HL Deb 28 June 1844 vol 76 cc93-9

House in Committee.

Clauses 1 to 10 agreed to.

On Clause 11 being read,

Lord Hatherton

expressed his regret that the Government had not adopted the straightforward course of admitting the claims of the Roman Catholic clergy, and had not acted upon the principle put forward in the Bill which had been introduced into the other House of Parliament by Mr. O'Connell with respect to the management of the trusts—namely, making the clergymen of the Roman Catholic Church Corporations sole for the management of the funds left for the advancement of their religion by charitable persons. It was, however, his intention not to do more than to record his individual opinion on the point, as he would not press his objection to a division. He had a second objection to the Clause, which was, that the archbishops and bishops of the Roman Catholic Church were excluded by it from the benefits which the Act was intended to confer. The charity was to be held in trust for the Roman Catholic minister, for the time being, of any district in Ireland for which the charity had been given, and he could not conceive if it were considered politic that such endowments should be encouraged, why the Act was not to extend to the archbishops and bishops as well as to the inferior ministers of the Roman Catholic Church, The Roman Catholic Clergy were already recognized by the law as parochial ministers. The Act of 1781, which admitted them to the exercise of their functions, and repealed the penal statutes regarding them, directed that they should register their names and places of abode, and the names of their parishes if they had any. It therefore recognized them as parochial ministers, and he was not aware of the existence of any Act which treated them in a different light. Without trespassing farther on the attention of their Lordships, he would beg leave to propose as an amendment that the two words "Archbishops and Bishops" be inserted instead of the words "Roman Catholic ministers," in the Clause.

Lord Beaumont

said, he hoped the noble Lord who had just sat down would not think him guilty of taking any ungracious part towards him when he declared that he entirely disagreed with him in the amendment which he had proposed. He was aware that the Roman Catholic Clergy of Ireland wished the thing to be done in the way which the noble Lord suggested, and that Mr. O'Connell had but spoken their wishes in the Bill which had been introduced by him in the other House of Parliament, But he (Lord Beaumont) had since then had communications on the subject with parties that he considered higher authority on the matter than even the Catholic Clergy of Ireland themselves; and he could say distinctly that, with the present relations between this country and Rome, it was not the desire of any higher parties that anything should be done tending to establish the Catholic Clergy of Ireland as corporations, having power of controlling funds left for religious purposes and of regulating them as corporations, without any control over them either by state or by the foreign power by which they were influenced—namely, the Papal See. He hoped that in all measures like the present some controlling body, such as the Commissioners proposed to be appointed under that act, would be nominated, having the power of controlling the charities, so as to enable parties to put funds in trust for the support of the Catholic religion who might be disposed to do so. He had felt it to be his duly to make these remarks, because he had undertaken and promised that if the measure of Mr. O'Connell should have reached that House he would oppose it; and he therefore trusted the noble Lord who had preceded him would not think he had taken an ungracious part in opposing his amendment, and in expressing his opinion that charities left for the support of the Roman Catholic religion should be held by Commissioners in trust for the purposes for which they had been bequeathed.

Lord Monteagle

said, there were two propositions involved in the objections that had been taken to the Bill by his noble Friend behind him (Lord Hatherton). One was that the provisions of the Bill ought not to be confined to the clergy, but should be extended to the higher dignitaries in the Roman Catholic Church—to the archbishops and bishops. In that he entirely and decidedly agreed with his noble Friend; but with respect to the second objection, he had the misfortune to differ from his noble Friend in the view which he had taken. Whether they were dealing with the clergy of their own (the Established) church or with the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church, he considered that there would be an essential convenience in placing charitable trusts under the care of trustees. No doubt, the beneficial use of such trust-property would be for the parochial minister; but still there would be an advantage in having trustees, which would become apparent when they considered the various changes that took place among the Roman Catholic priesthood, and that they were governed by laws of which they (the House of Lords) knew nothing. Priests might, for instance, be suspended or put under Ecclesiastical censure, and yet have still the enjoyment of the charities left under their control. He agreed with his noble Friend that difficulties were got into by the Government not having boldly faced the real practical remedy, and he was convinced that the measure, from the manner in which it had been brought forward, would lead to many great inconveniences, and act in some instances diametrically opposite to the intentions of the Government. For example, they were all aware that in the Roman Catholic Church there were regular as well as secular clergy, and though the Government evidently intended in bringing forward the present measure that the endowments to which it referred should be for the secular or parochial clergy of the country, still they would, in consequence of their fears to do that full justice that they ought to act upon, open the door for endowments not merely to the parish priests but to every friar and to every establishment of friars that might be found in the country. It might be that those friars, of whom he wished to speak with great respect, were not bound by the same local ties that were attached to the secular clergy, and yet the Act would prove equally beneficial to them, unless there might be some subsequent Clauses intended to exclude them. In endeavouring to avoid a verbal danger the Government were injuring their own objects and exposing themselves to a practical danger which it would be their obvious wish to avoid.

Lord Wharncliffe

said, he thought the words of the Act "Roman Catholic ministers for such district duly appointed thereto according to the law and discipline of the Roman Catholic Church," were sufficiently explicit, as applying to the parish priest of the district. With regard to the other point referred to by his noble Friend opposite, he entirely concurred with him, that the benefit of the Act ought to be extended to the Archbishops and Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church; and he accordingly intended to introduce an interpretation Clause which he had then beside him, and which was in substance to the following effect:— And be it enacted that the words 'Roman Catholic minister' shall include all persons in holy orders, having authority within the district, and that the word 'district' shall mean any Ecclesiastical division recognised as such according to the laws and constitution of the Roman Catholic Church. The words "Roman Catholic Minister" would thus include the Archbishops and Bishops, and the word "district" would apply to dioceses as well as to parishes.

The Marquess of Clanricarde

said, since the Bill had been last before the House he had looked over it with great attention, and was convinced that the greatest possible difficulties would exist in the way of carrying its objects into practical effect. He did not, for instance, understand from the Bill who were the persons that were to judge or decide who was the "minister of the district according to the laws, discipline, and institutions of the Roman Catholic Church," or, in other words, who was the Bishop of a diocese or the priest of a parish. He did not see how the trustees were to decide that point under the Bill; for their Lordships were aware that there were to be found in Ireland such persons as degraded priests, who remained sometimes in possession of their parish contumaciously and in opposition to the will of their Bishop. In the Bill which had been brought in by Mr. O'Connell, it was provided that the persons to decide on such points were to be the Roman Catholic visitors of the College of Maynooth; and without saying whether that was the most advisable and best course that could have been taken, this much he would state—that it gave a clear and bonâ fide definition of the persons to whom parties were to apply to know who were de facto the Roman Catholic Bishops or clergymen of particular districts. He thought as the Bill then stood very few persons would be found to take advantage of it for the purpose of endowing charities for the support of the Roman Catholic religion. It was perfectly impossible that the Board, as proposed to be constituted by that Bill, would be a proper Board of Trustees for such charities. The persons whom they named as the standing members of the Board, were, by the provisions of the Act of 1829, a Protestant Board, and yet they were selected in preference to the fair and obvious course of making the Bishops and clergy corporations sole as proposed by Mr. "O'Connell's Bill. Their Lordships ought to recollect the purposes for which charities in the Catholic Church would be bequeathed. In almost every case an essential condition in the endowment of a church would be that masses should be offered up for the repose of the soul of the granter, and it would be difficult for Protestant trustees to ascertain how that condition of duty was fulfilled. As long as the Government persevered in the child's play of refusing to acknowledge formally the existence of a body whom they were constantly obliged virtually to admit occupied the position of the clergy of the great majority of the Irish people, those difficulties to winch he alluded would be found to continue. The noble Lord near him who opposed the Amendment, told them that he had higher authority on a question concerning the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland than even the Catholic clergy of Ireland themselves. His noble Friend must evidently mean that his authority proceeds from Rome, but how ridiculous was it for them to be acting on such vague statements as that, while the proper remedy so clearly presented itself before them.

Lord Wharncliffe

said, he had not by any means intended to convey that the Commissioners were to be entirely Protestants, There were only two of them named, and they were the Lord Chancellor of Ireland and the Master of the Rolls in Ireland, but the other Commissioners would be persons in whom the Roman Catholic population of Ireland would have confidence.

The Lord Chancellor

said, the trustees would not be able to exercise any material discretion on the charity, and therefore the objection against some of them being Protestants could not be of much weight.

The Marquess of Clanricarde

said, his argument was this: Suppose that a person should have an endowment to a parish priest to have mass said for the benefit of his soul at particular times, and that the legacy came under the control of those trustees, would they not be bound to see that the priest did enjoy the property, and might they not also have a right to ascertain whether the conditions on which it had been bequeathed were fulfilled.

Lord Campbell

said, his noble Friend the Lord Chancellor, ought to have recollected when giving his support to the Bill, that the practice in his own Court was invariably that the trustees of all religious charities should be of the same religious opinions as the persons for whose benefit the trust fund had been endowed.

Clause agreed to.

The other clauses of the Bill agreed to without opposition.

House resumed.