The Catholic Archdicese of Birmingham Archives

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CF - Common (Clergy) Funds

Dates: 1684-1942

Number of records in this collection: 55


This collection of bound volumes (some of which were previously part of the 'C' and 'R' Series') and documents relates to the funding of priests and Missions between 1676 and the present day. Before 1688, when the secular clergy were led by the Chapter, the Catholic Church in England was divided into districts and into deaneries. In each deanery funds were accumulated for the support of the clergy. Contributions were sought from the clergy themselves, augmented by gifts from the laity, to which conditions were often attached. These conditions were usually in the form of Mass obligations or to support a priest in a particular place. All such funds were prohibited by statute as for superstitious uses. One of the oldest funds for the support of clergy in a district was the Common Purse (1676), which was later extended to benefit those residing in the four counties of Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire (1779). Its object was the relief of secular priests under any sort of necessity; in addition, it afforded a means to benefactors of procuring Masses for themselves or friends and relatives. By the original rules it was agreed that every priest-brother should contribute to the increase of the Common Purse by leaving something to it at his death. During this early period some of the secular clergy in the London and Midland Districts set up the Institute on the model of the 'Institutum Clericorum in communi viventium', established in Germany in 1644 by Bartholomew Holtzhauser. Its rules approved by the Holy See in 1680, the Institute spread throughout Europe and was warmly patronised by Cardinal Howard, who commended it to the English Chapter. Conditions in England, however, did not favour the proper implementation of the Institute's aims of a community of property, and in 1701 it was dissolved and the funds divided; in the Midlands, the divided fund became the Johnson Fund. After 1688 all clergy funds were theoretically under the authority of the Vicars Apostolic and were called generically the Common Fund. In practice, however, the clergy retained a considerable measure of control, although resistance to episcopal attempts to gain greater control, as happened in Bishop Stonor's reorganisation of the funds in 1724 and Bishop Milner's appropriation of part of the clergy funds to build New Oscott, proved largely ineffective. The Johnson Fund did continue to operate as a separate fund, managed by elected clergy members. The arrangement of these and other funds was extremely complicated, due in part to restrictive legislation and in part to the accountancy procedures of clergy administrators, who did not always differentiate between the various funds. After the restoration of the hierarchy, although conditions made it possible to organise finances on a more professional basis, less impeded by restrictive legislation, attempts to clarify the basis of funds set up under earlier conditions proved very difficult. This is reflected in Canon Estcourt's re-organisation of the funds [CF/47]

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