HL Deb 08 August 1848 vol 100 cc1210-3

rose to move— For a Copy of a Despatch, dated Downing-street, 20th November, 1847, relating to the Titles by which Prelates of the Roman Catholic Church in the Colonies are in future to be addressed in all official Communications. The circular had been addressed by the noble Lord, he believed, to the Governors of the Australian Colonies, and he was induced to call their Lordships' attention to it, in consequence of the erroneous impression to which it was calculated to give rise with regard to the proceedings of the Legislature on the subject to which it referred, and because there was a feeling of delicacy entertained on the part of some in taking the oath of abjuration in that House and elsewhere, on account of a supposed alteration in the position in which this country stood towards the Pope and those who acknowledge obedience to him. [The noble Lord read the despatch, which stated that his (Earl Grey's) attention had been called by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to the fact of the Roman Catholic prelates in the colony not having their rank acknowledged in the same manner as in Ireland, and that as the Legislature had in the Charitable Bequests Act formally recognised them, by allowing the Roman Catholic Archbishops and Bishops to take rank immediately after the Archbishops and Bishops of the Established Church, it was the desire of Her Majesty's Government that the rule should be conformed to in future in all official communications addressed by the Colonial Governors to Roman Catholic prelates.] There could be no doubt but that the letter had been written in great haste, and that the error was an unintentional one; but still the fact should be known, that in that Act there was not a single clause having the slightest reference whatever to Roman Catholic prelates and their position in Ireland, or in the colonics. The Act merely authorised the appointment of a Commission, to include the Master of the Rolls, the Lord Chief Baron, the Judge of the Prerogative Court, and ten other persons, five of whom were to be Roman Catholics. In the Commission two Roman Catholic Archbishops were placed next after the two Archbishops of the Established Church; but every one knew that the manner in which persons were placed on such occasions had no reference whatever to their rank. An instance of this was afforded in the Treasury, where the First Lord was often a commoner, while junior Lords might he persons of much higher rank. The fact was, that if all the Protestants had been placed first on the Commission, and all the Roman Catholics last, it would he impossible for any of the latter ever to have a chance of occupying the chair at their meetings; and it was in order to make a fair distribution of the chance of filling the chair, that the arrangement of the names on the Commission had been settled. This subject was one that had been scarcely sufficiently attended to. If the title of "Grace" were to be given to Roman Catholic Archbishops in the colonies, where they had themselves no archbishops, it was clear that the Roman Catholic prelates would he able to take precedence of the Protestant bishops, and in fact of all other persons, as he doubted if even a Governor, who was not a viceroy, could have precedence. In this country Archbishops had precedence merely from their primacy. Thus the Primate of all England took precedence of the Lord Chancellor; but the Lord Chancellor had precedence over the Primate of England. Again, if the rank of Roman Catholic prelates was to be allowed in all cases, he would wish to know what precedence would he given to a Cardinal or to a Legate, as there were no such titles in the Established Church; and yet the words in the despatch were, "the rank to which their dignity in their own Church entitles them?" He thought that the noble Earl would see that there were points in that despatch which required reconsideration; and he begged, therefore, to move for its production in the words of his notice.


said, there could he no possible objection to the production of the circular to which the noble Lord alluded. It was perfectly true that the Bequests Act did not expressly recognise the rank of Roman Catholic prelates; and that, in writing the despatch, he had undoubtedly taken somewhat hastily the expression used in the letter of his noble Friend the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to him on the subject; but at the same time it should not be forgotten that since the Bequests Act the rank of the Roman Catholic prelates in Ireland had been recognised by the preceding as well as by the present Government; and that the fact of their not having been recognised also in the colonies had given very great dissatisfaction. Therefore, though the language of the circular was, to a certain degree, inaccurate, it was at the same time substantially correct. In the Commission authorised by the Bequests Act, and which had been afterwards laid before Parliament, and not objected to, the titles of the two Roman Catholic Archbishops were distinctly recognised as "our trusty and well-beloved Archbishop Crolly," and "our trusty and well-beloved Archbishop Daniel Murray." But further than that, he found their rank distinctly introduced into an Act of Parliament, and though it was a private Act, still it was no less an Act of the Legislature on that account. In the Dublin Cemeteries Act, he found a Roman Catholic Archbishop styled "The Most Reverend Archbishop Murray;" and in the same Act, which was passed in 1846, Dr. Murray was styled "His Grace." It should be recollected, besides, that the despatch did not give a rank, but merely recognised a rank already recognised by law. He believed it was an unfortunate circumstance that the title of "my Lord" should be given to bishops, either of their own or of the Roman Catholic Church. He believed that the title was first given to them as Peers in Parliament; and it was well known that in Scotland the bishops had never assumed that title. In some colonies the English Church was no more established than the Roman Catholic; and in many of the colonies the Roman Catholics formed the great majority of the population, as, for instance, in the Mauritius; and it appeared to him that it would he contrary to all justice and reason that in such cases the title accorded to the prelates of the one religion, should not be given also to those the other. As he said before, however, the despatch did not confer a rank, but merely recognised a rank already admitted. He was convinced that the recognition of the Roman Catholic prelates in the colonies, was a measure consistent with sound policy, He did not know that he had any farther observations to offer, except to say that he was not aware that any complaint had been made, or that any difficulty had arisen on this subject.


said, he thought the noble Earl would have taken a better course if he had frankly and distinctly admitted that the despatch was founded in error. The noble Earl had misrepresented in his despatch—unintentionally no doubt—that "the Act of Parliament had recognised the rank of Roman Catholic prelates," and in the next place, that "it was the duty of Her Majesty's Government to conform to the rule laid down by the Legislature." Now, the fact was, that no such acknowledgment had been made, and no such rule laid down. There was no justification either in the Act of Parliament, or in the Commission, for the statement made by the noble Earl in his despatch. There was not one word in the Act with regard to the prelates of the Roman Catholic Church, nor a word in the Commission about precedence to be given to them. Her Majesty, in the exercise of the prerogative which undoubtedly belonged to her, gave precedence in her letters to certain prelates of the Roman Catholic Church, but to none others; and even these took no rank whatever out of the doors of that Commission; while either in or out of the doors of the Commission, no other Roman Catholic prelate whatever could have the slightest precedence or position with regard to rank. The two allegations of the noble Lord, therefore, fell to the ground; and the real motive for placing the two Roman Catholic prelates in that position in the Commission had been truly stated by his noble Friend behind him. They were placed there, not because they were prelates, but because they were Roman Catholic Commissioners, and because Her Majesty wished to give to the Commissioners of both persuasions an equal chance of presiding at their meetings.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned.