IRISH POLITICS AND THE IRISH PRIESTHOOD.
ITO THE EDITOR OP THE " SPECTATOR." J
SIR,—I read with interest the letter of your correspondent from Belleek Rectory, Fermanagh, in your issue of August 7th. Had he supplied the name of the parish priest with whose speech he acquaints us, that of the place to which he refers, and that of the "extensive works" where employment was for- bidden on the day of the excursion, a record would have been before us, complete in its details, and suited to the illustration of those cases in which an ignorant priest, moving outside the circle of his duties, commits his people to wrong, and injures the reputation of Catholic teaching. The omission of those details deprives the letter of your correspondent of much of its value. He signs his name and gives his address. His courage is not impeachable, his veracity is not in question ; but the history he writes is useless to third parties.
I have had a large correspondence from Ireland, dating from the Elections of 1885, and the impression produced by it on my mind is that the interference of the priests in matters outside their jurisdiction is excessive, and is inconceivably mischievous in its nature. At the time of the Elections in 1885, many cases came to my knowledge of interference by the priests, intolerable, and which would, so far as my judgment leads me to conclude, have been held to vitiate the elections where it occurred, had the law been administered as in England.
Cases are within my small sphere of observation where priests fix the scale of their own remuneration for the performance of certain duties, the priest in one case, for the blessing of a mar- riage, absolutely refusing that office, with the consequent effect of delaying the marriage, until the amount fixed is provided. Your correspondent may object that I omit to give names and other details. My reply is that I have a sufficient reason for the omission. I can provide details. The priest whose con- duct I call in question is one of whom I believe that he acts in good faith, and in accordance with custom. It does not appear to me in any way useful to gibbet one man, who probably con- forms to custom which is accepted by those among whom his duties are performed. At the same time, I think such custom, wherever it exists, objectionable, if not dangerous. It has arisen out of the exigencies of the priests in the times of the persecutions in Ireland ; and from those times dates also very much that separates the Catholic population of Ireland from the sympathies of Englishmen of the same faith, and very much of the indiscipline of the Irish Church, the uncontrolled action of the priests, as well as the interference of the Bishops and of the clergy in politics.
I have heard, Sir, around me, whenever Irish politics were discussed in English circles, the question many times asked,— " Why does not the Pope interfere ?" " Will not the Pope act ?" Alas ! I am compelled to ask,—" How is the Pope to become instructed as to the real state of things ?." It is common to conclude that the Pope knows. But the Pope has direct relations with the Irish Archbishops and Bishops, and by them is informed of the condition of the Irish Church. All the Irish priests are not meddlers in politics ; many admirable men, parish priests, do their best to control their curates, several Bishops curb to the best of their ability the intemperate action of certain priests subject to their jurisdiction. Bat, practically, Maynooth and its principles carry the day. Maynooth appears to be the hotbed of rebellious students, who ulti. mately become the curates remarkable at League meetings, at races, at fairs ; judges of horse-flesh, and keenly alive to the importance of their lives ; ignorant of science and art, of political economy, as of justice and abstract right. They hold large views upon large matters, and travel back to the period when every man had an inherent right to the soil. Neverthe- less, in proportion to their. instruction, many, I think it would be right to say most, of those priests are good men, men intending to do what they think right.
I ask again, who is to " tell" the Pope The English Govern- ment has no representative at the Vatican. Probably, to send an official representative to the Vatican would be to add just that one feather which in the scale of popular favour would out- weigh the existence of the Government of which he would be the envoy. And yet the want of a representative at the Vatican has been felt. An unofficial representative is useless. Possessed of no credentials, he must be unaccredited ; and as he can represent no policy, he can acquire no confidence. The Pope, therefore, has no information that does not come from the Irish Archbishops and Bishops. As the most active of them are Archbishop Croke, Bishop Nulty, and Archbishop Walsh,. it is only possible for the Pope to interfere when their public utterances are of such a nature as to attract the attention of his Holiness. Your readers may suggest "the English Catholic papers." My own impression is that most are edited or directed by Irishmen who are not disposed to call attention to matters of custom or action which have their full sympathy. One newspaper only, a purely English paper, the Tablet, is, "on principle," opposed to the attraction of public opinion to the Irish clergy or their doings ; and it would be hope- less to address that paper upon that subject.
My conclusion, Sir, is that the best means of importing to the knowledge of the authorities at the Vatican an acquaintance with the facts relating to the action of the priests in Ireland,. and of providing, honestly and wisely, means by which their mischievous interference in matters outside the duties of their calling may be prevented in the future, lie in the appointment of a properly accredited official representative of the English Government at the Vatican.—I am, Sir, &c., [It would appear by a letter in last Saturday's Times that Mr. A. W. N. Tyrrell, of the Junior Carlton Club, regards the Rector of Belleek's story as a ridiculous exaggeration of some- thing that happened at Bundoran. His account of the matter is that a party of Orangemen were expected at Bundoran on Thursday, July 1st, the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, and that the navvies on the Lough Erne drainage works were pre- pared to meet them ; but that when it was discovered that only peaceable holiday-makers from Enniskillen were expected, the hostile demonstration collapsed. We have no means at all of deciding between the comparative authenticity of the Rector of Belleek's account and the account of Mr. Tyrrell.—En. Spectator.]