HC Deb 31 March 1876 vol 228 cc970-1035

, in rising to move, as an Amendment— That it is expedient that an inquiry be undertaken as to the number, rate of increase, character, and present position, in relation to the Law, of Monastic and Conventual Institutions in Great Britain, said, that in the years 1853 and 1854 he brought forward the subject before the House, first in the shape of a Bill, and secondly in the shape of a proposal of inquiry by a Select Committee. The House decided in both cases, by large majorities, that there was a necessity for inquiry; but his proposals were defeated by the usual tactics which could be brought to bear against any private Member. After a lapse of 20 years he once more brought the subject before the House. He had not forgotten that in 1870, on the Motion of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), a Committee was appointed for the purpose of a limited inquiry in relation to these institutions. The majority by which that Committee was secured was raised from 2 on the first division to 45 on the second, showing that the feeling of the House was in favour of some inquiry being entered upon. It remained for him (Sir Thomas Chambers) now to show what were absolutely overwhelming reasons for instituting the investigation which he asked for at the present time. It had been the practice, especially of Roman Catholic Members, to ask that individual cases of hardship should be cited, and to urge that no foundation for inquiry had been laid unless such cases could be given to the House. That demand, though natural, was not altogether reasonable. The difficulties in the way of inquiry were one of the great reasons for investigation. It was rather hard on those who desired to inquire, when they alleged the difficulty of ascertaining the facts in any particular case, that that very difficulty should be thrown in their way as an obstacle to inquiry. He had, however, looked back to the debates of 1853 and 1854, and he found that a very large number of cases were then cited; all the details were given, and hon. Members could refer to those debates and see that the inquiry for individual cases of hardship had been amply met. There were two reasons which made the existence of these institutions exceedingly dangerous—one the question of personal liberty, the other the question of property. In the first, individuals were concerned; in the last, the State; and on both these grounds it was highly desirable—nay, absolutely necessary—that there should be the control of law over institutions of this description. In 1853 and 1854 the House showed by the most decisive majorities that it thought an inquiry proper. In those years Monastic Institutions in this country numbered 17, Conventual Institutions 53, and Colleges of the Roman Catholic Church 11; but in 1876 the Monastic Institutions were 99; the Conventual 299, and the Colleges 21. So that there had been not only a large increase, but he believed he could show by statistics, if he were to trouble the House with them, that the rate of increase was greater every successive year. So that, if in 1853 the House of Commons thought such an inquiry necessary, it could not be denied that in 1876 the necessity had greatly increased. For two reasons Parliament should take some notice of these institutions. In the first place, because from their very essence and the very principles of their foundation they involved the restraint of personal liberty. Seclusion was their law, and when a person entered there he not only retired from the world, but took another name. That change of name prevented the parties from being recognized, and no register of such persons being taken by any public authority, there was no available means, no power which could be practically exercised to ascertain whether in relation to the person right or wrong was done. He was very much struck in looking back that morning to the debates in 1853 and 1854 at finding that in some of the speeches of hon. Members sitting on his own side, he was charged in almost every sentence he uttered with having inflicted a wound, or directed an insult, against members of the Roman Catholic community. He denied either then or now being actuated by any such intention. Speaking as a politician on a question of personal liberty, was he to be charged with inflicting wounds or uttering insults? All he could say was he wished to treat the question as a political one, simply as a political one, and as one affecting the principle of personal liberty. Hon. Members asked for individual cases; but inferences from such cases were always liable to the answer—"You select a single case from 10,000. What conclusion can you fairly draw from it?" There was no conclusive answer to that objection. Therefore, though he was going to cite two, and only two, individual instances, he did not base his arguments in the least upon them. He based his arguments on the laws and literature of the Roman Catholic Church. If he found in Roman Catholic countries a state of things existing which called, first for the active interference of the Bishops, then for the employment of the most fervid rhetoric at their command; if he found that to be the state of the case much more than 1,200 years ago, and that from that time to the present all the principal writers of that Church, from Cyprian and Dominic down to the present Pope, denounced particular evils by name, and employed pages and volumes century after century in denouncing them, it was the idlest thing in the world to turn round and ask—"Where is the proof?" Could any one doubt or deny that what he said was true from the time of Cyprian downwards? More than that, if it were possible in an absolutely conclusive manner to show that those evils existed apart altogether from pastoral denunciations, he would point to the law. He did not require to have it proved that murder, burglary, and arson were crimes that might be committed in a country; he would point to the statutes against them. The law itself was the most overwhelming and conclusive proof; it was the action of the whole community, the public legislative action for the redress of a particular evil or the correction of a particular crime. The Tridentine decrees had specific reference to the evils arising from the system, and they declared that no persons were allowed to go out of convents. That fact was well known to all members of the Roman Catholic Church. [Mr. JOHN GEORGE MACCARTHY: No, no!] He should be sorry to think any member of the Roman Catholic Church did not know it, because in them provision was made, in the most distinct terms— That nuns are not to be heard or released, even if they may have gone in against their will, or if, having gone in of their free will, they have afterwards repented and wish to leave. What said a much more modern authority—the Syllabus? In the 53rd Article— The civil Government is strictly forbidden to lend its assistance to nuns who may desire to quit their religious life and break their vows. Here, then, was proof, as he had said, from the earliest times down to the present Pope, of an undoubted law and a uniform practice in this matter. The law and the Constitution of this country guaranteed personal liberty; but the practice of these institutions was an invasion of the liberties of English men and women. No one wished to disturb those who of their own free will desired to remain in those institutions; but when they desired to come out, there should be some means by which it would be possible to release those who were restrained against their will and contrary to the spirit of the Constitution. The difficulty was to give individual cases, and it was because of the difficulty of making out their case that they came before Parliament. Inquiry ended in darkness. He would, however, mention two cases which had occurred not long ago. One was at the Convent called the "Good Shepherd" at Hammersmith. A person who happened to be on the roof of a house which over-looked the Convent enclosure, saw a nun endeavouring to escape over the wall of the institution. He saw her seized by a man in a priestly robe and four other persons, and forced back into the Convent. [Mr. JOHN GEORGE MACCARTHY: When was that?] That was on the 16th of March, 1875. Every pains had been taken to obtain information, but in vain. It was discreditable that such a thing should happen, seeing that not a single ray of light had been thrown upon the facts. If the statement was a deliberate invention or an unjust reproach, every Roman Catholic should help to let in the light of truth upon it and punish the slanderer. Another case happened at the Convent at Newhall, in Essex, in January, 1875. The witnesses were two labourers in the employment of the Great Eastern Railway Company, who stated that early in the morning they saw a lady almost without clothing running along the railway embankment in great distress and terror. She ran nearly a mile up the line, and claimed their protection, being pursued by persons from the Convent. She was taken from the care of these men back to the Convent. The explanation given was that she was an Irish lady; she had escaped in a fit of insanity, because she did not believe she was in a Convent, and she had been sent back to Ireland. From that day to this not the slightest corroboration had been given to that statement. No witness had been called, no name or address was given, no facts were proved—nothing but the simple assertion that a person, in a state of distraction and terror, had escaped from the Convent, and was dragged forcibly back. There was not an institution in this country, other than a Convent, at which such an occurrence could have happened, where such an explanation would have been thought worth anything. It was no explanation at all, and if not utterly unfounded, it was an utterly unproved excuse for what was done. He should have thought that every Roman Catholic Member would have been as desirous as he was that an investigation should take place, in order that such reproaches, if groundless, might be wiped off, and that those persons who spread the slanders should be exposed. Was there no means by which they could ascertain whether these statements were true? In 1853 and 1854 Lord John Russell suggested that a Habeas Corpus might be obtained; but in the case of a nun they could not get at the facts for an affidavit, on which an application for Habeas Corpus must be founded. Such a state of things should not be allowed to continue. It was a discredit to the institutions themselves that such things should be said, and that there should be no answer to them, excepting a sneer when the facts were stated. The things complained of were not single instances, but they were a scandal to the Church; and from the difficulty of obtaining information any hon. Member who spoke in that House on the subject spoke infinitely below the facts. There was no one who would not say that if personal liberty was restrained and coercion was employed in such a manner it was not right. He would assume that the great majority of them agreed in that. Religion must be voluntary; conscience, reason, and will were of its very essence; force was absolutely fatal to it. The next question was, whether these were evils of which the State should take notice? Had we no precedent in attempting to interfere with those institutions? Were we not the very last laggards in the whole of Europe to interfere? These institutions, so far as they were monasteries, did not in this country stand outside the law; they stood opposed to it. Every single institution of that kind in the country was a breach of the Roman Catholic Relief Act. How did the matter stand in other countries of Europe? What was the case in France? It was a fundamental maxim of the public law in France that no institution could exist without the sanction of the State as exercised by the civil authority. That maxim was part of the Roman law under the earliest Christian Emperors; and in despite of strong opposition that law was maintained by the ancient French Monarchy, as it had been maintained with slight exceptions down to the present time. In 1618, 1659, and 1749 ordinances were passed forbidding the establishment of new institutions without licence, and suppressing unauthorized institutions. Before authorization there were to be most minute inquiries as to the expediency of the foundation, the interests of third parties, quality of the persons, their power of possessing and alienating property, the validity, nullity, and duration of vows, and all these matters were brought under civil control. Yet abuses crept in; more than one-fourth of the property of the country was in mortmain, and public wealth suffered. He mentioned it simply as an historical fact that the Revolution of 1789 swept them all away. Napoleon I. was hostile generally, maintained the suppression, and even abolished these institutions in the countries he annexed. The Government of the Restoration dared not restore them; nor the Government of 1830, nor that of 1848. The second Empire was at first favourable to them, but was soon obliged to limit them. Yet, without authorization, they had multiplied beyond measure. According to the French law, all must be authorized and be under the civil power; vows could only be for five years; a member could not be retained against his will; all members retained their civil capacity; authorization was necessary before any donation could be received, and before any alienation or exchange could take place. Authorization might be, and often had been, withdrawn, on which the institutions were dissolved and dispersed, as were the Jesuits in 1828, the Trappists in 1831 and 1846, and the Capuchins in 1839. Nevertheless, numbers did exist unauthorized, preferring to sacrifice protection rather than incur obstruction. Revenue was a great loser, as information could not be obtained, and the loss increased yearly. The property of the institutions was withdrawn from circulation, and the most careful civil regulations were always thought necessary as a safeguard for families and society. In Germany the laws of the States had varied. At the beginning of the century these institutions were suppressed and their property confiscated. Many had since been established, and disputes between them and the civil power were constant. In Italy all institutions were suppressed and their property forfeited between 1866 and 1873. In Sweden no order of monks or nuns, nor convent, could be founded; Jesuits and monastic orders were not tolerated. In Catholic Belgium only Sisters of Mercy were allowed, and vows must be for five years only. The administration of property was under the Code Napoleon, and annual accounts were submitted to the Minister of Justice and Religion. The houses were subject to all police regulations, and the complaints of inmates were heard before the ordinary tribunals. Since 1830 the number of inmates had increased immensely. In Spain the institutions were suppressed in 1836 and 1837; they were re-established to some extent under a Concordat in 1851, and they were suppressed again in 1868. In Austrian-Hungary such institutions could be established only by an Imperial law, and only Austrian subjects could enter them; and any institution would be dissolved if in its object, or in the contents of its statutes, it was opposed to the interests of public order, to morality, or to the administrative requirements of the State. Members could withdraw and be restored to all their rights of liberty and property. Superiors had to make an annual return of their members to the civil authority of the district. No external force was allowed in discipline, nor any discipline permitted to hinder obedience to the civil laws or the exercise of civil rights. All gifts and legacies required civil sanction, and annual returns of the property were made. In all gifts the rights of third parties were strictly protected; and if illegal proceedings were suspected inspection was instituted by the civil authorities. In reference to all police arrangements as to sanitary measures, construction of buildings, security against fire, and general safety, institutions were subjected to the general laws and authorities; and they were restrained from over-stepping their sphere of action, and liable to fines and penalties for so doing. The inference he drew from all these facts was that there was not a civilized State in Europe which had not found it necessary for hundreds of years to interfere by legislation with these institutions, and which had not found it necessary to increase the stringency of its legislation year by year; and yet, in defiance even of these precautions, the evils that were found to exist were very much complained of indeed. If, then, it was true that the whole of Europe had found it necessary to take these measures, what was there in the circumstances of England to make such action less important? There was no country in the world in which the increase of such institutions had been so great and so rapid as it had been here. It was not only the number, but also the wealth of these institutions which made the subject one of public importance. And was there nothing in the change which had taken place in the attitude of the Pope with reference to these institutions to render such precautions of serious importance? Up to recently these institutions were under the control of the Roman Catholic Bishops when they chose to interfere, and of the Roman Catholic priesthood. So far there was a local jurisdiction, and that was a state of things which was far less undesirable than that which had been established by the changes that had recently been made. Now the jurisdiction of the Bishops and priests was practically extinct, and every institution was affiliated to, closely connected with, and absolutely dependent upon, the despotic authority of the Vatican; and there never was a time when it was more important that Parliament should interfere to prevent any wrong to individuals or to the State by reason of the secrecy which was amongst the ruling principles of the system. If the answer was correct that no evils resulted either to individuals or to the State, inquiry would show, and Roman Catholics themselves ought to support such a Motion as that now before the House, seeing that there was throughout the country not only a prevalent, but a daily increasing, suspicion of such institutions. Such a suspicion or conviction in the minds of thousands and millions of the people of the country was of itself a sufficient reason for investigation, which should have the effect either of disclosing evils and correcting them by legislation, or of removing all those suspicions and conclusions by evidence, showing that those institutions were not liable to the imputations which had been cast upon them. He trusted he had not said a word that was offensive to the members of the Roman Catholic faith, and would conclude by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is inexpedient that an inquiry be undertaken as to the number, rate of increase, character, and present position, in relation to the Law, of Monastic and Conventual Institutions in Great Britain,"—(Sir Thomas Chambers,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he rose for the purpose of opposing the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Marylebone, and in doing so must express his regret that the leadership on this question had been snatched out of the hands of the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate). It seemed to suit both the hon. Gentleman and himself (Mr. Shaw), and the hon. Member for North Warwickshire had a kind of personal property in it, and he had gained a great reputation as the champion of Protestantism. For himself, he (Mr. Shaw) did not suffer in the eyes of the great Catholic constituency which he had the honour to represent by having placed his name on the Notice Paper as opposing the Bill introduced on the subject by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire. He expected the Bill would have gone on for the natural life of the present Parliament, and it would have served equally himself and the hon. Gentleman when the next General Election came. He therefore thought that the sudden disappearance of the Bill had been the means of inflicting a double injustice. He would, however, warn the hon. Member for North Warwickshire that it was an exceedingly dangerous thing to allow his mind constantly to meditate on one subject. He (Mr. Shaw) was talking the other day to a friend of his, a dignitary of the Roman Catholic Church, and his friend asked him who were the two gentlemen who were attacking the institutions of his Church. He replied that the Mover of the Resolution was a lawyer. "Oh!" said his friend, as much as to say that his place in the other world might be regarded as fixed. He (Mr. Shaw) next expressed the feeling which he entertained for the hon. Member for North Warwickshire as an honest man, and he added that he had a very high esteem for him, both as a man and a gentleman. "Well," said his friend, "I am very glad to hear it; "whereupon he rejoined—"I am surprised at that, because I think that if I found a man attacking my Church, I would rather he should be a scamp than an honest man." His friend said, "The reason I am glad of it is this—I am quite sure his mind is working on the subject, and an honest mind never worked on anything connected with our Church without ending in the Church itself." However, they had now the subject before them upon the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone, and he wished to apply to it for a few moments the test of common sense. What results could be expected from the inquiry, and who was to make it; in fact, the hon. and learned Gentleman had answered his own case, because he had given the House statistics on the subject. It was very easy to calculate the rate of increase of these institutions during a given number of years, but had the hon. and learned Gentleman inquired whether the number of monasteries and convents at present in existence were in disproportion to the wants of the Roman Catholic Church. He was quite sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman did not wish at all to be unfair in this matter, and he should remember that many of the objects affected by Protestants by means of societies, and ramifications of various kinds, were practically carried out by the modest nuns of the Catholic Church. Those ladies were the teachers of missionaries, the teachers of the higher class schools, and they attended the poorer classes in sickness. Had any increase taken place in the number of these institutions beyond what was necessary for the religious wants of the Roman Catholic Church? He (Mr. Shaw) thought not, and that, if anything, the contrary was the case. Then as to the relation of these institutions to the law, the hon. and learned Member referred to the Committee which sat a few years ago; the Report of that Committee was in the Library, and they had given a very clear statement of the law respecting these institutions. He thought that the hon. and learned Member was mistaken in saying that convents were illegal by the Emancipation Act. [Sir THOMAS CHAMBERS: I referred to monas- teries.] Although that Committee did not make any recommendation in their Report there was no doubt that the weight of evidence and the feeling of the Committee were in favour of making a change in the law with respect to the property of these institutions, and he was sure that if any strong Government would take up this question, the Roman Catholics would not object to a change of the law as affecting their property; but it was very difficult for any Government to take it up. The very moment that the Government stirred in it, the whole subject would be agitated, and religious strife would be aroused all over the country. The hon. and learned Gentleman had said that there was an immense amount of feeling on the subject in this country. Well, his (Mr. Shaw's) own opinion was that the feeling on the subject had been dying out in recent years, and he would put it to the common sense and good feeling of the House, whether, at that time of the day, it would be wise for Parliament—following the precedent set in other countries—to stir up in this country religious strife and unpleasant feeling. The real sting of the Resolution lay in that part which referred to the character of the inmates of these institutions. It implied on the part of some hon. Gentlemen in that House a feeling that there was something wrong going on in these institutions, and the hon. and learned Gentleman rummaged history for the last 200 years to try and prove his case. He, however, had brought nothing within their own time in support of his position, except the two absurd cases to which he had referred. He (Mr. Shaw) had lived in a Catholic country for many years, and looked at these institutions dispassionately, and as a Protestant, he must say, that of all others in the Catholic Church, they were really those which were of the greatest use in a social and religious point of view. He knew several ladies who had been in these institutions and had come out of them, and some of them were married and were mothers of families. He knew many gentlemen, some of them his most intimate acquaintances and friends, who had sisters and daughters in these institutions, and he asked any man of common sense in that House was it possible in these days of universal knowledge, when what was whispered in secret was published upon the house-top, that anything like serious wrong was carried on in them? Why, the very walls would speak of it. Would the friends and relatives of the inmates bear it for a moment? The statistics of the hon. and learned Gentleman disproved his own case, for if these institutions had so greatly increased within the last 20 years, was it possible that they would have done so in spite of wrong and immorality practised within them? It would be revolting to human nature, and insulting to Roman Catholics, to think that such a thing could take place. Did they think that the poorer people of Ireland, who had most sensitive ideas of religion, and from among whom many went to act as servants in these institutions, would not know of any wrongs within them, and would not at once bring them before the world? Would it be said there was any disinclination to do that? He had known cases of attempts to rescue property from convents, and those interested in those institutions had not hesitated to bring their case before the Common Law of the land. He believed they might safely leave the question to the law of the land and the common principles of our nature. The human nature of Catholics was not so different from the human nature of Protestants as to enable them to stand by and allow these institutions to reflect discredit upon them. He was therefore sure the right feeling of that House would give an emphatic denial and negative to the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman.


said, that it was satisfactory to find that in consequence of the fulfilment of the pledge given by the Government to lay before the House the laws relating to these institutions in foreign States they were now able to approach the question by the light of very important information. He was, at the same time, aware that Englishmen were not apt to be wholly guided by the precedent of foreign countries, preferring in many respects their own insular ideas. Still, when they saw that, almost unanimously, action had been taken by foreign and Roman Catholic Governments in relation to this question, they were at least bound to give to those precedents very full and earnest consideration. From the books which had been laid on the Table it would be learnt that those Go- vernments had held the danger of these institutions to be so great both to the public welfare and the personal liberty of the subject that they had felt it necessary to make very stringent regulations with regard to Conventual and Monastic Institutions, or else to suppress them altogether. It must be admitted that wherever those laws had been made the Roman Catholics had managed either to ignore or evade them, for proof of which it was not necessary to go further than France, where the existence of these institutions was not allowed without authorization; yet notwithstanding that they were found to have sprung up. In Germany, also, stringent regulations had been put in force against them; and it was for the House of Commons to consider whether in this country some regulations should not be created in respect to them. The view taken by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite and his hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), as he understood it, was that they ought to respect the motives of those who entered these institutions, and to do nothing in the way of intrusion upon the privacy of the inmates of these establishments which would shock the most sensitive; but that in the interest of the public and in defence of that personal liberty which it was the proud boast of England to maintain on the deck of a British man-of-war, on British soil, or in a convent, there should be some inquiry as to the numbers and character of those institutions. It might be asked why, if the law could not be enforced, irritation should be caused by attempts to enact them; and he admitted that that was a difficult question, which Governments did not like. But he did not agree in the statement of the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken (Mr. Shaw) as to the want of public feeling in this country on the subject. It had been strong enough to insure majorities again and again, but not to force any Government to act fully and satisfactorily with regard to the question, and they had been able one after another to slip their heads through the noose which successive majorities had made for them. Therefore, to a considerable extent the country slumbered at present. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire, Session after Session, Cassandra-like, poured forth his plaint; but it fell on unheeding ears, and the country ignored the rapid advance in the wealth and organization of these institutions throughout the land. It forgot that Cardinal Manning had said—"The time will come when England, Rome's last and proudest conquest, will fall before her feet." It neglected the warning veiled under the garb of fiction which had been addressed to it from the trenchant pen of the right hon. Gentleman the author of Lothair, and the more passionate appeal of the right hon. Gentleman opposite the author of Vaticanism. Moreover, if they looked abroad they saw the great Chancellor of the German Empire engaged with a foe impervious to his "blood and iron," and across the Atlantic there were men, with the President of the United States amongst them, who foresaw that a great struggle on these points might possibly arise, as had been fully shown in a paper in the current number of The Fortnightly, entitled, "The Catholic Peril of America." Then if these hon. and right hon. Gentlemen were not wrong in their forecast—and who would say their writings were the outpourings of mere idle dreamers?—surely it was wise and prudent to look forward, remembering that a time might come of unreasoning panic. Such times had been, as in the day of Titus Oates, when it would be remembered a Roman Catholic was not sure of his life for a single hour; and it might be that senseless fury would yet lash us on into a religious war. It would be judicious, then, in a quiet time like the present, when arguments could be weighed and inquiry calmly conducted, that they should be satisfied as to the character of these institutions. The Roman Catholics said the suspicions largely entertained were unreasonable. Let them not confine themselves to mere assertions; but let them come forward as men, and while saying that these institutions were necessary to the carrying on of their religion, show that the guarantees for the personal liberty of the members were secure—that the doors were not bolted from inside. They would do well to prove that the bolts and bars, which everyone could see, were only intended to keep out intruders, and that from the inside there was full liberty of egress as well as ingress. If they also undertook that some register should be kept of the number of these institutions, and if necessary stringent regulations should be enforced, they would have met the case fairly and honourably. But so long as nothing but mere assertions were offered in answer to allegations, there was nothing inconsistent with charity on the part of the supporters of this Motion in asking for an inquiry.


Sir, the inquiry which the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Sir Thomas Chambers) asks this House to affirm expedient is three-fold. I will say a few words on each of the three heads, slightly varying their order. He asks first, for an inquiry as to the number and rate of increase of Monastic and Conventual Institutions in Great Britain. But he has himself supplied abundant information on this head; and neither he himself, nor any one else, doubts its accuracy. The Catholic Directory, published every year, supplies the fullest details: and to use the language of Mr. Montague Tigg, in Dickens' novel, every possible information on that point could be had "for the ridiculously small sum of 1s." Secondly, "the present position of these institutions in relation to the law." This point is well known, and was fully inquired into and clearly stated by the Committee of 1870. Their position as regards property and the Law of Mortmain was fully examined into and reported on by the Committee of 1844. Another inquiry was made by a Committee in 1852, and in 1870 there was the Committee of which I was a Member, and whose inquiry was not only exhaustive, but exhausting, for it was protracted through the hottest days of July. Of that Committee the hon. and learned Gentleman was himself a Member; although for some inscrutable reason he did not favour us with much assistance, but steadily absented himself. That Committee reported that— With regard to the institutions themselves, as they are not corporations they cannot receive, hold, or possess any property except by the aid of trustees. …. A universal practice has grown up of conveying to several individuals, as joint tenants, all property which is meant to be enjoyed in common by such institutions. The absolute ownership both at law and in equity is vested in those joint tenants. As each joint tenant dies, his share survives to the others subject to the payment of succession duty. On the death of the survivor the property passes to his heirs, next of kin, devisees, or legatees—in obedience to the ordinary rules of English law." And further, "It was urged that the law against perpetuities, the Law of Mortmain, the law against undue influence, and the laws protecting personal liberty, none of which were objected to by the Roman Catholic witnesses, were amply sufficient to check all abuses in Conventual and Monastic Institutions, and to prevent all improper and excessive acquision of property by them. There remains the third head of inquiry proposed by the hon. and learned Mover of the Resolution. An inquiry into "the character" of these Institutions. Now, that inquiry as to character may have a two-fold meaning. "Character" may mean their nature and constitution as laid down in their rules and constitutions, and developed in their history. On this head there needs no inquiry to obtain information; it is to be found in every great library. "The rules" of all, from those of St. Macarius and St. Basil in the 4th century, which are about the oldest extant, to those of the latest Congregation in France, are all published. Their history has been written alike by friends and foes. From the massive Benedictine annals to the latest miscalled History of the Jesuits, all are to be found, by those who desire to study them, in our public libraries. The hon. and learned Gentleman has appealed to Greek and Latin literature to prove, not that inquiry was needed; he declared that that was superfluous; but that these institutions had always been such as to call for legislative action for the redress of evils and the correction of crime. Now, Sir, I am not going to dispute the hon. and learned Gentleman's scholarship, he gave us no means of judging it, for, although he spoke vaguely of Cyprian and Basil, he carefully avoided a single quotation or a reference: but this I can tell him, that the one quotation he professed to make from the Syllabus, does not occur in it, and is not a correct translation of any passage in it. The hon. and learned Gentleman then went on to quote the legislation of foreign countries to prove that we stood alone in our abstinence from interference with these Institutions. I, Sir, have also studied the legislation of foreign countries on this subject, and the conclusion I have come to, and which I wish to lay before the House, is this—That in proportion as in any country the principles of freedom are understood, and personal liberty respected, exactly in that proportion are such Institutions left unshackled by special legislation. The hon. and learned Gentleman has quoted-France. But for centuries France has been the hotbed of legislation interfering with personal liberty. All unlicensed associations are unlawful; every class of men, every action, is regulated. Schools cannot be opened, without authorization; meetings cannot be held; workmen cannot form associations, nay, cannot move from town to town without a livret, which is in reality a passport. Is this the legislation we are to imitate? But France, gradually as she learned the lesson of personal freedom, has left the Monastic Institutions unmolested, and, as is shown in the Papers in the Library, they prefer the rule of the common law to privileges and regulations. In Germany, up to a very recent period, the Religious Orders were free, by the common right of free association, and the public legal recognition of the Catholic religion. They had, with one or two exceptions, no privileges; religious communities, as associations fell under the common law of the country; and vows might be taken in private or in public. I admit that since the Chancellor of the German Empire has thought it politic to commence a persecution of the Catholic religion, the Religious Orders have had more than their share of that persecution. I call it a persecution of the Catholic religion advisedly, because at this moment, in Prussia, the administering the sacraments of the Catholic religion is a criminal offence; and hundreds, I should rather say thousands, of Bishops and priests are suffering fine and imprisonment for that offence. But if we turn to Belgium, which has so rapidly increased in prosperity since she became free—and where that increase in prosperity has been synchronous with an immense increase in religious houses; in 1856 they were 1,000 with a population of upwards of 14,000; we find that they exist in virtue of Article 20 of the Belgian Constitution which says— Belgians have the right of associating; this right cannot be subjected to any preventive measures. These associations can neither acquire nor possess as such, and are moreover subject to the common law, like all other citizens. The hon. and learned Gentleman has referred to Italy, and as the Italian legislation on this subject is little understood, perhaps the House will allow me to explain it a little at length. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that in Italy the Religious Orders were abolished: now, that statement is inaccurate. The laws on the subject are in the Library, and I am indebted to a gentleman well known in England, the Cavalier Cadorna, formerly Italian Minister here, for the fullest explanations on the subject. A law was passed against the Jesuits in 1848 and has been subsequently extended to all Italy. With regard to all other Religious Orders the legislation has been as follows. Previously to 1851 religious communities were in Italian law "enti morali" (what we would call corporations) and held their property as such. All these corporations were abolished, and as corporations have no heirs, the State seized on all their property. This, no doubt, was an act of high-handed robbery, which I certainly shall not justify; but it was very different from legislation against the religious life. The Italian law at least professes to give absolute freedom of individual action and of association: therefore, all vows may be freely taken; although not recognized or enforced by the civil law: religious communities of men and women may be formed, may live together, may associate for any purpose, and may possess property as individuals or as associations; being, in this respect, in the same position as an insurance company. If now we turn to the United States, a country which resembles our own in its respect for personal freedom, we find there religious communities unshackled by special legislation. But, Sir, the inquiry into "character" really aimed at by Motions like the present is not one into their organization or public character; but into what I may call the personal character of their inmates, and into certain vague but odious charges made against them; and this is the inquiry which we lay Roman Catholics—the guardians of the honour of our brothers and our sisters—feel bound to resist; because no sufficient cause has ever been shown to warrant their being put upon their trial. What the hon. and learned Member really means is, that, as certain allegations have been made by himself and others as to their tendencies, their occult modes of action, the results of what he called their enforced seclusion, Roman Catholics must come into Court and clear themselves. But have these charges been proved? Is the ordinary law insufficient? We maintain it is not. I remember one of the favourite cases of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate). It was one of the alleged forcible detention of a nun. It came before Mr. Justice Wightman, and he declared that the Common Law was sufficient for the protection of personal liberty. The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Sir Thomas Chambers) has favoured us with two new cases, selected, no doubt, with his legal experience, as the strongest to be found. I know nothing of these two cases; but I do know a good deal about the places where they are said to have occurred. What is the first? It is that a workman employed on a roof at Hammersmith said he saw a nun trying to escape over the garden wall, and that she was forced back. Now, there are two convents in Hammersmith. One is that of the Sœurs de la Misericorde, who go out to nurse the sick in their own homes; every nun of which is therefore in constant intercourse with the outer world. The other is that of the Good Shepherd. It is a refuge for penitent women, with a large laundry attached; and contains a large number of persons who would certainly not be entrusted with fearful secrets. The other case is alleged of Newhall. Newhall is a great school filled with young ladies and children of the upper ranks, whose parents are in daily intercourse with them; certainly a place where secret imprisonment would be impossible. I would suggest to the hon. and learned Member that when next he brings forward such illusory cases, he would do well to choose for the mise en scene localities more remote and less known. He speaks of "total seclusion." There are very few convents the inmates of which do not go out in the discharge of their duties; but even in the case of what are called cloistered convents, although the nuns do not now go out, yet they are not debarred from intercourse with externs; their friends, their servants, their physician—and in the great majority of cases that physician is a Protestant—all freely communicate with them. But is it the fact that the public in England know nothing of the inner life of convents? We all remember a remarkable case, tried a few years ago before the Chief Justice of England, in which every minutest incident of a convent interior was detailed in public. I refer to the cause of Saurin against Starr. Hon. Gentlemen may form their own judgment of the parties to that suit. Some may think Miss Saurin vain, tiresome, undisciplined, very unfitted for a convent life. Some may consider Mrs. Starr ill-tempered or tyrannical. But was there one shadow of evils like those commonly alleged? One fact stood out prominently—Miss Saurin complained not of forcible detention, but of unwilling expulsion. "Total seclusion!" Almost all our monasteries and convents are placed in the centre of our great towns; they have hospitals, orphanages, refuges, schools attached to them; they are known to all; their works are manifest. Do any hon. Members want to know what a convent is like?—what its inmates do? Let them walk to Leicester Square, and they can see the Convent and Hospital of the Sisters of Charity; or, nearer still, they can visit their orphanage in Victoria Street, or their créche in Bulstrode Street. Or let them go into the fever dens of Westminster, or the garrets of St. Giles, and they will meet the nuns, and hundreds of the poor can tell them how they live and what they do. There is no precedent for putting communities on their trial merely because the air is thick with idle rumours and vague suspicions. There have indeed been public inquiries into private lunatic asylums; but that was after the public had been shocked by proved abuses; into labour in factories and mines, when the evils had been proved to exist. The latest instance is the inquiry into unseaworthy ships. But the House will recollect how many cases were proved, not vaguely alleged, before that inquiry was undertaken. Besides, these inquiries were undertaken on the responsibilty of Government, and with a view to legislation. There still linger on our Statute Book laws against Monastic Institutions; but does a responsible Government propose this inquiry with a view to revise these laws? There is indeed one recent precedent for a proposal like the present. A short time ago grievous charges of corruption and injustice were publicly made against several of our highest judicial func- tionaries and other persons. These charges were ventilated at public meetings, and propagated by artful declaimers. Great masses of the people were induced to believe them; petitions almost as numerous as those presented by the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Warwickshire, asserting their truth and demanding an inquiry, were presented to this House. Their prayer was supported by the hon. Member for Stoke (Dr. Kenealy), and seconded by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley), who used to be the Seconder of these Motions about convents. Did the distinguished personages so attacked accede to the inquiry? Did my hon. and learned Friend (Sir Henry James) rise up in his place and say, on behalf of the Lord Chief Justice of England and the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas—"There is no truth in these charges. They are baseless, and no shadow of proof is brought; therefore we court inquiry." No; they relied on their character and the country backed them. "Whenever," they said, "any substantial case is made out, calling for an answer, we will give it." And this is the reply of the Catholics to the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Marylebone. But behind all these Motions for inquiry there is a further object, as has been shown in the speeches to-night; a desire not to correct abuses, but to check and to suppress the institutions themselves. Protestant feeling runs strong against monks and nuns, and against what we call the religious life. Such a life is believed to be prejudicial to society, and legislation is desired to check or even to eradicate it. Now, let me ask the House to consider would legislation of this nature be just? Would it be consonant with sound policy? Would it even be possible? For centuries we have been learning the lesson that religious convictions should be left free; and actions prompted by those convictions, as long as they do not interfere with the rights of others, be left uncontrolled. Now, the religious life—the life of monks and nuns—is the natural outcome of the Catholic religion. It is the practical expression of our religious convictions, and the exercise, in action, of our religion. But more; is it possible by any legislation to abolish the religious life, to sup- press monks and nuns? The essence of the institution consists in the three vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. A vow is a mental resolution, an inward resolve. Can laws control the mind? But if law cannot control the mental act, can it restrain its execution? Take the first vow, chastity. Can you make laws against chastity? Can you make marriage compulsory? The vow of poverty? Can you compel a man to retain the use of his property? or, if he retains the legal control, can you prevent his spending it as directed by another whom he choses to obey? Why, even the Jewish Sanhedrim did not attempt to enforce such restrictions on the early Christians, when they sold all they had and laid the price at the feet of the Apostles. But there remains the dreadful vow of obedience! The vow to obey the Superior in all things lawful and commanded by the rule. But can the law control the voluntary obedience which one man yields to another? Can it prevent him from acting freely, as regards all external compulsion, in compliance with the directions of another whom he desires to obey? But it may be said, at least, we can prohibit the life in community. How is this to be done consistently with our laws? Shall we pass a law that not more than a certain limited number of unmarried men or women shall live in the same house? But if the Oratorians, above a certain number, are to be forbidden to live in their house at Brompton, what about the Albany in Piccadilly? One thing we can do, it has been done elsewhere, we can prohibit the wearing of the religious dress. This, too, would be somewhat troublesome. We should have to make a law reciting that it should be a misdemeanour to wear any of the dresses in the Schedule annexed; and then, with the aid of milliners to compile a list—it had better be illustrated with coloured prints—of all the habits of the known Religious Orders. But let me remind the House of the old proverb Cucullus non facit monachum—a Jesuit will be a Jesuit still, though in an ordinary coat. It is not the white veil that makes a Sister of Charity, but her life of charity. As long as men believe that St. Paul was inspired when he wrote—"I say to the unmarried, it is good for them if they so continue, even as I," So long will they observe chastity. As long as they receive the words of Christ—"If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast and give it to the poor." So long will they cultivate voluntary poverty. History, too, teaches us the same lesson; that laws cannot exterminate the Religious Orders. Allusion has been made to the Spanish laws abolishing the Religious Orders. But did monks cease out of Spain? No, the laxer members went home and led a quiet unmarried life. The more fervent, the true monks, put off the habit of their Order, but not its rule, sadly bade adieu to the convents which were no longer their own, gathered together by twos and threes, by fives and tens in wretched lodgings, and observed their vows and the rules of their Order as strictly as in its palmiest days. Our own history teaches that the gallows of Tyburn did not make Jesuits to cease out of England. There was a man who smote Catholicity in these countries with a remorseless and unrelenting fierceness which would have satisfied even the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate). I mean Cromwell. In Ireland he struck hard and he struck long; for a monk to be discovered was to meet a speedy death. Yet not for a day did the great Orders of Dominicans and Franciscans cease out of Ireland. Nay their ranks were recruited in the very furnace of persecution. Let me give one instance. The soldiers had burned the Monastery of Multifernham in Westmeath, slain some of the monks, and carried off others prisoners. Amongst these was a young novice, who refused to avail himself of an opportunity for escape, in order that being sent to the prison where the Superior of his Order was confined, he might make his solemn profession and take the vows. And the vows of St. Francis were taken in that prison as fervently as in the oldest monastery of the Order. I am confident this House will not embark on an undertaking which centuries of penal laws and a Cromwellian persecution failed to accomplish—the proscription of the religious life, an undertaking which would be equally impolitic and unjust. And although we will not subject our brothers and sisters to the insult of asking for an inquiry to prove that they are not guilty of crime; they, and we, court that inquiry which is at once the most searching and the most lasting. The inquiry of a life, spent in the midst of our nation, in the discharge of public duties, and the rendering of public services, in teaching in reforming, in nursing. Facts are stronger than words. A Sister of Charity may be a poor disputant but she is a great argument. Our nuns will live down prejudice; and we know how strong prejudice is. The sick poor they have nursed will plead for them. The wanderers they have reclaimed from the paths of sin will bear witness to them. The thousands of children they have taught unto salvation will bring to them that, which was declared to be "perfect praise which shall overcome their enemies;" and because we believe that, in the long run, Englishmen will judge the tree by its fruits, we are content to leave our most valued institutions to be tried by that test.


disclaimed any intention of charging the Roman Catholic inmates of religious houses, as a body, with any dereliction of those duties which they believed incumbent on them to perform. He was quite prepared to admit that much good had been done by them in past years and was done by them now both in this and other countries. But for his own part he could never see why, in the present state of England, these works should not be carried on without the exercise of vows and the religious life incumbent upon those who adopted that line of life. [Laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen might laugh, but similar institutions had been started by Protestants, and hon. Gentlemen might admit that they had done good among the poor. The speech of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. O'Reilly) did not grapple with the point at issue. The hon. Gentleman had spoken of the facilities for obtaining admission by externs into convents. But the question was whether that admission enabled people to know what exactly went on within those institutions. The hon. Member for the county of Cork (Mr. Shaw) said that Roman Catholics objected to inquiry, because it was asked for by those who were hostile to them on the ground that there was something wrong. Well, he presumed there would be no desire to institute those inquiries unless they thought there was something wrong; but if everybody refused to have inquiries made on that ground he would like to know what inves- tigations would take place? Therefore, to refuse it on that ground did not seem reasonable. He had over and over again supported the Motion informer Sessions; but as time went on, he felt more and more doubtful about the propriety of doing so, not in the least because he doubted that there was much to be mended and much to be complained of, but because, first of all, he believed they had got all the facts wanted for any action that might be necessary; secondly, because he doubted whether any Government would ever grant such a Commission as they were seeking; and, thirdly, because, supposing it granted, he doubted whether it would have any result. He must say that the British public was more easily taken in on this Roman Catholic question than on any other with which he was acquainted. The country was essentially Protestant, and as far as it was not indifferent or infidel, which to a certain extent he believed it to be, what it meant by Protestantism was a sort of insane terror of the Pope, priests, vestments, lights, transubstantiation, incense, and so forth—questions which the people did not in the least understand, and if they did they would not be competent to decide. But they could not be got to see that the real danger of Popery in this country was that the Pope was gaining ground over the civil rights of the people. When, after a long period of public life, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich woke up one fine morning and discovered that the claims of the Pope, whose interests the Liberal Party had been serving for the last 40 years—[Cheers]—when the right hon. Gentleman found out that the Pope was winning back what had once been his, and had never really abandoned his old position—the country said—"What a great discovery the right hon. Gentleman has made." Why, the fact had been asserted in this country and in that House continually, but the country would not believe it. It was no new discovery. He could only regret that those who cheered that sentiment on the other side of the House were unable to see how far their action had aided in bringing this about. He had said he did not think this inquiry would have any effect, even supposing it were granted. But why? That had been pointed out by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down— because the strength of Roman Catholicism was in the consciences of its adherents. Protestantism had no organization which could compete in that respect with Roman Catholicism. They had taught the right of private judgment, which in Protestant mouths meant that every man was to decide exactly as he liked. So long as they had no cohesion, it was impossible to bring any Protestant organization to compete with Roman Catholicism, unless it was supported by an Establishment. And that was one of the reasons why he had always opposed the disestablishment of the Irish Protestant Church. He was not going to make vague charges. He said they might have any inquiry, but they would not get at facts. He knew that much went on which had not been cited, but he also knew that they were extremely difficult to prove, and that was one reason why he did not quote them. He knew he could not prove them, and he would not give hon. Gentlemen opposite the opportunity of refuting arguments which he could not prove. If anything was to be done with these institutions he feared there was no other way of doing it than that of totally suppressing them; and upon this ground—that when a man entered a monastery, he became civilly dead and was for all mundane purposes useless. That was a position which no citizen had a right to assume, because every citizen was liable to be called upon to serve his country. They did not know who was and who was not in a monastery, and men had no right to withdraw themselves from the calls which the State or the body politic might make upon them. For the reasons he had given he could not vote for the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman.


said, he would endeavour, although this was a religious question, to treat it calmly and dispassionately. The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Sir Thomas Chambers) had based his Motion on two grounds, the first having reference to personal liberty, and the second to property. With regard to the latter the great increase of Monastic and Conventual Institutions, might to a certain extent justify the intervention of the State to prevent too large an accretion of property in a direction in which it would cease to circulate among the public. In 1854, the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone electrified the House and alarmed the country by prophesying in 25 years the necessary increase of these institutions to the number of 3,000 or 4,000; that there would be 60,000 nuns in them, and an incalculable amount of property attaching to them. That was a formidable prospect; but, so far as could be learnt from the hon. and learned Gentleman's statement to-night, after the lapse of 22 years there were only 299 of them, and the hon. and learned Gentleman had forborne to mention the number of their inmates. With regard to the two instances which had been brought before the House to illustrate the necessity of personal investigation in this matter, they had been answered by that venerable nobleman, Lord Russell, who told him that the law of Habeas Corpus was strong enough to deal with any alleged grievance; and when the hon. and learned Gentleman told them, in presence of the Home Secretary, that no investigation had taken place, if that right hon. Gentleman had felt it his duty to institute an inquiry, no power within or without the convent could have prevented an investigation. The matter might have been probed to the bottom; but it was, perhaps, felt that further investigation would not serve the purpose of those who professed themselves anxious to obtain it. With regard to the convent at Newhall, in Essex—which was formerly one of the palaces of Henry VIII.—he (Mr. Serjeant Sherlock) knew something of it personally. His own daughter had been educated there; and if there was such a thing as restriction of personal liberty in a school of 60 or 70 young ladies, was it not probable that it would be communicated to their parents? It would be their deepest interest to prevent the existence of such restrictions, and when they did exist the Catholic community would be the first to insist upon removing them, without waiting for the assistance of the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone or the hon. Member for North Warwickshire. The increase of these institutions had not been commensurate with the increase of other bodies, and in point of wealth it afforded a miserable contrast. The increase of other religious institutions was shown by the fact that they were now 90 in number in this country. In Scotland, out of a popula- tion of between 3,000,000 and 4,000,000 there were about 600,000 persons who belonged to no religion, and he thought that hon. Gentlemen who took so deep an interest in conventual institutions might occupy their time equally well in trying to attach this large body of people to some religious denomination. With reference to the Reports from foreign countries bearing upon this subject——

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present—


proceeded to say that comparisons had been made between these institutions in this country and in foreign countries, but there was no analogy between the two cases. Brazil had been referred to, and he found on reference to the Ordinances, that the Government of that country was authorized to incur expenditure in obtaining Capuchin missionaries from Italy, and, of course, when they arrived there, they were centred in the capital, and became a part of the institutions of the country. Here they were not recognized. A monastery had no status, but was simply in law a club. The members of it had their civil rights if they chose to exercise them, and they did exercise them. They claimed to be on the list of electors, and he had canvassed them from time to time. To say, therefore, that they had no civil rights, was a misapprehension. This subject had received more discussion in that House since 1853 than almost any other, but it had not progressed during that time, and the Government had not found it advantageous to legislate upon it. He thought it might safely be left to them to take it in hand if they saw occasion to do so.


said he was surprised that the hon. and learned Member who brought forward this Motion did not receive a single cheer from the Liberal benches; and he asked himself whether there were no Liberal Members left in the House after the last General Election? The Committee of 1871 only had reference to property. It was forbidden to inquire into the conditions of entry and the personal liberty which the inmates were supposed to enjoy. The arguments of the noble Lord the Member for North Northum- berland (Earl Percy) were contradictory of each otter. The noble Lord said he would not mention certain cases which were within his knowledge, because he was not able to prove them. But the very existence of these cases, which could not be investigated, or only partially so, was the justification of this demand for inquiry. Neither could he agree with his hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir John Kennaway), as he understood him, that the Government had no grounds on account of pressure of public opinion for dealing with the question. He knew there were great difficulties in the way; but he would remind the House that last Session this subject produced the largest number of Petitions with the largest number of signatures, the total number of the latter being 183,572; and he must express his surprise that the Irish Roman Catholic Members did not support the Motion, if only to ward off the suspicion that attached to these domiciles, and raise them in the estimation of the public. Protestants considered them as remnants of the Middle Ages, and did not wish to see them increase in number. The objection to inquiry—that it would be an interference with personal liberty—was open to the answer that it would be no greater interference than had been already sanctioned in reference to lodging-houses, public-houses, mines, shops, and factories. There was precedent enough to justify the Government in taking such steps as would satisfy the country, and this was no more than might be expected of a Government which had the credit of being a thoroughly Protestant Government, and of having earnestly at heart the preservation of the Constitution of this country; and the great majority of the people expected them to maintain the Protestant character of these Realms. It had been said that a writ of the Court of Queen's Bench would open the doors of any convent; but they all knew the difficulty of obtaining the requisite information for such an application. If he were a Roman Catholic he should insist on a system of registration, believing that that would go a long way towards satisfying the country that the inmates were not tyrannized over; that it would work well here as it did in Germany and France; and if such a system were devised by the hon. Members who had relatives in these institutions, he believed the House would gladly pass a measure to give effect to it. He was satisfied that the conscientious conviction of the people of this country was so decidedly on the side of inquiry that the question ought not to be dealt with by Counts-out. He could assure them that although the question might be ignored to-day it must come up again next Session. There was an immense amount of feeling in the country on this subject, and it would make itself felt at the next General Election. There could be no doubt that in the presence of the enormous increase of Monasteries and Colleges they ought to be placed on a better footing than they were now, more especially as in almost every country in Europe—namely, in France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Russia, Spain, Norway, and Sweden—the different Governments had investigated these institutions, abolishing some and placing the others under various regulations. The wonderful increase in the number of Roman Catholic seminaries which had taken place in England was an alarming fact, which the Government ought to take into their consideration, as it would inevitably tend in a few years to some measures which would affect the large amount of land which these establishments possessed. He found that in this year 1876, as compared with 1829, the date of Catholic emancipation, there was an increase of 99 Monastic Institutions, 283 Conventual, and 19 Collegiate. He found also that symptoms of alarm of the enormous increase of Roman Catholic institutions were appearing in America, in the United States, and he believed were causing great apprehension in the minds of statesmen there. From 1850 to 1860 that church had increased in wealth about 189 per cent; from 1860 to 1870, 128 per cent: while the wealth of the whole country increased from 1850 to 1860 125 per cent; and between 1860 and 1870 86 per cent. In Gibson's Ecclesiastical Almanack it was calculated that in nine years, from 1859 to 1868, while Protestants increased from 21,000,000 to 27,000,000, or 29 per cent. Roman Catholics increased from 2,500,000 to 5,000,000, or 50 per cent. He called attention to these figures to show there was cause for inquiry into this great theocratic power. He made these remarks in no spirit of personal feeling against the Roman Catholics, and he hoped every Roman Catholic Member would give him credit for that. The country considered the Roman Catholic Church a universal, political power, which was foreign nowhere, and at home everywhere, and the House ought not to shrink from the duty which it was now called upon to perform in regard to these institutions.


, in explanation to the hon. Member for Wigtown, said, he did not state that the Government had no grounds for taking up the question, but that, although the principle of inquiry had been several times affirmed by the House, public opinion outside had never been strong enough to force the Government to take it up.


said, he wished to point out with reference to the cases brought forward by the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Sir Thomas Chambers) that no proof was given in either case that the lady seen escaping was a nun. Both institutions where the occurrence was said to have happened were places of education. He wished to know why no magisterial inquiry had been instituted. The names of the alleged witnesses were known, and there would have been no difficulty in putting the civil power in motion. The hon. and learned Member had appealed to the testimony of France, and told them of the numerous restrictions under which the convents were permitted to be opened there. But in spite of all that legislation, the French had accepted the system; and all the public associations for relieving the poor, the sick, and distressed, were in the hands of the religious Bodies. In 1808 there were only 196 houses of men in France, and now there were 2,011 communities of men. There were 100,000 religious women, and 20,000 religious men. Where a country accepted these institutions, and the State reorganized them, it was a strong argument in their faviour. With regard to Germany, there had been only one Order expelled from that country, and not several as had been said. In the United States there were no laws against religious and Monastic institutions, and the political system of that country recognized so fully the doctrine of religious liberty that was doubtful whether it would be within the rights of Congress to make such a law. The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone and the hon. Member for North Warwickshire had had the most ample opportunities afforded them for inquiry. A Select Committee sat in 1870–71. They sat 15 times, and 29 witnesses were summoned before them, 16 being called at the express request of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire. The Committee reported in 1871, and when the Report was drawn there were three Catholics and eight Protestants present; but there was nothing in that Report which indicated that there was any case for further investigation. He, for one, objected to have the privacy of those institutions intruded upon on unproved charges which had been made that evening, not for the first time, because the hon. Member for North Warwickshire had some years ago brought before the House the case of a convent in the Midland Counties where he said some atrocious acts had been committed to which he could produce 17 reliable witnesses to testify. But the following day a letter appeared in The Times from the brother of the lady who was implicated in the charges made by the hon. Gentlemen, asking him to repeat outside the House that which he had stated within its walls. The hon. Gentleman, however, never substantiated or withdrew those charges. [Mr. NEWDEGATE: What is the name of the convent?] He was speaking of the convent over which the sister of Sir Constable Clifford then presided, and he must express his regret that any Member of that House should make charges which, if not by the Rules of the House, at least as a Gentleman, he was bound to substantiate or withdraw, and yet have acted as the hon. Gentleman opposite did in the case to which he was referring. He hoped he might add that the House, having regard to the feelings of Roman Catholics whose relatives were inmates of convents, would not hesitate to reject the Motion.


said, he was of opinion that there should be no place in the land where persons could be put away without their existence or non-existence being known. It was asserted that many of these establishments were in large towns. That was all very well; but stone walls were thick, and things might happen within them that ought to be known. He, therefore, wished that when a person was confined, either by his own act or that of others, there should be some sort of supervision exer- cised over him, so that he might be enabled to recover his freedom, if he desired it, or be protected from cruelty if necessary. In saying thus much, however, he must not be supposed to be advocating the suppression of monasteries or nunneries, for we lived in a free country. At present there was a strong feeling that certain practices in monasteries and nunneries ought to be stopped. Inspection would prevent wrong, if any existed, and remove suspicion where it was unjust.


said, he should not have taken part in the debate, but for the fact that, as a medical man, he possessed a thorough knowledge of what went on in 26 monasteries and nunneries in Dublin, the county of Dublin, and other parts of Ireland; consequently he spoke with a very high degree of authority. The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Sir Thomas Chambers) had commenced by asserting that these institutions were exceedingly dangerous, but he offered absolutely no justification for that statement. Why should the hon. and learned Gentleman, without a scintilla of evidence, state that institutions were dangerous which were composed of the highest ladies in the land, and men of the purest minds, who gave up their lives in order to alleviate the misery of the poor? Only two hypothetical cases had been adduced that evening in support of the proposal for inquiry. The proposal, he might remark, had, year after year, been ignominiously rejected in the House of Commons. Then, the hon. and learned Gentleman asserted that the foundation, the essence, and the root of these institutions involved total seclusion. Let him tell the hon. and learned Member, from his personal experience, how total seclusion was secured to these poor ladies, some of whom had been represented as pining in anguish and waiting to be relieved by the House sending Commissioners to their assistance. As medical attendant at various convents he was asked when ladies presented themselves as postulants, whether they were in a fit condition of health to perform arduous manual labour. He might add that some members of the proudest noble houses of England had passed through his hands thus for a whole year. The postulant had no permanent home in the convent; she might be turned out at any moment. At the expiration of a year he was again called in to declare whether they were fit to continue in the Order. Some would say to him—"I am much stronger than you think, although I look so thin. If you once give me a hope, and allow me to be admitted I shall be so delighted, and if you come again this day week you will see how joyous my face will be." Indeed at times he had even gone beyond his medical knowledge and said—"Through mercy, I will allow you to be admitted." Two years more must elapse before the final vows were made. Until then a lady had no claim on the convent, and she must do a deal in order to become a professed member of the institution. After an experience of 18 years he felt convinced the most ingenious mind could not suggest anything but the love of God beaming in the countenances of professed nuns. The hon. and gallant Member opposite (Colonel Egerton Leigh) had said that convent walls were thick; but it was also true that the gates were never closed, or at least they were readily opened when anyone knocked at them. As to the new names assumed by nuns destroying their identity, he might mention that their relatives and friends always inquired for them by their family names, although it was, no doubt, the fact that in most Orders they adopted, from pious motives, the names of favourite saints. In all cases, however, in which that occurred it was not for any purposes of deception, but as a mark of their total severance from the outside world. Why should their voluntary seclusion be interfered with by curious and inquisitive persons? He was not surprised that no discoveries or irregularity or injustice had been made, because there was nothing to find; and he was unable to agree in the illogical conclusion of the hon. and learned Member opposite (Sir Thomas Chambers), that because nothing had been found there must be something there. He hoped that the religious toleration which now happily existed in this country would never cease to exist, and that the glorious amity of feeling which it occasioned among members of different religions might never again give place to discord through the attempt at such legislation as alone would satisfy the hon. and learned Member. Proposals of the kind were not unlikely to disturb the good feeling at present existing between England and Ireland, and he trusted the Motion would be rejected.


said, he had not intended to take any part in the debate were it not for a point which happily did not touch the religious question with which the discussion had been so much encumbered.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present. House counted, and 40 Members being found present,


went on to say that the strongest argument he had heard in favour of the Motion had been advanced by the hon. Member for Cork County (Mr. Shaw). It arose out of the case of a lady who, having escaped from the Convent of Newhall, claimed the protection of two labourers, but was taken back against her will with a certain amount of force. The hon. Member had said that this lady was unquestionably insane. But if that was so such a statement only went to show that these institutions were unlicensed lunatic asylums. If the facts were as stated there had been a direct violation of the law, for no proof had ever been adduced that the establishment had ever been registered, or that any reference had been made to the registrars, either to legalize the detention of the lady, or to allow her to be removed from one place to another. One such case afforded strong ground for inquiry to secure the mere personal liberty of the subject, and it was possible that there might be other instances of the same kind. There was nothing in which the law showed more care than in the protection of alleged lunatics, and he believed that a person had not a right to detain a member of his own family without communication with the authorities. No proof had been given that other ladies might not be detained at Newhall. He thought the attention of the Home Secretary should be drawn to this point. He understood the law to be simply this—that within 48 hours of the occurrence of any case of lunacy, notice must be given to the justices, who held a preliminary inquiry, and regular proceedings were afterwards taken under their sanction. There was nothing of that kind in this case. The lady had been detained, according to the statement of the hon. Member, for 12 years, and no inquiry had been instituted. Who could tell how many other ladies were detained in those institutions under similar circumstances? The number of ladies in convents was altogether a mystery; but, taking the average at 20, the 300 convents would give 6,000, and he was not aware that there had been any application to the justices for an order in lunacy in one single instance connected with those establishments. As he had said, this did not trespass on the religious question. His attention had also been turned to the great infrequency of inquests, and he believed there had been only three instances in which coroners' inquests had been held. He thought, referring entirely to the secular aspects of this question, there was a case for inquiry, and that the Motion of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Marylebone was a right one, and for his part he should certainly give his vote in support of it.


I have no intention of detaining the House with any lengthened argument on the Motion now before it, but I merely wish to say that, whilst I belong to one of the straitest sects of Protestants, and represent a constituency in the North of Ireland in which Protestants constitute four-fifths of the whole electorate, I am utterly opposed to this Motion, because I regard it as re-actionary and inconsistent with the principles of civil and religious liberty. I know that the agitation for the inspection of Monastic and Conventual Institutions is out-of-doors carried on in the name of liberty; but, although the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Sir Thomas Chambers), and the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), may know little or nothing of the motive in which that agitation originates, it is really nothing more or less than a sectarian movement, having for its object the curtailment of the influence of the Roman Catholic religion, and the advancement—I will not say of Protestantism, but of a species of Protestantism, which in the outside world is not distinguished either for tolerance or intelligence. I am quite ready on all proper occasions and by all legitimate means to propagate my own creed as best I can, but I could not conceive any measure more thoroughly futile—I might say mischievous—for such a purpose, than the plan proposed by the hon. and learned Mem- ber for Marylebone. What good could this do to Protestantism? It could only irritate those of a different religion, and it would irritate without suppressing. If, for instance, the conventual establishments of this country are to be considered detrimental to the liberty of the people, then I cannot see any logical standing ground for dealing with them except that of suppressing those establishments. Is any one prepared to carry out that principle? [Mr. WHALLEY: Yes.] Well, it appears the hon. Member for Peterborough is the one hon. Member of this House who is willing to push the Motion to its logical conclusion, but I suspect that his isolated wisdom is in this instance, as in others, the exception which proves the rule. The prevailing idea is, that it is inexpedient to suppress convents and monasteries by main force, and if that be so, I cannot understand why hon. Members of this House, and why the country generally should be subject to agitation on a question which cannot eventuate in advantage to the people at large. If the hon. Member could turn this House into an auxiliary to the Protestant Alliance, he would have accomplished very little to promote the principles of the Reformation. Convents are to all intents and purposes private houses, and if I am told that cruelties are sometimes inflicted on members of conventual communities, I have simply to say in reply that cruelties have often been exercised in private families, and yet I suppose the time has not yet come, even in the judgment of the hon. and learned Member, for appointing Commissioners to pay domiciliary visits, and set to rights anything they find out of joint in family arrangements. As to the argument of the hon. Member for South-east Lancashire (Mr. Hardcastle) with regard to the illegal case of the escaped lunatic, I wish to make an observation with respect to that. He says in that case the inmates of the convent broke the law; that they should have given notice to the nearest magistrate that a case of lunacy had occurred within their walls; and, because they broke the law hypothetically in this case, he argues that an inspection of convents should be instituted that any such illegality may be discovered. But, is there no violation of the law in private houses? If the law has in some particular instances been violated, are we to institute a system of domestic surveillance in order that irregularities, in cases of this kind, may in every instance be discovered; because, Sir, unless we are prepared to go that length, it seems to me that the argument of the hon. Member for Southeast Lancashire falls entirely to the ground. I have never seen any evidence or heard anything that satisfies my mind that in any case has a nun been retained in this country within the walls of a convent contrary to her own consent, or under any pressure, except that of her own conscience. I know of no such case, except in story books. No doubt, we have read books that profess to be written by liberated nuns, and what does that prove? Why, that the nuns were liberated before they wrote them. How does that show that these persons could not make their escape from these establishments? It proves that there must have been liberty given to these persons to take their departure from their supposed prisons whenever they thought fit. The case of Miss Saurin has been more than once referred to, and no doubt it is a strong case; but it is a strong case against the Motion, for she could have taken her departure from the convent in which she was living at any time. It is true she complained of having suffered indignity within the walls of the convent, but there was no desire on the part of the authorities of the convent to detain her, and if all the Commissions in England had been sent to the establishment in Hull, they would have left affairs just as they found them in relation to Miss Saurin, and if you were to send out Inspectors to-morrow, and employ them for a month or for three months in instituting a rigid inquiry into the convents of England, you would leave matters just as you found them, and you would not find that there was a nun the less in all broad England. But the hon. Member then referred to foreign countries. I am very much surprised that a Gentleman of his eminence and ability—and I should say his tact—in endeavouring to conciliate the opinion of this House should have adduced here, and in this debate, any argument from foreign countries to overbear the judgment of an English House of Commons. I am myself an Irishman, but I do not, Sir, consider England a foreign country, and we are legislating in this House not for a foreign country, but for free England and free Scotland, and, if my Friends from Ireland will allow me, I should also say for free Ireland. ["No, no!" from the Home Rule Members.] Well, at all events we shall be agreed that the application of the measure foreshadowed in the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone—should it be applied to Ireland, as, doubtless, it would be by-and-by—would not contribute much to Irish liberty. We are not now, Sir, legislating here for foreign countries, and whatever others may do, I refuse to admit that the political action of this country should be moulded after the political pattern of France and Spain; and if any one, following the example of the hon. and learned Gentleman, is disposed to quote the example of foreign countries where personal liberty is concerned, I tell him that he is only quoting something which it would, in all likelihood, be much better for us to avoid than to imitate. I said I would not detain the House, and I shall keep my word. In opposing the Motion, I believe I am giving effect to the wishes of my constituents, even in the North of Ireland. But whether that be so or not, there is something of more consequence to me, and that is that I am giving effect to my own opinion.


said, he thought the last speech furnished strong arguments in favour of the Motion, and particularly the declaration that Commissioners could ascertain nothing by months of inquiry. To it, he would simply reply by making use of the old saying that—"Where there was no sin there was no shame." He would not say anything against the Roman Catholic religion; but they were there to represent their constituencies, and his constituency felt deeply on this question. He rejoiced that the efforts to count out the House had been unsuccessful, because the question was one on which there was a strong feeling and a growing one in the country, and he was perfectly willing to accept the decision which hon. Members might come to on the subject. He did not profess to be a a prophet, but he was very much mistaken if the people of this country were not daily growing more and more earnest on this subject. They had no desire to suppress nunneries; but they did desire to see that check placed upon them which was placed upon them in Roman Catholic countries. The attempt to draw a defensive analogy from the case of lunatics utterly failed, because it was illegal to detain a lunatic in an unlicensed house, and there was no doubt that persons became insane in convents. He thought it extremely unwise on the part of hon. Members who supported these institutions to object to a proper registration of their inmates; because that, at all events, could not offend the most sensitive person, and it would at least enable parents to ascertain whether missing daughters had or had not entered these institutions. He had been told by a French lady that when a lady went into a convent in France her name was registered. They had institutions in this country wherein young ladies who had been lost by their friends were found. On one occasion, when conversing with Dr. Manning on this matter, he told the rev. gentleman that the opposition which Motions of the kind met from Roman Catholic Members made the people think there was something wrong which they did not like to acknowledge. If his own character were to be challenged, there was nothing he should like better than public refutation. He had no "insane fear of the Pope," and did not believe that the right of private judgment meant infidelity. It meant the holding and maintaining of your own opinions, in spite of Pope, priest, or anybody else; and possessing that right he would, so long as he had a seat in that House, state what he believed to be correct. Surely, it was an abuse of terms to speak of civil and religious liberty in connection with the restraints of conventual seclusion. We recognized the principle of affording special protection to women in factories, and he did not see why the application of the principle should not be extended to those who had even voluntarily immured themselves in convents. The straits to which the opponents of the Motion were driven was fairly illustrated by the way in which they had fastened upon the word "character" in the Resolution, which had no relation whatever to persons, and referred exclusively to institutions. The simple question was, whether persons who were incarcerated and who were unable to protect themselves, should have opportunities of expressing their desire to come out into the world again to those who would see that their right to liberty should be vindicated. Although he did not suppose there would be a majority in favour of the present Motion, he believed the time was coming when the country would speak out more freely, and when those who now opposed such inquiries would be defeated. He could not believe that out of the large number of women who entered these convents, there were not many who did not desire to come out, and who would do so if they had the opportunity. The people of England were becoming more and more determined, and he was confident that eventually a Motion of this kind would be carried by a large majority. He would therefore advise the Catholic Members to accept the Resolution, before the feeling of the country demanded a stronger measure.


said, that the issue raised by the Motion was a very narrow one, and that the cases which had been brought under the notice of the House that evening had signally failed to furnish a ground on which to justify it. The case of Miss Saurin had been alluded to; but it proved the very opposite to that for which it had been brought forward as an example. Miss Saurin did not want to leave a nunnery; on the contrary, she wished to remain a nun, and it was because she was not permitted to do so that the subsequent proceedings took place. She did not say—"I won't be a nun;" what she said was, "I will be a nun," and they, not finding her a desirable person, would not let her remain one. The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone wanted to know certain particulars concerning Monastic and Conventual Institutions in Great Britain, and he (Sir George Bowyer) might inform him that those particulars were ready at his hand, without any inquiry for ascertaining them. He held in his hand a little book called The Catholic Directory, which gave the name and address of every Roman Catholic clergyman, and a list of all the monastic institutions in this country. It also gave a list of all the societies for women, and the charitable institutions under religious societies, with the rule under which they lived—whether Benedictine, Dominican, or otherwise. Then if the hon. and learned Member wanted the rate of increase, he had only to go over two or three of these books published in former years, and he would find what he wanted. He would see, also, that of all these institutions there was only one that was really contemplative in its character. With that exception they were institutions dedicated to works of charity, to hospital work, to the visitation of the poor, and also to education. He himself had founded two such institutions, one in London, the convent attached to the Hospital of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, and the other, to which were attached large schools, in the neighbourhood of Abingdon, Berkshire, where his property was. They consisted of a poor school and a school for young ladies, and the poor school was considered so good that many Protestants sent their children to it. If the hon. and learned Gentleman would like to inspect these convents, he had only to use his (Sir George Bowyer's) name—although that would not be necessary—and he would be received with every courtesy by the ladies; and when he had finished his inspection he would, he was certain, feel the greatest respect for these ladies and for the work they were doing. There was one charitable institution at Hammersmith, where 350 old, poor, and bedridden people were maintained by ladies who begged from door to door for scraps to feed them with, and who actually lived on what these poor people left. Then the hon. and learned Member wanted to know the present position of these institutions in relation to the law. Well, every one knew what that was, and was it reasonable to appoint a Committee when the result must be nil? There seemed to be a complete misapprehension as to the nature of the nunneries in England. It happened that hardly any of them belonged to the strict Orders; their interior organization and life were better known than those of private dwellings, and if any of the inmates found that their vocation did not lie in that direction, a dispensation could readily be obtained from the Bishops. The vows, therefore, were not of a dreadful and irrevocable character, neither was the life that of the inmate of a cell, nor a solitary confinement like that of a prison. There were several ladies known to him who found that a convent life was not their vocation, and who, having been set free by the Bishop, were now in the world. There was, therefore, nothing so dreadful or so irrevocable in a convent life as some hon. Members supposed, and every convent had a school attached to it. It was also supposed that these convents were under the power of some priest or Bishop; but the House would probably be surprised to hear that convents were in fact female republics. They elected annually their Superior, and all the officers down to portress. They elected those who were admitted, and every lady had to undergo three ballots, at which one ball excluded—first as postulant, then as novice, and lastly as nun. They governed themselves, and they managed their own affairs. Any priest who presumed to interfere with the interior government of the house would get himself very well snubbed. They were perfectly independent of any clergy, provided they observed their own rules. The popular ideas about convents were founded upon stupid romance writers, who dishonestly described a state of things which, did not exist. Every nun had a perfect right to write to a Bishop under her own seal, and nobody else could see the letter. If she had anything to complain of, the Bishop would at once cause inquiry to be made. Besides that, once every year they had an extraordinary confessor, not connected with the house, to whom she would be free to make complaints. These ladies could not be put upon or tyrannized over by anybody whatever, and they generally exhibited a strong sense of their own rights. To show how groundless were the stories which were got up with reference to the lot of these sisters, he had only to refer to the well-known case of "Sister Agnes," of Newhall, about whom there was at one time an outcry, but who on inquiry being made, turned out to be not a sister at all, but a kitchen maid who had stolen a lot of property and run away. He maintained that the law of England was strong enough to reach any house, whether a convent or not, and if anything wrong were done there would always be somebody ready to call in the interference of the law. He deprecated the notion that we were to go to foreign countries for precedents to guide us in dealing with this matter. [Repeated cries of "Divide!"] He would conclude by urging that our principles of freedom ought to be applied not only to those whose creed was that of the ma- jority, but also to those whose views might be unpopular and contrary to the feelings and wishes of a great portion of the people of the country.


said, that in his opinion the inquiry which took place in 1870—taking its scope and the objects embraced—really ascertained all that it was necessary to know on this subject, and certainly the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) had his fair share of the time of the Committee. They examined solicitors, trustees, and directors, and all other witnesses whom they thought could throw any light on the subject, sat for 21 days, and asked between 4,000 and 5,000 questions, and therefore the duties of that Committee could not be considered light or the decision hasty. They inquired into the character, as well as the property, of Conventual Institutions, and exhausted all the means of investigation; and as a result of that inquiry, they found that the state of the law as to property with regard to convents and monasteries was very anomalous and unsatisfactory, and should be put on a different footing; these bodies being allowed to hold property directly, instead of by means of secret trusts, to which they were driven by the law of superstitious uses. After the very full inquiry made by the Committee, he must think another was not necessary, and therefore he should not vote for the Motion, but remain neutral, leaving the House to say whether or not it was satisfied with the work they had done. At the same time, there could be no doubt these institutions were somewhat anomalous in their character, inasmuch as they involved seclusion, and, to some extent, restraint; and that being so, there was a general feeling in the country that there ought to be some control over them—some regulation and some mode of ascertaining what their regulations, conduct, and mode of dealing with the members of them were. He thought the time for legislation had arrived, and the time for inquiry was past. These institutions were, in fact, educational or charitable institutions. Persons entering these institutions, and becoming professed, ceased to have any individual rights of property; any property belonging or accruing to them merged in the property of the community. He would suggest, therefore, that these institutions should be treated on the footing of other charitable institutions, and should be brought under the administration of the Charity Commissioners. This body had at its disposal a machinery by means of which it was in the habit of investigating and regulating similar institutions throughout the country. It might ascertain the amount of property possessed by each community, and from time to time might make Reports respecting it. Some legislation of this kind would not be harassing to the Roman Catholics, and might, he thought, be fairly and properly applied. He hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman would withdraw the Motion, and that either he would frame a Bill on the lines he had suggested, or that the Government would deal with the subject in this way.


expressed his surprise and regret that the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory), though he gave an elaborate account of the proceedings of the Committee of 1870, including the number of witnesses and the aggregate of the questions they were asked, had not stated that the Committee reported further inquiry into the Conventual and Monastic Institutions of the country was necessary. In so doing, the hon. Member had virtually disposed of the whole of his argument that further inquiry was unnecessary. A similar proposal to that just made by the hon. Member was before the House some years ago, and was received with great turbulence, and without any favour on the part of the Roman Catholics. As to the Report of the Select Committee, it seemed to him that the ingenuity of counsel and solicitors had been exercised in covering up illicit monetary transactions and dealings with property by Roman Catholic communities in this country. Nothing more futile or unsatisfactory than the result of that Committee was ever placed before Parliament. All religious persons admired the abounding faith of the Roman Catholics; but the people of this country dreaded and utterly detested the foreign power of Rome which would interfere with the Government of this country. They were told that if they proceeded with this inquiry they would offend the susceptibilities of Roman Catholics. What was meant by that? Why, that Roman Catholics did not desire discussion, and that by every means in their power they would put it down. In that House they attempted to prevent discussion by moving Count-outs, and outside they did not like to have this subject debated. Some time ago he was at Bury St. Edmund's, with the object of raising in a public meeting a question which it was considered likely would "offend the susceptibilities of the Roman Catholics"—that was the phrase used—and it was known that a body of some 40 men were to be brought from a distance to put down discussion by violent means. He communicated with the Home Secretary, who promptly gave him and those who attended the meeting the protection they desired. That was so gratifying to him that he thought he should never again have to trouble the House on this subject. Give him freedom of discussion and the right to address his fellow-countrymen whenever they thought fit to hear him, and he would undertake to drive every Roman Catholic priest out of the country. He inquired whether the rule laid down at that meeting might be relied upon at future meetings for legitimate purposes; but would the House believe that the right hon. Gentleman answered him in the negative, saying—"No, we will not afford you protection for public discussion, except we first approve of the object of the meeting." That would put an end to freedom of discussion, and he now wished to ask whether, upon reasonable request from a responsible person, the right hon. Gentleman would not consider himself bound to afford on all occasions such assistance as he gave at Bury St. Edmund's? He had recently had an opportunity of ascertaining the views of the right hon. Member for Greenwich upon this subject. As hon. Members knew, the right hon. Gentleman had placed on record opinions which had aroused the attention of Europe, and had stated that this country had hanging over it the most portentous perils, the most tremendous mischiefs—[Interruption.]


reminded the hon. Member that he was wandering from, the Motion before the House.


said, that if he was wandering in alluding to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich, he would refer to what was written 40 years ago by the Prime Minister upon this subject. He would read a passage attributed to the Prime Minister— The people of England were not so far divorced from their ancient valour, that after having withstood Napoleon and the whole world in arms they are to sink"— [Cries of "Divide!"] If he was not permitted to express his views inside, he would outside of the House. The right hon. Member for Greenwich had compared the case of this country to that of a ship with a torpedo within it—we knew not when the fatal hour might come. That being so, he should relieve the House from further discussion of the subject, and would conclude by expressing the hope that the Home Secretary would afford protection to those who took part in such public meetings as might be held for discussing this question of the inspection of convents or any other question affecting the public interests.


Mr. Speaker, I am anxious to recall the attention of the House to the Motion which has been brought before us by the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Sir Thomas Chambers) in a speech which was marked by his wonted ability. There has been some confusion raised by the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory) as to the scope of the Motion which is now under consideration by the House; and in order to dispel that confusion I would remind the House that, in the year 1870, upon my Motion for a Select Committee to inquire into these Monastic and Conventual Institutions, the House, by a majority of 2, agreed to that proposal. Attempts were afterwards made by repeated Motions for Adjournments to get rid of that Resolution; but the House, by increasing majorities, ended with a majority of 45, and thus decided that the inquiry, as I had proposed it, should be instituted by a Select Committee. That inquiry would have been of precisely the same nature as the inquiry which is now proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone; but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich, who was then at the Head of the Government, afterwards persuaded the House to partially rescind its Order, and to exclude from the Instruction to the Select Committee, then appointed, the words "discipline" and "character," as applied to these institutions, and thus to limit the inquiry exclusively to questions as to property held by or for these institutions. I was quite convinced at the time that the inquiry as to property would fail, because the terms of the Instruction, the limit assigned to the power of inquiry, excluded the personal discipline and character of these institutions, and of the members and inmates of these institutions; I told the House, that I was convinced the inquiry would fail, and it afterwards appeared before the Committee that the difficulty of legally holding property, to which many of these institutions are exposed, and to which the hon. Member for East Sussex has alluded, arises principally from the operation of certain clauses in the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, which render the residence of the Monastic Orders of the Church of Rome in this country illegal. These clauses are directed against the persons who are connected with these Orders, or who owe allegiance to them, and through them to the Pope; and it is here in reference to the persons, in the character of these Orders and of the persons forming them, in the discipline of these Orders, that their difficulty as to holding property arises. The Instruction to the Select Committee having been thus limited, the investigation was necessarily cramped; and the result was, though I laboured hard to carryout the intention of the House, as finally expressed, that it was within the power of unwilling witnesses to defeat the inquiry. Especial care was taken by the Heads of these Monastic and Conventual Institutions to select solicitors and counsel to appear before the Committee, who gave us what they said was the total number of these establishments, and the total aggregate value of the property and income which they said that these institutions possessed; but the moment they were asked by the Committee—"Where are those institutions, where and what is the property of any of those institutions, and how many members, monks, friars, or nuns inhabit any one or more of them?" the witnesses at once pleaded privilege; and, to my great regret, the Committee thought proper to admit the plea. The consequence was, that the witnesses could not properly be cross-examined; the bald statements they made could not be tested; and, as the Committee proceeded, they found their inquiries more and more cramped and evaded. On one occasion a question arose with regard to some property which had been held by the Dominican Order. I proved that the local Superior effected a sale of property near Hinckley; but the Committee decided not to call before them the Head of that Order, who had sold the property, in order to test the nature of his ownership, whether he acted as trustee, or in what capacity as connected with the Order. After that, therefore, and after the Committee had rejected evidence respecting other property possessed by the Oratorians, which evidence had been received by the Court of Probate, when the re-appointment of the Committee was proposed in 1871, the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone and I refused again to serve upon a Committee, who were thus cramped by their Instruction, and who had placed such an interpretation on that Instruction as to reject the only evidence that could have enabled them to obtain the information desired by the House. Neither of us, therefore, took part in the Report of that Committee, or are in any sense responsible for it. The present discussion seems to me to have illustrated the course which has been invariably pursued by the Roman Catholic Members of this House, whenever an inquiry touching Monastic and Conventual Institutions in Great Britain has been proposed. Their whole conduct amounts to nothing more or less than a resort to a barefaced system of evasion. Attempts are constantly made to defeat discussion, and I am very much afraid that I shall not see Her Majesty's Ministers give their support to this Motion. Most of what we have heard in the course of the present debate only relates to what I may describe as the outside of the matter; for I have been privately told that such is the power of the Ultramontane, the Home Rule Members of this House, that no Administration dare institute a thorough inquiry into these institutions. From what I know of the people of this country, I do not hesitate to say that, as soon as they have become fully aware that successive Administrations manifest this failing, and of the cause of this failing, you will find a Home Rule movement arise in Great Britain upon this subject, which will be rather more difficult to deal with than the Home Rule movement in Ireland has hitherto proved. Several hon. Members, and especially the hon. Baronet the Member for Wexford (Sir George Bowyer) have proclaimed that these convents are "heavens upon earth." [Sir GEORGE BOWYER: Hear, hear!] The hon. Baronet cheers, and I must admit that he has always been perfectly consistent on this subject. He never will admit any fact that is not precisely in accordance with his own views, and he really goes further in denying statements, which he finds to be inconvenient, and in uttering allegations, framed for his purpose, than any hon. Member I can remember. Hon. Members may believe, if they please, that all convents are "little heavens upon earth;" but I should have thought that the case of Miss Saurin ought to have dispelled that illusion. It may have been that Miss Saurin did not seek to leave the convent, and was not detained there against her will; but the system of persecution to which she was subjected to drive her out of the convent at Hull was exactly analogous to the system of persecution, prescribed by the highest authorities of the Roman Catholic Church as that which, according to the laws of that Church, is to be pursued towards any "Religious"—that is, to any nun who may desire or attempt to leave her convent or may be disobedient. I hold in my hand some extracts from a work of authority, which is widely circulated among the inmates of convents and their adherents, and which is entitled The Spouse of Christ, by S. Liguori. I do not wish to trouble the House by reading extracts from the work; but I must be allowed to refer shortly to the substance of these extracts, and for this reason. We Protestants do not believe in the merits of a cloister life, yet we see members of our families separated from us and induced to enter these places, which we are told are "asylums of peace." But when we receive such an assurance as that, we are inclined to compare it with what is prescribed in this work of Liguori. [Sir GEORGE BOWYER: Who?] Liguori. The author speaks in condemnation of the institution of marriage, although marriage is held to be a sacrament by the Roman Catholic Church. He dilates upon the ill-temper of husbands, the trouble of children, and asserts that very few married persons have any reasonable hope of escaping eternal perdition. This Saint condemns family affection in all its forms and phases, however virtuous, if it prevents the enormous extension of the Monastic and Conventual system desired by the Papacy. This Saint proclaims and extols the most extreme practices of the most extravagant asceticism as adopted in these houses—flogging, fastings, and other forms of penance. He condemns all communication between those outside and those within cloistered convents; he especially condemns all intercourse with relatives. I know from the long-continued searching inquiries I have made—I know, from sad experience, that this so-called "Saint" faithfully illustrates the conventual system. You Ultramontanes drive young women into these institutions which this Saint Liguori proclaims to be hells upon earth to the unwilling "Religious." These are the words which are employed in this work; and do you expect, while you claim for yourselves all kinds of delicacy of feeling upon this subject, that we Protestants should be insensible to the dangers incurred by unguarded ladies, who have been Protestants, but who are drawn into these institutions? Do not tell me that these convents are all happy homes. In the case of one convent within the county I represent, and in which I have long served as a magistrate, that of Atherstone, some years ago, the severities practised were such that one unhappy nun escaped, but was caught and dragged back again. I had the place watched for weeks, yet I failed to obtain the requisite evidence. What was the result? So close was the watch that the confessor of the convent took fright. He declared that the discipline was unduly severe, and within a fortnight the whole community was removed and the building remained vacant for some time. Afterwards it again filled, but by members of another and a different Order; it has become one of the most fashionable convents in England. I will now allude to another case to which reference has been made. It is the case which I first brought defore the notice of the House in 1865. Everything that I said about the escape from the convent at Colwich had been proved on affidavit before the Court at Queen's Bench. Mr. Charles Langdale and Sir Charles Clifford thought fit to address insulting letters to me, because I cited and had acted upon that evidence. I consulted a friend; he considered the subject carefully, and told me that these insulting letters were manifestly the result of a conspiracy, and advised me to press for an inquiry before a competent tribunal, that I might adduce the evidence on which the affidavits were made. He said that was the only proper course I could pursue to clear my character as a Gentleman and to effect the object I had in view; but never to this moment has the House granted a tribunal before which the allegations I had then made, and have since repeated with respect to the convent at Colwich, and as to the oppression practised in other convents might be proved. We now again ask you to authorize an inquiry by which it may be ascertained whether discipline of a very severe character is not exercised in some of these cloistered convents. Another case occurred in the county I represent. A nun escaped from the convent at Baddesley Clinton. By chance there were at the time a number of workmen from Birmingham employed on the roof who became aware of the attempt to escape. They quietly went to the Superioress of the convent and told her, that if she did not place the lady who had been captured in the hands of the justices, they would take the roof of the convent off. The case was then brought before my brother justices and fairly heard, and it was proved that the lady was insane. I was not surprised at that; for the Order of Discalced Carmelites, to which she belonged, is one of the severest of the cloistered Orders of the Church of Rome; and I have it on good authority—that of medical gentlemen—that the discipline of that Order, as practised abroad upon cloistered nuns, frequently produces insanity. In the case to which I am referring this lady was taken to the county lunatic asylum, for her friends and relations repudiated her. She remained in the county lunatic asylum as a pauper, until removed, not, I am sorry to say, by her relations, but by ladies of her own persuasion. She has never been heard of since any more than has Miss Selby who escaped from the Colwich Convent. Here again comes up the fact which has been alluded to by the hon. Member for South-east Lancashire (Mr. Hardcastle) that, though the lady was declared to be insane, no information of the sort was laid before the lunacy authorities previous to her escape from the Baddesley convent. In the case of the escape of a nun from the convent at Newhall, described by the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone, and which is a totally different case from that which has been alluded to by the hon. Baronet the Member for Wexford, if it be true that the person who escaped was insane, no notice of her insanity was sent to the Lunacy Commissioners. I investigated that case, and I hold in my hand the attested statements of the two workmen to whom this person had fled for protection. The men, who followed her and eventually took her back to the convent over-persuaded these workmen; they declared that they had authority to take the woman back, but one of the workmen told those engaged in investigating the case that he deeply regretted having given her up, for he did not believe she was insane. He said— I have ever since regretted that I did not comply with the request she urgently made that I would hand her over to the police. I have also here the attested statement with regard to the attempt of a woman to escape from the convent at Hammersmith in the spring of last year, 1875. You ask me, why was not the matter brought before magistrates? I applied to the Commissioners of Police; but in that case, the man who witnessed the attempt to escape could not obtain the woman's name, and without it the Commissioners of Police were helpless. There was but one witness, and without the woman's name any further application to the police or to the magistrates would have been useless. This is the other of the cases to which the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone alluded. Investigations were made by an experienced detective, as had been done in the case of the escape from the convent at Colwich in 1857; and in that instance six weeks elapsed before the directions of Mr. Justice Wightman could be complied with. The fact of the escape of a woman from the convent at Colwich was proved before him; and after consulting with counsel on both sides in private, he told those who were in charge of the case—"Unless you can obtain the lady's name and prove to me that she is detained against her will I cannot issue a writ of Habeas Corpus." After the expiration of six weeks, by great exertion and perseverance, a solicitor, a friend of mine, was at last successful by the merest ac- cident in obtaining the lady's name. It appeared that the clerk in charge of the telegraph at the Colwich Station had quitted his post, and committed it to the care of a friend. Dr. Ullathorne, the Roman Catholic Bishop at Birmingham, became possessed of this lady after her escape; how, I know not. He telegraphed her name in these terms—"To Mrs. Knight, Superioress of the Convent," at such and such hour, "I will return with Miss Selby." Now, but for the accident that the telegraph clerk was absent from his post, and that his substitute divulged the substance of this telegram, in consequence of which the clerk lost his place, the Court of Queen's Bench would never have been informed of the name of the lady who had made her escape from the convent at Colwich. Can you have a clearer illustration than that of the imperfection of the law? As the law stands at present it is impossible by virtue of the law to reach any lady in a convent unless you have evidence, first, of her real name, and next, that she is detained there against her will. The consequence is, that the law of Habeas Corpus is utterly powerless in such a case, except where circumstances occur, which must be very, very rare. It is for this reason that, in framing his Resolution, the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone has introduced the word "character" as connected with the "present position" of these institutions in relation to the law, in order that the inquiry may lead not only to an amendment of the law of property, if necessary, but to such an amendment of the law as shall secure the personal freedom of every subject of Her Majesty, who is an inmate of these convents. In reply to a Motion which I proposed in 1874, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War stated that Her Majesty's Ministers will sanction no inquiry, unless the operations of these Monastic and Conventual Institutions be found to threaten the safety of the State. And last Session the right hon. Gentleman at the Head of the Government declared that no circumstances would induce him to bring into operation the clauses of the Catholic Relief Act of 1829 for the suppression of the Monastic Orders, unless some unforeseen emergency should occur. Sir, we do not by this Motion propose to suppress any of these institutions; but we do propose that an inquiry should take place, in the sense of the decision of repeated majorities in this House in the year 1870. The power of inquiry contemplated by this Motion would go beyond the Instructions finally given to the Committee which sat in that Session and reported in 1871. The inquiry we desire is one to be made with a view to the amendment of the law of Habeas Corpus, as it applies to these institutions, and—if these institutions are to be continued—to such an adaptation of the law as shall give to their inmates the same security from the State which has been provided by the laws of Germany; which is intended by the laws of France, although they have been lamentably evaded; which will be, and is secured by the laws of Austria; and has been amply provided by the laws of Italy. Is there anything unreasonable in this? What right have you Roman Catholics to plead your susceptibilities, while you make no allowance for the feelings of us Protestants? It is bitter to us Protestants to have relatives taken from us and placed in institutions which may be prisons. If you expect that the patience of the people of England, who feel these robberies—for they so consider them—of relatives and friends pressing upon them increasingly year after year, will last for ever, you will find yourselves mistaken. You will bring matters to such a pass, that there will arise a Home Rule movement in Great Britain. I rejoice that, notwithstanding the two attempts which have been made to count out the House, we have at last had an evening given to the discussion of this subject. When the Legislature of every principal State in Europe is directing its attention to these matters; and these institutions are multiplying around us in Great Britain, extending their influence and attracting larger and larger numbers within their walls, I put it to the House of Commons whether we ought to be deaf to the urgent appeals of the people of England and Scotland? Is it reasonable, is it creditable, that it should go forth to the world that there exists in this free country a class of institutions with which the Legislature and the Government dare not interfere? Is it creditable that there should be 99 Monastic Institutions in this country, all of them illegal; and that their inmates and all connected with them should live in Great Britain not according to law, but by the dispensation of the Prime Minister? Is that creditable, I ask? Can such a state of things be considered safe? Is it not a state of things that must excite a suspicion that undue influence may be exercised and brought to bear upon the highest officers of the State by these his dispensed satellites? Ask yourselves these questions, not as members of this Party or of that, but as sensible men, and I am convinced that the answer will be that the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone is a reasonable one, and that it ought to be adopted by this House. I acted in concurrence with the hon. and learned Member in the preparation of a Bill upon which both our names appeared, and which has been recently withdrawn in favour of this Motion. That Bill contained provisions for the appointment of a Commission, furnished with what we believe to be powers necessary for obtaining the information we deem requisite; but the state of the Business of the House, and the system of blocking the Order Book which the Ultramontane Members of the House have pursued, have brought matters to this pass—that, although that Bill has in each of four successive Sessions been introduced by the Order of the House, it never but once reached a second reading, and then came on by accident. [Laughter.] Hon. Members from Ireland cheer and jeer at that statement; but in their exertions to defeat this inquiry they are breaking up the Order of Business in this House. They appear to be proud of that; but it cannot be supposed to give satisfaction to other hon. Members of the House, or to the people of that country whom those hon. Members represent. It may be a policy of which the Home Rule Members may boast in Ireland, where we know they talk of the liberties they take with the House of Commons; but they may depend upon it that they will never stand well with the people of England or Scotland so long as they persist in this course. Every year they will be looked upon with greater suspicion; and, although they may for a time enjoy what they consider a Party triumph, let them be assured that it is a triumph that will bear bitter fruit. I have always abstained from casting any reflections upon the inmates of those institutions; but if I am asked to believe that these convents are all morally and properly conducted, you ask me to disbelieve the assertions of an Italian lady who had full experience of a Neapolitan convent, the Princess Carraciolo; to disbelieve General Garibaldi; to disbelieve successive Governments of Victor Emmanuel and successive Italian Parliament. You boast of the state of things in the United States of America, where these institutions exist; but I hold in my hand the Narrative of Edith O'Gorman, an Irish woman of good family who escaped from a convent in the United States, and whose account of the immoralities in that convent tallies with the records which we have of the state of the Monastic and Conventual Institutions in this country prior to the Reformation. It is idle to attempt to blot out that page of history. I have here the report of Cardinal Morton with regard to the Abbey of St. Albans, and the minor conventual houses dependent on that abbey. He was no Minister of Henry VIII., but Minister of Henry VII.; a Cardinal Legate, authorized by the Pope of his day to inquire into the state of certain abbeys, priories, and convents in England. There was no more devoted son of the Church than Henry Beauclerk, King of England; he was no careless son of the Church. I will not outrage the feelings of the House by reading Cardinal Morton's description of the gross immoralities practised in that abbey and its dependent convents, which were afterwards suppressed, neither will I detain the House by describing the state of the monasteries at Wigmore, and other places. It is too much, with such historical records against the moral tendencies of these establishments, with the testimony of a change in their laws made by all the principal countries of Europe with respect to these institutions, when I am asked to believe that all these convents in Great Britain are "little heavens upon earth." Such universal, indiscriminate laudation of all these convents is in itself cause for suspicion. We are asked to cast aside all the information, inadequate although I admit it is, that we possess upon this subject. I cannot, and I trust that the House will not, consider that a reasonable request.


said, the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Newdegate) might have spared his (Mr. Sullivan's) Colleagues and himself his lecture on their alleged efforts to evade discussion. The House would bear him witness that from the moment the discussion opened to the present time he had done his utmost to aid in having the debate conducted not only with attention and fair play, but with the gravity with which the subject demanded that it should be conducted. If he had any apology at all to offer it was to some of his Friends, whose observations he might have resented a little too sharply when apparently designed or calculated to interrupt hon. Members when speaking. And though they had not delayed discussion nor sought to avoid inquiry, allusions had been made to attempts to count out the House. The Catholic Members of the House were not accountable or responsible for such attempts; and although they constituted less than a twelfth of the number of the House upon every occasion when the House was counted, one-third or one-half of those who were present were Catholics. For his part, he had been anxious that once at least, if not once for all, they should stand up there and fairly see the issue out with the hon. Gentleman; and he did say that he wished to bear testimony, as an Irishman and a Catholic, to the spirit of moderation and of fair play, and, he would say, of respect for their feelings as Catholics, which even the hon. Members who had spoken against them there that night displayed. He knew very well that in parts of his own country Irish Catholics believed the hon. Member for North Warwickshire to be a most terrific and ferocious individual, and for his own short experience of him in that House, not only on general questions, but even upon that subject, a day or two ago, he had no hesitation to tell his constituents and countrymen at home that if they saw the hon. Member, and even heard him make one of his anti-convent speeches they would see an austere but honest English gentleman, one whose honesty would command their respect. He was not surprised that English Protestant Gentlemen should hold the views they did considering how the literature of the country was saturated with the idea of convents being dungeons. Even in Scott's Marmion it was impossible to read without deep interest the story of a beautiful lady being immured alive in the thick walls of her convent. He could not treat with, the same forbearance the authors of the filthy literature of a foul fanaticism who polluted their homes with pamphlets and tracts on this question. There were certain organizations under the patronage of some hon. Members of that House which circulated publications of such a character that he was obliged to lock them up, lest they should wound the delicacy of the female members of his household. This House was asked to pursue an exceptional, and he might say an unconstitutional course towards certain domestic establishments which in the eye of the law were homes equally as the peasant's cot or the lord's castle. ["No, no!"] To the hon. Gentleman opposite who cried "No," he would say that if religious houses were illegal the law was a farce, and the Legislature had been existing since the days of De Montfort unable to enforce the law. Moreover, if they were illegal, there was no need of this Resolution. The convents were the homes of ladies who, of their own free will, chose to adopt a certain mode of life. He did not claim for the inmates of those domestic establishments, any more than he did for the members of his own household, a right to resist any investigation that might be necessary for the welfare of the community. Indeed, if he had his own way, he should say in their name—"Come and inquire, and blazon to the universe the story of the piety and religion, of the virtue and the zeal you find in convents." Hon. Members knew they could not ask the House to abolish a principle of law which was dear to freeborn men, unless they could make out a case for the exceptional treatment of these institutions. The case had been referred to of Miss Edith O'Gorman, whose imposture had been fully exposed in the American newspapers. Notwithstanding that, her story had been brought into the debate in order to prejudice the minds of English Gentlemen. He would ask the House to compare that story with the letter written to The Times by a fair daughter of the ancient and noble house of Douglas, a sister of the Marquess of Queensberry, who for years lived the life of a nun, and who left the cloister of her own free will. She told in The Times the story of her convent life, and he would ask English Gentlemen to put Lady Gertrude Douglas against Miss Edith O'Gorman. The House had been told that in by gone ages there had been abuses of convent life. He admitted it. The history of convent life through centuries was no more free from imperfection and blame than any other institution, even when it was linked to the service of religion. The history of no religious body, whether Catholic or Protestant, was free from blame. All had persecuted, and he regarded the burning of Servetus and the proceedings of the Spanish Inquisition with equal horror. Still, these convent abuses were but specks on the sun, and the exceptions which proved the rule. Why were these institutions to be treated on an exceptional footing? Was there any evidence that they were ministering to vice and civil disorder? What were these institutions now doing in the land? Go into the haunts of vice and crime, into the homes of the poor, into our large hospitals, and then, in summing up the grand account, see whether we did not owe a large debt of gratitude to Conventual and Monastic Institutions. It was an honour to the England of 1876 that it was beyond the power of man to light up on this question the baleful fires of religious bigotry. In England to-day the Sister of Charity might walk the streets on her work of mercy secure from gibe or insult. As an Irishman, nothing he had observed in England had more tended to allay the prejudices which he confessed he had had against England than noticing the lofty tone and generous feeling which now so largely animated Englishmen towards those who differed from them in religious opinion. He appealed, then, to the House of Commons, in this age of idolatry of materialism, in this country where wealth threatened to be accompanied by the sensuality and the selfishness which in bygone ages had brought ruin on Empires, not to blot out from among them this element of purity and self-sacrifice. These ladies knew no distinction of creed when they sought to wipe the tear of sorrow from the face of the afflicted. An hon. Member had said it would be well to blot out institutions which reminded them of mediæval times. Then erase Westminster Abbey, destroy Canterbury Cathedral and York Minster. If there were a spot on British earth where the memory of Catholic times in its civil aspects ought to be revered it should be the House of Commons. Go to Runnymede! [Laughter.] Do not sneer at the memory of those who won your liberties, and remember that when the Barons faltered, it was the Catholic Bishops who nerved them to persist in their demand for free institutions. To blot out all that reminded them of mediæval times, it would be necessary to pull down the statue of Lanfranc from those halls and to tear up Magna Charta; but if no man could do these things, then let them recognize all that they owed to Catholic memories and Catholic institutions.


said, that the stirring declamation of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan) evaded the question at issue. Moreover, his arguments were entirely opposed to the asserted infallibility of the Church to which he belonged. If there were no abuses in these institutions, then successive Bishops and Popes must be fallible in providing, as they had done, safeguards against abuses in Monastic and Conventual establishments. The verdict of correct history, too, was at variance with the manner in which the hon. Gentleman interpreted it; there could be no doubt the abuses of Monastic institutions for ages before the Reformation had the geatest effect in producing that moral revolution. The front Opposition bench had been conspicuous for its absence to-night, evidently because it did not wish to lose the Irish vote; but the people of England, he believed, would hereafter inquire why the Leaders of Opposition had not taken part in the debate, and upheld those principles of civil and religious liberty which were their birthright. He hoped a Conservative Ministry would not follow their example; but that, knowing how deeply Protestant this country was at the core and how anxious the mass of the people were on this subject, the Government would show the courage of their convictions.


hoped the question was not going to be discussed on his side of the House in the spirit of the speech to which hon. Members had just listened. There was no man in that House more attached to the principles of the Protestant religion than himself, and therefore he asked for a few minutes' indulgence while he stated why he could not vote for the Motion. He entertained objections to the Church of Rome and to that part of its system which was pointed at in the Resolution; but he had always understood that the principles of religious toleration which had been embraced by those who sat on the Liberal benches had established that men in this country were entitled to practise their own religious belief and that which was a natural consequence of that religious belief. There was in this country one form of religious opinion which was established by the State, and with that form of religious opinion Parliament had a right to interfere when it thought fit, and he had always supported any attempt to regulate the Established Church when he thought its practices were departing from the principles of the Reformation. But he always thought there was a broad distinction to be drawn between principles on which you ought to deal with the Established Church of the country, and the principles on which you ought to deal with forms of opinion which were not established, and which had no relation to the State. However much he might differ from the religious practices of the Church of Rome, he recognized that those who belonged to that Church were as much entitled to freedom in their religious opinions and practices as any other religious denomination in this country. The only question which the House had to consider was, whether a case had been made out against these institutions which demanded inquiry entirely independent of the religious faith of those to whom they belonged. If these institutions belonged to some Nonconformist sect which was not Roman Catholic, would it be approached in the spirit of the Resolution? If they belonged to Wesleyan Methodists, Baptists, or Independents, would it be argued that there was any cause of interference? The speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down was an appeal to the "No Popery" sympathies of the country. He had called upon the House to remember its Protestant sympathies.


said, he never mentioned Protestant sympathies. He had said this was at present a Protestant country.


said, he was certain that the hon. Member said the Protestant feeling of the country required the Government to support the Motion. While hon. Members for Ireland represented a Catholic majority in that country, we ought to have consideration for the feelings of the Catholics who formed a small minority here. Before a Motion of the kind could be supported by the House of Commons, it was essential, as he had said, that there should be laid before it some evidence of practical abuse which would justify an inquiry of this character—a domestic inquiry, for that was really what it meant—totally apart from the nature of the religion with which the institutions in question were connected. As he had heard no such evidence adduced in support of the Motion he should record his vote against it.


said, he fully appreciated the importance, the magnitude, and the delicacy of the issues raised by the Motion of the hon. and learned Member. He thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman had incurred no inconsiderable responsibility in bringing the Motion under the consideration of the House of Commons, and he was satisfied that if Her Majesty's Government were to accept the terms of the Resolution, they would be incurring a still more weighty responsibility. No Government could be justified in assenting to a Motion of the kind without the gravest previous consideration, not only of the terms of the Motion itself, but of its probable consequences. The Motion included in its terms an inquiry into the Monastic as well as the Conventual Institutions in this country. It had been said most truly by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire that Monastic Institutions were undoubtedly illegal, and admitting that to be the case, how could the Government undertake to direct an inquiry into these illegal institutions? He did not know whether the hon. and learned Member desired the appointment of a Royal Commission, but that might be assumed. Then, supposing that the Government were to issue a Royal Commission, how could they do so without either legalizing the institutions into which they were about to inquire, or inquiring, into the state of institutions which were illegal, leaving those persons into whose affairs they inquired at the mercy of the results of the investigation? If either of those alternatives were adopted, both the country and the Government would be placed in a very unfortunate position.

Passing to the convents, he thought he might say that they and their inmates were protected by the law. That being so, what was the case raised in the discussion to-night which, it was said, called for what all must feel to be an abnormal inquiry into the position and status of those institutions? Such an inquiry must be of a very serious and solemn nature, and ought not to be undertaken, except upon very clear proof of the existence of dangers and scandals. He thought that the Government were in a position to be well informed as to the existence of those dangers and scandals, and he was bound to say that, so far as any organized information had reached the Government, no proof had been offered of the existence of such dangers and scandals. He had listened with great satisfaction to a declaration on the the part of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan) which gave him some hope that out of these animated discussions of several years, it was just possible that those who were mainly to be affected by the proposed investigation would not themselves be indisposed to ask for an inquiry into the status and condition of these institutions. If, with the willing assent of the ladies who were the inmates of these places, an inquiry of that sort could be set on foot—an inquiry not dictated by opponents, nor conceived in a hostile spirit—then he thought good would have been achieved by the persevering efforts of the hon. Members for North Warwickshire and Marylebone. As to the terms of the Motion itself, he might point out that with regard to three out of four of the branches of the inquiry asked for, there was really no need for any further information. The number of these institutions, their rate of increase, and the state of the law regarding them, and the amount and legal condition of the property possessed by them, were already sufficiently known. The noble Lord the Member for North Northumberland (Earl Percy) had, in a forcible speech, expressed his opinion that there was no need for further inquiry on the subject in the face of the accumulated evidence already in the possession of Parliament. The noble Lord was followed by the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory), who showed clearly that as to three branches, at any rate, of the proposed inquiry, there was no need for further evidence. He (Lord John Manners) remembered sitting many years ago as Chairman of the first Committee that inquired into the law of Mortmain, and they went very fully into the subject. Some years later a further and still more elaborate inquiry was held, under the presidency of the late Mr. Headlam, and that elaborate Report was accessible to hon. Members. In 1871 the Report of the Committee appointed in 1870 was presented, and in that Report the whole relation of these Monastic Institutions to the State was clearly described. The last branch of the subject related to the "character" of these institutions, and in addition to the fact that the term "character" was one likely to be misunderstood, an inquiry into that subject would place the House in a position of enormous difficulty, and one likely to lead to great controversy and even confusion in the country. An investigation of that sort would open up the widest and most delicate theological and controversial questions, as was shown by the speech of the hon. and learned Member himself. Reasons like those imposed the duty of great caution on the part of any Government called upon to deal with such a question, and having regard to all the circumstances, he thought it would be well if the hon. and learned Gentleman would withdraw the Motion which he had brought forward, and if he saw his way to proposing any legislation based upon the inquiries which had already been made, and the information already acquired, the Government and the House would give careful attention to his proposals.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 127; Noes 87: Majority 40.

Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Committee deferred till Monday next.

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