HL Deb 27 July 1877 vol 236 cc3-9

rose to present a Petition from the inhabitants of All Hallows, an ecclesiastical district recently established in Southwark, complaining of the hardship of having a Popery-teaching minister placed over them by the Bishop, and of the manner in which he discharged the duties of his office; and praying for relief. There was one criticism which he would pass on the Petition. The Petitioners seemed to think that the appointment to the charge had been made by the Bishop of Winchester. Strictly speaking, this was not the case. The district was a newly-created district and the patronage was vested in a lady. At the same time, he was afraid that the right rev. Prelate must have been pretty well aware of the character of the incumbent. In presenting this Petition his object really was to call attention to a matter which deserved the serious consideration of all members of the Church, and, in particular, of those who were at the head of the Church. One of the averments of the Petitioners was that the minister had refused the Holy Communion to a poor dying woman, because she could not receive it unless she confessed her sins to him. He (the Earl of Redesdale) had inquired as to the circumstances—for he did not wish to make statements which were not strictly accurate; and it seemed to him it might not be perfectly accurate to say that the woman had been refused the sacrament because she would not confess her sins, although it was a fact that she died without it. The clergyman called upon her and told her she ought to receive the Holy Communion. She said she had no objection; and then he told her she ought to confess. She said she had committed a multitude of sins, for which she was sorry, but that she could not remember them all. The clergyman told her she need not tell them all but she could tell some of them; and he exhorted her to confess. It could not be said, exactly, that she was refused the Communion because she would not confess; but, undoubtedly, it was because she did not confess that she did not receive the Communion. Another thing of which the Petitioners complained was that the doctrines of the Real Presence, eucharistic sacrifice, and absolution after confession, were taught by Mr. Berkeley in his Sunday schools. A book called A First Catechism for Young Children was used in the schools. It contained questions of an ordinary kind, such as "Who was the first man?" "Who was the first woman?" and so on; but it also contained the following Questions and Answers:— What did the Saviour give the Apostles power to do?—To make bread and wine into his body and blood. Did he give this power to any one else?—Yes; to the Bishops and priests who came afterwards, Now, if that was not transubstantiation, he did not know what was. Yet, that was to be taught to young children. Here were some more of the Questions and Answers— How can we be freed from sin after baptism? —By absolution. What is absolution?—Forgiveness of sins. Who can give absolution? —The priest. What is necessary before we receive it?—Penance. How can we insure penance?—By confessing our sins. What is it to confess our sins?—To tell them one by one. Now, the clergyman who introduced this catechism into his schools must be held to be aware of the doctrines it taught. Could anyone say that these were not Romish doctrines? The Petition disclosed a state of things which called for interference of a strong character. It was to be hoped that those who held positions, of authority in the Church would take the matter into serious consideration. For his own part, 20 years ago he was a high Churchman; but things that were now going on in what was called the High Church were very offensive to him.


said, he was sorry their Lordships' time should be taken up with a matter of this description. If every case of the kind were to be brought under the notice of the House, there would certainly be a large increase in the amount of their business. As the Petition which had been presented seemed to be directed in a great measure against himself, he would, with their Lordships' permission, relate the true state of the case. His present diocese included a very large portion of the South of London, where the population had grown of late years much more rapidly than in any other part of London. The improvements which had been made in other parts of the City had driven the poor population in large masses to the south side, and the consequence was that for the last 15 years the population of South London had been increasing by about 25,000 a-year. Perhaps in no other place in or out of England was there greater poverty than in some parts of South London, and along with the poverty there was a very great amount of vice and misery. He need hardly say that it had been impossible for the clergy to overtake the rapidly increasing work; and he was sure there was no Bishop who would have refused the munificent offer made by a lady to place a clergyman in one of the worst parts of the diocese. That offer was made through one of the rural deans in Surrey — a very excellent man, with nothing approaching High Church opinions. The Rector of Christ Church, Blackfriars—also a very good man, with no Ritualistic or High Church propensities, and who, he was sorry to say, was now dead—rejoiced extremely at the beneficent proposal, and readily consented that a portion of his parish should be cut off and made part of the new district. Another part was taken from St. Saviour's, Southwark, which had been under the care of two, no doubt, very excellent clergymen, one 72 and the other 75 years of age. The new district was, of course, formed by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, but of course with his (the Bishop of Winchester's) consent; the patronage being vested in the lady. When the district had been formed, though he had no voice in the appointment, yet, ex abundanti cautelâ, he took steps to ascertain what sort of person was to be appointed to it. The rural dean, of whom he made inquiries, referred to Mr. Berkeley in these terms— I am willing to take upon myself the whole responsibility in the case of Mr. Berkeley's nomination. I do not think that I could have written otherwise of him than I did, when I had received such a testimonial of his worth as that which I enclose from the Vicar of Heavitree, and when my personal observation of his character during six months (in which he assisted me in my work) confirmed every word that Mr. Barnes had written. That Mr. Berkeley should without giving any offence minister so long in my parish, which for 60 years and more had been under the most distinct Evangelical and Protestant teaching, seemed to me a sufficient guarantee of his fitness to take such a position as that which he now occupies. I do not know what he has done to draw upon himself the odium which seems to be attached to his name in Southwark. From the correspondence which I had with the senior chaplain of St. Saviour's before his appointment, I am disposed to attribute this odium to a foregone conclusion against any one who might be appointed with my sanction. Your lordship would hardly credit the abuse which was heaped upon me for presuming to think that St. Saviour's needed sub-division. He (the Bishop of Winchester) could not well have exercised more prudence or care than he did in the matter. As for the poor woman who had died without receiving the sacrament, he (the Bishop of Winchester) had written to Mr. Berkeley about his alleged refusal to administer the sacrament to the dying woman because she would not confess her sins to him. In reply, Mr. Berkeley had given him the most solemn assurances a clergyman could give to his Bishop, that the statements in circulation were altogether untrue. The only persons present at the scene in question were the poor woman herself and the clergyman against whom the charge was made, and, as she was dead, the charge was necessarily made upon hearsay evidence only. No doubt she had made a statement to two or three people before her death as to what had passed; but it was not impossible that she had misunderstood what the clergyman said— especially if she had some preconceived opinion against him. At all events, her testimony, given at second hand, was scarcely to be put against the solemn assurance of a clergymnn of the most unblemished character. Suppose, however, that Mr. Berkeley had actually said to the dying woman—"Before I give you communion, you must tell me what is on your mind," what could he (the Bishop of Winchester) have done? He could scarcely have charged Mr. Berkeley with a breach of the law, when the Prayer Book itself enjoined the clergyman to obtain from sick persons a confession of any sins which rested upon their consciences, But Mr. Berkeley's statement on the subject was as follows:— Mrs. G. was a Baptist who was dying of consumption. She expressed a wish to see me, and I visited her. In the course of conversations I had with her she said she should like to receive the Holy Communion, and I pointed out to her the proper way of preparing for it. Of course I spoke of self-examination and of confession of her sins to God. I did not say one word as to confession to me, for I was sure from her connection with the Baptists she would not do so. Some time after the Sister who visited her told me that Mrs. G. had told her that some one had told her that she would have to confess to me. The Sister replied that there was no such compulsion, and that if she truly repented of her sins she might receive it. There is not one word of truth in the charge of refusal to communicate her, and the only reason that she did not receive it that I know of is, that she died rather suddenly at the last, and we did not know she was so near her end. Now, surely Mr. Berkeley, after such a deliberate statement as that, was not to be condemned on the hearsay evidence of a dead person to the contrary. As to the Catechism which had been referred to, the moment he received it and had read it he wrote to Mr. Berkeley in a kindly manner—for he believed men were more likely to give up erroneous opinions under the influence of kind than of harsh treatment—pointing out that the Questions were not strictly in accordance with the teaching of the Church of England. Mr. Berkeley replied in the following terms:— Your Lordship must allow me to thank you most sincerely for having given so much time and consideration to my letter of Saturday, and for the kind and fatherly manner in which you have dealt with it. In reply to your letter received this morning I can only ask your Lordship to believe that I do not hold the doctrines you believe the Catechism teaches, and regret that its inexact language should have led you to that conclusion. I have consequently withdrawn it from the school, and will in the course of the week submit for your approval another to be used in its place. Mr. Berkeley did submit another, which certainly was better than the first; but as it was open to misconstruction he (the Bishop of Winchester) begged him to withdraw it also; which he at once agreed to do, his answer being as follows:— My Lord,—I am much obliged for your letter of the 1st. It seems to me that all the Catechisms prepared for children more or less err in the matter of inexactness, and I suppose that it is extremely difficult to bring down theological definitions within the capabilities of children. I shall therefore act on your Lordship's advice, and use no other than the Church Catechism, but I am afraid that even then I shall not please Mr. Curling. Now, he was not prepared to say that Mr. Berkeley had always acted very wisely. Still, when remonstrated with he had shown every respect for the law, and therefore he (the Bishop of Winchester) could not say that this was a case which ought to be brought before their Lordships for censure. It seemed to him that persons who, as the holders of the most responsible of all offices, that of teaching Christian truth and watching over Christian souls, failed to do their duty, either from carelessness or from inability — he did not care which— and refused to allow anybody else to enter into their labours, were much more responsible to God and man than persons who from some error of judgment acted wrongly or inconsistently with their duty to the Church. In these days the great danger was that of people driving one another into extremes by intolerance;—and he regretted to say that much mischief of the kind was wrought in the Church by party newspapers. He thought it was the duty of every Christian to throw those party newspapers aside and never to look at them. There was scarcely anything which did more harm or exasperated feeling so much. Another thing much to be regretted was the existence of two great party Societies—the English Church Union and the Church Association— which were goading each other into desperation, and driving their own supporters more and more into extremes. They threatened to rend the Church in pieces and leave the country without a Church at all. If every faithful Churchman would determine to have nothing to do with those Societies and discourage people from joining them, there would be some hope for the peace of the Church. In conclusion, he would beg their Lordships to remember that if they once by want of prudence and tact in dealing with Church differences and difficulties brought about disruption, which was worse than Disestablishment, there would in a very few years be nothing left in this country between Romanism, which they all dreaded, and nationalism, which, for his part, he dreaded much more.


said, he did not suspect the right rev. Prelate of any tendency to the doctrines condemned by the noble Earl who had presented the Petition; but, though a member of neither of the Societies mentioned, he did not think the right rev. Prelate had treated the Church Association quite fairly. He thought Churchmen were under the greatest obligations to the Church Association for having ascertained the law upon doubtful points of importance.


expressed his satisfaction at the manner in which the matter had been met by the right rev. Prelate.

Petition ordered to lie on the Table.

House adjourned at Six o'clock, to Monday next, Eleven o'clock.