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Dear Catholic.com visitor: Summer is here, and you may be thinking about a well-deserved vacation, family get-togethers, BBQs with neighborhood friends. More than likely, making a donation to Catholic Answers is not on your radar right now. But this is exactly the time we most need your help. The “summer slowdown” in donations is upon us, but the work of spreading the gospel and explaining and defending the Faith never takes a break. Your gift today will change lives and save souls for Christ this summer! The reward is eternal. Thank you and God bless.

Old Chapter, The

The origin of the body, formerly known as the Old Chapter, dates from 1623

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Old Chapter, the.—The origin of the body, formerly known as the Old Chapter, dates from 1623, when after a period of more than half a century during which there was no episcopal government in England, Dr. William Bishop was at length created vicar

Apostolic. He survived less than a year; but during that period he organized a regular form of ecclesiastical government, by means of archdeacons and rural deans, throughout the country which continued in force with little change down to the reestablishment of the hierarchy in 1850. An integral part of his scheme was the creation of a chapter consisting of twenty-four canons with Rev. John Colleton as dean. The ecclesiastical status of the chapter has always been a matter of dispute. A chapter without a diocese is an anomaly, unknown in canon law, and Rome always refrained from any positive act of recognition. On the other hand, she equally refrained from any censure, although it was known that the chapter was claiming and exercising large functions. They therefore argued that the chapter existed “sciente et tacente sede apostolica” (with the knowledge and silent consent of the pope) and that this was sufficient to give it a canonical status. When Dr. Bishop died they sent a list of names from which his successor might be chosen, and the Holy See accepted their action choosing the first name—Dr. Richard Smith. Three years later he had to leave the country, and spent the rest of his life in Paris. After his death the chapter assumed the right to rule the country in the vacancy of the episcopal office, and for thirty years all faculties were issued by the dean who claimed the verbal approval of Alexander VII.

When James II ascended the throne, and England was divided into four districts or vicariates, the position of the chapter became still more anomalous. Dr. Leyburn, the first vicar Apostolic of that reign, was required to take an oath not to recognize the chapter, and a decree was issued in general terms suspending all jurisdiction of chapters of regulars and seculars so long as there were vicars Apostolic in England; but doubt was felt whether this was meant to apply to the Old Chapter, for the very reason that its position was anomalous. In practice, however, they submitted, and ceased to exercise any acts of jurisdiction; but they continued their existence. The vicars Apostolic themselves were usually members.

When the hierarchy was reestablished in 1850, a chapter was erected in each diocese, and whatever claims to jurisdiction the Old Chapter had, from that time, ceased. Not wishing to dissolve, however, they reconstituted themselves as the “Old Brotherhood of the Secular Clergy“, the dean of the chapter becoming president of the brotherhood. Under this title they have continued to the present day. They meet twice a year and distribute their funds to various charities.

BERNARD WARD


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