HL Deb 18 July 1872 vol 212 cc1343-6

presented a Petition from the Rev. E. O'Keefe, Roman Catholic parish priest of Callan, Ireland, praying for redress against the action of his Bishop, the Papal Legate, and the National Education Commis- sioners, who had removed him, without a hearing, from the patronage and management of certain national schools in that parish, in consequence of his having been suspended by the Roman Catholic coadjutor Bishop of the diocese of Ossory and the Papal Legate in Ireland, which suspension he (Mr. O'Keefe) contended was in violation of the canon law of his Church. He hoped that the noble and learned Lord opposite would offer some explanation of the action of the Education Board. If the Board had acted upon any fixed rules, those rules should be clearly stated. Of course, he did not suppose that his noble and learned Friend would make any reference to the disputes between Mr. O'Keefe and his ecclesiastical superiors.


said, his noble Friend was quite correct in supposing that he should not at all enter into the question between Mr. O'Keefe and his Bishop. Their Lordships had nothing to do with it. The question before them was, under what circumstances the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland had found themselves coerced to deprive Mr. O'Keefe of the patronage and management of certain national schools in the parish of Callan. The facts were these—The rev. gentleman had been parish priest of Callan, in which there were five national schools, of which, not in his individual capacity, but solely as parish priest, and by tenure of that office he became manager; some disputes arose between him and his Bishop, and it was certified to the Board of Commissioners by the Roman Catholic Bishop of the diocese in which Callan was a parish that Mr. O'Keefe had been suspended in all his ecclesiastical functions, and had ceased to be parish priest of Callan. On receiving that certificate, the Board, by a majority, felt itself compelled to remove Mr. O'Keefe from his various managerships, and to substitute for him the clergyman who, by appointment of his constituted ecclesiastical superiors, had become parish priest of Callan in his stead. In thus acting upon the certificate of the rev. gentleman's ecclesiastical superiors and declining to enter into the merits of the dispute regarding the legality of his deprivation under the canon law, the Commissioners had taken the course they had invariably pursued under similar circumstances. If the clergyman who was manager of a national school—whether a clergyman of the Church of England, a Presbyterian minister, or a Roman Catholic priest, as the case might be—ceased to fill the position by right of which he had been appointed to the managership, the invariable rule of the Board had been to transfer it to his successor. This practice was founded on the view that the clergyman did not become manager for his own benefit, but as a trustee. The trust deed for Catholic schools, which was approved by the Committee of Council in 1851, contained this recital— … And the said school and premises, and the funds and present endowments thereof, and such future endowments in respect whereof no other disposition shall be made by the donor thereof, shall be directed, controlled, governed, and managed in manner hereinafter specified—that is to say, the priest or priests for the time being having care of the congregation assembling for religious worship at the Roman Catholic church or chapel of St., in the parish of aforesaid, under or by virtue of faculties duly received from or confirmed by the said Roman Catholic Bishop or his successor, so long as such faculties shall be subsisting and un-revoked. The senior member of the Board, Dr. Henry, who was President of the Queen's College, Belfast, and a distinguished member of the Presbyterian communion, was unable to be present at the meeting which decided on Mr. O'Keefe's removal; but he had since written a letter on the subject, in which he said— I believe the Commissioners have no course left them but to recognize Mr. Martin as manager of the schools, now under the management of the Rev. R. O'Keefe, whose ecclesiastical suspension is notified to the Board by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Ossory, and also by the Inspector, Mr. Harkin. The uniform practice of the Board has been to recognize in the case of any deposed clergyman, as his successor in the office of manager of schools, the clergyman who may have been ecclesiastically appointed in his place to exercise spiritual functions. The Commissioners having before them official notification on these points in the present case are, in my opinion, bound to accede to the request of Mr. Martin, unless they are prepared to involve themselves in investigations (ultra vires) of the reasons, grounds, justice, or injustice of ecclesiastical censures. Mr. O'Keefe may have appealed to legal tribunals, but that does not alter our position as Commissioners; for it is clear that no legal decision or any issue that would be sustained in a court of justice could reinstate him as parish priest contrary to ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The simple fact of the notification of deposition by the Moderators of the General Assembly or of its Synods has always been held by the governmental and legal authorities as deprivation of official standing. There had been more than one precedent for the course pursued by the Commissioners in this case. It was perfectly plain that the rule universally acted upon by the Commissioners was reasonable; and it had the approval of such eminent members as Lord Monet; Mr. Gibson, the Queen's Counsel; Judge Longfield, and Baron Fitzgerald. It was not to be supposed that such men would do anything but what was reasonable and just—and right or wrong, the Commissioners of National Education, in deposing Mr. O'Keefe from the managership of the national schools in his district, without fear or favour, endeavoured to discharge their duty. Supposing that a Roman Catholic became a Presbyterian, or a Presbyterian became a Roman Catholic, was the trust reposed in him in the former circumstances to be continued in the latter?

Petition ordered to lie on the Table.