contracts. Administrators are to ensure that the ownership of ecclesiastical goods are safeguarded in ways which are valid in civil law (avoid kubeka imali phansi kwemcamelo). Administrators are to ensure that damage will not be suffered by the church through the non-observance of the civil law. Administrators are to keep accurate records of income and expenditure draw up an account of their administration at the end of each year.  CIC 1284#3 specifically provides that an income and expenditure budget be drawn.

When we look at the Sacred Scripture, we realise that Jesus not only taught his followers about temporary goods but also expected his followers to actively provide material support for their sisters and brothers in the human family (Mk 8:2). Jesus and his apostles received offerings which were administered in common and served to meet the expenses of groups (Lk 8:3,; Jn 12:6).  Further, St Paul reminds the Christian community of Corinth of the Lord’s command that ‘those who preach the Gospel should live by the Gospel ‘ (1Cor 9:14). Moreover communities in Asia Minor organized a collection for the ‘poor among the saints in Jerusalem’ (Rm 15: 26; 1Cor 16:1; Mt 10:10; Lk10:7; Act 2:45; 4:34; 11:29).

 Vatican II solemnly teaches that lay members of Christ’s faithful ‘should be instructed in the true meaning and value of temporary goods, both in themselves and in their relation to all the aims of the human person. This solemnly teaching applies equally to the ordained. Hence, temporary goods are meant to assist the church to continue the ministry of Christ of going about doing good. In order for the Church to subsist and go about doing good, legislated proper objectives of temporary goods are; regulation of divide worship, carrying of works of the sacred apostolate (evangelization, teaching the perfection of Christian life and spiritual and temporary works of mercy), and of charity, especially the poor/needy and the provision of fitting support for the clergy and other ministers (CIC 1254 #2).

Going about doing good (evangelising) is the essence of the mission of the Church therefore it is still essential for the Church to have sufficient financial means necessary to fulfil its mission for the salvation of souls. The Church has the inherent right (CIC 1254#1), independently of any secular power, to acquire (limited to the need to use just means only). The Church to acquire good is echoed in CIC# 222 which speaks of the obligation of the faithful to support the church.  However, no penalty is foreseen for those who do not contribute. Can 1261#1 the faithful have a right to donate temporal goods for the benefit of the Church. Further, the church has a right to retain/own includes immunity from interference on the part of any other agency (ownership; right to make physical use of a thing, to possess, right  to income gained from it in money or kind or service and the right to manage it or dispose of it). The church has the right to administer referring to those actions or sets of actions which are directed to preserving church property; improving property or resources; managing the collection and distributing of income from a variety of sources, including offerings of the faithful and returns on investments. It also includes keeping accurate records and property reporting income and expenses. Ability to use property according to their purpose. And alienate temporal goods, in pursuit of its proper objectives (indicate true ownership, since only an owner has the right to dispose of).

Lastly, Christian social teaching has long presented the dignity of the human person as fundamental to the social order.  The personal dignity is emphasized against pressures in society that would deny or restrict that dignity and rights that flow from it. It is not enough to show charity toward a person who is impoverished; it is necessary to do something about the social system that produces the conditions of poverty. Justice in society extends beyond relations between individuals and includes the whole fabric of societal relationships.  Practical concern for less fortunate persons has been a hallmark of Christians from the beginning. Paul took up collections for the Church at Jerusalem in its hour of need. Deacons were instituted specifically to administer care for the poor. Organized distribution of alms has characterized the Church in every age, although it is not intended to relieve individuals of their personal responsibility, but rather to provide a channel for this personal concern to be expressed through the Christian community.

And so, in order to fulfil its mission in the world, the Church needs to be supported by appropriate material goods and the freedom to administer them. This encourages the faithful to continue their duty in the form of helping in maintaining the Church and its works as part of their fundamental rights and obligations related to the temporal goods; so that spiritual goal of ecclesiastical offices was emphasized and the revenues received were justly distributed. Therefore all of the property, buildings, endowments, etc. that the Diocese owns belong to the juridic person of the Diocese, and it is to be used for its benefit. All others involved in the administration of temporal goods are stewards. If the property produces income, that income belongs to the juridic person of the Diocese. If the Diocese has a fundraiser, the funds raised belong to the Diocese so that the Diocese through its sacred ministers and those working for it may go about doing good.

Article sourced from Siyatfunywa News (Diocese of Manzini Newsletter) 1st edition published October 2021.