Belonging to a parish in Europe and USA

Hi there,
I’m a guy from Austria and I’m reading a lot in this forum. I don’t know if I got it right, but from what I understood by reading other topic, in America catholics seem to be able to chose the parish they want to belong to. Is that right? It seems “unusual” to me because in most european countries each parish has an own “territory” and to which parish you actually belong, depends on where you live. Does someone know, why there is such a difference?
I find the american system better. One reason is for example that communities like FSSP can’t get an own parish in Austria because then all the people in the surrounding would belong to that parish and hence be “forced” to belong to a tridentine rite parish, which is not the case in the USA…

I’m from England so I can only speak as I find.

Years ago when my Mum moved to a different house, the area was in a different parish. She asked the priest from the area that she had moved from whether it was okay to attend the Church that she’d been attending for many many years as she felt more comfortable there and had friends there, he said that although it’s usually expected that a person would attend in the new parish, it’s not obligatory.

As for myself, my own parish has disappeared due to a serious shortage of priests, we are now part of a larger parish (four smaller parishes became one) so instead of XII Apostles parish, I am now under St Edmund Arrowsmith parish, the Church name remains the same but the priests change frequently. So all of those who were originally under their smaller parish name are now under the bigger umbrella parish. The diocese remains the same however.

Actually she attends several churches, as do I, depending on the time of the Mass and how it fits in best with our lives. It doesn’t seem frowned upon as far as I can tell but the more people who attend within their own parish will help to secure that parish for future generations.

im in England i dont attend a church in my parish as when i wanted to become Roman Catholic the local catholic churches ignored me so i contacted a priest in another parish and he met with me and now i have been attending his parish since November 2013, Had my confirmation at Easter, my son was baptised there and i still go there, im lucky to find a good priest in a good parish,

I am no expert on the Church’s latest Code of Canon Law, but I believe that there is no obligation to attend one’s territorial parish. We can attend whichever Catholic Church we wish and receive the sacraments there.

In the days before the automobile, most people attended the nearest parish, for obvious reasons, but most people in the US have driven to Church for many years.

OP, parishes are territorial no matter where you live. There are also ‘personal’ parishes but those are personal to the bishop, not the worshippers. Examples of personal parishes are those established for reasons of ethnicity or worship “form”. The FSSP parish you mention would be a personal parish to which anyone who preferred the Extraordinary Form of Mass could belong.

Under Canon Law the Pastor is responsible for all Catholics who reside in his territorial parish, unless they belong to a personal parish. He is the one responsible for Baptism and Marriage. In North America there has developed this ‘choose your parish’ mentality particularly in areas with many parishes within a reasonable driving distance. In many cases people ‘register’ at a parish that they prefer rather than the one to which they belong territorially. That can become a problem when it comes to reception of the Sacraments of Initiation, marriage, and burial if the priest sticks to the letter of the law.

I’ll give an example from my own experience.

My husband was in the military for the first 23 years of our marriage. As a military dependent my parish proper was the military parish on the Base on or near which we lived. The Catholic Chaplain was responsible for all Catholic military personnel and dependents affiliated with that Base. Early in our marriage we lived ‘off Base’ and I could easily walk from our apartment to a territorial parish ‘around the corner’ but I had to take a bus to get to the military chapel. Where I attended Mass depended on how I felt on the day in question. My name was registered at the Base Chapel.

Now, had we had a baby at that time it would have been the Chaplain’s responsibility to baptize him, not that of the territorial parish Pastor. If I had approached the Pastor he could have said, “If you really want your baby baptized in our parish you have to obtain permission from the Chaplain for me to do that.” Marriage would have been even more convoluted because it would have involved two different dioceses: the Military Ordinariate and the Archdiocese of Toronto.

Most people aren’t aware of that and when we did have our first two children we went home to the parish where I’d been baptized, confirmed and married and had the priest who celebrated our marriage baptize them. He never requested permission from our Chaplains and I only found out that that was a problem when I started working in a parish and saw notes to that effect in one of the registers of Baptisms I worked with.

When I was young ( before Vat. II) parish boundaries were more strictly enforced. I believe that technically you are supposed to attend the parish that you live in, but as a matter of practice I know of no parishes that seriously try to enforce that rule. I suppose that most pastors realize that most Catholics do pretty much anything that they feel like doing anyway so why bother?

No. It’s not correct. Parishes are geographic territories. This is a matter of universal canon law, and it applies everywhere.

There are also “personal parishes” meaning that the parish membership is composed of people who have something particular in common; such as a certain language or ethnic heritage. These are allowed by canon law, but as the exception. To use your own example, there are also “personal parishes” for the Extraordinary Form, or for the Society of St. Peter.

It seems “unusual” to me because in most european countries each parish has an own “territory” and to which parish you actually belong, depends on where you live. Does someone know, why there is such a difference?

There is no difference. At least there’s no difference in the law and how parish membership is defined.

Where there is a difference is that in some parishes in the US, the boundaries are not strictly enforced. Some pastors allow non-parishioners (those who live outside the parish territory) to act as if they were actual parishioners.

I find the american system better. One reason is for example that communities like FSSP can’t get an own parish in Austria because then all the people in the surrounding would belong to that parish and hence be “forced” to belong to a tridentine rite parish, which is not the case in the USA…

There is no “American system.” The same Code of Canon Law applies to the U.S. as does to Europe. Instead, these are just examples of pastors who choose to disregard canon law.

Wherever there are personal parishes (like for the Extraordinary Form) these parishes exist within the boundaries of the local territorial parish(es). Therefore, a person who does not want to be a member of the personal parish can still be a member (and indeed is a member) of the local territorial parish.

“Personal” does not refer to the bishop but to the members. A personal parish is the opposite of a territorial parish. The members of a personal parish are members because of some quality of the person, not the territory in which they live.

I believe Phemie just meant that the bishop defines the “type” of people who may belong to a personal parish, rather than it being purely a matter of personal choice. As in, there is no such thing as a personal parish where anyone in the diocese can just say “I really like this parish, so I will personally choose to be a member”. Rather, if the individual meets the criteria for the personal parish that the bishop has defined, he or she may then choose to join the personal parish. In the case of FSSP personal parishes, the only criteria required is typically a “devotion to the EF mass”.

No, it seems like people believe that “personal” means the it’s the bishop’s pet parish or something. Let’s be clear. The bishop personally erects all parishes in the diocese, whether they are territorial or not. The bishop personally oversees the priests and appoints them to pastorates in those parishes. The bishop has a lot of personal involvement with each and every parish, mission, quasi-parish, school, and charity in his diocese. That’s not what this definition means. “Personal” refers to the persons who qualify for membership. A “territorial” parish covers a certain territory, while a “personal” parish covers certain persons. Father David can certainly correct me if I’m wrong.

Yes, that’s correct.

It’s just that the way you wrote your earlier post it comes across as if someone first said that “personal” means the bishop’s pet parish (your words), and you’re correcting that.

That misunderstanding does often happen. It’s just not happening in this thread.

As I see it, your posts were not correcting what someone else wrote. Instead, you were expanding on the definition and explaining it further. I think some others are seeing it as a correction. Frankly, it did look that way to me at first.

Do military parishes function as territorial or personal parishes?


They do not have parishes in the strict canonical sense of the word “parish.” The entire military Archdiocese is actually a personal prelature. They don’t have parish churches. They use military chapels which are owned by the government and are legally not owned by the Archdiocese. Each chaplain is assigned to a certain “group” which might be a unit (like a brigade) or several units combined or a post/base, depending on how many Catholic chaplains are available at any given time and place.

I believe the US Military is the only case where the term “Archdiocese” is used (I suppose due to the vast number of Catholics serving in the US forces…thus an Archbishop was appointed to give it a certain prestige). Everywhere else, similar structures are called “Military Ordinariates”.

I. *Ordinariate for the faithful of eastern rite (*Officium supremi Apostolatus - July 1912)

Without Their Own Hierarchy

Example: Ordinariate for Eastern Catholics in Brazil (Ordinariato para os Fiéis de Ritos Orientais no Brasil)

II. Personal Prelature (CIC 1983, and Presbyterorum Ordinis - December 1965)Can. 294 Personal prelatures may be established by the Apostolic See after consultation with the Episcopal Conferences concerned. They are composed of deacons and priests of the secular clergy. Their purpose is to promote an appropriate distribution of priests, or to carry out special pastoral or missionary enterprises in different regions or for different social groups.
Can. 295 §1 A personal prelature is governed by statutes laid down by the Apostolic See. It is presided over by a Prelate as its proper Ordinary. He has the right to establish a national or an international seminary, and to incardinate students and promote them to orders with the title of service of the prelature.
Personal Prelature example: Opus Dei (Ut Sit - 28 November 1982)

III. Military Ordinates (Apostolic Constitution Spirituali militum curae - April 1986)

The jurisdiction of military ordinariates is cumulative to that of the diocesan bishops.

Military Ordinate example: The Archdiocese for the Military Services, U.S.A.

IV. Personal Ordinariates (*Anglicanorum coetibus *- October 2009)

The personal Ordinariates are not particular Churches, such as dioceses, so the faithful of the Ordinariate necessarily belong to the particular Church of their domicile or quasi-domicile.

Personal Ordinariate examples:Anglican - Our Lady of the Southern Cross
Anglican - Our Lady of Walsingham
Anglican - Chair of St. Peter

It actually has more to do with the sheer scope of the ordinarture. The US Military has bases literally around the world.

Archbishop Broglio spoke at our parishes’ Lenten Retreat last year. He did so after flying in from Okinawa with a stop off at Pearl Harbor on his way back to Wash DC… And he was going to Europe the following week.

He has 4 auxiliary bishops to assist him, which, while not suffergan bishops, are closer to the number of auxiliaries that a major Archdiocese would have.

Thanks. Then I probably misunderstood something. People were always talking about registering themselves at a parish or chosing where to be a member.
But if the situation is so similar, why is it that the FSSP doesn’t get any parish in most european countries?

The FSSP has 15 locations in Austria (if I counted correctly ;))Österreich

Some are parishes (or quasi-parishes), some not. Their website indicates the status of each location.

One other factor might be that personal parishes are not uncommon in the US, while virtually unknown in Europe.

This has a LOT to do with the immigrant nature of the US.

For example, the closest parish to my house is a personal parish that serves the Polish population. Mass is regularly said in Polish and confessions are heard in Polish.

The next closest is a Slovak personal parish. After that is a Chaldean Catholic parish, but that is a different sui juris Church, so we won’t count that one, but it is still an option for Mass.

The actual territorial parish is a mile further from that.

We aslo have 3 personal parishes that serve the EF community (all of which are staffed by diocesean priests, not from any of the ‘traditional’ orders.)
I very rarely see that in Europe.

Are you sure that the Slovak parish is a personal parish under the Latin diocese? In Canada, there is a separate Slovak Eparchy with a bishop in Toronto.

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