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Monday, September 25, 2017
Date Posted:

The Irish Republic And The Vatican’s Curious Silence

The Enslavement of a Nation: the Romanising of Ireland
Dr Clive Gillis

November saw the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Irish Republic and the Holy See.  This culminated in a mass conducted by Cardinal Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State, in St John Lateran, Rome.

L Osservatore Romano gave Sodano’s homily a whole page, plus two photographs, under the headline, “The Extraordinary History of Irish Catholicism”.

The things Sodano considered “extraordinary” were the Knock shrine, the exertions of Patrick and other monks in “devotion to the see of Peter”, the era of Jesuit devotion to the popes, the forging of the diplomatic link in 1929, and the present Pope’s visit in 1979 which “sealed” that link

Dermot Keogh

More extraordinary to the present writer however, is the fact that respected historian Dermot Keogh was asked to lecture on 75 Years of Diplomatic Relations to highly placed Roman dignitaries. For in his book, Ireland and the Vatican, Keogh reveals that the, “Vatican Archives for the period ... were closed,” and that this, “unsatisfactory state of affairs ... was unlikely to change in the near future”!

The reception given to Keogh’s book is reminiscent of the early condemnations of the Silence of Pius UI (his silence during the Jewish holocaust). The subject was of legitimate interest, but with the Vatican Archive shut, writers had to go to various state archives and deduce the Vatican position indirectly. As the hue and cry grew, the Vatican altered its rules to suit itself and issued a set of archive material, and then more, and then more. Yet, at a recent visit to the Vatican bookshop, the author noticed that nobody was buying it!

Keogh reports that the, “doors of certain [other] archives were also slammed in my face”. Apparently the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs has only recently obliged.  This material was moved to Ireland from Villa Spada on Rome’s Janiculum hill only recently.  But as Keogh lectured in Rome, the guardians of the Vatican Archive looked on impassively knowing that their own secrets were safe.

Rome reverses her policy

Even more extroardinary is the total reversal of Vatican policy in Ireland from Rome’s initial ascendancy with the arrival of Archbishop Cullen in 1850 to the period when diplomatic relations commenced with the Free State in 1929.  It is not often realised that it was the popes who opposed Irish aspirations, and with savage zeal, while heaping the blame upon the British Government.

The story begins in 1858 when James Stephens founded a revolutionary organisation amonst Irish immigrants in America known as the Fenian Brotherhood.  In Ireland the organisation was known as the Irish Republican Bortherhood or just the Fenians.  They sought to set up a republic by force of arms, but also to keep the Roman Catholic Church out of Irish affairs.

Archbishop Cullen opposed the Fenians with a determination equal to if not exceeding that of British Intelligence, severely disciplining any priests involved.  Cullen’s violent opposition to the funeral of a Fenian hero, to the great distress of the man’s widow, is a measure of his opposition to the movement.

The American Fenians had decided that a certain Terrence Bellew McManus, who had been deported to Tasmania for revolutionary activity, and who eventually died in California in 1861, should have a show funeral in Ireland.

Fr Lavelle

Cullen not only refused point blank to allow the funeral to be held in Dublin Roman Catholic Cathedral, but went further, forbidding requiem masses to be held for him any where in his diocese. Fr Lavelle, a troublesome priest who had sponsored McManus, pasted up an emotive broadsheet aimed at Cullen throughout Dublin.  The Broadsheet Stated, “Good God! McManus denied a momentary resting place in any church in Ireland, though those whose fathers built those churches would shed the last drop of their blood to honour his memory. Did McManus die the banned of the Church? ... Yet is he denied in that dear land the honours heaped upon the coward the traitor and the slave ... Oh Ireland! ... When shalt thou rise?”  Meanwhile McManus lay in the Mechanic’s Institute until finally a vast 50,000 strong crowd followed the procession to Glasnevin Cemetery for a torchlight service conducted by Lavelle.

The Bull and the Fenians

Cullen fought Lavelle for almost 10 years.  The pope suspended the vociferous priest three times.  The final clash came in 1869.  Cullen had confidently awaited the Bull Apostolicae Sedis Moderationi of October 12th which was to condemn secret societies, among which Cullen expected the Fenians to be named specifically.  The Bull mentioned a number of revolutionary movements but not Fenianism.  Lavelle had a field day proclaiming widely that the Bull did not encompass the Fenians in its scope.  In a most extraordinary move, Cullen undertook personally to lobby the Pope and one expert reckons that he actually procured a personal audience with the Inquisition:  “It could well be that Cullen presented his document in person on 12th January (1870) and that the Fathers of the Inquisition decided on the condemnation there and then”.  The Vatican had now condemned Fenianism by name.

The boycott

The “Land War” of the late 1880’s, with its images of the eviction of Roman Catholic tenants, sometimes at gunpoint, kindled an undying hatred towards the British. The harrowing scenes were captured in sketches in journals like the Illustrated London News. Irish farming now faced competition from America, Canada and Australia and was also hit by a series of harvest failures in the late 1880’s.  Tenants could not pay their rent and horrific evictions occurred.  When Captain Boycott of Connemara, land agent of Lord Erne, served notices on a number of tenants for non‑payment of rent, the tenants conspired together.  The result was “all his servants were induced to leave him, tradesmen were prevented from working for him, and shopkeepers from supplying him with goods,” hence the expression, “boycotting”.  Activists developed a “Plan of Campaign ... whereby the tenants on an estate offered the landlord what they considered a fair rent.  If he refused they handed over their money to trustees to be used for their support if and when they were evicted.”  The priests and their bishops were openly supportive of the tenants, “the Plan” and the Boycotting.

The pope, now Leo XIII, gathered those he felt best suited to understand the plight of poor Irish tenants.  He sent Cardinal Persico, a Jesuit educated Neapolitan, on a fact finding mission.  Persico went with little notice and without consulting Cullen’s successor as Archbishop of Ireland of Dublin, Walsh. Persico’s secretary, Enrico Gualdi, another wizened Italian and one time priest of Cardinal Manning, supplied the necessary English language skills.  However Gualdi fell ill on the expedition, which prematurely curtailed it.  On Persico’s return to Rome his report was considered in the Inquisition by the Sicillian Cardinal Rampolla, (who later became its head), and Andreas Steinhuber a former Jesuit theologian from Innsbruck, now the tribunal’s legal consultant.  Steinhuber prepared himself by studying three earlier condemnations by the Inquisition of the National League ‑ the Irish end of the Home Rule movement ‑ delivered in 1881,1882 and 1883.  He also considered Persico’s report but little else.  In particular, no‑one deigned to wait for a report from beleaguered Irish Archbishop Walsh even though the pope had asked him to write it.

The Inquisition’s decree of April 1888 declared that the Pope, “fearing … justice … should be … perverted … in consequence of … the Plan of Campaign … also Boycotting … commissioned the Supreme Congregation of the Holy Romand and Universal Inquistion to make the matter the subject of grace and ecareful examination … is it lawful to have recourse to … the Plan of Campaign and Boycotting? … their Eminences unanimously replied in the negative.”  The Irish bishops attempted to delay the implementing of the decree fearing a mass exodus from their churches, and loss of control of their infuriated priesthood, but Rome’s will was final.  Priests now “dare not” interfere at evictions.

Evolution of the Republic

From Easter 1916 when Padraig Pearse proclaimed an Irish Republic outside Dublin Post Office, “Catholic Ireland” remained in complex transition through the tentative 26 county Free State of 1922 to the Eire of 1937 and then on to the final establishment in 1949 of the Republic which we know today.  God Save the King remained the official National Anthem until 1927 and the King was Head of State until 1937.  Eire did not leave the Commonwealth until the Republic was established in 1949.  It was an extraordinary change in Vatican policy that led it to move away from its virulent antagonism to the slightest hint of republicanism in 19th century Ireland, to actually agreeing, in 1929, to establishing diplomatic relations with an Irish Free State born of revolution.

Since an expert has only just been allowed by Cardinal Ratzinger to examine, the nineteenth century Inquisition Archive for the facts of the Persico Land War affair, the truth behind 20th century events is unlikely to be revealed in the lifetime of many of us.  But we can speculate. Clearly the Free State needed the prestige of a papal nuncio to be accepted as a legitimate entity on the world stage.  First ever Minister for External (Foreign) affairs, Patrick McGilligan, was a persuasive man and he lead a vociferous lobby in favour. But why did the Vatican do a deal just then?

The Vatican’s hopes

The Vatican, preferring to deal with monarchies, had clung to the hope of the conversion to Rome of the British Sovereign right into the new century.  But by 1929 the Empire was in effect already becoming the Commonwealth. Keogh argues, “The establishment of the Irish state gave the Holy See a new ally in the British Commonwealth. The Vatican viewed Ireland as ... ever willing to help the papacy achieve its international policy goals.  The Vatican did not perceive Ireland as being a small Catholic power with limited international influence,” because the vast Irish, “diaspora had a significant impact on the development of Catholicism in many Commonwealth and Third World countries”. Basically the early 20th century Popes were delighted with the “non persecuting and liberal policy of England ... as opposed to other European powers,” meaning that Britain had allowed Roman Catholicism to flourish in the Empire/Commonwealth in the face of weakening Protestantism.

The Duke of Norfolk

Another key factor was the influence of pow­erful British Roman Catholics.  These were now willing to see the British Government allow the secession of Southern Ireland.  The Persico affair was so crassly handled that it is obvious the Vatican was being pushed.  The newly opened archives have shown the lengths to which the senior British Roman Catholic layman and landowner, the Duke of Norfolk, went to oppose the tenants.  He was fundamentally opposed to any diminution of landlords rights and home rule and indeed any agitation in Ireland.  He even travelled personally to Rome to force the issue.  Moreo­ver the powerful and fashionable English, Roman Catholic community, which tradition­ally had had the pope’s ear above many na­tional groupings, and who tended to belittle the Irish Community, had drastically dwin­dled following the First World War.  It was this community, for instance, that had made the Norfolk mission persuasive in its day.  Their decline removed an obstacle to the emergence of an independent Ireland.

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