A church is any sacred edifice designated for divine worship to which the faithful have the right of entry for the exercise of divine worship, especially public worship (canon 1214).
Relevant Canons: 1214 and 1222; also 50, 51, 127, 166
Only a grave reason is sufficient to justify relegating a church to profane but not sordid use (canon 1222 §2).
Altars do not lose their dedication or blessing when the church does. Altars can never be turned over to profane use for any reason.
It is well established ecclesiastical jurisprudence that to merely close a church with no intention to turn it over to profane use, is juridically equivalent to relegating it to profane use. Therefore, one cannot lawfully permanently close a church without first employing the provisions of canon 1222 §2.
Step one: Determine the gravity of the cause.
Each case must be considered individually, weighing the whole context of the situation. The gravity of the cause may arise from the combination of just causes, each insufficient in itself, but which together manifest the seriousness of the situation.
Financial needs must be considered with regard to the juridic person which owns the church in question. It must be demonstrated that other reasonable sources of funding or assistance have been considered and are found lacking or inadequate.
The following reasons in themselves do not constitute a grave cause:
Step two: The pastor petitions the Archbishop to relegate the church to profane but non-sordid use due to the grave cause determined in step one. This petition should be in writing, signed by the pastor. A majority of the members of the pastoral council and finance council of the parish are to be in support of the proposal. This support should be recorded in writing, with the signatures of the council members included.
Step three: The Diocesan Bishop is to seek out all necessary information and, insofar as possible, hear those whose rights could be injured (cf. canon 50).
The pastor of the parishes affected by any proposed modification is to provide the diocesan Bishop with all information supporting the recommended relegation.
He should include the opinion of the pastoral and finance councils of the parish which owns the church.
Step four: The Diocesan Bishop is to convoke the Presbyteral Council.
When calling the Council, he is also to provide them with all relevant information.
Step five: The Diocesan Bishop himself must consult the members of the Presbyteral Council regarding each individual relegation which has been proposed.
The consultation must be genuine and should consider relevant arguments both for and against the proposed relegations.
The bishop must also obtain the consent of those who claim legitimate rights in the edifice and verify the good of souls will suffer no harm.
Step six: The Diocesan Bishop is to issue a written decree at the time that the decision is given and then lawfully communicate the decree without delay.
The period of time during which hierarchical recourse may be presented begins with the lawful notification of the decree (canon 1734 §2).
The decree must mention, at least in summary form, the grave cause(s) for the decision (canon 51).