HC Deb 29 June 1836 vol 34 cc1042-8
Mr. Sergeant Jackson

rose to present a petition with which he had been intrusted from the Rev. Mr. Mulholland, a Roman Catholic clergyman in Ireland, who prayed the House to adopt some legislative enactment to cause the canon law of the Church of Rome to be fairly observed in Ireland. He hoped that the House would allow him to lay before it the statement contained in the petition, which he was the more anxious to do with as much accuracy as he could, as he differed in religious opinion from the rev. Gentleman from whom the petition emanated. The petitioner, after stating that a serious injury had been inflicted on him, in consequence of his having availed himself of a court of common law to obtain redress for an attack on his character, proceeded to state, that he was educated in the college of Maynooth, where he was ordained in 1815, that he afterwards went to Rome, where he studied for eight years, and made very creditable progress in his divinity studies, and that he returned to Ireland in 1826, when he was appointed by the Roman Catholic titular Bishop of Armagh to the parish of Termonfechin, in the county of Louth. He stated that that parish was in the nature of what was called, in the Protestant Church, a perpetual curacy, and that he had the same right to it that a clergyman had to his parish. He stated, that in the year 1833 there were disturbances in the county of Louth, and that a brother clergyman accused the petitioner of being an encourager of them. He stated, that his character was injured to such an extent by the accusation, that he felt it necessary to appeal to a court of law for redress. He did not do so, however, without having first applied to the Catholic Primate for that redress. Having waited six months, and having received no answer to his application to that quarter, he brought an action in the Court of Common Pleas, Dublin, where he got a verdict, and recovered damages, certainly to a small amount—namely, one farthing. In consequence of his having appealed to the laws of his country in this way, most unwarrantable proceedings had been adopted towards him. He states, that in the first place he was, on the 6th November, 1833, suspended by Dr. Kelly, who had, only four days previous to that date, declared that Dr. Mulholland was good-hearted, pious, and learned. The petitioner then submitted in person his case to the congregation for the propagation of the faith at Rome; and the letters which be received directed that he should be re-instated. He was not, however, re-instated.

Mr. Williams Wynn

rose to order. He had, yesterday, protested against the useless and most inconvenient practice of entertaining petitions with respect to which the House could neither investigate the alleged grounds of complaint, nor afford any practical relief. In the present instance, the petitioner complained, that he had been deprived of the income of his living, arising, as it appeared, out of funds which had not been provided by the state, over which, therefore, the Legislature could have no control; and that a titular archbishop of Ireland had not duly attended to letters from Rome. It was impossible for the House to receive such a petition; if they did, it would, of course, be necessary that hon. Gentlemen opposite should be allowed to make a counter-statement, although the House could pronounce no opinion whatever on the subject. He hoped his hon. and learned Friend would not lend the sanction of his example to a practice like this, which must be attended with the greatest possible inconvenience to the public business.

Mr. Sergeant Jackson

was glad upon all occasions to have the benefit of the right hon. Gentleman's experience respecting the laws and usages of that House; but he must take the liberty of submitting, that the present case differed essentially from that which was under consideration yesterday. The complaint in the latter instance was made to the House, the ordinary tribunals of the country where it should have been adjudicated having been passed over; but in this instance those tribunals could take no cognizance of the matter; and if the House did not interfere, no relief whatever could be administered. [Mr. O'Connell: What is the prayer?] He would read the prayer of the petition, if the House would give him leave. This was the prayer:—"Under these circumstances your petitioner most humbly submits that it may seem good to your hon. House, and to the Legislature, that some order be taken, either by a declaratory or an enacting law, to provide that the canon law of the Church of Rome be fairly observed as between the several orders of the clergy of that Church, and in so far as shall be compatible with the laws of the country. And your petitioner will ever pray." Here, then, was a man who declared that having by the law of his Church a goo right to the income arising from his living in the parish, he had been most unjustly deprived of it, merely for having appealed to the laws of his country on the subject of a civil injury which he had received. Would the House refuse in such a case—

Mr. Roebuck

rose to order. He did not see how the House could recognize the canon law of Rome, or take any means to compel others to conform to it.

Mr. Scarlett

submitted that the House of Commons was the proper place for taking such a petition into consideration, and if the law did not hold out any remedy for the grievance complained of, it was their duty to adopt the best means of providing a satisfactory one. He could see no objection in point of order to the reception of the petition, and investigating the cause of complaint; even although the individual appealing to the House were a Roman Catholic priest.

The Speaker

It appears to me quite evident that the petition which has been brought forward by the hon. and learned Gentleman, has reference to a matter upon which this House can afford no redress to the party who complains of having been aggrieved; and if the House should think fit to sanction its reception, I cannot have any hesitation in declaring that the House will, in so doing, introduce a most inconvenient practice.

Colonel Perceval

did not presume in any way to question the authority of the Chair, but a petition of a much less important character, and not at all within the jurisdiction of the House, having been received last night, he did wish to press upon the hon. Members opposite the necessity of abstaining from making that the arena for uttering calumnies against others who could never, perhaps, afterwards disabuse the public mind of the unfounded charges which had been circulated against them. He could not but express himself highly gratified that this particular case had at length directed general and serious attention to the acts of oppression and despotism practised in Ireland towards the inferior Roman Catholic clergy who refused to become the agents of political agitation for party purposes.

Mr. Sergeant Jackson

would not say one word more on the subject, if in the opinion of the House he was out of order; but if he were not actually transgressing the rules and regulations of the House, he hoped they would allow him, as an act of favour and indulgence, to state briefly the circumstances of this gentleman's complaint. It should be recollected that there was something very extraordinary in the features of the case. He could have no personal or party motive in view; his religious opinions were altogether different from those entertained by the petitioner; and the fact was, although it might appear singular to some unacquainted with the state of matters in Ireland, the petitioner had applied to two hon. and learned Gentlemen, both Members of that House, to present the petition, but was told by one that he would be denounced if he dared to do so. and was recommended by the other implicitly to submit without remonstrance to his ecclesiastical superiors, for the House could afford him no relief whatever. He spoke with great deference, but the petition was most respectfully worded: in his opinion it was quite competent for the House to entertain it.

The Speaker

I have merely to offer this suggestion to the consideration of all hon. Members. I have always understood that when any hon. Member presented a petition to the House, he first made himself responsible to the House that it contained no improper language, or such as ought not to be addressed to the House of Commons; and secondly, that he was supposed to exercise a becoming discretion as to the possibility or propriety of Parliament granting any relief in the matter. I am sure I need not indicate to the House the great inconvenience which must result from hon. Members pursuing a contrary practice, both in reference to the dignity of the proceedings of the House, and the progress of public business.

Mr. Sergeant Jackson

had carefully perused the petition, and he could confidently state that, from the beginning to the end of it, there occurred no improper expression whatever towards that House. It was throughout most respectful in its language. In that respect he trusted he should be considered as having done his duty; and, as to the second point, he must be allowed to observe, that a petition precisely similar to this had been presented and received in the other House without the slightest objection. He hoped that would be sufficient to explain and vindicate the course he had pursued. He felt on all occasions the utmost pleasure in presenting the petitions of those who had grievances to complain of, provided they were respectfully worded, and not inconsistent with the rules of Parliament. He trusted, therefore, he should still be allowed in this case—

The Speaker

Order! Order! I can have no personal feeling in this matter; and having already stated what I conceive to be the general rule of the House, and which public convenience requires should be closely adhered to, I must leave the hon. and learned Gentleman to the exercise of his own discretion, as to the propriety of proceeding further in this matter.

Mr. Sergeant Jackson

said, he had merely stated the whole material facts of the case. The petitioner complained that he had been deprived of all means of subsistence by his spiritual superiors, for no other offence than that he had brought an action in the Court of Common Pleas in Ireland, to vindicate his character from certain slanders which had been propagated against him. He had applied again and again to his ecclesiastical superiors for redress, but without any chance of obtaining it; and if the House did not interpose he must be left pennyless. Under these circumstances he should move that the petition be brought up.

Mr. Williams Wynn

contended hat the House could take no cognizance of the matter. The Church of Rome must be considered in Ireland as a voluntary association, and the State had no control whatever over the funds attached to its livings. No relief, therefore, could be administered in such a case. If the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church had been provided for by the State, the House might have had some jurisdiction; but that not being the case, it was impossible for the House to entertain the petition.

The Attorney-General

was disposed to receive the petition, because, however absurd it might be, it prayed that the law should be altered, and in that view it certainly came within the jurisdiction of the House. He had no doubt if a Bill were introduced for the purpose of making the canon law of Rome the law of this country, the unanimous opinion of the nation would be found to be against it. However, absurd, the prayer being practicable, the petition should be received.

Mr. Henry Gratlan

denied that any hon. Member could be denounced in Ireland for discharging his duties in that House. With respect to the merits of this petition, he assured hon. Members opposite, that a decided case had been made out against this unfortunate, but ill-advised gentleman.

Mr. Sergeant Jackson, having been directly appealed to, had no hesitation in declaring that he had the express authority of Dr. Mulholland for the statement he had made, that in the conversation between him and the hon. and learned Member for Tipperary (Mr. Sheil), at his own house, in Mount-street, on the 12th of May last, that hon. and learned Gentleman, on being requested to present the petition, said "No, no; I cannot, I shall be denounced, and so will you, Dr. Mulholland, if we proceed." The other hon. and learned Gentleman to whom he alluded was the Member for Dublin, now for Kilkenny, who told Dr. Mulholland there was nothing for him but an unqualified submission to his spiritual superior.

Mr. Sharman Crawford

said, he had received a statement from the rev. Dr. Crolly, in which he denied all the allegations of the petition.

Mr. Scarlett

hoped, that the Roman Catholic priesthood would not for ever remain alien to the law. It was impossible the Roman Catholic religion should continue to be propagated without the pale of the law. A majority of those who professed it felt, he believed, well affected to the state; a very large body of the priests, as he was informed, who refused to countenance agitation, were persecuted and oppressed, as the petitioner in the present instance had undoubtedly been, If the House on inquiry should find such to be the case, it would become the duty of the Legislature to consider what means could be adopted best calculated to cure the evil.

Mr. O'Connell

had no wish to conceal from the House that he had recommended Dr. Mulholland to submit to his spiritual superiors, because in fact, no relief could otherwise be afforded him. The petition was an absurdity on the face of it; and an opportunity of presenting it was only required, in order that statements might be made towards his superiors, which they denied, and said they were wholly destitute of truth. He thought that Dr. Mulholland had already given scandal enough, and therefore he recommended that gentleman not to press the matter further. He had no remedy, and, in his opinion, he ought to have none. If he preferred a church supported by the State, he might leave the Catholic Church—he was in a fair way for it. The Catholics did not want him to remain with them, if he went into a church supported and regulated by the law—if he left that church for which the law did nothing, and which was only the better supported on that very account, and if he attached himself to the law church, to which the law assigned emoluments, he might have his legal remedy, but while he continued connected with the Church of Rome, he had no such resort. In his (Mr. O'Connell's) opinion, Dr. Crolly had conducted himself in the kindest and most humane manner towards the petitioner, and had recommended him to three curacies, but none of them would have him.

Mr. Bellew

maintained that the charges in the petition were without foundation, and read an extract from the printed resolutions passed at a meeting of the Roman Catholic clergy of the diocese, complimenting Dr. Kelly for having dismissed the petitioner. From the discussion which had taken place elsewhere upon this subject, the Roman Catholic clergy had more reason than ever to congratulate themselves that they had no connexion whatever with the Sate; otherwise they would see their independence completely destroyed. He trusted that they would for ever remain separated from the State.

Petition to lie on the table.