Monday, 26 October 2009

On the money

It would seem that for the TAC the decision is simple: there is nothing to lose, and an awful lot to gain, by accepting the Holy Father's offer. I imagine, then, that most, if not all, provinces will do so, and even when provinces don't, individual congregations will do so. This is because there will be very little sacrifice involved except, I suppose, a certain autonomy. They already own their churches, halls and rectories, so for those who do accept the Pope's offer, it will pretty well be business as usual once the modus operandi for reception/ordination has been worked out.
With the Church of England, it is the other way round. They are accustomed to having others make decisions for them (Synod &c), and in a direction they don't like. Autonomy has had to be wrested from those who would not willingly grant it. But for the most part they don't own their property and, as I have remarked before, the Church Commissioners are unlikely to feel in a generous mood. But perhaps I am being unduly cynical. Having listened to the Sunday Programme yesterday, I was struck how the three interviewed parties; an Evangelical bishop, a woman priest and academic and a bishop likely to accept the offer, all substantially agreed. The Evangelical and the lady were surprisingly warm about the scheme. And why wouldn't they be? Their jobs have just become a lot easier; there will now be only negligible opposition to their projects. This might dispose them to be in a generous mood and allow the secession of church buildings in places where there is a superabundance of them (as in Brighton, for instance). And, as I mentioned before, maybe a redundant church or two may be pressed into service.
The trouble is that, as I read on another blog (perhaps it was OneTimothyFour), lay Anglicans are disposed to love their bricks more than their bishops. I can envisage a situation whereby, if property transfer is not agreed, a large number of clergy may swim the Tiber, bringing their English Hymnals, their volumes of Pusey and the odd buckled shoe, but leaving their congregations behind, distressed at the choice they have had to make, but in the end prepared to put up with Bishop Susan and Father Margaret rather than leave St Disibod-by-the-Gasometer.
For some churches, I imagine this will not apply. I don't think all churches are owned by the Church Commissioners, or the Crown, or whoever. The shrine at Walsingham springs to mind (wouldn't it be wonderful to be able to worship there!) and maybe St Bartholomew's, Brighton (which made some very tentative enquiries Romeward in the early nineties). No doubt there are others. But if there really are going to be over a thousand clergy taking up the Pope's offer, then these churches are going to be like olden days, with a dozen curates each, or possibly a hundred. That won't do.
I don't imagine, either, that existing RC dioceses, many already strapped for cash, are going to be able to take on the burden of priests and families without there being some benefit to the diocese. It is possible that in England there may need to be some compromise worked out whereby priests are loaned by the Ordinariate to the dioceses to work in Roman Rite Catholic parishes, which then become liable for their support. These priests can offer Mass according to the Anglican form as and when needed or wished, maybe initially even in their Roman Rite parishes. Over time, congregations will gather, no doubt, and it should eventually become possible to find premises and become self-supporting, then being entirely under the supervision of the Ordinariate.
This loaning of priests from one jurisdiction to another (called fidei donum) is quite common in the Catholic Church, though I have not encountered it much in this country under that name. For some years this diocese sent priests to Chulucanas in Peru, and Portsmouth sent priests to Bamenda in Africa. Priests loaned to English dioceses would remain canonically part of the Ordinariate, and would return to work for it as soon as an opening became available.


Sir Watkin said...

"I don't think all churches are owned by the Church Commissioners, or the Crown, or whoever."

Amusingly, no-one can say exactly who owns the Church of England's churches, parsonages, etc. in general - though there are various views. (But I think one can say that whoever their owner is it's not the Crown or the Church Commissioners.)

In a strict technical sense they belong to the incumbent (because of the "parson's freehold", which has its origins in the sixth century), but as his rights as freeholder are very restricted this is hardly ownership as most people understand it.

When a living is vacant (or suspended) things get even less clear. The property is sequestrated, so any profits go to the bishop, but not the freehold - presumably it is in some sort of limbo.

Not that any of this really matters, because there are processes for alienating property, so that someone can (by purchase etc.) end up as the owner of what had formerly been church property (regardless of the fact that its previous ownership was obscure).

[N.B. There are plenty of special cases, like the Shrine at Walsingham, certain parishes churches, etc., where ordinary property law does apply and ownership is clear.]

Incidentally, who is the legal owner of Roman Catholic churches, etc. in England? And on the continent?

Anonymous said...

Listening to the podcasts from the Forward in Faith conference, most of the Anglo-Catholic participants are cool, cautious and reticent about the offer. Bluffs are being called. As you say, they are very very reluctuant to leave behind their buildings.

I am a former anglican, ordained as a RC priest for over a decade now. I'm glad I came over before all this. I wanted to be a Catholic and to be swimming in the same stream as other English Catholics. This would not have been right for me. Additionally, don't be fooled about Anglican Use being a draw - pretty well all of them use the Roman Rite, so that's not really an issue.

I don't think we'll encounter more than a handful, who'll come over under the already-existing conditions and there'll be no need to establish an ordinariate in this country. That's where it's really at.

Praise God for the generosity of the Holy Father - but most of them seem to prefer their building and their hymn books to the authentic Catholic faith. Harsh to say it - but, sadly, I believe, true.

Anonymous said...

Apart from the Walsingham Shrine which is "owned" by its trustees every English church ultimately belongs to the benefice, and can not be alienated.

Even trustees, where the trust deed refers to the Church of England, will have great difficulty extricating themselves from the CofE and transferring to the RCC.

So you are right to fear that this will be a clerical movement only. I suspect that most will end up running ordinary RC parishes.

BJR said...

Hopefully the recent, sad, events in the Diocese of Sourozh may be a salutary lesson. A small group and a bishop converted to Greek Orthodoxy from the Russian Church and tried to take their church with them. The High Court quite rightly would not permit this and the group didn't get the property.

To try and remove property from the CofE is surely, ultimately, a treasonous act against our Sovereign Lady The Queen? Heaven forbid that!

Quentin said...

Whilst I quite understand your fears about the Church Commissioners, I think that one has to be realistic, and I don't think that the building issue is likely to present any real problems.

The last thing the Commissioners want is to find themselves saddled with yet more listed buildings with no congregations for which they have to keep on putting their hands in their pockets.

I agree that the number of C of E churches which are not ultimately owned by the Church of England is small - although there are undoubtedly some apart from the Shrine at Walsingham - but the Church Commissioners have sold quite a number of churches over the years, and would undoubtedly be willing to do so again.

Indeed, former C of E churches have been 'sold' to other denominations for very modest sums; the catch for the new owners being, of course, that they take them over 'as is', and thus inherit the future expenses, as well as the benefits of the building.

Although there will obviously be some buildings which, for various reasons, the C of E is simply not prepared to lose - such as the Cathedrals, and perhaps churches which are the only ones in a community - I strongly suspect that the Church Commissioners will be more than willing to discuss the possibility of letting many congregations retain their own buildings; and even if that is on very long full repairing leases, rather than by outright sale, that would surely offer a legitimate, but entirely satisfactory, way forward.

Peter Porter said...

The longer the Holy Father's invitation begins to sink in, the more muddled I am about how it is to be implemented, not only in this country, but abroad. Take the United States, for instance. There seems to be nothing but coolness and rejection towards the project.

In the end, the success or otherwise is going to come down to money and property and they may well prove the undoing of the plan. Theoretically it would be simple for the Church Commissioners to give a church here or there to a 'Catholic-Anglican' group. This applies especially to Brighton and London where there are far too many churches and some of the best are under threat. But will the present incumbents and congregations want them to go? In some cases yes, in others no. And if they go will the new congregations be able to insure and maintain them to the high standards applied to listed buildings?

Another factor is that many churches with a precarious present are now in the hands of people who would die rather than let them go. Take three in London, for instance: St Cyprian's, Clarence Gate, St John's, Holland Road, and the Annunciation, Bryanston Street. None have truly viable lives yet the present regimes are nothing like as 'Catholic' as they were in their heyday and are, indeed, actively anti-Roman. Yet all would be ideal candidates for transferal and would be given a magnificent new life if so transferred.

In theory there are churches galore in the cities which are suitable candidates for transfer. Last night I was out to dinner and an Anglo-Catholic present was lamenting the fact that so few once flourishing London Anglo-Catholic churches have any congregations to speak of. He had attended several recently and said that in most the congregations could be counted on the fingers of two (and in some cases one) hands and in others were in the low twenties at best.

The politics to come promise to be a nightmare of epic proportions.

Pastor in Monte said...

Sir Watkin: the ownership of Catholic Churches is clear but ambiguous, if you get what I mean. In English law, the churches are owned by the trustees. In this diocese, that means the Bishop, the Vicar General, and one or two others. However, in Canon Law, the parish as a legal person owns the property. This all has to be managed by common sense and good will. It usually (but not always) works. When there is a legacy, or sale of property, the diocese usually takes a third of the proceeds, leaving the rest to the parish.

Anagnostis said...


The circumstances you refer to were jurisdictional, merely. One does not "convert" from Russian to "Greek" Orthodoxy.

Little Black Sambo said...

The bishop concerned did not become "Greek" anything. The parishes that stayed with him continued just as they were, but under the Ecumenical Patriarch.

You say the High Court "quite rightly" would not permit the Ecumenical faction to keep the buildings. It was not so clear-cut, hence the importance of the test case concerning the property in London, which the Russians did win. I believe a compromise has been negotiated over church property elsewhere and over the payment of legal costs.

pelerin said...

Interesting to learn that the diocese takes one third of a legacy. Is there no way that 100% of a legacy to a parish can be retained?

Sir Watkin asks who owns churches on the Continent. I remember being very surprised in a French cathedral once when I saw a large notice referring to the removal for repair of a stained glass window and seeing 'OWNER - THE STATE'. The French state does in fact own all the cathedrals and all churches before a certain date early in the last century - cannot remember exactly - but modern recently built churches there do belong to the Church. I believe priests have to pay rent for their presbyteries too to the State but it may be different now.

It is a pity the French state did not intervene when Vatican II wreckovations took place. I visited the cathedral at Meaux on Saturday and was astonished to see not just the two altars - the table altar in front of the original High altar - but a third also in the Sanctuary in front of the middle one. Three in a row must be a record - it did look odd. I've no idea which one is used.

Actually the fact that the State has to pay for the upkeep of the Cathedrals etc means the parishioners don't!

Pastor in Monte said...

Pelerin: Hm: the French situation isn't quite as ideal as that. A friend of mine had a parish in a very dechristianized part of France, with six mediæval churches. The local mayor refused to pay a penny to maintain the buildings, and refused the parish permission to do anything themselves. Consequently the walls were green with mould. This may explain the quite common sight of dilapidated French churches.
As for wills, providing they are written very carefully, the diocese cannot take its slice. But they will try very hard!

pelerin said...

Thank you Father for the information regarding wills. And yes I had forgotten about the non-cooperation of village mayors as the representatives of the State especially when they are communist.

How sad about the fate of the six mediaeval churches in that one area. I remember visiting an ancient church somewhere in the Loire valley with astonishing wall paintings and equally amazing cobwebs and mould. I suppose because there are so many of these ancient churches, their uniqueness is no longer treasured. And now that one priest has to administer a large number of churches often on his own or perhaps with just one other priest then it is inevitable that churches will be lost in this way.

I have seen on the internet a short film of the demolition of one such church which will be replaced by a modern church which will be cheaper to maintain.

pelerin said...

PS Have you seen the website 40,000 clochers?

BJR said...

Little Black Sambo,

The bishop in question is no more (in a functional sense) having been dismissed from his Vicariate by the Ecumenical Patriarch and gone to his chateau in Vezelay no longer having any flock.

My understanding was that the Office of the Attorney General had suggested the bishop be personally responsible for 90% of the costs.

One trusts this sort of thing will not be repeated with any Ordinariates that are established in the UK.