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Ordinariate receives controversial £1m donation

Priests of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham (Photo: Mazur)

A 150-year-old Anglo-Catholic charity has given £1 million to Britain’s Personal Ordinariate – enough to keep it financially afloat for up to a year.

The money, donated by the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, will ensure that priests in the ordinariate will not be left penniless in the coming months. It represents almost half of the charity’s total assets.

Trustees agreed to the grant after checking with lawyers that it would be compatible with the charity’s objects – namely, “the advancement of the Catholic faith in the Anglican tradition”.

The Confraternity changed its rules in April last year so that ordinariate priests could become members. Five out of six of its trustees have now been ordained as priests in the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.

But one Anglican minister has already lodged a complaint with the Charity Commission and written letters of protest to Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster and the Pope. The Rev Paul Williamson, from Hanworth, south-west London, said the grant was a “disgrace”. A Facebook group opposing it has attracted nearly 300 members.

Mgr Keith Newton, the head of the ordinariate, said the grant guaranteed an income for its priests. He said: “A million pounds sounds like a lot of money but it’s not an awful lot to run something like an ordinariate. It needs at least a million pounds a year – and that’s without thinking that it will grow.”

Mgr Newton said there was still “a lot of work to do”, citing pensions as well as life and health insurance costs for clergy. But he said that all of the 60 or so ordinariate priests now had somewhere to live. “It’s a great relief,” he said.

Fr Christopher Pearson, superior general of the Confraternity, said he would be consulting in the coming year on whether Catholics should be allowed to remain members, and if it could continue to exist as an Anglican charity.

He defended the grant against criticism, saying that the Confraternity was never a Church of England society. He said that when it was founded in 1862 priests who reserved the Blessed Sacrament or led Benediction risked imprisonment. Its assets, he said, did not originate from the Church of England either. He said they were largely down to the investment of donations from the 19th century.

Fr Pearson also pointed out that critics of the grant “had their own incomes, churches, tabernacles, chalices”, but priests in the ordinariate did not.

The Confraternity has also given £10,000 to three Walsingham nuns who joined the ordinariate at the start of the year. According to Fr Pearson, the money paid for “clothes, shoes and housing”.

It is understood that trustees cannot benefit from the £1 million grant.

The Confraternity, which has about 120 priest members in England and 1,500 worldwide, was founded by the Rev Thomas Carter, a prominent Anglo-Catholic, in 1862.

Its six trustees are supposed to be elected by district councils of priest members, or associates, but some of these councils have not met in decades. In these cases the appointment is made by the superior general.

On its website the Confraternity states: “There is no more precious thing in the world than the Blessed Sacrament of the altar and our joy is to help … others to regard as such this most precious gift: Christ’s own abiding Presence among us.”