THE crash in world money markets has inevitably affected the finances of the Vatican though no one, as might be expected, can get any reliable details. The Vatican is somewhat secretive about money matters.
Britain is not particularly popular at the moment (unofficially) in Vatican financial circles as we make the world's lowest contribution to Peter's Pence. The total amount we hand over amounts, it is estimated, to five pence per head per year.
This is ironical since Peter's Pence originated in England in the middle ages when each householder contributed a penny each year for the expenses of the Holy See. The custom had its ultimate origins in Anglo-Saxon times but its revival by the Norman kings led to its extension to Ireland, the countries of northern Europe and eventually to the rest of the world.
Henry VIII abolished it in 1534 but it got revived under the auspices of Peter's Pence organisations, of which Le denier de St Pierre in France (The Penny for St Peter) is perhaps the best known.
America and Germany are today's biggest contributors. Between them they provide about 75 per cent of the total. Germany is, of course, greatly helped by the fact that the Church gets 90 per cent of its revenue from a tax levied by the state. In order not to pay, a citizen must renounce his religion. Most people do not do so even though a majority of the same people hardly ever go to church.
How, someone asked me the other day, has the Holy See raised its revenues over the years?
DESPITE the bans on usury, the Church was in the moneymaking business long before any other institution now existing in the world. It was Pope Gregory VII (Hildebrand) who rescued the Church from insolvency. From the eleventh century onwards it never looked back. Succeeding Popes spent prodigious sums year by year but the income kept pouring in at even more prodigious levels.
The beginnings of the Church's future international fund-raising system is traceable to the twelfth century. The primary source of income was the census — a tax based on population. Later, special contributions were levied from the income of the clergy and the vast sums involved were handled by a new department that had evolved in the papacy's Lateran headquarters. This was called the camera.
No one exemplified how easily money could be quickly raised with the prestigious back-up of the medieval papacy as Gregory IX (1227 1241). In 1228 he needed funds for his war against the Emperor Frederick II. He instructed the clergy of England, France and Italy to pay over to him 10 per cent of their ordinary income for that year. They paid up without demur.
If all else failed the Pope, at that time, could borrow sizeable sums, simultaneously writing himself a rescript exempting him from the canonical provisions against usury. The tax on the clergy — and there was of course, an enormous army of "clerics" of various kinds in the middle ages, forming a huge professional class, in each country remained the basic source of papal revenue.
THE clergy, in turn, got their money from the people. The sale of indulgences was always kept separate and did not become rampant until the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Indulgences were sold direct to lay people by papal licenses.
Extravagant though many of the Popes were, the local churches were rich enough, chiefly through land and property, to meet the papal demands. In mid-thirteenth century England, for example, more than half the arable land belonged to the Church.
At this time people were reluctant to refuse to pay up for the Pope. But they eventually got less keen on the idea of parting with large sums to finance papal war.
By the time Henry VIII made his move against the authority of the Pope, the Church in England, paradoxically, largely sided with him against Rome, feeling they had already parted with too much money to the latter. This did not mean that they wanted any changes in dogma, any more than did the King himself. Money, arguably, was the key to their outlook.
Somewhat amazingly, only one per cent of the regular clergy defied Henry when he seized their property. Brutal though the monastic dissolution was in some areas, its execution was effected with total observation of the letter of the law.
The regulars, with the exception of the friars, were pensioned, and a considerable number in due course obtained benefices as secular clergy. In general, in fact, economic and social dislocation is now known to have been less than was once thought.
IT takes no little disillusionment for the Catholic laity to withhold money in the face of requests by the papacy. It certainly happened, in effect, in the sixteenth century, as far as England was concerned. Has it happened again in modern times?
Recently, in the aftermath of the deeply disappointing Roman Synod on the laity, the perscpicacious Clifford Longley wrote as follows in The Times (November 9): "Behind the crisis of the ecclesiastical management in the Roman Catholic Church, there is also, and connected with it, a financial crisis. The people are withholding their cash; and the Vatican itself is thoroughly strapped for it. The laity have the money; but they are not going to part with it while millions of dollars are spent on 'private, secret bishops' seminars', particularly futile seminars about themselves from which they are excluded."
ABOUT to be celebrated is the centenary of what proved to become a lasting and powerful aid for the "home mission" in England and Wales, the Guild of Our Lady of Ransom.
In his Recollections of a Ransomer, Fr Philip Fletcher recounts how he came to found the Guild. He was a former Anglican clergyman received into the Catholic Church just before his 30th birthday in 1878. His co-founder was a high-flying barrister of the day, Lister Drummond, QC.
Fletcher and Drummond, gathered, with a few friends, in the latter's chambers in the Temple of November 29, 1887. This was the birthday of the Guild.
The Guild unashamedly maintains its original aims, namely the conversion of England and Wales, together with restoration of lapsed Catholics and prayer for the forgotten dead. One of the first achievements of the Guild was to restore to Catholics in this country the practice of pilgrimages and public processions, lost since the Reformation. The annual procession from Newgate (Old Bailey) to Tyburn (Marble Arch) was begun in 1911 and remains the Guild's living link with its early years.
There is also an annual Mass in the chapel of St Edward the Confessor at Westminster Abbey. This represents a notably generous ecumenical gesture on behalf of the Abbey's chapter. It is no doubt largely due to the diplomatic approach of the Guild's present Master, the colourful Mgr Anthony Stark, that this annual Mass could be arranged.
"Jesus have mercy on this country," is the Guild's daily prayer. It was the dying invocation of Henry Heath, a Franciscan who perished at Tyburn. He is among the 85 to be beatified by Pope John Paul this weekend.
DEATH is horrible — for those who are left behind.
On my recent return from abroad I heard with great sadness of the death of two old friends, Freda Bruce Lockhart and Francis Pollen.
The latter was my contemporary and a lifelong friend. We went to school together long ago. He was quiet but determined with a most winning personality. I was an usher at his wedding at Westminster Cathedral, when he married the delightful Therese Sheridan.
Francis's parents had both been very artistic, his father Arthur a noted sculptor and his mother, Daphne, a painter. Francis became a most successful architect. The church at Worth Abbey is one of his many masterpieces.
The other friend, quite a bit older, was the ever-gallant Freda. An appreciation has already appeared in the Catholic Herald (November 13).
She used occasionally to come to our former office in Fleet Street in her invalid car. One day it broke down just outside El Vino where I chanced to see her. I brought her out a drink while she awaited rescue. She finally drove off in high spirits and with cheers in her ears.
Her zest for life was infectious and will long be an inspiration to those who knew her.
A documentary film entitled For the Love of God about the Salvation Army was due to be shown on television on November 8 on ITV. The network cancelled it at the last minute on the grounds that it might seem like an exercise in "prosletysing."
Considering the amount of material of all religions, particularly Moslem, allowed (quite rightly) to be transmitted, this last-minute decision seemed puzzling. Other forms of almost subliminal publicity also crop up here and there for minority faiths.
I noticed, for example, a post office "cancellation" mark over the stamp on a letter posted recently in Cleveland. The "cancellation" commemorated the British Anniversary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, since the Mormons first set themselves up in Britain in the year in which Queen Victoria came to the throne. Another puzzler!
AN enterprising priest in a country district had a successful parish supper party last year. This year he proposed a lunch so that all ages could come.
But the elderly parishioners said they didn't want children present, and the younger ones said they would not want to leave their children at home. (Naturally).
So now there is to be no party. How's that for community spirit?