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Papal Library

Decet Quam Maxime

by Catherine Frakas 17 Mar 2021

Decet Quam Maxime Pope Clement XIV Encyclical on Abuses in Taxes and Benefices September 21, 1769 To the Bishops of Sardinia. Venerable Brethren, Greetings and Apostolic Blessing. It is altogether befitting for the ministers of the Church and the dispensers of divine mysteries to be exempt from any suspicion, however light, of avarice; then they can be free to exercise their sacred ministry in such a way that they can justly glory that their hands have acted free of any reward. In fact Christ ordered this when He sent His disciples to preach the gospel with the words, Freely give what you have freely received (Mt 18.8). Paul also stated (1 Tm 3.8; Ti 1.7) that this should be required of those chosen for the ministry of the altar. This, finally, Peter inculcated in those in charge of the care of souls, saying, Be shepherds of the flock of God entrusted to you, watching over it not for sordid gain, but freely (1 Pt 5.2). Pastors of the Church, who ought to be an example to the faithful, must diligently observe this divine command and thus show themselves reprehensible; they must also be vigilant so as not to permit the lower ministers over whom they have charge to perpetrate anything to the contrary. They should always remember that noble sentiment of Ambrose (Commentary on Lk 4.52), Nevertheless, it is not sufficient if you yourselves do not seek profit: the hands of your household must also be restrained. Therefore instruct your household, exhort and watch over it: and if your servant deceive you, let him be repudiated, if apprehended, as scripture instructs. Accordingly, both the holy councils and previous Roman Pontiffs have repeatedly advocated that every possible avenue be closed so that such evil abuses never creep into the Church of God, or if, by chance, they had already done so, they be totally eradicated from its midst. It is lamentable that these sanctions have either lacked effect in some dioceses or been insufficiently strong or valid enough to root out totally all contrary usages. And We know that this has come about because those whose duty it was to carry them out most strictly have put forward various excuses, such as ancient and inveterate custom or the need of bestowing some reward on the ministers of ecclesiastical curias or the necessity of making up for the lack of the means of support required for a proper and decent manner of living in keeping with one's state. Because he understood all this properly, Innocent XI, desiring to invalidate any excuses whatsoever, in 1678 ordered that everything pertinent to the matter be collected from the sacred canons, the Council of Trent, the interpretations given by the congregations of this Council, and proposals from consultations with bishops. Furthermore he ordered that an explicit determination and mention by name be made of all ecclesiastical affairs for which the reception of any payment on the part of ecclesiastical courts and episcopal curias was forbidden. The sole exception concerned what ought to go to the Chancellor alone as a proper remuneration or as a necessary payment. The same document also provided that in these matters the same procedure and uniform discipline be observed in all ecclesiastical curias; any custom to the contrary should be completely repudiated. Innocent XI approved and confirmed this on October first of the same year and ordered its promulgation and observance. Nevertheless, not even this was enough to restore the universal collapse of ecclesiastical discipline or to curb depraved customs rooted in various dioceses. One objection was that the aforesaid did not impose a law to be observed in ecclesiastical curias outside of Italy as well. Nonetheless the decrees contained in it were taken from sacred canons and principally from the Council of Trent, which all ecclesiastical curias must obey. 2. Accordingly, with sorrow We have learned that many abuses in the exercise of spiritual power (which not only totally destroy ecclesiastical discipline, but also enfeeble and bring the greatest shame upon your dignity and power) still exist in your ecclesiastical curias. To be sure your piety, your holy mode of life, your solicitude for your churches is more than sufficiently known to Us. We also know that these abuses have been introduced in the past, first from some secondary ministry or other, and have been gradually spread from diocese to diocese, perhaps without the knowledge of bishops. In certain places the greater dignity of a particular church has even led to the increase of such abuses. Some ministers, whose successors in office or ministry paid little attention and incautiously followed the footsteps of their own predecessors, deemed these long standing and customary abuses worthy of being proposed for approval by synodal constitutions. Accordingly, you can in no way be blamed; rather you are worthy of commendation because, as We have learned, you are grieved by these abuses and wish to extirpate them. We, however, perceiving how much you will be detested for this and how great the obstacles will be unless the Apostolic Authority assists you in this enterprise, accordingly make this intervention. We do this especially because of the diversity of the fees and the varying practices in different dioceses. As a result of Our intervention, We anticipate conformity among all dioceses. Wherefore We are confident that you will faithfully carry out Our decrees which were requested by Charles Emmanuel, the illustrious king of Sardinia. We are also confident that you will see to it that they are diligently observed by all to whom they pertain. 3. First, as far as concerns holy orders, you can hardly be ignorant of the practically innumerable laws of the Church which forbid bishops and others ordaining or any officials to receive anything from conferring orders. This was most clearly forbidden by the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451 (canon 2), by the Roman Synod held under St. Gregory the great in 600 or 604 (canon 5) and elsewhere in his Epistles (bk. 4, epistle 44, indictment 13), by the Second Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 787 (canon 5), by that of Pavia in 1022 (canon 3), by the Fourth Lateran Council under Innocent III in 1215, as well as by the councils of Tours, Braga ant Barcelona, among others (collected by Christian Wolf in dissert. 2 proem. de simonia, chap. 9, tome 4 and by Gonzales-in chapter Antequam I de simonia, no. 9), and, most recently, by the Council of Trent (session 21, chap. 1 on reform) which emended the ancient canons allowing a spontaneous offering to be accepted and restored ecclesiastical discipline concerning ordination to its pristine and ancient purity. The decree of the Council is as follows: Since all suspicion of avarice must be absent from ecclesiastical ordinations, the bishops or other conferrers of orders or their ministers may not accept anything for the conferring of any order whatsoever, even ecclesiastical tonsure, or for dimissorial letters and testimonials, or for the seal or anything else, even if spontaneously offered, under any pretext whatever. Where the commendable custom of not accepting anything is not prevalent, notaries may receive one tenth of an aureus for dimissorial or testimonial letters, but only when no salary is provided for their office. The bishop, however, may not receive, directly or indirectly, any remuneration from that given to the notary for these letters. Ordaining bishops and their ministers are to offer their services freely. All contrary decrees and customs, which are rightly called abuses and simoniacal corruptions, are rendered null and void. Those acting to the contrary, both those giving and those receiving shall ipso facto incur, in addition to divine retribution, the punishments inflicted by law. 4. Therefore We instruct and order you not to accept anything, even when offered spontaneously, for the bestowing of any orders whatsoever, even for clerical tonsure, for dimissorial or testimonial letters, for the seal, or for any other reason. The single exception is the offering of a wax candle, which is the custom of the Roman pontifical. The quality of the candle and its weight must be left completely up to the judgment and free will of those who are being ordained. Likewise your vicar generals will observe the same sanction as well as vicars forane, chancellors, other ministers, associates, and members of your retinue whom the Council of Trent forbids to receive or demand under any title any emolument, reward, or gift on the occasion of sacred ordinations. 5. However, in those dioceses where no stipend or salary is provided for the chancellor or notary of the ecclesiastical curia for the carrying out of their office, We grant them permission, in the case of an order already conferred, to be able to exact for each dimissorial letter the tenth part only of a single aureus or ten obols of Roman coinage. They may receive the same in cases of clerical tonsure, its dimissorial letters, and ordinations to be received from a bishop who comes from outside the diocese. They may not receive remuneration from an order priest bound by vows of strict poverty and not having the use of money. When the above-mentioned testimonial or dimissorial letters refer to several orders already conferred or to be conferred by an outside bishop, the same scale of remuneration must be observed: it is by no means permitted to increase or multiply the stipend of ten obols in proportion to the number of individual orders contained in the same letters. By this, however, it is not Our mind to oblige the chancellor or notary to be required to describe simultaneously different orders conferred at different times and at different ordinations in the same testimonial letters; this We order to take place only when it is a question of those orders, viz. minor orders, which were conferred atone and the same ordination. As for dimissorial letters which are given for several orders to be received from an outside bishop, We forbid that their texts be multiplied or anything else be demanded for requesting the conferral of the orders or for access to the place of ordination or under any other title of gift or reward. 6. Moreover, regarding the order of the subdiaconate, there may be greater labor on the part of the chancellor or the notaries to establish the veracity and propriety of the titles of patrimony or benefice under which each one wishes to be promoted. For this labor as well as for the other acts which must precede the conferring of the said order, We grant them the right to receive some remuneration congruent with their labor. This is to be estimated by the bishop according to his judgment and conscience, which is to be weighty, provided that the stipend for the inscription, seal and all other things does not exceed one aureus or sixteen and a half julios. Those who are to be promoted to orders, or their parents, to be free to use any notary legitimately approved for the composing of such decrees without being compelled to appear before the aforesaid curias together with the necessary witnesses for the establishment and stipulation of the patrimony and for the other required acts. The notary of the curiato whom the decree is given, may accept remuneration from the bishop as described above or the sum of one aureus or sixteen and one-half julios, either for registering it or for any other labor. However, he under no pretext can ask for or receive anything for the publication of the decree or for letters of publication. This is explicitly stated in the decree of the Council of Trent cited above; it is clearly affirmed by the Sacred Congregation of the Council in the case of the diocese of Vicenza, 7 February 1602 and by the sacred Synod of bishops in the case of the diocese of Gerona, 25 October 1588 (to be found in Fagnani in his chapter on ordination and simony, number 32ff.). 7. There are always two conditions to be observed when notaries and the chancellor receive remuneration: first, they must not be receiving a stipend or salary for exercising their office; secondly, no part of the remuneration may go to the bishop, to any other conferrer of orders, or to any official or minister, as has been declared by the same Council of Trent. 8. In some curias there is the custom whereby the bishop or the vicar general demands money before permission is granted for recently ordained priests to celebrate their first Mass. Money is also requested from priests, coming from another diocese with commendatory letters from their respective bishops, before they are allowed to carry out divine services. We can hardly conceive of such base practices as being free from the suspicion of shameful profit and avarice. This custom, although introduced and preserved under the title of a stipend or remuneration given to the one who examines the priests regarding their knowledge of sacred rites and ceremonies, must, nevertheless, be totally eliminated. It is alien to the sacred canons and has been frequently repudiated. 9. What We have said up to this point concerning holy ordinations can be equally applied to the conferral or provision of ecclesiastical benefices. This is evident if you read the canons of the Church which have been drawn up to eradicate completely abuses springing up in this matter at various times (cf. chapter si quis q. 3, chapter non satis 8, chapter cum in ecclesia 9, chapter Jacobus 44 de simonia and elsewhere in Christian Wolf in his cited dissertation de simonia chapter 10). And although nothing was specifically decreed by the Council of Trent, nevertheless the Sacred Congregation of the Council, with the approval of the Supreme Pontiff Gregory XIII, declared that the decree (chapter 1, session 21 de ref.) had force also in the conferring of benefices, especially those having the care of souls. It also declared that nothing could be accepted for the seal, notwithstanding any time honored custom to the contrary (Garz. de benef. part. 8 chapter 1, numbers 76ff., Fagnan. chapter In ordinando de simonia, number 31, Gallemart. in chapter 1, session 21 de reform.). Hence this same Sacred Congregation, with the approval of the Supreme Pontiff, declared in a letter to the bishop of Molfetta, that bestowers of benefices, no matter what dignity they might possess, could neither accept nor demand anything

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