MUNICIPALITY OF PONCE v. ROMAN CATHOLIC APOSTOLIC CHURCH IN PORTO(1908)
[210 U.S. 296, 297] This suit was commenced by the Roman Catholic Church in Porto Rico through the bishop of that diocese, against the municipality of Ponce. The complaint fully set forth the facts by reason of which relief was demanded. A demurrer was interposed, which was overruled, and leave to answer granted, which defendant having failed to do, judgment was entered by default.
It appeared that the Roman Catholic Church had been for many years in the lawful and peaceful possession of two churches, or temples, one in Ponce and one in Playa, the port of Ponce, dedicated, consecrated to, and always used by, the Catholic Church for its worship.
The petition alleged, among other things, that 'these temples or churches were built with the funds of the municipality within which they are situated, and since then they have been maintained by donations and alms from the parishioners; and, with respect to them, their possession by the Catholic Church runs for many years, counting from the time when the building [210 U.S. 296, 298] of the same was completed. And none of the buildings of those temples, since they were built, have been used for any other purpose than Catholic worship.'
In 1827, by reason of steps taken by the royal alcalde of Ponce and by the then governor of the island, Don Simon de la Torre, a board or commission having jurisdiction over the repairing and conservation of churches advised the governor that it was 'in keeping with the decorum of a rich and Christian city like Ponce to have a temple which would show that such conditions existed, covered with an arched roof, and not a roof of thatch,' etc.
The petition describes with considerable minuteness of detail the various steps taken to rebuild or repair this church at Ponce. The last estimate for repairs was made in 1872
It is evident from the record that the sums expended came from several distinct sources--
(1) funds voluntarily contributed by the parishioners; (2) the funds of the 'House of the King;' (3) an assessment made in 1835-6; (4) moneys advanced by the municipality.
As to the church at Playa, it was erected in part, at least, with funds donated by the parishioners, and apparently on private land.
Whether the funds subsequently used for repairs of either or both of the temples were in part derived directly from the municipality or merely taken by way of loan was a matter between the central government and the municipality, which could not affect the title of the church under the thenexisting relations between church and state.
The complaint then alleged:
The supreme court of Porto Rico rendered the following judgment at San Juan, Porto Rico, May 21, 1906:
The case was then appealed to this court, and the following errors assigned:
Mr. Frederick L Cornwell for appellant. [210 U.S. 296, 302] Messrs. Frederic R. Coudert, Howard Thayer Kingsbury, and Paul Fuller for appellee.
Statement by Mr. Chief Justice Fuller: [210 U.S. 296, 303]
Mr. Chief Justice Fuller delivered the opinion of the court:
This suit was brought under an act of the legislative assembly of Porto Rico, entitled, 'An Act to Confer Original Jurisdiction on the Supreme Court of Porto Rico for the Trial and Adjudication of Certain Rpoperty Claimed by the Roman Catholic Church in Porto Rico,' approved March 10, 1904, as follows:
The power to confer this jurisdiction was derived from the act of Congress creating an organized government for Porto Rico, approved April 12, 1900, usually called the Foraker act (31 Stat. at L. 77, chap. 191).
Section 8 of this act provides:
It is further provided ( 15):
The paragraph relating to the judiciary is as follows ( 33):
Clearly, under these sections of the organic act the legislative assembly had express authority to legislate regarding the jurisdiction and procedure of its courts. While the jurisdiction of the other courts might be changed, the proper interpretation of the statute prevents the legislative assembly from passing an act in any wise affecting the jurisdiction of the supreme court or the district courts.
In Kent v. Porto Rico, 207 U.S. 113 , 115, ante, 55, 56, 28 Sup. Ct. Rep. 55, 56, it was contended that an act of the local legislature, creating additional judicial districts, and changing those fixed by the military orders and local law, referred to in the organic act, and also reducing the number of judges in the district court from three to one, 'was void, because in conflict with the provisions of the 33d section of the act of Congress,' the same one here relied upon by the appellant as making the jurisdiction of the courts unchangeable save by Congress.
But to that contention this court replied:
It is true that the act of Congress of July 30, 1886 (24 Stat. at L. 170, chap. 818), enacts 'that the legislatures of the territories of the United States now or hereafter to be organized shall not pass local or special laws in any of the following enumerated cases;' and among the prohibitions are those against 'regulating the practice in courts of justice,' and granting 'to any corporation, association, or individual any special or exclusive privileged, immunity, or franchise.' But such general prohibitions have no application where specific permission to the contrary is granted by the organic act applying to the particular territories. [210 U.S. 296, 308] This act is not a special law regulating the practice in courts of justice, nor one granting to any corporation, association, or individual any special or exclusive privilege, immunity, or franchise. It confers the same right upon the people of Porto Rico and upon the municipalities as upon the church.
In the organic acts for the territories (59th Congress, Senate Doc. 148) it appears that it has been usual for Congress to give the local legislatures the power to regulate the jurisdiction and procedure of their courts.
In Hornbuckle v. Toombs, 18 Wall. 648, 21 L. ed. 966, after reviewing the question, the court, speaking through Mr. Justice Bradley, said:
... * *
The Porto Rican act under consideration merely repeats the action of Congress in the past in organizing other territories. The appellant contends 'that the Roman Catholic Church of Porto Rico has not the legal capacity to sue, for the [210 U.S. 296, 309] reason that it is not a judicial person, nor a legal entity, and is without legal incorporation. . . . If it is a corporation or association, we submit to the court that it is necessary for the Roman Catholic Church to specifically allege its incorporation, where incorporated, and by virtue of what authority or law it was incorporated; and, if a foreign corporation, show that it has filed its articles of incorporation or association in the proper office of the government, in accordance with the laws of Porto Rico.'
Since April 11, 1899, Porto Rico has been de facto and de jure American territory. The history of Porto Rico and its legal and political institutions up to the time of its annexation to the United States are matters which must be recognized by this court as the ancient laws and institutions of many of our states when matters come before it from their several jurisdictions.
The court will take judicial notice of the Spanish law as far as it affects our insular possessions. It is pro tanto no longer foreign law.
The Civil Code in force in Cuba, Porto Rico, and the Philippines at the time of the treaty of Paris [30 Stat. at L. 1754] contains these provisions (art. 35):
The phrase 'agreed upon by both powers' refers to the concordats or treaties between the holy See and the Spanish Crown, which recognize the right of the church to possess and acquire property. [210 U.S. 296, 310] The law thus recognized at the time of the cession the juristic personality and legal status of the church.
In Ortega v. Lara, 202 U.S. 339, 342 , 50 S. L. ed. 1055, 1056, 26 Sup. Ct. Rep. 707, 708, this court said:
Article 8 of the treaty of Paris is to this effect:
The mortgage law, in force in Porto Rico both before the cession and at present, provided for the registration generally of 'title deeds of real property or property rights owned or administered by the state or by civil or ecclesiastical corporations, subject to the provisions of laws or regulations.' (Art. 2, paragraph 6.)
But this was qualified by the general regulations for the execution of the mortgage law (see translation of general regulations for the execution of the mortgage law for Cuba, Porto Rico, and the Philippines, War Department, 1899), which provided:
Of course, the temples in question were not subject to the registration law, and were recognized as a peculiar class of property, wholly different from that belonging to private individuals.
Counsel for appellee well argues that the Roman Catholic Church has been recognized as possessing a legal personality and the capacity to take and acquire property since the time of the Emperor Constantine. And he quotes from the Code of Justinian the law of Constantine of 321 to that effect.
The strictest prohibition against alienating the property of [210 U.S. 296, 312] the church exists in that code, and it provides that the alienation of church property shall not take place, even with the assent of all the representatives of the church, since these rights 'belong to the church,' and the church is the mother of religion; and as faith is perpetual, its patrimony must be preserved in its entirety perpetually.
In his History of Latin Christianity (vol. 1, p. 507), Dean Milman says:
And Milman also points out that in the barbarian codes most sweeping provisions are found, recognizing the right of the church to acquire property, and its inalienability when acquired. Church property everywhere remained untouched by the rude hands of invading barbarians. Trespass upon or interference with such property was severely punished, and gradually it became exempted from taxation.
The historic continuity of the juristicconception, exemplified by the civil law, is mantained by the Partidas, the fundamental code of ancient Spanish law, whose provisions show that whoever built a church was required to provide it with an adequate perpetual endowment as well as a site, and refute any idea of a retention of ownership by the donor of the land or the contributors to the building.
In law 1, title 11, part 1, it is stated:
In law 1, title 14, part 1, we find a general prohibition against the alienation of church property, certain exceptions being enumerated.
While law 2 provides that, when alienation is permitted, it shall be made only by the prelates, with the authorization of their chapters; that lands shall be sold only in default of sufficient personalty to meet the requirements of the case, and that lands given by the Emperor or the King shall never be alienated.
Then law 6, title 29, part 3, the law governing prescription, provided that 'a consecrated, or holy, or religious thing cannot be acquired by lapse of time.'
Again, law 26, title 29, part 3, provided that lands belonging to the church (but apparently, not actually, consecrated) cannot be acquired by prescription in less than forty years; that destructible personal effects can be acquired by prescription in three years; and then: 'But the others, which belong to the Church of Rome exclusively, cannot to acquired by anyone in less than one hundred years.'
This was in substance the law of Spain and the rest of Europe throughout the middle ages, certain modifications being made in the way of prohibitions limiting the right to give to the church, which in no way affected the juristic personality of the church, or its general right to hold and acquire property in its corporate capacity.
As to England, the concept of the church as a corporation was worked out by the English canonists and fully recognized by the ordinary law courts before the end of the fourteenth century; and Pollock and Maitland show that the English ecclesiastical law was practically similar to that of continental Europe in its recognition of the property rights of the church. [210 U.S. 296, 314] In this country it was held in Terrett v. Taylor (1815) 9 Cranch, 43, 3 L. ed. 650, that the legislature of Virginia could not authorize any persons to take land formerly granted to the Church of England. Mr. Justice Story, speaking for the court, says (p. 49):
This court further held that it made no difference whether the church was a voluntary society or clothed with corporate powers; and the local authorities were restrained from interfering with the church property or claiming title thereto.
It is the settled law of this court that a dedication to a public or charitable use may exist, even where there is no specific corporate entity to take as grantee. Werlein v. New Orleans, 177 U.S. 390, 401 , 44 S. L. ed. 817, 822, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 682; and see Beatty v. Kurtz, 2 Pet. 566, 7 L. ed. 521.
The Spanish law as to the juristic capacity of the church at the time of the cession merely followed the principles of the Roman law, which have had such universal acceptance, both [210 U.S. 296, 315] in the law of continental Europe and in the common law of England.
Roman Catholicism has been the official religion of Spain since time of the Visigoths. As far as the church in Spanish-America was concerned, the King of Spain was supreme patron. See Alcubilla, vol. 8, p. 662.
The laws enacted in Spain for the government of the Indies, and promulgated at different periods, were compiled by order of Philip IV. in 1661, in the 'Recopilaci on' of the Laws of the Indies, of which a subsequent edition was published. This is the only authentic collection of the ordinances and decrees governing Spanish-America prior to the year 1860. Alcubilla, vol. 9, p. 936.
Under the bulls of Julius II. and Alexander XI. there were conceded to the Spanish Crown all the tithes of the Indies, under the condition of endowing the church and providing the priests with proper support. The church in Spanish-America, through his royal patronage, came into possession of considerable properties. The right of the church to own, maintain, and hold such properties was unquestioned, and the church continued in undisputed possession thereof.
In the year 1820 the Spanish revolutionary government passed certain confiscatory laws as to monasteries and other ecclesiastical foundations, but even these revolutionary enactments left the actual temples undisturbed.
There was further legislation to the same effect in 1835, and again in 1837; but this legislation does not appear to have ever been extended to the colonies, although it was wrongfully but effectually applied there by the seizure of church properties, afterwards agreed to be restored by the concordats of 1851 and 1859. After more than twenty-five years of intermittent conflict between church and state, the Spanish government and the papacy concluded the concordat of March 16, 1851, which had in Spain the force of law, and which was promulgated in the insular possessions. Alcubilla, vol. 3, p. 94, Diccionario de la Administraci on Espa nola. [210 U.S. 296, 316] By the first article of this concordat it is provided:
Article 11 of the Spanish Constitution of 1876 is to the same effect. Alcubilla, vol. 3, p. 357.
There are numerous provisions in the concordat fixing the amounts to be paid by the state for the support of the church and for the settlement of other causes of difficulty between the Crown and the Roman See, and art. 41 specifically recognizes the church's 'right of property in everything it now possesses or may hereafter acquire.' Alcubilla, vol. 3, p. 109.
In 1859, as a further guaranty of the property rights of the church, an additional concordat was made between the Spanish Crown and the Roman See. The first article of this, reciting the unfortunate events by reason of which ecclesiastical properties have been wrongfully taken, obligates the Spanish Crown not to sell or alienate any of these properties without the permission of the Holy See.
The third article reads as follows:
The difficulties between church and state incident to the revolutionary movement were thus adjusted; but in 1868, during the r egime of the provisional government, there were [210 U.S. 296, 317] certain decrees closing all conventual establishments, etc., but the relations between the church and the government were finally restored by King Alfonso XII., who, in January, 1875, issued a decree, returning to the church all the property belonging to the clergy which was still in the hands of the government.
None of these revolutionary decrees disturbed actual church edifices, but were directed almost wholly against conventual properties, belonging to the various congregations or monastic orders. The attacks were directed against the property of the regular clergy, and not that of the seculars.
Under the civil law of Spain, the collection of tithes and first fruits of land and stock was obligatory. First, they were collected by the church, but later collected by the government and turned over to the church. The levy of such tithes finally disappeared under the concordat, because the government paid all expenses of worship.
In Report No. 2977, Senate Doc. 57th Congress, 2d Session, the subject was discussed, and, in accordance with the terms of the concordat, down to the occupation of Porto Rico by the American troops in August, 1898, amounts were regularly appropriated by the Spanish government for the expenses of worship in Spain, Cuba, Porto Rico, and the Philippines.
At the date of the American military occupation neither the state nor the municipalities, directly or indirectly, disputed or questioned the legitimate ownership and possession by the church of the property occupied by her, including temples, parochial houses, seminaries, and ecclesiastical buildings of every description. It is only since the occupation that some of the ayuntamientos have evinced a desire to deprive the church of her temples, under the pretext that they were built with municipal funds.
At the time of the American occupation the Catholic Church was the only church in the island. In 1900, Governor Allen, in the first annual report, said:
This was the status at the moment of the annexation, and, by reason of the treaty, as well as under the rules of international law prevailing among civilized nations, this property is inviolable.
The corporate existence of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as the position occupied by the papacy, have always been recognized by the government of the United States.
At one time the United States maintained diplomatic relations with the papal states, which continued up to the time of the loss of the temporal power of the papacy. 1 Moore's Dig. of International Law, pp. 130, 131.
The Holy See still occupies a recognized position in international law, of which the courts must take judicial notice.
After the cession of Louisiana by France to the United States certain questions came up as to the title to lands granted by the King of Spain to the Roman Catholic Church. The opinion of Attorney General Wirt having been asked thereon, he wrote as follows, 1 Ops. Atty. Gen. 563:
The proposition, therefore, that the church had no corporate or jural personality, seems to be completely answered by an examination of the law and history of the Roman Empire, of Spain, and of Porto Rico down to the time of the cession, and by the recognition accorded to it as an ecclesiastical body by the treaty of Paris and by the law of nations.
Appellant claims that there were some laws of Porto Rico which should have been complied with before the Roman Catholic church could have any corporate existence or right to sue. It may be assumed that he refers to the various laws of Porto Rico relating to the formation and regulation of business corporations. But it is plain that none of these laws have any application to the church and never were so intended.
If the people of Porto Rico had passed some law by which the manner of holding properties by ecclesiastical bodies through trustees or otherwise, or the method in which such body should be represented before the courts, were prescribed, a different question would arise. But there was no such law, and by the Spanish law, from the earliest moment of the settlement of the island to the present time, the corporate existence of the Catholic Church has been recognized. As counsel for the appellee says: 'At the very least, and even assuming that for centuries the church had not been recognized as a body of equal [210 U.S. 296, 320] importance with the state in Porto Rico, but that it was a merely de facto organization or as sociation holding property, it would nevertheless have sufficient standing to maintain this suit.'
There is no pretense in the corporation law of regulating the manner in which the Roman Catholic Church or any other religious corporation or body shall hold its property. No question of conformity to any law of soci et es cultuelles or of 'associations' or religious societies can here arise, since there are no statutes relating to any such genus of legal or artifical persons.
The general law as to corporations is found in titles 1 and 2 of the Civil Code now in force. We give in the margin 27, 29, 30, and part of 65.1
1Sec. 27. The following are artificial persons:
(1) Corporations, associations, and institutions of public interest, having artificial personality recognized by law.
The personality of such bodies shall commence from the moment of their establishment in accordance with law.
(2) Private associations, whether civil, commercial, or industrial, to which the law grants legal personality.
Sec. 29. The civil status of corporations shall be governed by the laws which create or recognize them; that of associations by their by-laws; and that of institutions by the rules of their establishment, duly approved by administrative action, when such requisite be necessary.
Sec. 30. Artificial persons may acquire and possess property of all kinds and also contract obligations and institute civil and criminal actions in accordance with the laws and regulation of their establishment.
Sec. 65. All corporations or joint stock companies, organized under the laws of any state, or of the United States, or of any foreign government, shall, before doing business within this island, file in the office of the secretary a duly authenticated copy of their charters or articles of incorporation, and also a statement verified by the oath of the president and secretary of said corporation, and attested by the majority of its board of directors, showing--
(1) The name of such corporation and the location of its principal office or place of business, without this island; and, if it is to have any place of business or principal office within this island, the location thereof.
(2) The amount of its capital stock.
(3) The amount of its capital stock actually paid in, in money.
(4) The amount of its capital stock paid in, in any other way, and in what, etc. [210 U.S. 296, 321] Domestic corporation law is equally inapplicable. Its terms are found in the Civil Code, title 2, chap. 1, and have reference solely to business or commercial corporations. No religious, eleemosynary, or charitable corporation can fall within its purview. Stock, stockholders, capital, surplus, officers, directors, the doing of business-are the basic elements of this statute.
The properties of the church in Cuba and the Philippines at the time of the ratification of the treaty were far more considerable than those in Porto Rico. And the controversies or questions arising as to those properties have been quite generally adjusted in both Cuba and the Philippines, partly with, and partly without, recourse to the courts. In Cuba a commission was appointed to consider the whole question, and its report contains much interesting and pertinent information. It begins with the fundamental proposition that: 'The church, as a juridical person, has held and holds the right to acquire, possess, or transfer all kinds of properties. The church has never been denied this right in Spain; rather, on the contrary, in all the provisions covering these matters this right has been recognized in the church.' Sen. Rep. 2977, 57th Cong. 2d Sess. p. 12.
On this admitted basis was concluded a satisfactory adjustment of the difficult problem incident to the transfer of sovereignty from a r egime of union of church and state to the American system of complete separation.
Even greater difficulties were settled in the Philippines, and the American government never suggested that the church was without juristic capacity to possess or protect property rights. The suggestion that it did not possess a license from the local authorities 'to do business' was never put forward.
Whether these ecclesiastical properties originally came from the state or any subdivision thereof, they were donated to, at once became, and have ever since remained, the property and in the peaceful possession of the Roman Catholic Church.
In the Philippines, the supreme court of the islands has recently treated these questions in an interesting and satisfactory opinion. Barlin v. Ramirez, 7 Philippine, 41. The [210 U.S. 296, 322] suggestion, made there as here, that the church was not a legal person, entitled to maintain its property rights in the courts, the supreme court answered by saying that it did not require serious consideration when 'made with reference to an institution which antedates, by almost a thousand years, any other personality in Europe.'
It is urged that the complaint does not state facts sufficient to constitute any cause of action, and that it admits that the property in question was constructed out of funds of the municipality of Ponce, Porto Rico. This contention has been sufficiently answered. Counsel for appellee rightly says that--
In his statement to His Holiness, the Pope, when on special mission, Mr. Taft, the then governor general of the Philippines, said, in referring to those islands:
All the public funds employed in church buildings and other property were appropriated for that purpose without any reservation or restriction whatever, being approved according to law by the representatives of the nation in the Cortes, or by those of the towns in the common councils. Therefore the application of funds thus appropriated and voted by the legitimate mandataries of the nation or of the municipalities constituted, from the standpoint of law and justice, a perfect, irrevocable gift.
Certain objections in the nature of matters of procedure made by appellant we do not think we need consider. They may be classified as follows:
(1) Misjoinder of causes of action; (2) insufficiency and irregularity of form; (3) bar of statute of limitations; and (4) lack of authority to bring suit in name of the church.
We do not regard either of these as possessing sufficient merit to require discussion.
We accept the conclusions of appellee's counsel as thus summarized: