Tom Featherston, the Mills Cox Chair of Law at Baylor Law School, had a busy summer filled with professional activities. He made presentations at the American Bar Association's Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Spring Symposium in Philadelphia, the State Bar of Texas' Advanced Estate Planning and Probate Course in San Antonio and the Skills Training for Estate Planners program, sponsored by the ABA's Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section held annually in New York City. He also attended the annual leadership meetings of the ABA's Real Property, Trust and Estate Section. But he said one of his most intriguing experiences took place in June in Chicago. Below he recounts his experience.
"I had probably one of my most interesting professional experiences in June. I had been asked to serve as the state law expert by a Roman Catholic diocese during a church arbitration proceeding to be held in Chicago. The dispute with another Roman Catholic diocese was essentially over the interpretation of a decedent's will and involved an interesting mix of state law, canon law and Constitutional law concepts. The process called for a three day proceeding presided over by an arbitration panel, consisting of a Roman Catholic Bishop, a priest who was an expert of canon law, and a Catholic university law school professor. The panel had also retained a state law expert to advise them. Each diocese had its own state law expert and canon law expert.
Each day the proceeding was preceded by a Mass lead by one of the three Bishops involved. On the third day, I was asked by a Bishop to participate in the liturgical readings. In view of there being three Bishops and about five other priests sitting behind me as I read, I was more nervous doing that than testifying during the proceeding.
The arbitration procedure required the arbitration panel to make a recommendation to the Vatican, and the ultimate decision was to be made by the Pope. Fortunately, the dispute resolution process worked, and the Bishops of the two dioceses reached a settlement the evening following the second day of the proceeding. About the same time, the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, and the fans of Chicago went wild on Michigan Avenue as we were walking back to our hotel from dinner."