HL Deb 11 February 1851 vol 114 cc365-70

presented a petition from the nobility, clergy, gentry, and other inhabitants of the county of Surrey, against the Papal aggression. The noble Lord stated the difficulties which existed in the way of putting the law in force, and of applying an effectual remedy to the evil complained of by the petitioners. The prayer of the petition was, that the House would take some effectual measures to resist the encroachments of the Pope. He was of opinion that the Bill introduced into the other House, would not remedy the evil, but rather aggravate it; for, if he understood rightly, one part of the measure would prevent any charitable gifts or bequests being made to the persons holding these titles. Now, the effect of this might be to imply that persons not holding such titles might take gifts and bequests, and he should be sorry to see any such power oven tacitly conferred; for every one must be acquainted with the means by which Catholic priests in this country managed to acquire property. He was afraid that the remedy proposed by the Government would not be found effectual. They had lately heard of the increase of Roman Catholocism in this country—of the increase of wealth in the Roman Catholic Church—of the number of conversions that were made to that Church—and he would ask, was there no danger to be apprehended from that Church, and from the leaders of that Church? An author had said of those persons—"That there was no such dangerous conspiracy and banding together against the happiness, intelligence, and independence of mankind, as that of the priesthood of the Roman Catholic religion." How did this conspiracy proceed? The two great pillars of the Roman Catholic Church were the celibacy of the clergy and the practice of confession; and as long as there were weak persons in the world, and licence was given to the persons alluded to to exercise their callings unnoticed by the law, there was no limit to the point they might attain through their ambition. Had there been no example in any country of a minority of Roman Catholics having overcome the majority—having seized power, and, in defiance of all treaties and agreements, proceeded to establish the supremacy of their own religion? He would mention an instance—that of Poland. After the Reformation, the equality of the Roman Catholic, Greek, and Lutheran Churches was established by treaty; but in the course of time the Roman Catholics became a majority in the legislature; and how did they use their power? They turned out of the Diet all the members of the Greek and Lutheran Churches, and they so persecuted them, that the consequence was a civil war, which led to the interference of foreign Powers in the affairs of Poland, and ultimately to its partition. If the Roman Catholics should ever attain power sufficient to enable them to interfere with the functions of the Government in this united kingdom, to what hazard might not the empire be exposed! This great empire might be unable to defend her great and disjointed possessions in every part of the world. A measure was proposed last Session by which almost the whole of the representation of Ireland would be placed in the hands of the Irish priesthood. How they would exercise their power the House might judge from the result of the two elections which had taken place since the passing of that measure. When that party was enabled to send some hundred Roman Catholic representatives to Parliament, they might ask for an augmentation of their privileges, and if the demand were not granted, their Lordships could easily conceive what sort of debates would take place, and how difficult it would be to carry on the government of the country. But some people said, "What can you fear from the Roman Catholics in this country? Their Church is not established; they have but little property." He (Lord Abinger) must be permitted to say, that a great conspiracy, humble though its members might be, was very dangerous both from the secrecy of its nature and the secrecy of its operations; and he could assure those who spoke of the poverty of the Roman Catholic Church that that defect was being remedied, he would not say daily, but nightly and hourly. He knew various instances which he could mention to the House. Formerly—before the Reformation—three fourths of the property of the country were in the hands of the Roman Catholic Church; and the same would be the case if the endeavours of the Roman Catholic priesthood to acquire property were not checked by the Legislature. He would mention several of these instances, in order that the House might see whether it was wise or safe to allow these accumulations to be made. He heard a case argued, some time ago, at their Lordships' bar, where the daughter of an Irish father had gone into a convent. Her father had given her one-fourth of his property; but dying intestate, she became entitled to her share with the rest of the children. It was proposed that she should give up her share, and she consented to do so, but, at the last moment, she refused to execute the agreement which had been prepared for that purpose, as the superiors of her convent claimed the property as belonging to them. The Court of Chancery decided against the claim of the superiors; but the case was brought before their Lordships on appeal, and counsel appeared at the bar and argued that the superiors were entitled, and revived all the obsolete claims of the Church in respect of the property of those who entered religious houses. Another case was this—that of the son of a very respectable attorney residing near Liverpool, who had acquired a fortune of 200,000l. That gentleman died, leaving the whole of his property to his son, who, it appeared, was not a person of very good understanding. There was living in the house at that time the sister and two nieces of the testator. The Roman Catholic priests soon got about this person. They caused the nephew to quarrel with his aunt and cousins, and they were excluded from the house without any provision. The priests got from him 20,000l. in the name of charity; and having got rid of the old servants, he sent for the son of an old butler, who had been sent to some college in Spain, and who had become a Jesuit, to stay in the house with him. This gentleman was subjected by these priests to every species of maceration; his tomb was prepared in a chapel near the house—he was compelled to say prayers before it many hours in the day—he was compelled to endure great abstinence, and to wear a hair waistcoat next his skin. He suffered so much that both his bodily and mental health declined. One maid servant, who had been suffered to remain in the house, said, "Why bear this any longer—why not run away?" He said, "I am indeed tired of it all." And he did run away, but he had not gone far before the gardener was sent on horseback to fetch him back. He was brought back, and out of the house he never went again. He died in a short time, and then the priests produced a will made in their favour. The will was disputed, and his lamented friend, the late Sir William Follett, was specially sent down as counsel for the three ladies—the aunt and cousins of the testator. When he came back this was the account which Sir William Follett gave him. He said, that if he succeeded in upsetting the will, the Jesuits had got a second and third will in their favour, all stronger than the first. He therefore consented to a compromise, and the ladies received 10,000l. Now, he (Lord Abinger) believed that that sum would not have been given if these priests did not know that there was something in the case which could not meet the public eye. He would mention another case. A gentleman kept some asylum for young and rich ladies, and one placed herself there who had a fortune of 8,000l.; she spent 4,000l. in a very short time, and her mother asked that gentleman how the money had been expended. He said, he could not control her daughter as she was of age; but the drafts were made to the gentleman, and he ought to furnish some explanation. The gentleman refused all explanation. The lady afterwards went into a nunnery. Many publications had appeared containing statements respecting these nunneries, but they were bought up by the Roman Catholics. Perhaps their Lordships might have seen a publication by Miss Monk, who had been in a convent at Montreal, on this subject? He would suggest that these establishments should be placed under some system of inspection and control. Prisons and lunatic asylums were subject to inspection, and he did not see why these institutions should not he subjected to some similar system of inspection. These things sprung up on all sides. He did not allude to Roman Catholic establishments alone, but to this species of fraud, under whatever denomination it might take place. Now, what were the remedies? He would venture to suggest some. And he felt the more impelled to do so, as there seemed to be a general backwardness and indisposition to take any prominent position in these matters. People said, "Such things are very grievous, but they are spiritual matters, with which Protestants cannot have any concern." And so the evil was suffered to exist and to increase. He (Lord Abinger), taking advantage of the opportunity which the presentation of this petition afforded him, would throw out a few hints as to what means could be devised for overcoming, or at least mitigating, these evils. It was possible, under the Emancipation Act, to have a more vigilant police system over monasteries, nunneries, and over monks of every order. Indeed there was a sort of promise in the Emancipation Act that monasteries would be gradually abolished—a promise which, it was needless to say, had not been kept. There was a provision that there should be a registration of monks. No registiation had been kept. Foreign Jesuits wore not to be allowed to come in without the sanction of the Secretary of State, and yet he believed he might state upon good authority that thousands of Jesuits had come in without any permission. They had penetrated into every department of society—into our schools, into our colonies, into our universities. Was this to go on without prevention? Another remedy was a Commission to inquire whether the statute of mortmain could not be enforced? There was one defect in this statute, namely, that personal property was not included in its provisions; but, according to Lord Chancellor Hard wicke's decision, real property alone came within its provisions. It would be for their Lordships to consider whether personal property could not be included. A remedy ought to be devised against the endowment of religious establishments by such means as must at present be resorted to. By the law of France, not only could no medical person receive a legacy from a person in his last illness, but no priest or confessor could do so.


No lawyer or notary.


Just so; and why should it not be so in this country? Had not their Lordships seen a case in one of the law courts reported in the public journals, in which was a sufficient proof of the evil. Surely this invasion of our houses, this direction of our wives, this abduction of our daughters, ought to be put an end to. He would beg to suggest as remedies—firstly, an inquiry into monastic establishments; secondly, how far it was possible and practicable to enforce the law of mortmain; thirdly, a special police for the inspection of those religious houses; and, fourthly, a rigid enactment making void any legacy of any property made to a priest or religious establishment during the last illness of the testator. He must say that he did not think it probable that such a measure would be proposed by the Government. They seemed to wait until they were goaded on; but they might wait too long, and their delay in not bringing forward remedies for those acknowledged evils and abuses, would in all likelihood excite a feeling of bigotry and resentment in the country which did not now exist. He stood there upon no merits of his own, but on the preeminent merits of his predecessor. It was necessary on some occasions, when the enemy was in view, that some one of no consequence should be hazarded to commence the combat. He well appreciated the risk he incurred by thus giving utterance to his sentiments; he knew he would stir up many enemies—many powerful enemies, and that for him there could be no glory; but nevertheless he would not shrink from the performance of his duty, nor hesitate to expose himself to the shafts of obloquy in the performance of that duty, however great the hazard, or insignificant the reward.

Petition read, and ordered to be on the table.

House adjourned to Thursday next.