HC Deb 20 April 1869 vol 195 cc1198-200

said, he would beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether, in the event of the disestablishment of the Irish Church, Bishops, priests, and deacons in Irish Orders will be able to officiate or hold preferment in the Established Church in England?


Sir, this is a Question of very great importance, and I would not wish to be understood as giving, on the present occasion, an answer that can be regarded as perfectly final and complete. At the same time, it is quite obvious that it is a matter of great interest to many. First of all, with respect to those clergy who are ordained already, or who will be ordained, in the Irish Church before the period of disestablishment, as far as I am aware—or as far as the Government are aware—there will not be under the Bill, or under any statute, any disability whatever attaching to them either before or after disestablishment. Personally, we apprehend they will retain all the privileges and qualifications, with regard to employment elsewhere, which the clergy of the Irish Church possess at the present moment; and those I believe to be precisely the same as the qualifications possessed by the clergy of the English Church. But, if it should appear that there is the smallest doubt upon the subject, I can even now say that we shall take care to make the matter perfectly clear, before the Bill reaches an advanced stage, so that there shall be no question at all of the full preservation of the personal privileges of all those clergy. The hon. Member has also asked me with regard to the clergy who shall be ordained subsequent to the date of disestablishment; and here I must not be understood to speak with the same positiveness, but I believe I am perfectly correct in saying that the general principle of the law in this country is that persons having received Episcopal Orders are qualified as far as the Orders are concerned, apart from other questions of life and doctrine, for clerical employment in England, unless where a statute is passed to limit or prevent that employment. Because it is upon record historically that, after the disestablishment of the Episcopalian Church in Scotland, in the commencement of the reign of William III., the clergymen of the Church were employed elsewhere, both in England and in Ireland, and certainly at least one Bishop of the Scotch Church became a Bishop in Ireland. When the Scotch Episcopalian Church made an effort to escape from the pressure of the penal laws enacted against it in the last century on account of its political affinities, ecclesiastical disabilities were imposed on the clergy in return, and they were absolutely disabled from officiating in England. Those disabilities were relaxed partly by an Act passed, in 1840, by Archbishop Howley, and partly by an Act passed in 1864. Another Act was also passed, I think, relating to the same subject as regards the American clergy, and there is a further Act regulating the status of the colonial clergy. It can only be after a careful examination of the language of all those Acts that it will be possible to state finally whether there is at present any statutable disability which would apply to the clergy of the Irish Church after the period of disestablishment. But I think it is quite possible that it may be right that, at some period or other, the attention of Parliament should be drawn to this subject with a view to the adoption of some more uniform principle than now prevails in our law with regard to the clergy of disestablished Churches. For the present, I cannot say that I know that there is any disability applying to the Bishops and clergy of the Established Church in Ireland consecrated or ordained after disestablishment. So far as those who take their status before disestablishment, I apprehend there is no such disability; but if we find that there is, it will be removed.