7 AUGUST 1852, Page 10


Moan than one political friend has challenged our attention to the conduct of the Roman Catholic priests during the elections in Ire- land, as being dangerous to the free exercise of the Parliamentary

franchise, and as being still more fatal to religious toleration. It is not, says one correspondent, who has several times aided us with his pen, a religious question, but a social and political one ; for we have nothing to do with the faith of the persons in question.

" You will agree with me, I am sure, that no one has any right whatever to dictate to his neighbour what he should believe or what he should not be- lieve. If our neighbour's conduct be upright, if he follow the Divine precept of doing as he would be done by, we must not investigate too closely by what process of moral and religious reflection he may have arrived at that practical result.

".Let not this weak unknowing hand

Presume Thy bolts to throw, And deal damnation round the land On each I judge thy foe.'

" I repeat, that the question is social-political, not a religious one. Apart, then,.from the subject of belief, the Roman Catholic religion is objectionable only on two grounds. First, on account of the auricular confession ; se- condly, with regard to the purchase of prayers by a money payment for the release of souls in purgatory.

"By the latter, confiding Romanists may be induced to leave their pro- perty to the Church, in preference to leaving it, as they naturally ought to do, to their relatives : by the former, the priesthood obtain an objection- able influence over the domestic ties of private families, and through these individuals over the state : and this evil may arise independently of the great abuse that auricular confession is proverbially open to, in the ministration of its ordinance, by unserupulonainimoral men. " To keep in check their ambitious designs and the extension of their power, Roman Catholic priests should be precluded by law from interfering with the free exercise of the elective franchise ; which law, in order not to appear an invidious one, should extend to the priests and pastors of all denominations of religion.

" As a precedent to this principle, clergymen of the Established Church are already disqualified from sitting as Members in the House of Commons ; and this surely is a step in the right direction."

Our correspondent is right in supposing that our opinion is not very dissimilar to his ; but such difference as there is appears to us to be of vital importance, touching in fact the very cardinal question upon which active intervention must be determined. The conduct of a great number of Roman Catholic priests—perhaps of the majority, though it is really impossible to ascertain the plain fact in that land of hyperbole—has been very bad. The prostitu- tion of the altar to purposes of intimidation and coercion of voters against their better feelings—the studied incitements of hatred against individuals—the canting and fraudulent use of old tradi- tional fictions—the active lead of mischievous mobs—are acts at least so frequent, that they are taken to characterize the conduct of the class in general; and they deserve the strongest condemna- tion that we can employ. But while we admit that gigantic evil, let us not be guided in our own conduct by blind resentment. Let us not be so far under the dominion of those bad men, that they can determine, by oppo- sition, what we shall do. Thebad Irish priesthood is a weed that grows out of the soil, as it has been cultivated. That it is inherent in the nature of things as they are, is proved by the fact that we all expected it to be precisely what it has been. From the antece- dents we calculated, before the election, the results as they have happened; and now that the results are before us, let us not be so blinded by the spectacle as to forget the antecedents. Even Rome might fairly allege some "extenuating circumstances" in those antecedents. The priests behave as a spiritual sort of faction- fighters, as Irish brawlers at public-houses, as excited hodmen- at worst, as low ruffians—ruffians low in organization, in training, in knowledge. But they behave as they are. They are faction- fighters, brawlers, hodmen ; they not only belong to the same race as the low-browed monkey-muzzled unfortunates who swarm into England to do the lower work of our towns and fields, but they belong to the same socially-depressed class—are bred in it, bred with it, and breed into it again. A priest is one of the race of hod- men elected to be the priest of his kind : he professes the "true faith "as it is understood at Rome ; and the chief of that true faith must perforce accept him, act through him, and thus far give to his influence the stamp of universal authority. He is a bad instru- ment—all the worse for being at once the master and the slave of the sympathies of his race and class ; and yet Rome is in great part fain to shape her Irish policy according to her instruments. They are bad instruments, but they cannot be otherwise, and they cannot be rejected by the authority to whom they offer themselves.

But when our correspondent proposes to interfere with their in- terference, he proposes what cannot be done without adopting the inquisitorial and oppressive polity to which those v.cious instru- ments belong ; nor without weakening, even to destruction, the very force that is to overcome them. You can exclude clergymen of the English Church from the House of Commons, you might exclude Romish priests ; that would be the parallel case. You might even deprive Romish priests of their vote, though English clergymen are not so deprived. To vote, and to sit in Parliament, are specific acts, which must be exercised according to a technical form, and may be subjected to the action of law when they come under view in the process. But to interfere between the priest and his charge is difficult. Still more when the religious tolerance on which we ought to rely obliges us, in treating secular matters, to ignore distinctions of faith. And to interfere between citizen and citizen in confidential converse, would call upon us to adopt a police fit only for Austria. Intervention of that kind, therefore, is impracticable in itself, and would be mischievous if it were not impracticable.

Another kind of intervention is quite practicable, and wholly beneficial. We can enter into a rivalry with the priest for posses- sion of his charge. In doing so, we can attack the priest-weed at its very root, in the very soil to which it is indigenous. It is under compulsory ethics that Ultramontane Catholicism thrives, es- pecially the base, truculent Catholicism in question : thorough free- dom, an open atmosphere of thought and speech, is fatal to it. The priest is influential over his fellow peasants, and fellow men- dicants, and fellow hodmen, because he is more learned than they ; but his learning is spurious, and he knows it. If his French is not the French of Stratford-atte-Bow, his astronomy is the astro- nomy of Cullen at Rome, which teaches palpable lies that cannot endure the presence of Rosse's telescope. With his low cunning, the priest can beguile the voters : let those who have a victory over. him at heart keep those voters better informed. That is the true intervention. And the process is already at work on a magnificent scale, with the finest promise. The Na- tional system of Education is rearing up a generation with a knowledge of Protestant physics and mathematics and histories, which generation will shortly be the voters of Ireland. Meanwhile, too, society itself is moving in a body—ay, even the priests with it. The fact that Roman Catholics send their sons to the Queen's Colleges, coupled with the other great fact that, Papal prohibitions notwithstanding, priests are readily found to be mi- nisters for those Colleges, attest the still greater fact, that a spon- taneous emancipation is going on among the Irish Catholics. Those facts do not lose their importance by our having mentioned them before. On the contrary, every day adds proof that the new form of free Catholicism is the true antagonism to the low priest- hood; and if we would expunge the rank hedge-weed, we should cultivate that, its wholesome extirpator. But we cannot do so by Austrian methods of social espionage and individual coercion. The Queen's Colleges, national education, Rosse's telescope—such are types of the great influence which is already beginning to overcome the baser influence ; and our duty is only to keep the ground free for the steady but not slow advance of that high and healthy in- fluence.