HC Deb 12 June 1823 vol 9 cc965-7
Dr. Phillimorc

presented a petition from: the rev. Dr. Poynter, praying that the Roman Catholics of England might be placed upon the same footing as those of Ireland, with respect to the performance, of the marriage ceremony.

Lord Nugent

said that the case of the; English Catholics with respect to the re- strictions on marriages was a hard one, and called for redress.

Mr. Monck

approved of the removal of the restrictions on the celebration of lawful marriages by Catholic priests. In some parishes in London there were thousands of Catholics who married according to the rites of their own church, and whose children were consequently in law bastards and burthens to the parishes where they were born, instead of being removable with their parents.

Sir J. Mackintosh

said, he had a petition to present from the parish officers of a large and populous district, complaining of the burthen brought upon them, and the injury to the country in general, in consequence of the law making the marriage of Roman Catholics by their own clergy, unlawful. They represented the disregard of solemn vows, the abandonment of offspring, and the profligacy and distress occasioned by this useless and absurd law. The petition was from the churchwardens, overseers, and guardians of the poor of the parish of St. Luke's; they stated that in their parish, which contained 40,000 people, a large proportion of the population were Catholics, natives of Ireland, who preferred to be married according to the usage of their own religion and country. The children of all such marriages were in law bastards, had no natural guardians, were chargeable to the parish, from which they could not be removed with their parents, were legally orphans from their infancy, and were exposed to the wiles of seduction and to all the guilt and misery consequent on such a state. The petitioners prayed for the alteration of this law, which alteration would be an extension of toleration, without conferring the slightest degree of political power.

Mr. M. A. Taylor

thought, that some legislative measure should be introduced to remedy the evil; but many of the inconveniences complained of might be attributed to the conduct of the Catholic priests themselves; for they must know, that such marriages were null and void, and they ought, therefore, to refuse to perform the ceremony, until the parties had first been married according: to the rites of the Church of England. This was done by the Catholic priests in Durham, and if adopted in other places, would; obviate many of the evils complained of. At the same time legislative remedy ought to be provided.

Dr. Phillimore

said, he had framed I such a bill some years ago, but on sounding the opinions of certain individuals upon it, he found that it would excite opposition in another place.

Mr. Grey Bennet

hoped the learned I gentleman would not be deterred from introducing such a measure, by what he knew of the opinions of certain individuals upon the subject. The law as it now stood was a disgrace to the country. He I trusted the learned gentleman would not delay the introduction of his measure.

Mr. T. Ellis

expressed a hope that his learned friend would not be deterred from introducing the bill. Though not favourable to granting to the Catholics any accession of political power, he would go as far as any member to remove all their disabilities, short of the granting of such power.

Mr. P. Grant

also hoped, that his learned friend would not delay the introduction of the bill. It had been stated, that the marriage of Catholics by a Catholic priest in Scotland was valid. True, it was so, because marriage, by the law of the country, was looked upon as a civil contract; but, by an act of the Scotch parliament, still in force, a Catholic priest was subjected to heavy penalties for performing the marriage ceremony between two Catholics, though the marriage would still be valid. It had happened to him to have to defend a Catholic priest, in a prosecution instituted against him, for an infraction of this law. His client was fortunately acquitted, and he believed that since then further prosecutions under that statute were abandoned.

Ordered to lie on the table.