HC Deb 31 August 1831 vol 6 cc916-23
Sir Robert Inglis

said, that he had to present a Petition, signed by 780 Protestants of Ireland, against the Grant to the Roman Catholic College of Maynooth. The petitioners stated, that the College had been instituted to accomplish certain objects, but that the experiment had entirely failed. One of these objects was, by educating respectable men for the priesthood, at home, to prevent them from coming within the scope of foreign influence, which might cause them to entertain feelings hostile to the institutions of the country. This, however, had not been effected. The individuals brought up at the College being only persons of inferior rank. The petitioners deprecated the system of bringing up the lowest of the people to the clerical profession; and that such was the case at Maynooth, they proved from the highest authority—that of a report which had been laid on the Table of the House. From that report it appeared, that of 205 individuals in the College, six were the sons of merchants, one of an apothecary, and one of an architect; while the remaining 197 were the sons of farmers, graziers, grocers, &c. They stated, that the clergy, who had been educated abroad in former times, such as Father O'Leary, Dr. Butler, the present Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cashel, and other eminent men, were greatly superior to those who had been reared at Maynooth, and that the two ablest Roman Catholic clergymen of the present day, Dr. Doyle and Dr. Curtis, were both educated abroad. They further alleged, that, at Maynooth, the students were brought up in a decided hostility to the dispensation of the Bible generally, and that no Bible except their own translation, known as the Douay Bible, was allowed, the cheapest edition of which Bible cost 18s. The petitioners felt, that they ought not to be called on to support the promulgation of a religion which was erroneous and idolatrous, and though some objections had been made to so speaking of the Roman Catholic religion, he could not consider it as improper, when he recollected that such language had always been applied to the Catholic Religion, till very lately, in that House. In 1812, when it was proposed to reduce this grant, Mr. Perceval stated, that if it were then to be first granted, he should be disposed to resist the grant altogether; but considering it a grant made over by the Parliament of Ireland to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, he would not propose to abolish it. The reduction at that time was resisted, because the grant was one that was recognized at the time of the Union; but when reductions were made with respect to wide streets, and a variety of other items, which existed at the period of the Union, he could not conceive that such a plea was available with respect to this institution.

Mr. O'Connell

denied the truth of the assertion, that Maynooth had not produced as able men as any of those who had been educated abroad. In support of his position, he need only refer to the right rev. Dr. M'Cabe, whose acquirements in theology, in philosophy, in science, and in classics, might challenge competition. The petitioners, it appeared, complained that this college had not succeeded. Now he would tell them, that it had succeeded to the full extent which the Roman Catholics of Ireland, the parties most interested, wished and desired. He contended that the Roman Catholics desired to read, and did read, the Scriptures, but they objected to making them a school-book. When fault was found with the doctrinal parts of the Roman Catholic religion, the charge came with a very ill grace from the hon. Baronet, who must know the nature of the thirty-nine Articles, and must also know, that every man, before he became a minister of the Protestant Church, must subscribe to those Articles. The petitioners were unwilling, they said, to support an erroneous religion. Now he would make a bargain with the hon. Baronet, and if he would agree that the Roman Catholic should be exempted from supporting the Protestant Church in Ireland, he was quite certain that the former would give up every claim on the Protestants for the support of Maynooth, or any other Catholic institution. By such art arrangement, the Irish Roman Catholics would be saved annually 1,500,000l., which was paid to the Protestant clergy. The Roman Catholics were called idolaters. He indignantly repelled the assertion. They were not idolaters. They worshipped the living God, and the living God only! Sooner than worship aught else they would expire at the stake. If Protestants thought that they were mistaken in their religious opinion, oh! let them be Christians enough to say that the Catholics were in error—do not brand them as idolaters. If justice were done to the Irish Roman Catholics, they would not need any assistance of this kind. If, instead of being expended on building Buckingham Palace, the 123,000l. which had been recovered from France on account of the destruction of Irish establishments there, and the confiscation of property bequeathed for religious purposes, by the ancestors of the present race of Irish Catholics; if, instead of having been laid out in the manner he had mentioned, that sum had been handed over to its rightful owners, the Roman Catholics would not have needed a grant for Maynooth. His family had at one time thirty-six burses in Paris, and they yet had four; and he repeated, if the money to which he had alluded had been properly distributed, there would have been no necessity for a grant of this nature. He was sorry, at this time of day, to see the hon. Baronet presenting such a petition as this, imputing to the Roman Catholics doctrines which they disclaimed, and principles which they detested. If any individual of his faith rose in that House, and pointed out as heretics his Protestant fellow-subjects, he could tell the hon. Baronet that no man would meet such an aspersion with more honest indignation than he would. Had he not, then, a right to expect similar forbearance towards those who were of his creed? Polemics had been too long indulged in; and it was time that they should give way to feelings of Christian benevolence and charity.

Lord Killeen

denied, that the great body of Roman Catholics were adverse to the diffusion of the Scriptures, although they did not approve of them as a school-book. He, as one of the trustees and visitors of Maynooth college, would assert, that it had produced men of high character and attainments. At present there were seventeen Roman Catholic Bishops who had been educated there; they were brought up in the most liberal manner, and were at all times anxious to suppress riots and disorders, and encourage tranquillity and obedience to the law.

Mr. Hume

said, one of the complaints contained in this petition was, that persons of low birth were educated at Maynooth; but how stood the case in England? Had not every individual, whether his birth were the highest or the lowest, an opportunity of attaching himself to the Protestant Church? Who were they, he would ask, that served in the Scotch Church? Were they not taken from those very classes on whom the petitioners were now casting a gross aspersion? Were they not the sons of farmers, of grocers, and, if they pleased, of graziers? It was so, and yet he would put these pastors, for a correct discharge of their duties, in competition with the sons of those elevated nobles and high dignitaries who were brought up for the Church of England. The manner in which the duty of the parish priest in Ireland, and of the minister in Scotland, was performed, might put to shame many of the English clergy, when the labours of each were considered. It was, he contended, a most unfair reflection to suppose that men could not perform their duties unless they were of high birth. The Roman Catholics had been called idolaters, and on that account it was alleged that this grant should cease. Why, Indo-Britain contained millions of idolaters; and we supported the idolatry the Hindoos and of other sects. The English had a college to support and perpetuate what, in their view was idolatry. Should they, then, support the Hindoo and the Mussulman, and yet refuse assistance to the Roman Catholic on the gross plea that he was an idolater? He regretted to see a petition of this kind presented by any Gentleman, but more particularly by a Representative of one of the Universities, where liberality ought to prevail. But, unfortunately, with some few exceptions, the Universities were the hot-beds of every thing contracted and illiberal.

Mr. Spring Rice

wished the consideration of the matter contained in this petition to be postponed, until, in the course of the evening, he came to the vote to which it related, when Gentlemen would have the opportunity of delivering their opinions. As an Irish Protestant, and as strong a friend to the Protestant Church as any man, he should be prepared, when the proper time came, to contravene all that was alleged against the grant, and to defend the vote that would be proposed for the College. The motives of those who were appointed to visit the College were above suspicion. Their last report had been called for, and would be laid before the House; and he believed, that the statements contained in that Report would afford a better defence for this grant than anything that he could offer. The establishment at Maynooth was endowed by Parliament—it was under the superintendence of visitors appointed by Parliament. Now, what would the consequence be if the grant were withdrawn, and the jurisdiction over it, which he had described, were also put an end to? Why, the Roman Catholics would support it by subscription: and surely, if danger was to be apprehended from it as it was now conducted (which he denied), that danger would become infinitely greater when it was entirely upheld by an indignant people. The Parliament had endowed and encouraged at Belfast, and in other parts of the north of Ireland, institutions for the education of Presbyterian clergymen. Was it not equally wise that some provision should be made for the education of the Catholic priesthood of Ireland? He knew the priesthood of Ireland better than the hon. Baronet, and he must say, that many most learned and most liberal men—men strongly attached to the institutions of this country—were to be found amongst those who had been educated at the College of Maynooth; many men, too, he would add, who had been introduced into the priesthood from the most humble classes. He would only add, that the education of a priest could not be obtained on lower terms at Maynooth than at the Colleges abroad.

Mr. Henry Grattan

said, that the grossest ignorance and arrogance pervaded this petition, which came from members of Orange Lodges, and other violent persons, some of whom had been tried for their lives, and several of whom had been in gaol. It was anything but a fair or respectable petition. It was hawked about the country to Armagh, to Monaghan, to Fermanagh, to Dublin, to the Marshalsea prison of Dublin, and to the Corporation of Dublin; and thus the projectors of the petition had scraped together a number of signatures. The fourth clause in that petition was a base invention. It was not a doctrine held in Maynooth College, that the Scriptures should not be read. He grieved to see the hon. Baronet, at this time, assisting in raking up the expiring embers of religious dissension, and fanning them into a flame. The hon. Baronet might yet live to repent that he had contributed to scatter the firebrand of religious discord through Ireland. There was no Roman Catholic but must feel resentment at such aspersions; and he, as one who was connected with Roman Catholics, repelled such imputation with indignation. The late Mr. Grattan said, in 1795, at the time when this institution was formed, that the measure would turn Ireland from France and give her to England. And what now appeared to be the petitioners' proposition? That the clergy should not be educated in France—that they should not be educated in Ireland—that they should not be educated at all! If the hon. Baronet and the petitioners wished to separate the two countries, they could not take a better course than that of giving currency to statements that were false, unfounded, untrue, and unjust. It was not to be expected that Ireland would continue united with England if it was be so treated. Lord Chatham had said, that his Majesty's subjects were one people, and that whoever attempted to divide them was the author of sedition. He did not impute such a feeling to the hon. Baronet, but he was convinced that those who signed this petition had sedition in their hearts.

Sir Robert Inglis

said, he was not responsible for the character of the gentlemen who signed the petition. He did not know one of them; but he had been asked to present the petition, and he deemed it to be his duty to comply with the request. There was a higher authority than any in that House against taking the priests from the lowest classes of the people. With respect to the assertion of the hon. and learned member for Kerry, that the Catholics of Ireland paid 1,500,000l. to the Protestant Church, that he must deny. They paid tithes and church-rates, as owners and occupiers of land, and it was no matter whether the land was in possession of Catholics or Protestants, it was subject to those charges.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that if the hon. Baronet would read the signatures, he would know some of them. Among them appeared the names of the rev. Perceval Magee and his curate. The very rev. the Archdeacon, who received so large an income for doing nothing, thought he was performing his duty in putting his name to that petition, in order to calumniate the people by whom he was paid. The hon. Baronet complained that the Roman Catholic clergy of Ireland were the sons of persons in humble life, and said he had a high authority against that practice. He must say, for his part, that he had read the Bible, but he found nothing in that book rendering it obligatory on clergymen to ride in coaches. Those who first propagated Christianity were persons in humble life, and he could not imagine lowliness of birth any impediment to the faithful and zealous discharge of clerical duties. Men of the first information and talents amongst the priesthood were the sons of poor parents; such persons had a proper sympathy for their flocks, and he could tell the hon. Baronet, that the progress of pestilence and famine might be traced in Ireland by the deaths of the Catholic curates, who curtailed their own incomes, to minister to the wants of their people, and encountered disease by not being, like some other clergy, above visiting the abode of the poor and distressed.

Petition to be printed.

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