Key point 6-07.05. Church board members may be personally liable for diverting designated funds or trust funds to some other purpose.
* The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom prevented it from resolving the claims of a donor that her gift to her church should be rescinded due to misrepresentations made by the pastor at the time of the gift. An Italian immigrant (James) established a successful gravel business and owned several tracts of land. Upon the death of James and his wife, most of their property passed to their six children. The pastor of a Catholic church was interested in acquiring an 8-acre tract from the family as the site of a new sanctuary. Two of the six siblings agreed to donate their interest in the land to the church, but the other four siblings were reluctant to transfer their interests until the pastor assured them that the new church would be named "St. James" in honor of their father, and that the church would remain a tribute to James "forever." During the negotiations for the property the pastor did not inform any members of the family that canon law permitted the closure of the church in the future. A church was constructed on the land in 1958. By the 1990s, however, question arose concerning the continuing viability of the church. A local newspaper story listed the church among those that the archdiocese planned to close. The current pastor of the church assured the congregation that the story was false. The church launched a capital fundraising campaign. A retiree in her 80s (Eileen) contributed $35,000 to the campaign. She later testified, "If I had known that the archdiocese … was giving any consideration to closing St. James, I would not have made the gift of $35,000." In 2004, the archdiocese ordered the closure of St. James. During one of the last worship services before the church closed, Eileen asked the pastor, "Why didn't you tell us the church was closing?" He replied, "I didn't know it."