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Inventory of Church Property

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By inventory ( Latin inventarium ) is meant a descriptive list in which are enumerated systematically, item by item, the personal and real property, rights, titles, and papers or documents of a person, an estate, or any institution. Inventories are prescribed by law to control effectively the management of any trust, inheritance, guardianship, etc., by an executor or administrator. Thus, an inventory is to be made at the beginning of a given administration; when the period of management has expired, the out-going official must produce all the things which appear in this inventory or were added later, excepting those which have been consumed or rendered useless. Then the inventory is to be verified. This formality is discharged, as the case may demand, by an authorized official, a notary, or merely in the presence of witnesses. A measure so useful for the proper administration of property of all kinds could not fail to find a place among the regulations for the management of church property, seeing that this was not administered by its owners, and that those in charge of it were all bound to render an annual account to the bishop (Council of Trent, Sess., XXII, c. vii). It must be admitted, however, that the old writers on canon law prior to the Council of Trent, though they implicitly suppose an inventory of church property, make no formal mention of it. The only texts that refer to it clearly are those ordering bishops to separate carefully their own property from that of the Church, so that their heirs may not seize the goods of the Church, or the Church lay claim to their proper belongings (Can. Apost., xl; Council of Antioch, 341, can. xxiv and xxv; Cod. Eccl. Afric., can. lxxxi, etc.). The most important document relating to the inventories of church property is the Motu Proprio, "Provida", of Sixtus V, 29 April, 1587. The pope had decreed the establishment of a general ecclesiastical record office at Rome, where inventories of all the church property in Italy should be kept; he abandoned this project on being informed that such inventories existed in the archives of many bishoprics and that the bishops verified them when making their pastoral visitations. However, he commanded all ordinaries who did not follow this practice to have an inventory of the property of all the churches and ecclesiastical establishments within their territories made within the space of one year; all administrators were obliged to draw up, within twelve months after entering into office, an inventory of the property confided to them and to send it to the ordinary.

The Roman Council of 1725 under Benedict XIII (tit. xii, c. i) renewed the order of Sixtus V, and gave as an appendix a model of a suitable inventory in twenty-eight paragraphs (the text of Sixtus V and the specimen inventory are contained in the "Acta Conc. Recent. Collect. Lacensis", I, col. 416). As a model of an inventory we might also refer to the instructions given for the general visitation of Rome ordered by Pius X in his Bull of 11 February, 1904 (see Analecta Eccles., 1904). Since the Council of Rome almost every assembly of bishops has prescribed the making of inventories of church property ; suffice it to mention, among the more important recent councils, the Second Council of Westminster in 1855, the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884 (art. cclxviii sq.), and the Plenary Council of Latin America, held at Rome in 1899 (art. cclxv, dcccxli, dcccli). To these must be added the ecclesiastico civil laws of various countries. Every administrator of church property and every beneficiary must therefore, on assuming office, draw up an exact inventory of the personal and real property confided to his care. Of this inventory two copies are usually to be made -- one to be kept in the archives, the other to be sent to the bishop (in some countries a third copy has to be sent to the civil authorities ). When his term of office expires, the administrator or beneficiary must hand over to his successor all the articles entered in the inventory; this verification is done in a document which discharges the retiring official, and places the responsibility on his successor; as in the case of the inventory, two or three copies of this document are to be made. During the period of management the administrator must keep his inventory up to date, that is to say, he must make a record, with due legal formalities, of any property acquired, alienated, changed, or reinvested. Finally, during his episcopal visitations, the bishop, who has the right of approving the inventories, must have them produced and see that they are accurate.

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