June 27, 1951
Appeal, No. 1, Jan. T., 1951, from decree of Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County, Nov. T., 1947, in Equity, No. 3, in case of Most Reverend Constantine Bohachevsky, Bishop of the Ruthenian Greek Catholic Diocese of the United States v. W. H. Sembrot et al., Trustees. Decree affirmed.
Walter L. Hill, Jr., with him O'Malley, Harris, Harris & Warren, for appellants.
Robert E. O'Brien, with him Edward J. Kelly, W. J. Fitzgerald and Fitzgerald & Kelly, for appellee.
Before Stern, Jones, Bell, Ladner and Chidsey, JJ.
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OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE JONES
This is an appeal by the defendants from a final decree in equity entered by the learned court below after full hearing on the complaint of the plaintiff, Most Reverend Constantine Bohachevsky, Bishop of the Ruthenian Greek Catholic Diocese of the United States, and the answer thereto by the defendants. The individual defendants are lay members and officers of SS. Cyril and Methodius Greek Catholic Church of
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Olyphant Borough, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, and several banking depositories of the church which is, and ever since 1892 has been, a Pennsylvania corporation of the first class. The suit was originally instituted by Reverend John Ortynsky, pastor of the church, but, following his death, Bishop Bohachevsky was duly substituted of record as plaintiff.
The plaintiff bishop was assigned to his office, as Bishop of the Ruthenian Greek Catholic Diocese of the United States, in 1924 by His Holiness Pius X, Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. He sought an injunction to restrain the defendants from interfering with priests (appointed and designated by him) in the performance of their duties as pastor and assistant pastor of the Olyphant parish, such duties including, inter alia, the administration of the "temporal" affairs of the church and the control and management of its property and the parish parochial school. Preliminary objections by the defendants were overruled as was also the defendants' motion to dissolve the preliminary injunction granted by the court.
The hearing, which consumed many days, produced a printed record of 1701 pages which includes the testimony taken in a prior related court proceeding: See Siniawa et al. v. Chylak et al., 4 Lackawanna Jurist 207 (1902). A large number of documentary exhibits were also received in evidence. The learned chancellor made findings of fact and conclusions of law and entered a decree nisi awarding the plaintiff the relief prayed for in the bill. Upon exceptions, the chancellor's findings and conclusions and decree nisi were unanimously confirmed by the court en banc which thereupon entered the final decree from which the defendants have appealed.
The question involved in this proceeding is exactly the same as in he case of Kraftician v. St. Peter and St. Paul's Russian Greek Catholic Congregation of
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A Greek Catholic Church in union with Rome is a church which is subject to the jurisdiction and control of the Pope and of the authorities of the Roman Catholic Church of the diocese wherein the church and its property are located. Such a church is also known as a Uniate Church. In the Kraftician case, as in the instant case, the learned chancellor found the Greek Catholic Church, there involved, to be a Uniate Church. However, in that case the court en banc, composed of the chancellor and two other judges, unanimously overruled three of the chancellor's crucial findings of ultimate fact, made findings to opposite effect, set aside the decree nisi and entered a final decree awarding the particular injunctive relief there sought on the ground that the defendant church was an independent and autocephalous church not under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome. On appeal, we
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affirmed, necessarily, because we were without right or justification to interfere with the lower court's conclusions which were reasonable and proper inferences from the many and unexcepted to findings which were not open to attack here: see Malanchuk et al. v. St. Mary's Greek Catholic Church of McKees Rocks, 336 Pa. 385, 396, 9 A.2d 350. While a chancellor's inferences and ultimate conclusions from primary facts are always open to review (Custis v. Serrill, 321 Pa. 154, 156, 183 A. 774), they will not be set aside unless we are able to say that they are unreasonable and unjustifiable inferences on the basis of the unexceptionable facts found: cf. More v. People's Bank & Trust Company, 297 Pa. 252, 259, 146 A. 896. For that reason the ultimate conclusions of the court en banc in the Kraftician case necessarily prevailed.
Likewise, here, we have no alternative but to affirm the decree of the learned court below. Our examination of the voluminous record convinces us that the chancellor's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence; and, having received the approval of the court en banc, they are binding upon us on review. As stated in Custis v. Serrill, supra, at p. 156, -- "The rule is long established that the findings of a chancellor, when affirmed by the court in banc, have the force and effect of a jury's verdict, and, ordinarily, will not be disturbed on appeal: [citing cases]." Indeed, when findings are unexcepted to as a number of the present are, we are under no duty to examine the record to ascertain whether they are supported by evidence: Himrod v. McFayden, 283 Pa. 103, 105, 128 A. 733.
Thus, it is conclusively established in this case that "The people, who founded and established SS. Cyril and Methodius Greek Catholic Church in the Borough of Olyphant, intended to and did establish a Catholic church of the Greek Rite in union with
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Rome." The record leaves no doubt as to the verity of that finding. And, that determines, for all legal purposes, the character of church it is: see Church of God v. Church of God, 355 Pa. 478, 485, 50 A.2d 357; and Canovaro v. Brothers of The Order of Hermits of St. Augustine, 326 Pa. 76, 82, 191 A. 140. Indeed, the appellants admit that the church has at all times been a Uniate Church; yet, they deny the authority and jurisdiction of the Pope in certain respects. The contention amounts to a denial of terms. The chancellor found, and the appellants have not excepted to the finding, -- "That according to ecclesiastical law the Pope is the head of both the Latin Rite and Oriental Rite and he is the supreme authority in all matters of faith, morals, discipline and ceremonies. In this capacity, he appoints all bishops in all rites. The priests, in turn, are appointed by the bishop. The control of the property of the church, ecclesiastically, both real and personal, under Canon Law, is in the Bishop and in the priest as his representative in a particular parish." From that and other unassailable findings, the chancellor's legal conclusion properly followed that, -- "The church involved herein is a religious corporation organized and existing under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and is subject to all of the laws, rules and regulations of the Greek Rite under the jurisdiction of the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, and is under ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the plaintiff Bishop." The plaintiff was therefore entitled to the relief sought.
Decree affirmed, the parties to bear their respective costs.
Decree affirmed, the parties to bear their respective costs.