Ed Thornton writes in this week’s Church Times:
The Charity Commission has been asked to investigate a grant of £1 million to the Roman Catholic Ordinariate by the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament.
A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said: “Concerns have been raised with us regarding the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament. We are currently considering these to establish whether there is any regulatory role for us.”
The Confraternity, a registered charity, was founded in 1862 to support the Catholic revival in the Church of England. The Charity Commission website states that its charitable objects are “for the advancement of the Catholic faith in the Anglican tradition”.
The present Superior-General, Fr Christopher Pearson, now a priest in the Ordinariate, has reported that, in December, the Ordinary of the Ordinariate, Mgr Keith Newton, then the (Anglican) Bishop of Richborough, approached him “asking whether it was within the remit of the Confraternity to make a financial grant to the proposed Ordinariate”.
The Ordinariate was formally established on 15 January. Shortly afterwards, the trustees of the Confraternity received a formal application for financial assistance to the Ordinariate from Mgr Newton, “to provide for theological teaching, learning and development and the support of priests in the Ordinariate”.
The decision to donate £1 million to the Ordinariate was “unanimously agreed” by trustees at a meeting on 10 February. It was also agreed at the same meeting, “in view of the possibility of such a grant being challenged . . . to seek additional legal advice”.
The trustees agreed “to give effect to” the decision to grant the £1 million at a meeting on 19 May.
The secretary-general of the Confraternity, the Revd David Waller, said that drafts of the decision were “circulated and approved” by the council-general, at its AGM, when it met on Thursday of last week.
Mr Pearson said: “We agreed that the Objects of the Ordinariate [were] compatible with the charitable Objects of the Confraternity, and specifically the advancement of the Catholic faith in the Anglican tradition. We agreed that making a grant would be in the best interests of the Confraternity, in furthering our charitable objects.
“We also hope that a substantial grant might be a helpful signal to others contemplating offering financial support to the Ordinariate, thus increasing the likelihood of the charitable objects of the Confraternity being secured in the long term.”
The charity’s objects are to promote: “the honour due to Jesus Christ our Lord in the blessed sacrament of his body and blood; prayer for one another at the eucharist; careful preparation for and reception of Holy Communion; the reverent and dignified celebration of the eucharist and the reservation and veneration of the blessed sacrament; the continuance of the Catholic priesthood; and Catholic theological teaching, learning and development”.
Mr Waller said that, on 7 May 2009, the council-general “amended the constitution to enable itself to decide the list of Churches from which the Confraternity can take members”; on 29 April 2010, the council-general “resolved to add the Ordinariate to the list of Churches”.
The Revd Paul Williamson, Priest-in-Charge of St George’s, Hanworth Park, has written to the Charity Commission asking for “a full enquiry and investigation”. He said that the constitution’s reference to “Anglican” clearly meant “Church of England”. He has also written to the Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Revd Vincent Nichols, and Bishop Alan Hopes, episcopal delegate from the RC Bishops’ Conference, who is supervising the setting up of the Ordinariate in the UK.
The Confraternity’s latest annual report, for 2009, shows that it had total funds of just under £1.85 million”; the £1 million donation thus amounts to more than half of its total funds.
The report said that, during the previous year, the Confraternity had “approved grants of vessels and vestments to 13 parishes in England, Wales, Europe, Ghana and six parishes in Zimbabwe”.
In November, Archbishop Nichols said that RC dioceses had agreed to contribute £250,000 to a fund that had been created “so that the Ordinariate can get going” (News, 26 November).