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Each Catholic Diocese in the UK is completely separate from its neighbours, and can operate as its bishop chooses

A century later with more confidence, architecture was more bold and ornate and Catholics were allowed to have steeples and bells again


by Archbishop Malcolm McMahon OP


Throughout the Church’s long history in England and the Isle of Man, there have been many changes in how the Church is structured, how it owns property and organises its affairs. 

Unlike other nations which retained Catholicism as the state religion, in this country our ancestors Catholics often had to be much more creative to provide places where people could hear Mass. In the 17th and 18th centuries, when Catholics weren’t allowed to own property and Mass had to be offered in secrecy, properties were provided or owned by others. As catholic emancipation progressed, churches were able to be owned by priests or their benefactors, on trust for the Church. Eventually, following the restoration of the hierarchy and the return of bishops in this country, churches and schools could be owned by diocesan bishops. These properties were then transferred from incumbent priest to priest, or priest to bishop and so forth up to the twentieth century. 


Each Catholic Diocese in the UK is completely separate from its neighbours, and can operate as its bishop chooses. This reflects the position at canon law, which is set in Rome. In canon law, the diocesan bishop enjoys a similar freedom, and he is limited only in those matters where canon law or a decree of the Pope reserves a matter either to the Pope himself or to another ecclesiastical authority. In the Archdiocese of Liverpool, a trust was created in the 1960s, whereby a group of priests together with the Archbishop were to own all the property of the church in the Archdiocese. The Archdiocesan trust is a charity and is subject to UK charity law and must operate within that as well as canon law. However, that trust is ultimately a group of individual people. 

More recently we have included in amongst the trustees lay trustees, to support the Archbishop and priests in the operation of the trust with their skills and experience from different professions such as accounting, surveying, safeguarding, education. This reflects best practice for any large charity. Following a review of our current operations the trustees took the decision to move from a trust model to become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation, or a ‘CIO’. A CIO is a charity version of a company, established and regulated by the Charity Commission. 

The model agreed on in 1963 is no longer the best fit for us now, and many other dioceses and religious orders are going through similar reviews. This is very much a natural progression for organisations such as ours. It will be 60 years since a similar process was last undertaken and this is only the second time since the 1850s that the archdiocese is having such a restructure. The aim is to make the operations of the archdiocese fit for purpose for our mission in the contemporary world, and to secure its future for those who are called to carry out its mission in subsequent generations. 

On 1 January 2023, the Archdiocese of Liverpool will begin operating as a CIO. The CIO is called ‘Archdiocese of Liverpool’ and has a new charity number, different from the current trust. All the assets and liabilities of the current trust will be transferred over to the CIO. The trustees of the CIO will be the same as those for the current trust. Our governance and operational procedures will all be transferred over. Our trust staff will move over to be employed by the CIO. Any money intended to be received by the old trust, such as any donations, will automatically belong to the CIO. It is a bit like a giant corporate house move. 

Where there are practical implications for those who deal with the Archdiocese we will be in touch to let you know. However, if you have any queries about this transition, please email and we will endeavour to respond to you as soon as we can. We look forward to starting this next chapter in our story.

Early barn churches were discreet, so they didn't attract attention


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