Here are a few more odds and ends about the Church as a corporation that I was able to find out. First, I wanted to correct two mistakes in my earlier posts. I recently found out that after Joseph Smith was murdered, it was not Brigham Young and the Twelve who succeeded to the office of trustee-in-trust. Rather, Bishop Newel K. Whitney was appointed, which means that he was the legal agent in charge of Church property during the City of Joseph period. Second, upon rereading the corporate charter granted to the Church by the State of Deseret, I noticed that it did contain a rather watered down mortmain provision, which stated that the Church could receive donations of real and personal property “for the benefit, improvement, erection of houses for public worship, and instruction, and the well being of said church.” Obviously, “well being of said church” provided a much larger grant of power than that available under the previous Illinois statute.
What about the Church today?
The Church today no longer exists as a special charter corporation that way that it did during Utah’s pioneer period. Rather, as near as I can tell its core corporate existence is organized around two corporations sole: The Corporation of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Corporation of the Presiding Bishopric of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The corporation sole is one of the oldest corporate forms. It incorporates a particular person, or more precisely a particular office. In Anglo-American law the oldest corporation sole is probably the King of England. The King, in contemplation of law, is a corporation composed of all of the people that have ever occupied the office. Hence, Elizabeth Winsor does not personally own the property of the English monarchy. Rather, that property is held by a corporation sole – the king or queen – which existed long before her coronation and will (presumably) exist long after her death. Other examples of corporations sole would be bishops of the Church of England, parsons, and the mayors of many towns. As early as 1786 parsons in Massachusetts were treated as corporations sole. What is interesting, is that the corporation consists of the office holder not of the organization in which he or she holds office. Thus, while the State of Deseret charter of the Church incorporated “all that portion of the inhabitants of said State, which now are, or hereafter may become residents therein, and which are known and distinguished as ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’,” the Corporation of the First Presidency incorporates only those who do and have held the office.
In addition to these two corporations, there are two other main corporate entities of which I am aware. The first is Intellectual Reserve Inc., which holds all of the Church’s copyrights and other intellectual property. The second is Deseret Management Corporation. This corporation is a holding company which owns all of the Church’s stock in for profit businesses, such as KSL or the Deseret News. I don’t know what form either of these corporations take, although I am assuming that Deseret Management Corp. is a regular joint-stock business company. Also, in addition to these four Utah based corporations, my understanding is that there are dozens of other Church corporations organized under the laws of other countries to hold and manage Church property in those nations and act as the Church’s legal personality there.