Paul Matzko Erskine, Wolfson, Matzko & Pierson, Philadelphia, for appellants.
Joseph N. Bongiovanni, Jr., James E. Riely, Speese, Kephart & Bongiovanni, Philadelphia, for appellee.
Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Roberts, J., filed a dissenting opinion. Manderino, J., filed a dissenting opinion.
This is an appeal from a final decree in equity holding that Sts. Peter and Paul Greek Catholic Church of Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, a corporation, is and has been since its founding a uniate Greek Catholic Church in union with Rome. The appellants are former officers of the church corporation. The appellee is Ambrose Senyshyn, Archbishop of The Philadelphia Metropolitan of the Ukrainian Catholics of the Byzantine Rite of the United States, who instituted this action to enjoin the appellants from interfering with "the operation" of the church and to secure from the appellants an accounting of certain church assets alleged to be in their possession.
The dispute arose when two separate factions of the congregation elected different sets of officers and directors of the church corporation. On November 15, 1969, an annual meeting was called by the appellants, the then officers and directors, for the purpose of electing new officers and a Board of Directors. This meeting was, however, adjourned without any balloting. When appellants, after repeated requests, failed to reconvene a meeting for the aforementioned purpose, the pastor of the church, Father Paul Burak, called a meeting of the congregation. This meeting was conducted May 31, 1970, and resulted in the election of certain officers and directors. On June 18, 1970, the appellants convened another meeting at which they were re-elected to the offices they had previously held. Thus, there were two competing groups laying claim to the same offices. The appellants remained in control of the church property and assets.
In an effort to resolve the controversy, the appellee, in his official capacity as head of the Philadelphia Archparchy, convened a Board of Inquiry. After two meetings at the church, the Board of Inquiry issued a written report
containing its findings and recommendations. Pursuant to the report, the appellee on December 13, 1970, issued an official written order: (1) appointing a committee of advisory councilors to the church, effective immediately; (2) directing that all property of the church be delivered to the custody of the pastor; and (3) authorizing church collections to be taken only by ushers duly designated by the pastor. After appellants failed to comply with appellee's order, the appellee brought this action.
The crucial issue on this appeal is whether Sts. Peter and Paul is a uniate church under Archbishop Senyshyn's jurisdiction.*fn1
Our inquiry must begin with a determination of the ecclesiastical nature of Sts. Peter and Paul on the date of founding, inasmuch as Pennsylvania law prohibits a diversion of church property from a use to which it was initially dedicated to an inconsistent use. See the Lay Control of Church Property Act, Act of April 26, 1855, P.L. 328, as amended, 10 P.S. § 81. See also St. John Chrysostom Creek Catholic Church of Pittsburgh v. Elko, 436 Pa. 243, 259 A.2d 419 (1969), cert. denied 399 U.S. 920, 90 S.Ct. 2258, 26 L.Ed.2d 786 (1970); Gabster v. Mesaros, 422 Pa. 116, 220 A.2d 639 (1966); Schnorr's Appeal, 67 Pa. 138 (1870). Accordingly, if Sts. Peter and Paul were at its inception uniate, it remains so today. On the other hand, if it were founded as an independent church, it is and remains autonomous.
On April 9, 1973, following an extended hearing, the chancellor entered a decree nisi*fn2 pursuant to Pa.R.Civ.P.
based upon his conclusion that Sts. Peter and Paul had been founded as a uniate church in union with Rome and was subject to the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Pope of Rome. Exceptions to this adjudication and decree were dismissed by the court en banc,*fn3 and the chancellor's decree was made final.
The appellant's main argument is that the chancellor erred in going beyond the 1893 charter of the church corporation to resolve the instant dispute. The chancellor, relying in part upon our decision in St. John Chrysostom Greek Catholic Church of Pittsburgh v. Elko, supra, ruled that the charter was inconclusive as to the ecclesiastical nature of Sts. Peter and Paul and in his search for the ultimate authority in the church admitted evidence of subsequent rituals and practices.
Specifically, the appellants urge the following four aspects of the charter conclusively determine the intent of the church founders to establish an independent church free of hierarchical authority: (1) the name given the church; (2) the purpose expressed; (3) a consideration of what the charter omits to state; and (4) the provision vesting control of church property in the majority of lay members of the congregation.
The charter recites the name of the church as "The Greek Catholic Church of Mount Carmel". This Court has previously noted that the term "Greek Catholic" can refer to: (1) an independent church; (2) an orthodox church under a patriarch; or (3) a uniate church (i. e.
in union with Rome). St. John Chrysostom Greek Catholic Church of Pittsburgh v. Elko, supra, 436 Pa. at 250, n. 4, 259 A.2d at 422, n. 4. Hence, the ambiguity of this term prevents the drawing of a definitive conclusion as to the type of church the founders intended to create.
The purpose of the charter suffers from the same ambiguity. The charter recites the purpose of the proposed corporation to be "the support of the public worship of Almighty God according to the faith and the doctrines of the Greek Catholic Church in the United States . . . ." Again, since the term "Greek Catholic" is not clear and free of ambiguity, a definitive conclusion cannot be deduced from the purpose clause.
The appellants urge that the omission of any words such as "uniate" or "united" demonstrates a lack of intention on the founders' part to affiliate with any hierarchical organization. If the founders' intent were so to affiliate, appellants argue, there would have been no simpler way to express that intent than by the inclusion of such words. This argument, however, is a two-edged sword. It can just as readily be inferred that the absence of the term "independent" or "autonomous" or ...