HL Deb 29 July 1851 vol 118 cc1676-9

Against the Passing of the Ecclesiastical Titles Assumption Bill.

"DISSENTIENT.—1. Because, while ready to uphold and to defend the rights and prerogative of our Most Gracious Sovereign and the honour and the independence of our country against all aggression, we do not feel ourselves justified in supporting a Bill which trenches, on that religious freedom which Her Majesty has been pleased to assure us 'it is Her desire and firm determination, under God's blessing, to maintain unimpaired; 'which it has been the object of the Legislature, during the last 60 years, to extend and to secure; and which now happily forms a fundamental part of our constitution, and is inseparably bound up with our civil liberties.

"2. Because it is irreconcileable with the spirit and with the letter of the Roman Catholic Relief Act to impose new and to increase existing penalties, falling exclusively on the members of one religious communion; and our objection to this fatal course is augmented when it is announced that this Bill may lead to other measures of a similar character, in case the stringency of its provisions is not found sufficient to answer the purposes of its framers.

"3. Because we view with alarm the declaratory enactments of this Bill, undefined, as they are, in their legal consequences, rendering solemn antecedent acts and public instruments unlawful and void, and rendering unlawful and void like wise all the 'jurisdiction, authority, pre-eminence, or title,' derived from such acts and instruments.

"4. Because these alarms are increased from the want of any clear definition in this Bill fixing the incidence and the limits of its penalties, thus creating all the dangers which must ever attend vague and uncertain laws, exposing the Roman Catholic laity to wrong and privation, interfering with the jurisdiction and ecclesiastical functions of the Roman Catholic clergy, and leaving it a matter of grave doubt whether both parties may not be exposed to criminal prosecution as well as to civil penalty.

"5. Because it is irreconcileable with the wise policy of late years, shown in the repeal of barbarous penalties contained in ancient and intolerant laws, to revive and give robustness and energy to a severe penal statute, passed nearly 500 years back, enforced only once since its enactment, and that in the year 1607, in a case which we are informed is of doubtful authority.

"6. Because we cannot reconcile the Charitable Bequests Act, which recognises the status and existence of Roman Catholic archbishops and bishops and their successors, officiating and exercising episcopal functions in Ireland, with this Bill, which interferes directly with the appointment of such archbishops and bishops, and declares the official instruments and official acts required for such appointments, as well as 'all jurisdiction, authority, pre-eminence, or title,' derived therefrom, to be unlawful and void. Nor is this difficulty removed by the saving clause, which leaves it doubtful whether the 4th section may not defeat other portions of the Bill, or whether the general import of the Bill may not deprive that saving clause of its efficacy.

"Because it seems illogical, inexpedient, and unjust, when the Rescript or Letters Apostolical of the Pope, of the 29th of September, 1850, are relied on as the cause and justification of this Bill, that we should extend its restraints to a part of Her Majesty's dominions to which that Rescript has not any possible application.

"8. Because it has been admitted in debate, on high legal authority, that the penalties of this Bill are limited to what are described as being 'pretended sees,' while other sees or districts are subjected only to the less severe provisions of the 10th George IV., chap. 7. It therefore follows that a different state of law will exist in England and in Ireland, as well as in different parts of Ireland, producing anomalies and contradictions incompatible with sound legislation; the severity of the law and its penalties not varying according to the nature of the imputed offence, but according to the geographical limits within which such imputed offence may have been committed.

"9. Because, if it should be true, as has been stated in debate by the supporters of this Bill, that if it becomes a law it cannot be carried into effect, but must remain 'a dead letter,' we consider that it is still more inconsistent with sound legislation to pass a Bill which, without giving any security whatever, tampers with all the principles of religious freedom, creates discontent and alarm, and by bringing the law into contempt lessens its force and rightful authority.

"10. Because a determined resistance has been offered to all suggestions made during the progress of the Bill for the correction even of obvious and verbal errors, as we as for the amendment of certain provisions of which no justification has been attempted; and because the reason assigned for taking this course, arising from the possible inconvenience and delay apprehended if this Bill were returned to the House of Commons, is inconsistent with the free deliberations of this House, and derogatory to its just rights and authority as a branch of the Legislature.

"11. Because, upon these grounds, we cannot but consider the passing of this Bill to be most inexpedient and most unjust. We consider it ill-adapted to protect either the prerogative of the Crown or the independence of our country, while calculated to revive civil strife and sectarian dissensions; we protest against it likewise as a departure from those high principles of religious liberty to which our greatest statesmen have devoted their intellect, their genius, and their noblest exertions.

"DISSENTIENT,—1. Because no such measure as the present is consistent either with justice or expediency.

"2. Because the Bill appears to have been mainly dictated by the excitement which has recently prevailed—an excitement which it was the duty of the Government and the Legislature rather to allay than to encourage. Any attempt to interfere with doctrines by Act of Parliament is not only likely to fail, but may even promote what it is intended to repress.

"3. Because it is most unreasonable and inconsistent to profess to grant full toleration to the Roman Catholic religion, and at the same time to prohibit that species of communication with the See of Rome which is indispensable for its perfect discipline and government,

"4. Because the undue assumption of power involved in the terms of the Papal Rescript of the 29th of September, 1850, and of other documents connected therewith, however justly open to exception, can supply no reason for depriving Her Majesty's Roman Catholic subjects of a regular and ordinary part of their ecclesiastical organization.

"5. Because the appointment of ecclesiastical officers is essentially a matter of religious concern; and although it may be expedient in particular cases that such appointment should be under the control or influence of the civil power—and although it is the undoubted duty of the Legislature to provide that no temporal powers are exercised and no temporal rights impaired, under the pretext of ecclesiastical regulations, yet to restrain a religious community not established by law in the management of its religious concerns, otherwise than by confining them within the sphere of religion, is inconsistent with the spirit of all our recent legislation. Such restraint involves the principle, and may lead to the practice, pf religious persecution.

"6. Because the Act of the 10th George IV., chap. 7, which for the first time since the Reformation secured to the Roman Catholic subjects of the Crown an equality of political rights, constituted a solemn expression of the intention of the Legislature, and a pledge to the Roman Catholic community that they should thenceforward enjoy a full religious toleration.

"7. Because the 24th section of the 10th George IV., which prohibits all persons other than those thereunto authorised by law, from assuming the titles of archbishops, bishops, and deans of the National Church, affords no precedent for this Bill, inasmuch as the former simply defends from invasion certain known legal titles already appropriated, and importing high dignities and valuable rights; whereas the latter amounts to the total prohibition of a diocesan episcopate.

"8. Because the penal provisions of this Bill not only differ in the above-named respect from those of the 10th of George IV., but they differ further to the prejudice of our Roman Catholic fellow-subjects, inasmuch as they are preceded by recitals and declarations of law, concerning which the 10th George IV was silent, whereby a new and extended construction may be given both to the penal provisions of this measure, and likewise retroactively to those of the 10th George IV.

"9. Because the ancient statutes against the exercise of a foreign jurisdiction, or restrictive of the importation of Bulls, Brief's, and Rescripts, which are cited in justification of the present Bill, are unavailable for such a purpose. Those sta- tutes have long been suffered to remain in desuetude. If now revived, they may be found to assert powers for the Crown which would be destructive of the religious liberties secured to Protestant Dissenters as well as Roman Catholics. They have no special reference to the establishment of provinces or sees, or to the assumption of titles, but are equally and indifferently directed against all exercise of jurisdiction, whether by diocesan bishops or by vicars-apostolic, and are therefore incompatible with our recognised principles of toleration and religious freedom.

"10. Because there is a peculiarly harsh and ungracious character in the present prohibition of diocesan government of the Roman Catholic community; as it is not disputed that at various periods, from the Reformation down to a recent date, the secular clergy, and more especially the Roman Catholic laity, have sought for the introduction among themselves of a diocesan episcopacy, with the approval and encouragement of the British Government.

"11. Because there are presumptive grounds for believing that the late measures of the Pope have been adopted under the persuasion that, if he should do what in his judgment was requisite for the spiritual wants and interests of his own communion, the advisers of the Crown not only would have no desire, but had, in fact, publicly disclaimed all intention and all title to interfere.

"12. Because this Bill, while it professes to refer to Roman Catholic titles, enacts a further and wholly gratuitous interference with religious freedom, by forbidding the assumption of episcopal titles on the part of any other persons than the prelates of the Established Church and the prelates of the Scottish Episcopal Communion. By the exception from its provisions of the last-named prelates, who are appointed independently of the Royal authority, the Bill plainly admits that the appointment of bishops is in its essence a spiritual matter, and thereby condemns its own principal provisions.

"13. Because it is inexpedient to protect the rights of the episcopate established by law, by needless and unjust restraints upon the religious freedom of others. Such protection is likely to weaken rather than to strengthen the National Church in its proper office of maintaining and enlarging its influence over the people by moral and spiritual means.

"14. Because the Bill, besides being unjust in principle, greatly endangers the peace and harmony of the various classes of Her Majesty's subjects in the United Kingdom, and especially in Ireland. Should the measure be carried into actual operation, it may engender the most serious political and social evils; while, if it should not be put in force against the use of the titles openly assumed, its introduction into the Statute-book will have tended to disparage the dignity of Parliament and the authority of the law.

"GORDON (Aberdeen).
"MONXEAOLE (of Brandon)."
For all but the 4th and 13th reasons. "VAUX of Harrowden.