The Humble Address and Remonstrance of the General Board of the Roman Catholics of Ireland, 1818 (and the Reply of Pope Pius VII)

Pope Pius VII

The Irish hierarchy assembled in Dublin on 23rd and 24th August, 1815, issued an uncompromising protest against proposals to give the British Crown a veto over the appointment of bishops in Ireland (which had been floated as a quid pro quo for Catholic Emancipation) and instead resolved that “it is our decided and conscientious conviction, that any power granted to the Crown of Great Britain, of interfering, directly, or indirectly, in the appointment of Bishops for the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, must essentially injure, and may eventually subvert the Roman Catholic religion in this country.” This stance contrasts with the pliable approach of just a few years earlier: in a 1799 communication to the old pre-union colonial Irish government, four Archbishops and six Bishops declared that “in the appointment of Prelates of the Roman Catholic Religion, to vacant Sees, such interference of Government, as may enable it to be satisfied of the loyalty of the person appointed, is just, and ought to be agreed to.” This transformation in attitudes reflects the increasing confidence and self-assertiveness of the Catholic middle class, as well as growing nationalist sentiment in the wake of the Act of Union (1801).

Protesting Britain’s undimmed ambitions and diplomatic endeavours in Rome to secure a veto, the General Board of the Roman Catholics of Ireland sent the following letter to Pope Pius VII in 1817:

Board Room, Dublin,
July 19, 1817.

Most Holy Father;

The General Board of the Roman Catholics of Ireland, with sentiments of veneration, which are due to the Supreme Head upon Earth, of the Roman Catholic Church.

They desire to assure your Holiness, that no change of circumstances shall ever induce them to interrupt that spiritual connection with the Holy See, which they esteem to be essential to the Catholic Communion, and which their ancestors protected and preserved in defiance of most cruel persecutions, and the most seductive temptations.

It is, therefore, with deep regret that they find themselves called upon to submit to the paternal consideration of their Holy Father, any expression of disappointment or dissatisfaction; but their zeal for the preservation of their religion compels them to unfold to His Holiness the subjects of their anxiety, and the sources of their affliction.

They could not, with safe conscience, admit, that they discover, in the recent conduct of the advisers of the See of Rome, any proof of an existing reciprocity of attachment. It would seem to have been forgotten, that the conduct and perseverance of the Roman Catholics of Ireland had entitled them to any share of regard, or even of favourable consideration — the martyrs of three centuries appear to be already forgotten, and the zealous perseverance of the present generation is not esteemed worthy of being taken into account.

We put forth no claims to gratitude. What the Catholics of Ireland did in support of their religion, they did it not from human respect, but for God’s glory and their own sanctification; and with cheerful hearts do they avow the gratitude which they owe to Providence for their preservation, notwithstanding the continued dangers of persecution and neglect.

The Catholics of Ireland have observed, with painful emotions, the marked disinclination evinced at Rome, to entertain their most humble solicitations for attention. Nearly two years have elapsed since they forwarded to the Holy See, an Address and Remonstrance, by the hands of their Delegate, the Rev. Richard Hayes; to this respectful communication, to the sentiments of which they unalterably adhere, no answer has been obtained, nor has any inclination been manifested to cherish those Catholic principles which induced that address; this sense of indifference is much aggravated, when the Catholics of Ireland observe an active anxiety evinced to forward the wishes, and accomplish the purposes of that power, which persecuted our ancestors, and still oppress their posterity, on account of their adherence to the Catholic Faith. The consummation of our disappointment is accomplished by the banishment of the faithful Delegate, of near six millions of the most constant and attached members of the Catholic Church.

We sincerely lament the necessity which obliges us to address this Remonstrance to your Holiness, whose character we venerate with unequalled attachment; we cannot for a moment entertain the belief, that the conduct, against which we complain, could have been approved of by the Head of the Catholic Church, or sanctioned by him.

We cannot suppose that your Holiness would willingly discountenance the prayer of the Irish Catholics to preserve their faith and discipline, from the intrigues and hostilities of the avowed enemies of their Church. Neither can we entertain the opinion, that your Holiness would direct, or willingly admit, that the Delegate of so large a body of Catholics, whose conduct was most earnestly approved of by his constituents, and who possesses, as he well merits, their confidence, esteem, and gratitude, should have been consigned to an ignominious exile, without the institution of any judicial proceeding, or without any representation of misconduct being attempted.

This Board can feel no difficulty in ascertaining that this offensive indignity did not arise from any misconduct on the part of the Irish Delegate; on the contrary, they attribute it to the too successful intrigues and influence of the enemies to the Catholic Religion in Ireland, who considered the expulsion of the Rev. Mr. Hayes from Rome, a necessary preliminary step towards the accomplishment of their hostile purposes.

For we have learned with regret, that a lay interference has taken place at Rome, in the affairs of the Catholics of Ireland. We solemnly protest against the interference of the statesman, to whom, in particular, we allude; and we distinctly renounce any submission to him or his measures. We will not yield to a minister what we would not concede to his master — the right of interfering in our temporal affairs. Our intercourse with Rome is exclusively confined to spiritual concerns; and we never can agree to have that intercourse regulated by the interests of the court, or to have it directed by the political minister.

We cannot avoid declaring to your Holiness, that our apprehensions of undue and temporal interference are much increased, by learning that your Holiness is soon to be addressed in person, by one of the most active opponents to the independence and purity of the Irish Catholic Church, Sir John Cox Hippisley. We earnestly conjure your Holiness to give no credit to his representations of any portion of the Irish people. He has exhausted all the resources of his ingenuity to find precedents of degradation and despotism in Ecclesiastical matters, in order to apply them to the prejudice of the Catholic Claims in Ireland.

We implore you, Most Holy Father, to protect, by timely interposition, the Catholics of Ireland against the dangers which impend over them. We entreat your Holiness to allay all rational alarms, by establishing such a Concordat with the Bishops of our Church in Ireland, as will render the election of their successors perfectly domestic and purely Catholic; and will, at the same time, ensure the institution to the person so to be elected. We urge this measure the more earnestly, because we know it to be approved of by every class and rank of Catholics, ecclesiastical and laical, in Ireland. Such a measure would satisfy the doubts of every Protestant mind, not bent on the annihilation of the Catholic faith, and would, at the same time, remove all the sources of disunion which generate hostility in the Catholic body.

Most Holy Father, we further pray your Holiness to cause to be revoked the order of banishment which has been issued out against our Delegate. With a view to allay the feelings of dismay which now universally and more powerfully agitate the minds, and affright the consciences of your long persecuted and ever faithful Catholic Children in Ireland.

Signed by order,

Secretary of the Catholics of Ireland.

Pope Pius VII sent the following reply:

To our beloved Children of the General Board of the Catholics of Ireland, Dublin.


Beloved children — health and apostolical benediction!

In your letter, dated the 19th day of last July, which our Venerable Brother Laurence, Cardinal Litta, of the Holy Roman Church, Bishop of Sabinum, and Prefect of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, delivered to us, you complained that we had given no answer to the letter, in which you had, two years before, recorded your Remonstrance concerning the subject of the election of Bishops. But you should by no means have inferred from this our silence, that we have less at heart the interest of the Catholic religion in that kingdom, or that our disposition is less favourable or less prompt towards the people of Ireland, whose constancy in the faith, unshaken by any adversity, and whose distinguished merits in the cause of religion, we acknowledge and admire, for the unwearied solicitude which, it appears from public records, we had devoted to the interests of all churches, even in the midst of perils and of difficulties; and which we now devote with increased energy, and even your own approved faith and religion, should have furnished you with abundant proof, that there existed another cause why it appeared inexpedient to answer your letter. In truth, we then had a double reason for adopting this course: for, in the first place, whereas, at the same time, there was brought to us, along with yours, a letter also from the Irish Bishops, relating to the same subject, and, as we stated to those Bishops, as well by personal communication to their Delegates, as well as by our letter, dated the 1st of February, 1816, our opinion concerning the proposed difficulties, and the subject of your alarm; we thought it by no means necessary to repeat the same to you, which you could have so easily learned and ascertained from them; secondly, the tenor of the letter which you addressed to us on that occasion, contributed, in no small degree, to induce us to act towards you in that manner. For though many assurances of your devotion to the Catholic faith were mingled with your expostulations, yet, contrary to our expectation, we observed, that you frequently gave expression to such language and sentiments as seemed, by no means, in unison with that devotion and zeal which the people of Ireland have, at all times, manifested towards the Apostolic See, from which they justly glory, that they have derived the light of the faith.

Therefore, as, on the one hand, your many and illustrious merits induced us to act kindly towards you; and, on the other, we could neither approve nor altogether suppress our opinion of those matters, which, contrary (as we are persuaded) to your intention, had crept into your letter, we thought it better to send you no answer, especially when, as we have already stated our opinion and judgment as to the proposed difficulties, could have been fully made known to you by other means. You have then, the causes of our silence, which we do not now hesitate to disclose to you, that we may deliver you from all anxiety, and that henceforth you may never imagine, that it could be our will to reject your prayers.

With respect to the transactions discussed in that your letter, you should ever feel persuaded that all our efforts and solicitude — (we, to whom the deposit and protection of the faith, and the rule of the whole Church have been committed by Divine Authority) are directed to no other object than to secure by all means the integrity and advancement of the Catholic religion. Therefore, when we signified that we would permit those things, if the British Government would pass an act of emancipation, which should entirely favour the Catholics, we were induced to it by no temporal considerations or political counsels, (of which it would be criminal even to suspect us) — but we had solely in view the interests and well-being of the Catholic religion. We proposed to ourselves, that, in consideration of the faculties to be conceded by us, the desired emancipation would be granted to the Catholics by the repeal of the penal statutes; and thus that wretched condition, in which those Catholic churches have been placed for nearly three hundred years, would be terminated; peace and liberty would be restored to the Catholics: they would be rescued from the temptation to apostatize from the orthodox faith, to which human frailty is exposed; and finally, that the fear of the laws now in force against Catholics, which might, perhaps, deter separatists from entering the bosom of our Holy Mother Church, would be removed. In our aforesaid letter to the Bishops of Ireland, we have proved, fully and clearly, that our proposition was altogether harmless, and guarded by such limitations and conditions, that, if they should be observed, no room could remain for abuse.

But it is fit that you should particularly remark, that we promised the before-mentioned things only as we have said in the event that and after the aforesaid act of Government should pass; nor did we by any means command that, even on those terms, the matter should be concluded, but we only declared that, after emancipation should have been completed, we, on our part, would feel no reluctance to concede them, that by such our declaration, we might, in some degree, facilitate the attainment of the aforesaid emancipation.

As to the suspicion and alarm, which we learn from the conclusion of your letter, you entertain concerning the ecclesiastical affairs of your country, we order you to be at ease; for you ought to consider, we have well viewed and weighed the manner in which we should conduct ourselves in regard to those matters, whenever an opportunity should present itself, and that we shall never deem any thing of higher importance than the interests of the Catholic religion.

Now to proceed to what relates to Richard Hayes, of the order of the Friars Minor of St. Francis; you have complained that we expelled him from our territory, though, as you write, he had given us no cause of complaint. You even seem to think, that we were driven into that measure, perhaps, by foreign influence, lest the statements which he had to make in your name, should obtain easy access to our ear. When you wrote this, you were little acquainted, as it seems to us, with that man’s mode of conducting himself; for, having abused that hospitality which he enjoyed in the city, he furnished us with many and weighty causes of grief and vexation, as well as his deportment altogether unbecoming a man professing a religious institute, and by incessant aspersions on our Government, as by writings disseminated in every direction, overflowing with calumny and rancour, no less injurious to us and to this Holy See, than to his own government, of which he boasted every where, and publicly, that he was the author, until, at length, he proceeded to such a degree of arrogance and audacity, that he did not blush to offend ourselves by injurious expressions; so that we could no longer suppress our sentiments, without the abandonment of our personal dignity. Wherefore, though we could have proceeded with severity against him, nevertheless, acting towards him with lenity, the causes of complaint which we had, having been declared by our orders, some without any difficulty, he did not blush to acknowledge, and others, indeed, he could not deny. We caused it to be notified to him, that he should, of his own accord, depart from the city; which intimation of ours, when he altogether and obstinately refused to obey, we ordered, at length, that he should be removed, even by force, beyond the limits of our territory. Wherefore, as we were induced to act towards him in this manner, by motives quite different from those which you imagined, and these of weighty moment, you have no reason to complain, as if by this act we had inflicted an injury on the affairs of the Catholics, which are dear to us, for most essential reasons. In the mean time, that same man, of whom we speak, since his return to his own country, has not changed his line of conduct; for, in the public journals of the 17th of last December, printed in Dublin, we have seen a report delivered by him to you of his proceedings in this city; like his former writings, it is full of falsehood and calumnies, to which report, therefore, we most unreservedly declare to you, that no credit should be attached.

To conclude, assuring you of our paternal charity, we impart to you, from our heart, the apostolical benediction.

Given at Rome, at St. Mary Majors, this 21st day of February, 1818, of our Pontificate the XVIII.



Posted on November 15, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. What a great Pope was Pius VII. No stranger to adversity himself, being forcibly abducted by the Little Emperor and compelled to preside over that farce in Notre Dame! I always felt that in the famous picture of the “coronation” (by David?) his somewhat resigned, pensive expression seems to be saying: “sic transit gloria mundi”. And of course he was again in possession of the Papal States when that man was in possession of little more than his clothes on St. Helena.

    One gets the sense, from his reply to the Catholic Board, of a gracious and caring father who has been through much and is not surprised at the machinations of the great ones of this world. It seems to say: “festinate lente, children. God Will provide in His own good time”.

    • Umm… of course he was still the First Consul when he did the kidnapping but still….

      I read a biography of Pius VII a while ago. In a sense his pontificate mirrored that of Pius IX, being mired in wars and of course actual captivity – for a much longer time. The upheavals of that period must have seemed really terrible to those reared in the relative stability of the 18th century. We are not the first to have experienced the world turned upside down, despite our self-absortion. The practical abandonment of the study of history at secondary school level seems to have bred a generation that thinks the world started around 1960 (choose your date as long as it’s after that). Thank you Francis Fukuyama et alii.

  2. Jaykay, the main thing that stands out for me in the correspondance is how well people wrote back then. It’s makes what they say, even the most trivial components, a real pleasure to read. I wish that I could write like that. (Though it is originally in Latin, the English language has really disintegrated since WW2.)

    As for historical teaching and knowledge, part of the problem as I see it is that the Leaving Cert course that almost all history students have to take focuses exclusively on the 19th and 20th centuries — which gives them a very skewed and narrow outlook on Irish history and shuts them off from vast quantities of its most fascinating aspects.

    • Yes, Shane, as you say the quality of the language is superb. That comes from those who translated/composed it being suffused in classical culture. Not to mention basic grammatical structure (although they do tend to come together – no way you can understand or translate a basic passage of even Caesar, let alone Cicero, unless you understand the rules). But as you know, back in the day, history was compulsory from about 4th class in primary school. So you did in fact get the fuller picture. One only “specialised” at the Leaving Cert. level. And yes, it did tend towards the 1870-1950 period but I think there was also an earlier option i.e. 16th-18th century. Mind you, after 34+ years my memory is a bit hazy!

      Anyway, point being, any kid with a bit of cop-on was fairly aware of the basic historical facts. We all went to the local library as well as the school one. The most popular section was the historical fiction. Ladybird books and so on. The comics were also full of history. We all got them every week and swopped them around.

      Not idealising “the good old days” but I’d say we actually had a much better basic grasp of history than the current generation.

      Far less television, of course. Yup, we were all perfectly disciplined little paragons. But seriously, there was a difference.

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