Page 7, 28th September 1979

28th September 1979
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Page 7, 28th September 1979 — Setting the record straight on Ireland H. Patrick Montague argues
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Setting the record straight on Ireland H. Patrick Montague argues

that criticNm• of the Holy See's attitude during the troubled history of Ireland is unfounded.

THE HISTORIC problem created by the so-called Donation of Ireland to Henry 11 of England by two Popes has for nearly 1,000 years brought the Holy See into any discussion on the origins of the Norman invasion of Ireland.

The defenders of the Popes on this issue have argued strongly that the documents were forged and were in direct contradiction with other historical evidence of the attitude towards Ireland of these two Popes. Adrian IV and Alexander III.

Even if the authority was actually given, it was on the express understanding that there was to be no permanent interference with the Church or people of Ireland. It was on the grounds that the Norman Kings did not keep that condition that Donald O'Neil, King of Ulster, organized a Complaint to Pope John XXII in 1318, The pressures on successive Popes arising out of Irish problems, were probably never so Intense as they became within living memory. Since the Church was deeply involved because of the intensely Catholic Faith of the Irish people and the large numbers of them in countries overseas the moral issues raised by the rapid series of events from 1916 until the Statute of Westminster in 1922 of necessity involved the hierarchy both in Ireland and in England.

The events, all of which increasingly brought the attention of the whole world upon the affairs of Ireland, started with the abortive Rising of Sinn Fein, at Easter 1916, followed by the execution of its leaders. The triumph of Sinn Fein at the General Election in 1919, encouraged its leaders to set up an independent Irish Government.

In 19 18 Lloyd George attempted to impose conscription on Ireland but withdrew in the face of a surprisingly strong reaciton from the Irish bishops, who announced that resistance to this measure by the Irish people was justified on moral grounds. In 1920 the Mayor of Cork, Terence Mac Sweeney, fasted to death in Brixton Prison, and was refused burial by Cardinal Bourne, in the Archdiocese of Westminster.

A few miles away, the body was received in the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Southwark, by Archbishop Amigo.

Finally, when the Irish bishops, agonized by the sufTerings of the Irish people under the Black and Tans and by the vicious antiCatholic pogroms going on in Ulster looked beyond Ireland for a mediator, they had to turn not to Westminster but to Cardinal Mercier of Belgium.

At all times there were Catholics who criticised the Pope for not taking decisive action. Surveying the brief list of major incidents in a period of six years, one would have to wonder on what basis a Pope could be expected to make a decision.

There were Catholics involved holding views which ranged from the activism of Sinn Fein to the Conservative English stance of Cardinal Bourne who spoke for the English Catholics, if not necessarily for the Catholics of England. An objective view of the Pope's position at that time would be that his principal role as Supreme Pontiff would have been in jeopardy had he accepted and supported the position as presented to him by any of those Catholics involved. For, by acting in any way on the advice of one group, he risked putting in had faith all those who held ditTerent views in the highly emotional atmosphere which prevailed.

During the period in question Cardinal Bourne was in bitter dispute with the Irish bishops over their statement on conscription. He was similarly in dispute with the Archbiship of Southwark over the burial of Terence MacSweency.

The Irish Bishops were not united even with one another and certainly not with all the priests in the parishes over the morality of Sinn Fein activities.

The apparent indecision of the Holy Father in this complex situation was vindicated in an unexpected way. His determination that none of the various groups should be put in bad faith by his direct intervention resulted in an unbelievably staunch attachment to their Faith on the part of even the most prominent of the Sinn Fein activists.

Many stories are told of the efforts made by them to attend Mass, at times when they were fugitives from the law and within a diocese where the Church doors were closed to them. One of these concerns Eamon de Valera who, on one occasion was quietly attending Mass under these conditions.

He noticed that the driver of the car which had been provided for him had not come into the Church. When he emerged, de Valera took him to task. He received the astonishing reply that the man was a Jew.

In fact, he was that phenomenon of the Sinn Fein movement, Robert Briscoe, who took part in the whole episode from the 1916 Rising until the formation of the Free State. later becoming a Republican Member of the Parliament and a long-time Mayor of Dublin, as well as being the leading member of the Jewish Community in Ireland.

When the Pope visits Ireland this year, he does so against a background of renewed unrest, which again carries implications of concern to him. A notable feature of the disturbances which have dominated life in the Province of Ulster for 10 years has been the unenviable position of the Catholic minority. faced with the hostility of the most antiCatholic population in the entire world.

As part of this continuing story of the inter-relationship of politics and the Church, the Papacy has recently had the latest, and it is to be hoped, the last of its experiences of the pressures it has come to expect over the affairs of the Church in Ireland.

This concerned the appointment as Primate of Ireland of Tomas 0 Fiaich, a noted Irish scholar and a known Nationalist. His home town in South Armagh is without doubt the centre of the most active Republican, area in Ireland. Was it widely rumoured that the Holy See was pressed by lading Catholics in England, through diplomatic channels, not to appoint him in the first place. He was. in fact, appointed. Pressure mounted again not to elevate him to Cardinal's rank. Again the Holy See resisted the pressure and duly awarded him the Cardinal's Hat.

Irishmen should take due note of this incident, which is of very recent date, It should help to clarify the fact, which should he clear to any objective observer, that on balance throughout the centuries the Holy See has acted with justice towards Ireland in everything which fell within its Jo risdiction.

It may well seem that the invasion of Ireland had papal support. but there are many arguments to disprove it and many scholars who have rejected the story as being substantially unsupported.

Popes throughout the centuries have declined to interfere with the independence of Ireland. They have not accepted the Partition of Ireland by resigning Armagh, which lies legally within the United Kingdom, to the English ecclesiastical province. They have given Ireland a Nuncio. with full diplomatic status, accredited to the Government of the Republic of Ireland.

All this will not, of course. ensure that there are never any Catholic complaints that the Pope should make positive decisions on specific issues. There will never he a time, it may be assumed, when quarrels within the Church will not involve the Pope in one one form or another.

So tar as Ireland is concerned the attitude of the Pope has been the correct one, and the Church of Ireland has over the centuries gained by the decisions which have been made by the Holy See.




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