Letter of the Irish Hierarchy to Leo XIII
January 25th, 1881.
Most Holy Father,
The bishops of Ireland assembled in Maynooth College to transact business connected with its administration deem it their duty to approach Your Holiness with the expression of love and reverence which have always animated the Irish episcopate towards the Apostolic See, and to thank Your Holiness for the fatherly letter which you have lately addressed to them through the Archbishop of Dublin.
It is needless to assure Your Holiness again that every word of counsel and advice coming from the successor of St. Peter will always receive a cheerful and prompt obedience from the children of St. Patrick; for the deepest devotion to the Roman See is Ireland’s special glory, and the proudest page of our history is that which records the unconquerable firmness and constancy with which our predecessors persevered, amid the fiercest storms of persecution, an unbroken union with the successor of Peter. That the love of the father has equalled the devotion of his children is fully attested by the vigilant and truly paternal care with which the Sovereign Pontiffs have in every age constantly watched over the interests of our country. In the letter received by us we find another proof of that fatherly solicitude, and that not the first which Your Holiness has afforded to our afflicted country.
The iniquitous and destructive legislation which for centuries has been rending Ireland has brought the flocks placed under our care to the greatest want and misery. Famine periodically sweeps over our fairest districts, which naturally teem with abundance and are fertile in the highest degree; and frequently our country has been driven to stretch out her hand for alms and sue, like a mendicant, for help from the other nations of Christendom. These repeated misfortunes must not be impiously attributed to the Father of Mercies, for He has given us a land fertile to a proverb. They must not be attributed to the sloth or indolence of our people, for the Irish in exile are everywhere models of unwearied labour and devoted industry. But they must be attributed to the unjust laws which at home have paralysed the strong man’s arm, and through an absolute sense of insecurity, have made him pathetic and hopeless.
At present the Irish nation, rising from its lethargy in strength and power, demands the repeal of the cruel laws which oppress her, and we earnestly pray that God may bless this just struggle and bring it to a happy issue and the desired result. We must not, however, conceal the fact that, although the cause is most just in itself, occurrences and utterances which we all deplore have from time to time cast a shadow over it. But, whilst we rightly denounce these crimes and regard their perpetrators as the most dangerous enemies of their country, we cannot forget the ages of oppression and misery which have driven our people to despair of justice and equity.
Whilst, therefore, we give our heartfelt approval to the end proposed to be obtained by the present agitation for a change in the land laws, we feel that certain means have been employed towards the attainment of this end which we cannot sanction. Hence even in June last, assembled in council, we advised and warned our flocks against the dangers which threatened their cause, and we strove to confine the agitation within the limits of equity and moderation. We will not be wanting in our duty now, nor will we fail to obey the counsels of Your Holiness — “Wherefore let you, venerable brother, and your colleagues in the episcopacy, endeavour that the Irish nation in her present anxious position may not pass the boundaries of equity and justice.”
At the same time, Most Holy Father, we cannot ignore the fact that in certain journals which are published in England many statements are made which are based only on lies and calumnies, and are most unjust to our clergy and country. We earnestly beg of you, Most Holy Father, to give no heed to these enemies of our faith and race. In the meantime, prostrate to kiss the feet of Your Holiness and beg the Apostolic blessing, we sign ourselves, with all respect and reverence, Your Holiness’s most humble and devoted servants.
In the name of all the Archbishops and Bishops present,
Archbishop of Dublin.