A parish is a community of the faithful, with juridic personality by law and perpetual in nature. A parish cannot be extinguished or even notably altered without just cause.
Relevant Canons: 515; also 50, 51, 120, 121, 122, 123, 127, 166
Four types of modification:
Since parishes are communities of the faithful, territorial parishes are generally only able to be united or divided.
Step one: Considering all pertinent circumstances, determine which type of modification (extinctive union of the first or second variety) is recommended and identify the just cause for doing so.
Jurisprudence indicates that an extinctive union should be the last choice when dealing with various problems of parochial life, insofar as other possible remedies should have been at least considered beforehand and ruled out.
The reasons for modifying a particular parish must be relevant to that individual parish.
The following information should be gathered for all involved parishes as part of this determination:
Parish pastoral and finance councils should be highly involved in this process. Minutes from meetings should be carefully kept.
The faithful of the parishes should also be informed of the proposal and the reasons justifying it. They should be given opportunities to ask questions and express any concerns. This can be done in a variety of ways: bulletin articles, presentations, town hall style meetings, email blasts, surveys, etc. Records/copies should be kept of all such communications.
Step two: The pastor petitions the Archbishop for modification of the parishes according to the determination reached 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 each parish involved in the modification are to be in support of the proposal. This support should be recorded in writing, with the signatures of the council members included.
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 modification.
He should include the opinion of the pastoral and finance councils of the affected parishes.
Step three: The Diocesan Bishop is to convoke the Presbyteral Council.
When calling the Council, he is also to provide them with all relevant information.
Step four: The Diocesan Bishop himself must consult the members of the Presbyteral Council regarding each individual parish modification which has been proposed.
The consultation must be genuine and should consider relevant arguments both for and against the proposed modifications. The advice of all members present is to be heard.
Step five: 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 just cause(s) for the decision (canon 51).
The decree must clearly define the criteria for membership in all affected parishes.
The decree must likewise provide for the disposition of temporal goods.