Page 3, 25th August 1950

25th August 1950
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Locations: Coventry, Rome, Birmingham


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100 YEARS AGO: 3

By Fr, Herbert Keldany

TWENTY years after the violent reaction to the restoration of

the Catholic Hierarchy, when its true effects could be discerned by all parties, Archbishop Ullathorne, one of the principal architects of the change over from government by the Vicars Apostolic to normal diocesan Bishops, set down the full story of the negotiations which led to the publication of the Apostolic Letter of September 29, 1850.

been succeeded at Westbecome a Cardinal in his By this time Cardinal Wiseman had minster by Archbishop Manning, soon to turn; but Ullathorne who had become the first Bishop of Birmingham at the Restoration, had been a keen advocate of the Hierarchy for thirty years.

William Ullathorne, who took the name of Bernard when he became a Benedictine monk, was a Yorkshire. man whose family claimed descent from St. Thomas More. His sturdy and independent character made him a splendid representative of the English Catholics who survived the penal times.

His autobiography is too little known. He sailed before the mast for three years before entering the cloister at Downside in 1823: soon after his ordination he went out to Australia at a time when there were a mere handful of priests in all the Pacific. After working devotedly among the Catholics in the convict settlements he returned to -plead their cause at Rome, and before the British Government.

" For five years I have conversed. and almost lived with the convict . I have celebrated the mysterious rites of our religion in the bark hut. beneath the gum tree in the valley, and on the blue mountain's top. The sentenced criminal has wrung my heart. in the cell of death. My motive is the reformation of the convict."

He gave evidence before Parliamentary committees, and the " Orthodox Journal" soon after speaks of a contingent of priests and teachers as " Dr. Uliathorne's recruits."

his proper title at this time was Vicar General to the Vicar Apostolic of New Holland and Van Diemen's Land. He persuaded the Roman authorities to grant a Hierarchy to Australia, and barelyavoided a mitre himself by returning to England, only to be nominated the last Vicar Apostolic of the Western district at the age of forty.

ON the first page of the small

green book he published a quarter of a century later and entitled "The History of the Restoration of the Catholic Hierarchy in England", he says:

" On the day of my episcopal consecration, as the three Bishops were placing the mitre on my head, there arose in my mind a sense that was indescribably keen of the need in which we stood of recovering our Hierarchy; and with that sense came a desire as keen to labour for its recovery. I soon found that the same thought was occupying the minds of the other Vicars Apostolic.. . "

When in Rome in 1837 he lead been consulted as to whether it was better to send a Bishop or a Vicar Apostolic to New Caledonia. and replied as follows : " My experience tells me that even if you send but two priests, one of them ought to be a Bishop. For the Episcopate is the generative power of the Church. A priest does not see things with the same eyes, or from the same elevation, or from the same depth of responsibility."

It is not surprising in view of this that English conditions seemed impossible to him.

" The Vicars Apostolic having delegated authority in 'England, were removable at will, had no corporate organisation, no local superior, no power of synodal action. This could only he provided by a local Episcopate or Hierarchy." The fact that there had been recently established Hierarchies in North America and the British colonies, while the latter enjoyed State support. made the change at home seem all the more necessary.

His experience as parish priest of Coventry, from 1841 until his consecration in 1846 during which time he built St. Osburg's Church, to this day one of the finest in the Midlands-gave him a good idea of pastoral conditions in England.

AT this time he must have

shared the enthusiasm of a group of priests, known as the Brotherhood, who formed an association to promote the restoration of the Hierarchy, and undoubtedly influenced the decision of the Vicars Apostolic to approach Rome.

A first move was made in 1845, but owing to the impatience of certain parties, both clerical and lay, delays followed, so that it was not until 1847 that two Coadjutors Bishop Wiseman and Bishop Sharplee-proceeded to Rome.

Mgr. Barnabo, who was later to watch over English affairs so well as Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda, encouraged them to petition for the Hierarchy, and the change was agreed in principle.

A petition was drawn up by Bishop Wiseman and presented to Pope Pius IX. He declined to give a decision until he had offered the Holy Sacrifice three times, and then announced: Adesso sono tranquillo -Now I am satisfied.

There were some objections, notably from the one Englishman in the Papal Curia, Cardinal Acton, whose views were echoed by another Cardinal who maintained that if the English Catholics were given their own Bishops they would be less attached to the Holy See. The last century has not altogether confirmed the prognosis.

The English Bishops were asked to make plans for redistributing the existing eight vicariates into twelve dioceses, but there was a fresh difficulty: a number of the most eligible priests had recently lost their lives in an epidemic of cholera.

A" this stage Bishop Ullathorne was deputed to Rome with full powers to complete the negotiations. In Rome he found Dr. Grant, later to become the first Bishop of Southwark, "the ablest, most judicious and influential agent the English Bishops ever had "; together they pressed for the nomination of Bishop Wiseman to Westminster and the erection of an archdiocese in-the capital. Everyone was anxious to avoid a clash with the laws of England, and great attention was paid to the titles which the new Bishops were to assume. Bishop Ullathorne strongly recommended that they should be taken from populous centres where Catholics were most numerous and where there were no Anglican sees.

It is important in view of the subsetivent developments that at this date. in August 1848. in the course of debating a Bill on Diplomatic Relations with Rome, a Member of Parliament stated that, while he had no objection to calling Dr. Wiseman a Bishop, he objected to calling him Archbishop of Westminster; and the Prime Minister. Lord John Russell, argued at length that " there is no law my honourable friend could frame that would deprive the Pope of that influence merely exercised

over the mind " (i.e. spiritual authority).

A LL the preliminary questions ' were virtually settled when the revolution broke out in Rome. Bishop Ullathorne left the city just as the mobs were breaking into the churches and ringing the bells to declare the alarm.

The short-lived experiment of liberal government came to an end with the murder of the Pope's Minister dc Rossi. Soon after, a good friend of England. Mgr. Palma, was shot; Pius IX left Rome in disguise and took refuge at Gaeta, where he was to remain in exile for almost two years. It was for this reason that the restoration of our Hierarchy did not take place in 1848. and the changed fortunes of the Pope, to whom the liberals had looked so hopefully at first, doubtless affected the reception given to his letter when it was published two years later.

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