Municipality of Ponce v. Roman Catholic Apostolic Church in Porto Rico

Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

210 U.S. 296

Municipality of Ponce  v.  Roman Catholic Apostolic Church in Porto Rico

 Argued: and Submitted March 3, 1908. --- Decided: June 1, 1908

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 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:

'13. The city council of the city of Ponce has included in the inventory of its property the parochial church described in the first allegation of the complaint, on the ground that, from time immemorial, the said church has been included in that inventory. We do not know the exact date on which that inventory may have been made, but, according to the information we have, it only runs back a few years from this date.

'14. After the change of sovereignty, the city council of Ponce attempted to record in the registry of property the possession of the said church, and the lot upon which the same is situated; but, in view of the fact that this was contrary to the provisions of paragraph 2 of article 25 of the regulations for the application of the mortgage law, which excludes the inscription of public temples used for Catholic worship, the registrar of property of the district of Ponce refused to make the inscription unless a decision be obtained from the secretary of justice to authorize the same, notwithstanding the prohibitive provisions of the regulations. The secretary of justice rendered the decision applied for, repealing, without being a legislative authority, the said article 25 of the regulations in its second paragraph.'


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).