HC Deb 16 June 1834 vol 24 cc440-6
Mr. Shaw

said, that he must beg the particular attention of the House to a petition which he had to present; it was of a very uncommon nature, and one which it was extremely painful to him to bring forward. It related to an act committed by a Roman Catholic clergyman, which had caused a great sensation, and given very just offence in the neighbourhood in which it occurred: it was the ostentatious burning of a Bible at Shinrone, in the King's County, at noon-day, in the most public manner, and under very aggravating circumstances. He did not desire to accompany the presentation of the petition with a single observation that could give rise to an unpleasant discussion in the House, or hurt the feelings of any person out of the House. It was, however, right, that the facts should be known; and it was, moreover, his duty to call the attention of the House to the petition, which was most respectfully, and, indeed, mildly worded, as well as most respectably and numerously signed. He should, on that point, have been glad to have referred to the members of the King's County, had they been in their places. It was signed by about 600 persons, including the names of a deputy lieutenant—a near relative of the noble Lord (Lord Oxmantown) who represented the county—of several Magistrates, and all the respectable residents of the neighbourhood, without distinction of political opinion. The facts he had taken pains to ascertain. They had been furnished to him by a Mr. Atkinson, a Magistrate of the county, and a resident gentleman of the highest character and station, and they were as follows:—There was on the estate of that gentleman, a poor family of the name of M'Guinness: the eldest daughter was on her death-bed in the last stage of consumption, and the priest of the parish came to visit her; he observed on a shelf, in her sick room, some books, from which he took the Bible in question; he inveighed against its mischievous and dangerous tendency; and much and sincerely as he (Mr. Shaw) differed from him in that respect, it was not of those opinions, or the expression of them to the poor family, that he (Mr. Shaw) complained—but of the act which immediately followed. The priest required that the Bible should be forthwith burned; the mother and daughter strongly protested against any such desecration of a book from which they had derived so much gratification and comfort; for it seemed, that the daughter had been in the habit of reading this Bible to her father when he returned from his daily labour; however, the priest persisted, carried out the Bible to the public road, where he called for fire; after some hesitation, a lighted coal was brought by an old woman from the adjoining hamlet, which was applied by the priest to the Bible, and he then carried it back into the cottage and threw it into the fire. In the mean time (and this proves the value the owner set upon that book) the poor sick girl had concealed a Testament which had stood by the Bible in her bed, and the younger daughter was despatched to the field to call her father; he hastened to the cottage, and Mr. Atkinson's letter quotes the very words of that poor man: he said "he saw the Bible spread out upon a large fire, and the priest standing over it—that he (M'Guinness) took up a spade, upon which he lifted it out of the fire, but it had been quite consumed." Mr. Atkinson's letter continues. "This short statement of the facts is all that has transpired; and the only surprise is, that upon such a subject even so much inform- ation should be obtained. I owe my knowledge of it to the accident of the affair having taken place upon my own property; where, perhaps, my trifling influence procured me information which another might not have obtained. Although there were many witnesses, all of whom strongly, and many I believe sincerely, reprobate the act, yet they are unwilling and afraid to speak of it; the fact is, however, so notorious, that no attempt has been made to deny it." He would, on the present occasion, abstain from any comment on the transaction as regarded its religious character; he only had then to impeach it as a gross violation of the rights of conscience and of private property, and as a great offence against public decency and decorum. He disclaimed all political motive in presenting the petition, and in that he could be borne out by the worthy Alderman (Alderman Copeland), the member for Coleraine, in whose hands he (Mr. Shaw) had hoped, and was most anxious, that the petition should have been placed, and from whom he believed it would receive every support. That circumstance, and also an application to the authorities in Ireland having been made for redress, but without any good effect, had caused some delay in the matter being brought before the House.

Mr. Alderman Copeland

did not rise to prolong the discussion; but, having taken pains to ascertain the facts of the case, he felt bound to say, that the hon. and learned member for the University of Dublin had stated them most correctly. The conduct of the priest, on that occasion, was such as all men must deprecate. He regretted, that Government had not noticed the conduct of the Archbishop of Dublin, which he (Alderman Copeland) considered to be very improper. He concurred entirely in the prayer of the petition, and he felt great pleasure in supporting it.

Mr. O'Dwyer

said, that the Archbishop of Dublin had already paid every attention to this affair, and he thought the whole matter was to be attributed to the attempts of certain fanatical gentlemen of the Establishment, one of whom had improperly interfered with the priest, and the latter seemed to have retaliated in a very improper manner certainly; but he begged the House to suspend their judgment on the case.

Mr. Feargus O'Connor

said, the fact that the priest could get no one to assist him in this act, was a proof of the morality of the people of Queen's County.

Mr. Finch

said, it was a matter of great importance, that the Protestants of England should know the true spirit and character of the Church of Rome—particularly at the present moment, when it was not at all improbable, that a Motion would be submitted to the House for the purpose of diverting a portion of the revenues from the uses of the Established Church and appropriating them to the Church of Rome. Every one who was at all acquainted with Ireland must know the influence the Roman Catholic priests possessed, and how that influence was used to prevent the people from reading the Bible. If any person was found with a Bible in his possession without permission from the priest, remission of his sins was refused him. ["No."] He knew the doctrines of the Church of Rome better than those of her members who cried "no," and in proof of his assertion would read an extract from the fourth rule de libris prohibitis, set forth by the select fathers, to whom the Synod of Trent committed this charge, and approved and confirmed by Pius 4th.—"Since it is manifest by experience, that if the holy Bibles in the vulgar language are permitted to be read every where without discrimination, more harm than good arises, let the judgment of the bishop or inquisitor be abided by in this particular. So that, after consulting with the parish minister or the confessor, they may grant permission to read translations of the scriptures made by Catholic authors, to those whom they shall have understood to be able to receive no harm, but an increase of faith and piety from such reading, which faculty let them have in writing. But whosoever shall presume to read these Bibles, or have them in possession without such faculty, shall not be capable of receiving absolution of their sins, unless they have first given up their Bibles to the ordinary." The hon. Member said it was notorious that the priests in Ireland acted in strict accordance with the principle laid down by the Council of Trent, and in proof of this he would read an extract from a work of Dr. Doyle's, signed J. K. L. "I heard," said Dr. Doyle, "of a poor man in the county of Kildare, who when I gave him a Bible, venerated it more than any thing he possessed, but having been favoured by the lady of his master with one of the society's Bibles without note or comment, accepted it with all the reverence which the fear of losing his situation inspired. But behold! when the night closed, and all danger of detection was removed, he, lest he should be infected with heresy, exhaled from the Protestant bible during his sleep, took it with a tongs, for he would not defile his touch with it, and buried it in a grave which he had prepared for it in his garden! I do admire the orthodoxy of this Kildare peasant, nay, I admire it greatly, and should I happen to meet him, I shall reward him for his zeal." With respect to the fanatical attempts of the Protestant clergy to propagate truth, he contended that they were pledged at their ordination to do so; and all he claimed for them was the same degree of liberty that was enjoyed by the Roman Catholic priests. It was notorious that in the north of England the Roman Catholic priests were in the habit of preaching by the road side, and that the missionaries of the Church of Rome were most indefatigable in their exertions to make converts to their creed. He did not blame them for this; but he thought he was not requiring too much, in this Protestant country, when he claimed the same privilege for the Protestant clergy.

Mr. C. Fitzsimon

denied, that it was necessary for a Roman Catholic to have the written permission, or indeed any permission from his priest, to have a Bible in his possession. He stood there as an avowed Roman Catholic, and he defied contradiction to his statement.

Mr. Plumptre

supported the prayer of the petition, and said, that there could be no doubt but that the members of the Church of Rome in Ireland were tyrannically deprived of the use of the Bible. The conduct of the priest on the occasion alluded to was of a disgraceful and afflicting nature, and he could scarcely conceive any crime of a higher character, than depriving persons who were willing to consult it, of the holy volume.

Colonel Perceval

considered it one of the greatest outrages that could be committed, to take away the Word of God, without the consent of the poor creatures, as stated by his hon. friend (Mr. Shaw,) and confirmed by the hon. member for Coleraine, and, not content with this, sacrilegiously to burn it. Where, he would ask, were the persons aggrieved to seek for redress when religion merged into a political despotism?—when the Roman Catholic priests exercised a right above the law? Where, he would ask, were the Representatives of the people at large to apply for redress upon such oppressive and unchristian proceedings, except to Parliament? He thought it one of the greatest curses to Ireland that the priests were above the law, and were permitted to do what they liked with impunity. No man who knew anything of Ireland could doubt, that the Roman Catholics were prevented, as far as the priests could prevent them, from reading the Bible. His authority might be doubted, but if the House would permit him, he would read a short extract, which, coming from the authority it did, would satisfy those who appeared to have a doubt upon the subject. The hon. Member read the following extract from the encyclical letter of Pope Leo 16th, dated May 3, 1824, and published with "Pastoral Instructions to all the faithful," by the Archbishops and Bishops of Ireland—"We, also, venerable brethren, in conformity with our apostolic duty, exhort you to turn away your flock by all means from these poisonous pastures (the Scriptures translated into the vulgar tongue). Reprove, beseech, be constant, in season and out of season, in all patience and doctrine, that the faithful intrusted to you (adhering strictly to the rules of our congregation of the Index) be persuaded, that if the sacred Scriptures be everywhere indiscriminately published, more evil than advantage will arise thence, on account of the rashness of men"—page 16. Dr. Doyle, it was notorious, interdicted the use of the Scriptures in his diocese, and, in the sentiments contained in the passage which he had just read, the Irish Prelates concurred. Dr. Doyle, in his "Pastoral Instructions," refers, in the following terms, to the passage:—"Our holy Father recommends to the observance of the faithful a rule of the Congregation of the Index, which prohibits the perusal of the Sacred Scriptures in the vulgar tongue, without the sanction of the competent authorities. His Holiness wisely remarks, 'that more evil than good is found to result from the indiscriminate persual of them,' and in this sentiment of our head and chief we fully concur." It was the bounden duty of Parliament to protect the peasantry of Ireland in the free exercise of opinion, and allow no man to prevent his reading the Word of Life. No person should be permitted with impunity to invade the privacy of their dwellings, and lay his sarcrilegious hands upon the Word of God. He hoped the time was not far distant when the Roman Catholic priests in Ireland would be brought within the law, and not permitted with impunity to oppress those who were committed to their care. Until such an event occurred, he (Colonel Perceval) despaired of seeing Ireland restored to tranquillity.

Sir Robert Bateson

could not remain silent when he heard it stated that the Roman Catholic priests did not interfere to prevent the peasantry in Ireland from reading the Bible. Residing as he did in the north of Ireland, where the majority of the people were Protestants, he knew, that even there the priests did interfere to prevent the free circulation of the Scriptures. They denied the rights of their Church to whole families where even the children were discovered to be possessed of a Bible. He (Sir Robert Bateson) could not conceive anything more calculated to shock the feelings of a Christian than a person forcibly taking away the Word of God from a sick peasant and then forcibly burning it. He should be glad to be convinced that this was the only instance of such disgraceful conduct, but he knew the fact to be otherwise. The priesthood of Ireland possessed a power above the law, and they exercised that power so tyrannically that they had reduced the peasantry of Ireland to the most abject slavery. Circumstances of the nature referred to in the petition were of frequent occurrence in Ireland, and he hoped some means would be devised to place the Roman Catholic priesthood under the control of the law.

The Petition to lie on the Table.

Back to