The following is from a catalogue of the deeds of Charles I, which led to his execution, and is a near contemporary account of the political background, which suited the Seculars and their Chapter:
England’s Black List;
A short account of some of the many illegal, Arbitrary, Popish and Tyrannical actions of King Charles I, falsely and unjustly called the Pious Martyr of ever blessed memory; I shall not pretend to describe them gradually, or annually, but as they occur.
- He took in the Duke of Buckingham to be one of the chief conductors of all his affairs, notwithstanding the said Duke was impeached for a very suspicious platter and portion administered to King James V. See the Earl of Bristol’s
and Sir Dudley Digg’s speeches against him in Rushworth. The Duke’s
mother and many near about him were Papists, and advanced men popishly
devoted, to places of the chief command in the Court and camp. Three
Parliaments in the beginning of this Reign, found and declared this Duke
The cause of all their miseries and disasters, the Grievance of Grievances;
Yet King Charles would against all justice protect him.
When Oliver Cromwell came to power after the fall of Charles I, the English Roman Catholic community was in grave disarray.
The newly established Vatican department for world mission was known as the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda. It monitored the rivalry between the ‘Regulars’ (mostly Jesuits and Benedictines) and the ‘Seculars’ (the ordinary priests), closely.
The presiding Cardinals of the Propaganda had made it their business a few years earlier to obtain a detailed report from the agent of the banished English Bishop Smith who had been forced to flee the country in 1631 following Jesuit machinations against him. This Breve raguaglio di alcuni abussi introdotti nella Chiesa Anglicana or ‘Brief describing the various abuses introduced into the English Church’, producing, il misserisimo stato de Cattolici in Inghilterra, that is, ‘the most miserable state of Catholics in England’, was a triumph of espionage. It extends to 90 sheets but appears to be incomplete.
Greed of the Priests
The report alleges that priests were able to make their own way, within the agenda of their own order, without adequate Vatican supervision. Since there were no Roman clergy houses in England, the priests sought hospitality with the Squires. Apparently one fifth of the peerage at this time were wealthy Romanists and many Catholics of the lesser nobility were equally wealthy. Amazingly, they offered stipends and pensions ‘as good as really rich benefices’. Hence the priests moved round restlessly, not to further the work of mission but to obtain an even more desirable post with an even richer Squire.
Since the rich papists lived in London and the Thames valley, this area was alleged to have a surplus of priests to the detriment of other areas – a situation the Civil war would soon reverse. The report cites priests in areas of oversupply putting each other in unnecessary danger through greed. Also these priests were apparently ignoring the poor who died without the sacraments. ‘Missionaries are more anxious about the favour of the laity than about the spread of the faith.’ The report ascribes the problem to the absence of a supreme authority in England to order priests to go where they were needed. Energy was being wasted, with 600 priests fighting for 100 prime positions.
The report alleges disorderly ‘fights and intrigues…. to get into better houses and oust the present possessor’. Each religious order was aggressively ambitious to lay claim to the most lucrative positions. The report further alleges that the Squires were not slow to benefit from this oversupply. They could pick and choose their priest. The ‘laxer’ the direction from their priest the better disposed they were to him and the more secure the priest felt. This weakened Vatican control over the Squires. Priests were alleged not to have reproved their employers even when their ‘life gives public scandal’ because there was always a jealous colleague only too ready to ‘get the chaplain in bad’ and seize his place should he take a firm line with his patron.
Dispensations for the rich
The report alleges that this corruption extended to the Oath of Allegiance to the King, which the patriotic Squires were generally keen to take to protect their own interests. The Vatican and Jesuits were absolutely opposed to anyone taking the Oath. However if one chaplain refused the sacraments to a Squire taking the Oath there were plenty of others to take his place who would take a more lenient line. The Society of Jesus were in the anomalous situation of publicly opposing the Oath whilst privately countenancing the actions of individual Jesuits who did not immediately withdraw the sacraments. We have already met Jesuit ‘dispensations’ allowing work on fast days in order to oblige wealthy farmers. Only the Day will declare the countless other secret unauthorised ‘dispensations’ for improper marriages, besetting sins and such like, authorised at this time without the knowledge of Rome and simply for the priests’ personal benefit.
Bribes for plum jobs
The report indicates that priests with local knowledge hawked their own indulgences around wealthy patrons with a view to ousting a less imaginative colleague in post. The report also states that when the competition for plum jobs became really tough, the Jesuit hierarchy began simply to offer bribes to get their men into the best houses. Such statistics as there are, show a preponderance of Jesuit Chaplains in wealthy areas.
The boom years of Henrietta Maria had made England a ‘dumping ground’ for ‘slackers’ and, even worse, impostors or fallen priests with falsified credentials. Fallen Jesuits were particularly well equipped by background in this respect. It is alleged that they ingratiated themselves with the rich using their personal magnetism in the way that confidence tricksters do.
Getting rich women to alter their wills in favour of the Society of Jesus through the confessional was one thing – and indeed the Monita or Secret Instructions of the Jesuits demanded it – but for ex-Jesuits to use their charisma to alter wills in their own personal favour, as the report alleges, was quite another.
Smith’s agent also cited cases in which priests with irresistible charms managed secretly to marry smitten women. To the Cardinals of the Propaganda, all this represented an intolerable loss of income and control.
Rome is not slow to point out that the report was heavily biased toward the Seculars, but nevertheless there is independent corroboration of some of the allegations, and the Jesuits who had the upper hand at the time were in a powerful position to rubbish criticism unfavourable to their cause.
Little wonder therefore that Msgr. Ingoli, the first Secretary of the Sacred congregations of the Propaganda, held strong views on how the Roman Catholics of England should be governed to stem these abuses. His proposals are preserved in a Propaganda document , Parere del Secretario Ingoli nel negotio delle contoversie fra il clero secolare e regolare d’ Inghilterra, which roughly translated means ‘The opinion or mind of Secretary Ingoli in the negotiations concerning the controversy between the secular and regular clergy of England’. Roman historian Fr. Hughes ‘literal translation’ of Ingoli, published in 1942, not only revealed a well kept secret but demonstrates the remarkable care that the Vatican takes in gathering intelligence.
Jesuit Opposition to a Bishop
Ingoli said, ‘I take it…the Regulars in England (especially the Jesuits) have always felt badly the decision to create a Bishop in that island…..because they were certain with the coming of a bishop their influence would decline. Perhaps too they believed that they would come to lose the assistance that came to them in return for their services to the Catholics of that country. Catholics would cling to the Bishop as a personage of greater distinction and more necessary for their spiritual needs. By this means the faithful would give themselves entirely to the secular clergy.’
‘I take it…..the Regulars would use all their best endeavours to take away Episcopal authority from that island, and because they could not do this directly….since the Holy See….even in the bitterest persecutions… has never failed to nominate these most important of all the servants of the Church of God – they set themselves to dispute ….with hair splitting (sottigliezza – quibbling)’ over the status of the English Bishops, known as Bishops of Chalcedon, a defunct see. From his global viewpoint Ingoli cites in the report a number of Bishops carrying the titles of former sees, in countries where Rome is in the minority, but who nevertheless have all the power and function of true Bishops.
Msgr Ingoli’s Proposals
Ingoli then makes his proposals: ‘The foregoing pre-supposed….I deduce
- From the beginning it was necessary to stabilise episcopal authority in England. This would have been done by the sacred Congregation of the Propaganda…had it not been opposed by Cardinal Mellini (the pro-Jesuit anti-Secular Inquisitor with strong influence over Pope Urban VIII) who was in favour of the Regulars.’
He goes on to explain how a Bishop in Holland, on the same footing as the English Bishops, had his authority legally strengthened over ‘delinquent Regulars’ so that ‘all those conflicts died down which for years and years kept coming before the sacred Congregation of the Propaganda.’
- ‘I conclude that it is not possible now to make the like arrangement in England, because men’s spirits are grown embittered …especially the most powerful bodies, the Benedictines and the Jesuits. We must look for some other way.’ Ingoli’s plan for three Bishops – one a secular, one a Jesuit and one a Benedictine – is ingenious but need not detain us as it never came into being.
More interesting is his reasoning to outwit his opponents. The two new Bishops would ‘smooth down’ the irate Regulars ‘accustomed to freedom’ over time. Rome often uses time in disputes. A century is nothing to her. The new Bishops would be ‘closer to the laity’, in this case the Squires, for ‘greater progress in the spread of the faith.’ The new ‘division of dioceses …will remove all occasion for …disputes.’
- Ingoli cites the damage to Rome’s cause from the current lack of control. He stresses that the squabbles of the Regulars and Seculars are impeding the missionary effort in England. He uses Propaganda intelligence to strengthen his position by comparing what has occurred elsewhere in similar circumstances. On this basis he insists his new bishops must have full powers ‘and even greater authority…because only the fear that they can be punished by the Bishops will keep the Regulars within due limits.’
- ‘Supposing that this plan of new Bishops is not found suitable, some rumour of it should be allowed to reach the ears of the Regulars so that by this means they will abandon their hope of an Archpriest.’ The Archpriest was the original pro-Jesuit supremo in England. Through his partiality, he had brought into being the ‘Appellants’, so called because they appealed to Rome against the Jesuits. The re- establishment of the office of Archpriest would have the effect of blocking the introduction of the normal Romish hierarchy with their sole right to conduct the parochial system, mass and confession. The Regulars, therefore, still dreamt of the reintroduction of an Archpriest. Quashing this hope was a major propaganda victory for Ingoli.
Ingoli’s report contained details of an intricate licensing system to curb the flood of unscrupulous and unsuitable regulars eager to come to England for the rich pickings amongst the Squires. Regulars would only be able to come bearing the credentials ‘de licentia tamen episcopi Chalcedonensis', that is by licence of the Bishop of Chalcedon, issued by the Pope. Ingoli made Bishop Smith’s return to England a cornerstone of his plan.
The Seculars would then hold power in Rome. Ingoli must have known full well that a pro-Jesuit Pope was never likely to grant such a thing and the Jesuit General would vigorously oppose it by fair means or foul.
Ingoli’s plan to curb the power of the Jesuits involved the use of a well-tried Vatican device, rumour. The effect of his carefully compiled set of proposals, once they had been leaked from the Sacred Congregation into the right ears, would undoubtedly get the Regulars worried. At the same time it raised the profile of the Propaganda as a body to be feared. The sheer reasonableness of Ingoli’s proposals became their strength. They addressed a situation in England that everybody privately admitted was embarrassingly out of hand. Ingoli could be sure his proposals would be widely whispered in the corridors of power and no doubt become more alarming with the telling. We are left asking: Had Ingoli done a deal with Urban VIII behind everybody’s back?
The report remained un-implemented as Ingoli foresaw it would. But the Propaganda backed the Seculars throughout the Civil War and Commonwealth years. Certainly from 1631-1685, when the Chapter of the Seculars attempted to provide traditional hierarchical leadership, the struggle between Regulars and Seculars continued as usual. This presupposes sufficient life left in the Chapter to offer a defence of their position. Even when Bishops were again brought to England, starting with Bishop Leyburn in 1685, they were only on the same footing as their predecessors, the Bishops of Chalcedon.
The Seculars fought on but the Jesuits finally triumphed with their own pro-papal hierarchy in the 1850 aggression. However the Chapter, suited as it was to the temperament and outlook of the English Squires, was very active during the period we are considering. This was despite the arsenal of dirty tricks at the disposal of the Jesuits – as we shall see in the next article, DV.