FOR MOST of the 19th century, Vatican policy in Ireland
was to appease the British monarchy and work for the Conversion of England,
hoping it would bring Great Britain and Ireland and the Empire into Rome at a
Vatican was still reeling from the consequences of the French revolution and
was terrified of any revolutionary activity. Daniel O’Connell’s boisterous
Irish activities caused the cardinals to shudder.
explains why, strange as it may seem to us today, the priests were the prime
movers in stirring up popular enthusiasm for the Union of Ireland with Great
Britain in 1800. Irish chief secretary, Viscount Castlereagh, “gave it as his
opinion that the Union would not have gone through without (Roman) Catholic
conciliatory approach to the British Government first emerged when a meeting of
the trustees of the Irish seminary at Maynooth passed a resolution which
favoured the idea that candidates for bishoprics should be selected by the
Irish clergy and then submitted to the government for its approval before the list
was sent to Rome. (The trustees consisted of four archbishops and ten bishops.)
was not weakness. Rome works over centuries and millennia to achieve her ends.
She feigns friendship with Governments, while simply ignoring any objections
they may make to her policies.
on RC bishops
the vast majority of the Irish population were Roman Catholic, the power of the
archbishops and bishops was immense. When any bishopric fell vacant, Rome was
sent a Terna, that is a list of three candidates for the vacancy. These were
the dignissimus ‑ the most suitable , the dignior ‑
the next most suitable, and a third, the dignus. Should the British
Government object to a certain name, Rome would choose between the remaining
two or even reject them all and demand three more names.
the government objected to an appointment, Rome might divide her dioceses, or
alter their boundaries, or create new posts in order to get her man installed.
If one government obstructed her, she would wait for a new government who might
wish to please her in return for some favour that the government urgently
required. Or Rome might appoint the rejected favourite as coadjutor to an
elderly and incompetent bishop, thus getting him in by the back door. Or she
might simply delay and delay a decision until the objections no longer applied.
The fact that the priests back in Ireland might be outraged, was of no account
O’Connell finds out
discovered Rome’s conciliatory policy towards the British Governemnt quite by
accident during a Commons debate in 1808. He made such a public fuss that the
Irish hierarchy promised they would abolish the government’s veto over the
appointment of bishops. Rome simply ignored the Irish hierarchy and continued
secretly to allow the British government to veto appointments. In 1814 the Quarantotti
Rescript was leaked from Rome’s College of the Propaganda. Rome was
exposed as still operating the veto, having taken no notice of her own men in
was furious. He organised a protest meeting in Dublin declaring, “Let our
determination never to assent reach Rome”. He went on to say, “I am sincerely
a Catholic, but I am not a Papist. I deny the doctrine that the Pope has any
temporal authority, directly or indirectly in Ireland”. Indeed, he continued,
“in spiritual matters too the authority of the Pope is limited”’. He added
that, “if the present clergy shall … become … vile slaves … I warn them … the
people all despise them too much to contribute”.
O’Connell threatens the Pope
The meeting decided to lobby the peope directly. A
protest was drawn up against “the interference of your Holiness in the control
of our temporal conduct … we cannot admit of any right on the part of the Holy
See … to direct our political conduct”. O’Connell even threatened the Pope.
The Bishops simultaneously “adopted a series of resolutions to be presented to
the Holy See expressive of their opposition to the Veto”.
Both documents were duly despatched to Rome. The Vatican
serenely ignored O’Connell as beneath contempt. The reply to the Bishops was
couched in typical non-committal Rome-speak and took a year to arrive. It was
a “vague defence” of the veto and “conciliatory”. The existence of the veto
was soon forgotten amongst more pressing matters.
So Rome achieved her first objective which was the Union
of Ireland with Great Britain and the governemnt veto on bishops.
But times were changing. As young Maynooth educated
preists with nationalist zeal replaced old continentally educated men, the
priesthood became more militant. The historian of O’Connell’s 1823
penny-a-month-after-mass Catholic Association says that the priests “no longer
refused co-operation in every expedient of constitutional annoyance … they
joined every meeting, they seconded every proposition, they lent their aid to
every project …. Likely to defeat or gall the common foe”.
next objective was Catholic emancipation ‑ the removing of the legal
disabilities which stood in the way of the advancement of Roman Catholics
holding office. The priests ensured victory in the Emancipation struggle by
vigorous promotion of their candidates in a number of key elections from 1826
onwards, culminating in the decisive 1828 County Clare victory in which O’Connell’s
election forced the Government’s hand to grant Emancipation to the extent of
allowing a Roman Catholic to sit in the House of Commons.
two months previous to the election, meetings were convened in Catholic chapels
(churches) all over the country. From platforms erected before altars, priests
told the people how to vote. “Every altar was made a tribune.”
County Clare the priests ordered “The whole male population between 15 and 80
to proceed to the scene of voting”. During the five days of the County Clare
election, “150 priests remained in town appealing to electors to stand firm for
their faith. Priests stationed themselves at every approach to the town” to
harangue voters. Other priests “entered the polling booths to discourage last
Vatican eyes Emancipation was the first step towards the Conversion of England.
Priestly excesses were conveniently ignored. But when O’Connell then began his
vociferous campaign for repeal of the Union, Rome took immediate steps to oppose
him by gagging the priests. Neither they nor their chapels (churches) were to
be used to promote repeal of the Union. With Rome’s support O’Connell achieved
Emancipation in four years. With Rome against him, he never achieved repeal of the Union despite
larger and more sophisticated agitations.
the 9th February 1830, the Irish hierarchy, under pressure from Rome, signed
“the first official statement” to the priests and people since Emancipation.
God was thanked, as was the Duke of Wellington and his government. Their King
was “to merit their honour, obedience and gratitude”. The British Parliament
was “worthy of reverence and love” for the step it had taken. The people
were to “demonstrate a steady attachment to the constitution ... the laws of
the country and the person and government of the King”. The priests were warned
off direct political action. “We united ... discharged a duty ... which we have
relinquished ... These are the sentiments our clergy, always obedient to our voice
will cherish with us:” And O’Connell got no mention at all.
press soon noticed Rome’s non‑attendance at repeal (of the Union)
meetings. On October 30th the RC Archbishop Murray had to provide an
explanation. The Dublin Evening Post reported the Archbishop to be
“utterly adverse to any agitation to endanger the public peace,” and, “most
anxious the Catholic clergy take no ... part in questions of a merely political
character”. In 1831, a synod passed a regulation that “absolutely prohibited
any priest from granting the use of any church or chapel for public meetings of
the laity ... and reading any proclamation from the altar except announcements
concerning divine service”.
British government was now seriously indebted to Rome. Formal diplomatic
contacts between Britain and Rome had ceased at the Reformation, but
“unofficial contact was ... maintained through the British representative to
the State of Tuscany”. In 1825 Lord Burghersh, using this channel, reported to
the Foreign office that “The Court of Rome see with dissatisfaction the unruly
spirit at various times shown even against itself by the Catholic clergy of
Ireland ... it would be anxious to reduce it to more orderly conduct both as
regards the British Government and its own authority”.
outlined Rome’s proposed deal. The Court of Rome, financially embarrassed by
Napoleon, “would receive with gratitude any proposition for the payment of that
Church, conceding in return a total renunciation of all pretension to the
ancient establishment that belonged to it and granting to the Government a
power in the election of Bishops”.
Rome added, “in the desire of healing wounds that have so long existed ... if
the statute restricting direct communication with the Holy See were taken away
... (The Holy See) would be happy to enter into such arrangements”.
1829 Pius Vill, sensing British weakness, wrote to the Earl of Aberdeen. He
assured Aberdeen that the King had “no subjects more loyal and devoted to Him …
It was true there were some points of religious difference between His Majesty
and Himself, which he regretted, but these were of no avail.” (!) His Irish
people “would be a source of strength and happiness to his Empire,” – as long
as Britain continued to appease Rome.
asks Rome a favour
same year Lord Burghersh went to Rome to collect a political favour. He asked Rome to fix
the appointment of a particular favoured dignior over an objected to dignissimus
for security reasons. Rome deliberated and chose neither, appointing the dignus.
A letter of the 31st December 1829 from Cardinal Albani to Lord Burghersh
tried to gloss over the snub and is still preserved in the Public Records
Office. This is a perfect example of the techniques by which Rome eventually won,
and the British government lost, in Ireland.
appease the British government, Cardinal Albani wrote: “However if these
weighty reasons have made the Holy Father feel the hard necessity of not
appointing ... a Bishop recommended to him by the British Government, he has
not in the meantime chosen the person to whom the government has object.
Notwithstanding therefore that Msgr Foran (dignissimus) is the person
most desired as Bishop by the Clergy of that Church, His Holiness has selected
another from the names of those recommended ... The Holy Father flatters
himself that His British Majesty will see from this that if he had been able to
do more to meet his Royal Wishes, He certainly would have done it." The
Irish bishops did not get their way, nor did the British government, but the
Vatican did. Rome never changes.