The importance of being quorate

The Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament was established in 1862 to support Anglo-Catholic priests who risked imprisonment for engaging in practices which today are commonplace: candles on altars; making the sign of the cross; and vestments.  Substantial donations were made in 19th century and the investment from these has been the source of much of its present funds.  Following the creation of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI ‘to allow Anglicans to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church whilst retaining much of their heritage and traditions’, the Confraternity made a grant of £1M to the Ordinariate ‘to provide for theological teaching, learning and development and for the support of priests in the Ordinariate’.

Reporting on the controversial donation, the Catholic Herald stated that this ‘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 [2010] 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’.

As a result of ‘a substantial number of complaints’ to the Charities Commission, an investigation was launched and in January this year it set out its provisional conclusions.  After taking legal advice, both charities registered their disagreement and consequently the Commission asked a member of its Senior Management Team to review these initial findings under its decision review procedure.

In a statement today, the Commission concluded that:

The decision to make a grant to the Ordinariate was taken at an inquorate meeting, the majority of the trustees having a (financial) personal interest in the decision. It was also in breach of the charity’s governing document.

The meeting being inquorate, the decision was invalid. There was no valid exercise of the power to make a gift to the Ordinariate and the payment was unauthorised.

The gift is held upon constructive trust by the Ordinariate for the Confraternity.

The objects of the Ordinariate are wider than those of the Confraternity. A gift given to the Ordinariate without restriction could be used for purposes which have no connection with the Anglican tradition at all.

The precise meaning of Anglican Tradition is unclear but there is substantial doubt whether the Confraternity could make a grant to the Ordinariate (even with restrictions) which could be applied by the Ordinariate consistently with the objects of the Confraternity.

The Commission therefore considered the trustees of both charities were under a duty to take action to ensure the repayment of the money.

It notes that:

We have been informed that the grant has been returned in full (with interest) by the Ordinariate of its own volition.

The Confraternity has also issued a statement indicating that it ‘remain[s] firmly of the view that the grant to the Ordinariate was consistent with the founding spirit of the Confraternity and with charity law’, a view supported by its legal advisors and ‘endorsed by eminent canon lawyers’.  However, at the last meeting of the Trustees it was agreed ‘not to pursue any appeal or other legal proceedings about the grant, nor oppose the return of the grant if, as turned out to be the case, the Ordinariate should decide to return it, which it did last week’.

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