HC Deb 01 April 1833 vol 16 cc1348-54

On the question that the Speaker do leave the Chair to go into a Committee on the Church Temporalities (Ireland) Bill.

Mr. Andrew Johnstone

would move, before the Speaker left the Chair, that the oath contained in the Catholic Relief Bill to be taken by Catholics taking their seats in that House, be read. The present was, he thought, the fittest opportunity for calling the attention of the House to that subject. In doing so he hoped he should get credit for not being actuated by any improper feeling, for he was only taking that course which his duty pointed out to him. The oath to which he referred was enacted and made part of the Bill for the relief of Roman Catholics in order to prevent Roman Catholic Members from interfering in any way in that House so as to injure or weaken the Church Establishment of England or Ireland. That such oath was understood to be intended to prevent Catholic Members from taking-any part in matters relating to the Church Establishment was the opinion of many hon. Members of that House. He recollected that in the last Parliament the late right hon. Secretary for Ireland had called the attention of the hon. member for Tipperary to the subject, in the same feeling as to the meaning of that oath; and he also remembered that in the last Parliament Lord Killeen and the member for York both declared that they considered themselves bound by their oaths, as Catholic Members of that House to abstain from any discussion on such subjects. In the present Parliament, when an hon. member (Mr.O'Dwyer), whom he did not see then in his place, had spoken of destroying the Irish Church, he was immediately reminded by an hon. and learned civilian (Dr. Lushington), that by the hon. Member's (Mr. O'Dwyer's) oath, as a Catholic Member, he was precluded from doing anything which would tend to injure or weaken the Protestant Church Estab-lishment in England or Ireland, Notwithstanding these opinions, he found it was still the intention of some hon. Members, who were Roman Catholics to take a part in matters with which, as it appeared to him, the oaths they had taken at that Table forbad them to meddle. For example the hon. and learned member for Tipperary had given a notice that he would move that any surplus fund which might arise out of the measure of reform in the Irish Church, should be at the disposal of the House to purposes of State. Under these circumstances, he felt it his painful duty to take the course he was now pursuing. In the oath to which he referred, the Catholic Member swore, amongst other things, "And I do hereby disclaim, disavow, and solemnly abjure any intention to subvert the present Church Establishment as settled by law with-in this realm." He would not rest on the terms he had read, but in the next passage of the oath were these words, "and I do solemnly declare, that I will never exercise any privilege to which I am or may become entitled, to disturb or weaken the Protestant religion or Protestant Government in the United Kingdom. And I do solemnly, in the presence of God, profess, testify, and declare, that I do make this declaration, and every part thereof, in the plain and ordinary sense of the words of this oath, without any evasion, equivocation, or mental reservation whatsoever—So help me God." He would not say in what way a man could conscientiously take such an oath, and afterwards feel himself at liberty to interfere or take an active part in matters which tended to injure or weaken the Protestant religion or Government. The oath he had mentioned was very strong, but if he were to go to some of the decrees of Catholic councils he should find that faith was not to be kept with heretics. ["No, no" from Mr. O'Connell.] The hon. and learned Member denied this; he would refer him to the decrees of the council of Constance, and also to the third council of Lateran, in which it was promulgated that any oath taken against the interest of the Catholic church was to be considered as not binding and as no oath ["No, no," from Mr. O'Connell]; and Catholic writers asserted that they could obtain dispensations for such oaths [No, no]. Looking at the question in the light of a civil compact, he would say, that the Protestants had performed their part of it in admitting the Catholics to an equality of civil privileges, and it was now the duty of the Catholics to perform their part of it by observing the conditions on which that equality was given. He was sorry that it should fall to his lot to move this, but he would withdraw his Motion if the House should be of opinion that a more proper time would occur hereafter for its introduction; but it appeared to him that the present was the proper one for bringing this question before the House. He had brought it forward without consulting any hon. Member, and would now leave it to the House. He would move in conclusion that the oath administered to Roman Catholic Members of that House be read.

The Clerk read the oath as follows:— I, A. B. do sincerely promise and swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to his Majesty King George the Fourth, and will defend him to the utmost of ray power against all conspiracies and attempts whatever which shall be made against his person, crown, or dignity; and I will do my utmost endeavour to disclose and make known to his Majesty, his heirs and successors, all treasons and traitorous conspiracies which may be formed against him or them." and I do faithfully promise to maintain, support, and defend, to the utmost of my power, the succession of the Crown, which succession, by an Act intituled 'An Act for the further Limitation of the Crown, and better securing the Rights and Liberties of the Subject,' is and stands limited to the Princess Sophia, Electress of Hanover, and the heirs of her body, being Protestants; hereby utterly renouncing and abjuring any obedience or allegiance unto any other person claming; or pretending a right to the Crown of this realm, and I do further declare that it is not an article of my faith, and that I do renounce, reject, and abjure the opinion, that princes excommunicated or deprived by the Pope or any other authority of the See of Rome may be deposed or murdered by their subjects or by any person whatsoever: and I do declare that do not believe that the Pope of Rome or any other foreign Prince, Prelate, Person, Stale, or Potentate, hath or ought to have any temporal or civil jurisdiction, power superiority or pre-eminence directly or indirectly, within this realm. I do swear that I will defend to the utmost of my power the settlement of property within this realm, as established by the laws, and I do hereby disclaim, disavow, and solemnly abjure any intention to subvert the present Church Establishment, as settled by law within this realm: and I do solemnly swear that I never will exercise any privilege to which I am or may become entitled, to disturb or weaken the Protestant religion or Protestant Government in the United Kingdom; and I do solemnly, in the presence of God profess, testify, and declare, that I do make this declaration and every part thereof, in the plain and ordinary sense of the words of this oath, without any evasion, equivocation or mental reservation whatsoever So help me God.

Mr. O'Connell

said, be would not detain the House by giving any detailed answer to the ludicrous calumnies which the hon. Member had raked up, for all those calumnies had been already scouted with ridicule by all who had liberal or Christian feelings. The hon. Member talked of the compact with the Catholics. There had been none but that of the treaty of Limerick, which had been shamefully violated to their injury by the Protestants. The Catholics had come to that House to demand their rights, to be placed on terms of civil equality with their Protestant fellow-subjects. They had asked for that only, and would not have accepted anything beyond that, even if it had been offered. The statement of the hon. Member was only fitted for the days of John Knox, and probably in his days it would have been followed by the shedding of blood. As to the assertion of the council of Constance or Lateran having declared that no faith was to be kept with heretics, he would as confidently assert that it was not the fact. The assertion was an historical blunder. But if any Catholic council had declared any such opinion, every conscientious Catholic would be bound to reject it; for no council or other body of men had a right to command that which was in itself morally wrong. As to the dispensing with an oath, a Catholic believed that no person or persons had any such power, in any case of an oath between man and man. There were, indeed, certain oaths which might be dispensed with and absolved from. For instance, if the hon. Member took an oath to pay him (Mr. O'Connell) a sum of 50l., he could absolve him from the oath by remitting him the money; or oaths of celibacy made by the Catholic clergy might be dispensed with by the authority which made them; but all other oaths were binding on Catholics in the sense in which they were administered, no matter to whom they were given, and no power on earth had a right to absolve from them, and no Catholic believed that any such power existed. Not to go into any detail on this question, he would merely ask, what had kept Catholics so long out of power but their regard for the validity of oaths. If they believed that they could be absolved from such oaths, was it not likely they would have taken more oaths which gave them political power; but they had remained deprived of such power for a century and a half, rather than take oaths against their consciences. That was not the place for polemical discussion, or, if it were, he might show the hon. Gentleman some instances in which members of his own communion held the sentiments which he now wilfully attributed to the Catholics. If the hon. Member would have the goodness to favour him with his address, he would send him that passage in John Knox's writings, in which he held that faith was not to be kept with Papists; but he attributed no such opinion to the hon. Member, and he hoped the Catholics would get credit for the same feelings as other Christians on this subject—seeing that every act of theirs was a disclaimer of the odious doctrine so unjustly and illiberally imputed to them.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

begged to disclaim any concurrence in the opinions of the hon. member for Cupar (Mr. A. Johnstone). The charge of not keeping faith with persons from whom they differed in religion was most unfounded, and had been disclaimed by all Catholics, and strongly condemned by the whole of the Roman Catholic Archbishops and Bishops of Ireland. The Catholics were not bound by their oaths in that House to do any thing more or less than Protestants with respect to the Established Church.

Mr. Shaw

would not offer any opinion on the subject until he saw the course taken by Catholic Members, on matters which should come before them. As to what had been said by the hon. and learned member for Kirkcudbright (Mr. Fergus-son), that the oath was to have the same effect on Protestants as on Catholics, he would only say, that if that were the meaning of the oath, he did not see why it was imposed at all, or why it should not be taken by both.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

said, all it had in view was, that the Catholics should give the same security to the Established Church by their oaths, as the Protestants were supposed to give by their duty as Protestants.

Lord Althorp

reminded the House, that in the progress of the Catholic Relief Bill, a clause had been proposed to prevent the interference of Catholic Members in any matters relating purely to the Church, and the House had rejected it; and, as that was the case, he thought that Catholic Members had as much right as Protestants to take part in the discussion of any matter that came before the House as Protestants.

Dr. Lushington,

as his name had been alluded to by the hon. member for Cupar, wished to say a word in explanation, and to correct a mistake respecting what had fallen from him on the occasion alluded to. When an hon. Member, a Catholic, had talked of destroying the Church, he did, in the warmth of the moment, read to him the oath taken by Catholic Members of that House—not, however, with the view to contend that Catholic Members, or any other Members not belonging to the Established Church, had no right to interfere or take part in any question, no matter what, which might come before the House—but to show that hon. Member that a sense of duty and of his obligation on oath, ought not to permit him to talk of destroying an establishment which, as a Member of Parliament, he had sworn not to injure or weaken. He would have explained his meaning on that evening, but an interlude of a speech of two hours by the hon. and learned member for Dublin, having intervened, he was unwilling to bring the attention of the House back to another subject.