Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Catholic Pennies

From memories of years ago, and they may well be rosy-hued, we used to have a special collection today for various smaller Catholic charities and good works. It may have been a local practice which has probably died out with the new systematic table of second collections ordered throughout the region. From memory it was a day not of big donations but of small charitable actions, often the 'widow's mite' which went towards feeding the poor, a project for the parish school, and numerous other worthy causes. It set me to thinking about the real sacrificial giving that has come from people who can least afford it over the years. Those for whom a shilling was a big deal. Those for whom a couple of pence, a century ago, meant one less loaf of bread on the family table. It was these donations that built our local schools and hospitals and were the daily support of many smaller charitable works without the benefit of large trumpets.

It worries me that this inherited patrimony of charitable giving is being subverted. We may have considerable freedom now as Catholics in Britain but it doesn't mean that the wheels of the state will stop grinding in a subtle attempt to ensure that these charities get diverted into the general purse. They may not seize our property, as they did in the past, but they certainly can do a pretty good job in making sure that all those hard earned Catholic pennies are not applied to Catholic purposes and that they get their 'cut'.

Two examples of a generic kind. I'm sure that fifty years ago when Mrs Everyman, widowed mother of eight, was delving to the bottom of her purse to find a stray penny, to give to the local parish school building appeal, she meant it to serve Catholics of the parish for generations to come. She was doing this so that the Catholic faith would be promoted and that there would be a place for her children, and their children, to receive a sound education in the future. At the grander 'end' of the scale I'm equally sure that the scholarship fund endowed by Lord Whoever to enable poor Catholic children to receive a good education was not intended to enable a school to keep it's 'league table' score up by importing talented children of any, or no, religious persuasion. Both had Catholic intentions in mind. To subvert their generosity in another direction is a breach of their trust. I'm equally sure that those who paid for the land or buildings of a hospital had no intention that there largesse would end up supporting the provision of dubious medical 'services'.

And yet we have submitted ourselves to laws, through accepting charitable status, that actively seek to limit the real Catholic effect we can have. Is this right? Perhaps it's time that we took stock of exactly what is the real cost of being 'part' of the 'system'. Should we abandon charitable status for the sake of the common good? It certainly may mean less fine lunches in the corridors of power, for some, but what would it really mean for those for whom the 'widow's mite' was originally intended?

With apologies for the lack of postings over the last few weeks. I've had a deadline on a new publication to meet.


  1. Have had all these thoughts too, thank you for writing them down/up (what does one do on a blog?)

  2. A timely comment, Father and applicable elsewhere also.

    Here in the US we have seen this in the case of Catholic organizations such as hospitals, adoption agencies, etc. Once you take the ‘king’s shilling’ you give the state an unwelcome hand in your affairs, as it can threaten to cut off funds unless you comply with its wishes. When you have become dependent on those funds it is hard to give them up, so people compromise and the Faith ends up being compromised.

    The old expression: “If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas” comes to mind.


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