The current trend of local parish suppressions raises fundamental questions regarding ownership of gifted property. Disputes regarding ownership arises when a donor's intent conflicts with the institution's hierarchy claiming ownership of the gifted property. Hierarchical religious institutions like the Roman Catholic Church can assert such claims under two legal principles. First, because the First Amendment requires the separation of church and state, civil courts cannot interpret religious law. Second, because hierarchical religious institutions are often organized as Corporations sole, local parishes are agents of the archdiocese. This Note argues for extending neutral principles of law currently used to settle antra-church property disputes to property disputes between religious institutions and individuals. In applying neutral principles of law, including the law of wills and trusts, courts can successfully adjudicate property disputes to ensure a testator's intent is effectuated.
Elizabeth Ehrlich, Taking the Religion out of Religious Property Disputes, 46 B.C.L. Rev. 1069 (2005), http://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/bclr/vol46/iss5/4