Cardinal Burke's robes don't come cheap and
somebody has to pay for them.
The problem was this. Traditionally offices were filled either by election—normally bishops and abbots were elected by their cathedral or monastic chapters—or by appointment by the individual with the right of patronage. Rectors (pastors) were appointed to parish churches, not by the bishop, but by the individual having the right of appointment which was called the advowson. If, by way of fictitious example, the Earl of Grantham built a church for the peoples on his land, he had the right of advowson and “presented” the candidate for Rector to the bishop for approval. The bishop had very limited rights of refusal and almost always had to accept the presentation. Lord Grantham could give that advowson to another—perhaps it could be part of Lady Mary’s dowry. Or he could give to the nuns or monks of a nearby abbey. Most parish churches were filled by such rights of presentation and, as the candidate presented then began collecting the rector’s income—which could be quite handsome—it was a valuable gift to be named rector of a Church. The advowson itself was valuable too as the person with the right of presentation also collected a share of the Church income.
There were other ecclesiastical offices that were also “in the gift” of various prelates, nobles, or the Crown. The head of a hospital or a college, a canonry, a chaplaincy, a chantry in a cathedral, and other positions—all with an endowed income—might be filled by the person, secular or religious, having the right of presentation. (A chantry was a chapel to which a priest was appointed to offer masses and other prayers at various times in return for a salary.)
One of the reasons that the Statutes of Provisors were enacted is that popes had begun appointing people to these positions while the incumbents were still alive. In other words, the pope might appoint a Rector to Lord Grantham’s parish church to succeed the current rector upon his death or advancement to another post. This papal appointment would thus deprive Lord Grantham of his right to appoint whomever he would choose. So the Pope appoints the Reverend Dominus John Smith to be the Rector of Downton village Church upon the death of the Reverend Dominus Michael Jones. (In the Middle Ages secular priests were not called “Father” but usually “Dominus” which is the Latin for “Lord.” This survives in the Italian and Spanish “Don.”) In return for the appointment, R.D. John Smith sends the Pope ₤50 sterling. Lord Grantham is completely shut out of his right to appoint the rector (and receive whatever gratuity the new rector might see fit to make.) The papacy was raking in money from the usurped appointments.
A variation on this was the matter of Rome naming bishops to English Sees in violation of the right of the respective chapters to elect. Of course, elections were rarely free for if the Pope was not telling the chapter whom to elect, the King most likely was. And then, whoever was elected, had to appeal to Rome for the bulls authorizing his consecration and installation to the see. All this meant considerable money going to Rome. By the time of the Reformation the amount being paid to Rome for the confirmation of a bishop in his see was called an Annate—from the Latin, Annus, a year. This is because the fee was generally the bishops’ first year’s income from his diocese—something measured in thousands of pounds, or in today’s money, millions of dollars.
Another problem the statute addressed was that Lady Mary Crawley wished to marry her cousin, Matthew Crawley, Esq., but being cousins, such marriage was prohibited under canon law. No problem. Papal letters of dispensation can be obtained. ₤20 sterling will nicely cover the costs of notaries and scribes. (The ₤ sterling was worth far more in purchasing power in the Middle Ages than today. ₤ 20 would be worth several thousand today.)
The Statutes of Provisors were meant to stop cash from leaving England for Rome but they were also attempts to limit ever increasing papal power and keep the authority of the English Church in English hands.
Finally in 1353 Parliament enacted the Statute of Praemunire declaring that “ the right of recovering the presentments to churches, prebends, and other benefices . . . belongs only to the king’s court of the old right of his crown, used and approved in the time of all his progenitors kings of England." It then went on to declare that “if any purchase or pursue, or cause to be purchased or pursued in the court of Rome, or elsewhere, any such translations, processes, and sentences of excommunications, bulls, instruments or any other things whatsoever ... he and his notaries, abettors and counsellors shall be put out of the king's protection, and their lands escheat.” “Translations” here refers to moving a person from one ecclesiastical office to another—as in Justin Welby was “translated” from the Bishopric of Durham to the Archbishopric of Canterbury. This provision prohibited an English prelate from purchasing a position from the papacy. Escheat means forfeit so that if Justin Welby had paid Pope Francis to advance him from Bishop of Durham to Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop Welby’s lands would be forfeit to the Crown. Of course these days Pope Francis doesn’t get any say in who is Archbishop of Canterbury, but we will get to that part of the story down the line.
I hope this isn’t too confusing. We don’t have advowsons in America, though they still exist occasionally in the Church of England. We do have something similar to it, however, as a Religious Order that has charge of a parish still presents a candidate to the bishop who then names the candidate the pastor. Like the advowson, the bishop must have grave reasons to decline the nomination. However today newly named prelates—Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, and monsignors typically make appropriate (or inappropriate) gratuities to the Holy See upon their appointments. Bishops are still translated from one see to another. Timothy Dolan was translated from Milwaukee to New York. And such “translations” are generally steps “up the ladder.” Handsome gifts are still presented to the Holy See or to individual prelates who work there by individuals seeking various favors. (Cardinal Burke’s scarlet silk and fur trimmed cappa magna probably cost in the neighborhood of ten thousand dollars.)
The Statutes of Provisors and of Praemunire will come back with great importance when Henry VIII will use them to force the Bishops of England to break with the Holy See.