benefit of clergy

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In old England, the privilege of clergy that allowed them to avoid trial by all courts of the civil government.

Originally members of the clergy were exempted from capital punishment upon conviction of particular crimes based on this privilege, but it did not encompass crimes of either high treason or misdemeanors.

Benefit of clergy existed to alleviate the severity of criminal laws as applied to the clergy. It was, however, found to promote such extensive abuses that it was ultimately eliminated. Benefit of clergy does not exist in the United States today.

The phrase "without the benefit of clergy" is used colloquially to describe a couple living together outside a legal marriage.

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benefit of clergy was fought for by Archbishop Thomas Becket and conceded by Henry II in 1176 in the aftermath of Becket's murder. It exempted clergy from trial or sentence in a secular court on charges arising from a range of felonies and offences. This exemption extended from tonsured clerics to include nuns, and later it was allowed to all who could prove themselves literate by reading a verse of Scripture when charged with certain violations of the law. The reasoning was that literacy was the accepted test of clerical status. It was abolished by Parliament in 1827.

Revd Dr John R. Guy

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benefit of clergy the exemption of the English clergy and nuns from the jurisdiction of the ordinary civil courts, granted in the Middle Ages but abolished in 1827.

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