HC Deb 13 May 1808 vol 11 cc257-9
Mr. Charles Dundas

presented a Petition from certain of the clergy resident in the county of Berks, taking notice of the Bill for making more effectual provision for the maintenance of Stipendiary Curates in England, and for their residence on their cures; and setting forth, "That the petitioners, impressed with serious apprehension of the fatal consequences with which the regular clergy and established church of this kingdom are threatened, if the said Bill should pass into law, consequences which they have maturely weighed, and as it became their duty, have anticipated with unimpassioned and unbiassed deliberation, humbly lay the following considerations before the house: That they are penetrated with the deepest concern in contemplating the probable injuries which the character of the clergy of the church of England will sustain as a body, from the suspicions which this Bill is calculated to inspire, suspicions which they conceive are unmerited, tending to lower them in the estimation of the people, and to alienate, if not to destroy, that sentiment of respect and attachment which has been hitherto observed towards the clergy, as an integral and important branch of our constitutional polity, a sentiment which is so eminently necessary to the preservation of our pure religion, as in church and state established; and it has not been without the most deep-felt sorrow that they have witnessed the unsubstantiated charges and invectives industriously disseminated and indiscriminately brought forward against the clergy of England, as a negligent and mercenary body, at a time too when their proved zeal and acknowledged efforts, during periods of unexampled danger, which menaced the security not only of the throne and altar, but through them the conservation of property and of the principles of moral order, ought, they have a right to hope, to have been justly appreciated, if not gratefully remembered by their country; and that in these times of unexampled pressure upon the moderately beneficed clergy, they cannot but consider as impolitic, unnecessary, and vexatious, any farther privations tending to destroy the almost solely remaining link which connects the higher with the lower orders of the people, a link which by communicating the wants of the latter to the notice of the former, keeps up an intercourse of benefits and gratitude between both; that the consequent depression of the moderately beneficed clergy, on the contrary, must approximate them too much to the poor to command their respect, and remove them at too great a distance from the rich to obtain their regard and due consideration; and that they conceive the unbeneficed clergy have every reason to be satisfied with the liberal allowance at present in the power of the bishops to assign them, inasmuch as they frequently enjoy resources from which incumbents in general are debarred, such as fellowships, lectureships, chaplaincies, and tuition in all its branches; and indeed they conceive the bill essentially defective in not marking the appropriate difference which obviously distinguishes payment from reward; and that in many instances it will be liable to the objection of giving more, in proportion to the duties performed, than is consistent with strict justice, as it will be found that in general the most valuable benefices are those which enjoy the greatest exemption from arduous duty, and indiscriminate charges of extravagant and disproportioned emoluments may apply to payments, but not to the nature of rewards, regulated by the distinction of age, learning, and dignity; and that this bill, they apprehend, strikes at the very essence of all property, permanent or usufructuary, which it is the fundamental principle and established practice of our constitution to preserve inviolate; and as the clergy hold their possessions, they are willing to hope, by as good a title as any other order in the state, if authorized resumptions begin with them, they cannot but suggest the alarming consequences which naturally force themselves upon the imagination; they beg leave also to point out to the house the infinite and much to be deprecated mischiefs which must ensue to them as a body, and to the unbeneficed clergy themselves, from those jealousies and animosities which may unhappily arise between the incumbent and his curate, a circumstance which cannot at all contribute to the practical harmony and edification of the parish, by rendering in many cases the curacy more desirable than the living, and by conferring that independency on the curate which will destroy the natural order of things, and create an inversion unprecedented in every other situation in life, of a deputy being placed above his employer, totally uninfluenced and uncontrouled by him; and that among the numerous evils with which in their estimation the bill is pregnant, the facility it promises to the diffusion of Sectarian principles is not the least alarming; the indignity to which the bill subjects the regular clergy, in authorising the complaints of the church-wardens to the bishops, may unhappily open a door to interested or malevolent misrepresentations, dictated by pique, selfish motives, or religious prejudices; and the divisions which may arise between the different orders of the clergy must infuse new vigour into sectarism, which will naturally derive an accession of strength from a weakened and degraded establishment; and that a bill therefore whose manifest tendency is thus materially to depress and impoverish the regular clergy of this land, they cannot but consider as impolitic as well as unjust, since the same stroke which is inflicted on them must through their sides wound, if not destroy, every other superior order of the state; and (hat they therefore presume to hope that the present situation of curates, where it is found inadequate to their services, will be suffered to receive that progressive amelioration which the present course and operation of circumstances are daily producing in their favour."—Ordered to lie upon the table.

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