Bishop John Brenan’s Report to Propaganda (1675)

The following report was sent by Dr. John Brenan, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore (later Archbishop of Cashel) to Mgr. Urbano Cerri, Secretary of Propaganda. It is dated Waterford, 20th September, 1675.

In the year 1672 I forwarded to the Sacred Congregation a detailed report on the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore, and, since then, I have not failed to send from time to time an account of other matters, as well, to the Internuncio, as to the Secretary, and having held and completed Visitation of the two dioceses during the past Summer I resolved to send to headquarters an account of any matters of importance.

In the united Diocese of Waterford and Lismore there are thirty secular priests, all engaged in the care of souls. Notwithstanding that the Protestant clergy hold all the churches and their revenues, the titular possession of the parishes is distributed among the Catholic clergy, some receiving the charge of one parish, others two or more, each one attending to his own assigned district and not interfering with the rest. The greater part of these have studied in foreign parts and are sufficiently competent. Some of them preach, others give exhortations, and all at least teach the Catechism. There are some who have never been abroad; these are the weakest, but for the most part they are zealous and lead a virtuous life, as, indeed, do all the rest.

All these are subject to the Bishop and Vicar-General. There are also Vicars-Forane, who superintend the clergy in their respective districts and preside at the conferences on cases of conscience, which are held in the other seasons. Each parish priest has one or two Mass-houses or chapels, which are thatched, and he celebrates two Masses on Festivals, especially on Sundays, partly because the faithful are numerous and could not find room at one Mass, and partly on account of the great distance, so that all could not assemble in the same place. They also administer the Sacraments of Baptism and Extreme Unction and assist at Marriages. For the most part they give proof of great vigilance.

The emoluments for their support and for the necessaries of life are derived as follows: Every family with a competence gives its pastor a shilling at Easter and Christmas, but the poorer people give nothing. This holds only for some parishes and is not observed in the city. In addition to this a voluntary offering is made when they assist at marriages or administer Baptism or Extreme Unction; they also receive some alms at funerals for Mass or for the Requiem Office. These sources of revenue being very small and rare the pastors cannot provide decent equipment for the altar, and many of them celebrate with pewter chalices and with poor, outworn vestments. They even find it hard to live, as I learned from experience, for, during the visitation last Summer, at some of their houses in the country parts (for all live in the country except four, who are in the city), there was neither wine nor beer, nor milk for drink, while others had only milk — without wine or beer.

This poverty of the pastors arises from the distressed condition of the Catholics, who are unable to contribute as they would wish. For the same reason, several priests of this kingdom, who live comfortably abroad, hesitate to return, although there is great need of them here.

In these dioceses there are of the Regular clergy ten Franciscans, two Dominicans, two Augustinians, five Jesuits and one Capuchin. Of these Franciscans alone live in community — and this only since a few days ago, when the Provincial Chapter was held, wherein it was ordered that all should again live together and observe common life. During the past two years, since publication of the edicts, all were scattered, living in private houses. The other religious all live privately, here and there.

These religious style themselves Missionaries Apostolic and claim great privileges, and if they have them, I suppose they must derive them from ancient Bulls, for they have received no privileges from Propaganda, nor have they even asked for any. Each of them, as a rule, celebrates two mass on the Festivals. I do not know that there is any necessity for thus celebrating twice; they (except one or two) do it without consulting me and when I object to the matter they appeal to their privileges.

Two things give rise to controversies between the Secular and the Regular clergy. The first is that the Regulars intrude on the pastoral functions of Baptism, Matrimony and Extreme Unction in the districts which have their own parish priest. I must say this does not often occur in this diocese, but it does sometimes happen, and great annoyance is given.

The second cause of controversy is that the Regulars, and especially the Franciscans, induce several of the faithful to take the habit of the Order when they are stricken with severe sickness. Such persons, after death, are laid out on a table, dressed in the habit and uncovered, with lighted torches around them, in the houses of the laity throughout the parish and outside the residences of the Regulars. The Bishops have repeatedly applied to Rome for a decision in this matter, but up to the present there has been no reply.

The Bishop has held the usual visitations and synods, except last year, when the persecution prevented them. This year likewise, for the same reason, the synod was omitted. I have administered Confirmation, however, but more privately than formerly. The Catholic people are pleased to see their Bishop, who gives them prudent counsels and salutary admonition, that they may persevere in the Faith and in practice of the Christian virtues, and to bear patiently all their hardships, conforming to the Divine Will, and though by the Penal Laws they are, on account of their religion, oppressed in manifold ways, being shut out from holding any office, public or private, in the kingdom, nevertheless the greater part of them bear all this in a Christian manner, and during the past two years of persecution I have heard of only two in this diocese, the one a gentleman, the other a peasant, who apostatized from the Faith though worldly interest. The gentleman has been already half brought back to the Church by the Bishop, and in contrast with these two, more than twenty-four have been gained over by the parish priests. I have had no return from the Regulars.

The Catholic youth of this country is deprived to a great extent of good learning and instruction, for, in virtue of the Penal Laws, no Catholic is allowed to be a schoolmaster, and thus our young people have to be taught by Protestant masters, a most sad condition of things, which cannot but be very prejudicial as time goes on. Many of them haven’t the means to proceed to the Continent for education — their parents being poor. Many others, who find their way there, being unprovided with the necessary equipment to pursue their studies and become ecclesiastics, are sometimes constrained to become soldiers or to engage in some trade for a livelihood.

The number of our Catholics is far greater than the Protestants, but with this difference, that the others, being favoured by fortune, enjoy all the cities and lands of the kingdom, whilst among the Catholics very few retain their paternal holdings or have any patrimony, and the rest are, for the most part in humble condition, but the great majority are very pious and devout, observing the precepts and usages of holy Church and maintaining always due reverence for the Apostolic See.

The Government edicts issued almost two years ago against the Bishops and Regulars caused great consternation in the beginning, for which reason all the residences and chapels of the Regulars were closed and many of the religious quitted the kingdom. The Bishops left their usual place of abode and moved about through the country, here and there, by day and by night, doing, with discretion, all the good that the circumstances of the times permitted. A short time before the publication of these edicts the Archbishop of Dublin, for reasons that are known, took his departure from the kingdom. Since then the Archbishop of Tuam has been sent into exile, and in the third place, the Bishop of Killaloe, of his own accord, has taken his departure. None of the Bishops were arrested or imprisoned, except the Archbishop of Tuam,  and very few of the Religious were disturbed. At present the tempest, such as it was, is greatly moderated, so much so that the edicts and the persecutions are almost forgotten, and the Religious, especially the Franciscans, have, by order of their Superior, begun to live in community and to open public chapels. It is feared that their too much daring and too much publicity may irritate the Government to enforce the edicts with greater severity than hitherto. Although the atmosphere is at present more calm than during the past two years, yet those who are best informed fear that some great storm may be stirred up against us, especially by the approaching session of parliament to be held in Dublin, as is supposed. If this is true we have reason to fear the fiercest storm that we have ever endured, for they will endeavour effectively, if God does not prevent it, to banish from the kingdom all the Catholic Bishops. They are moved to this, because they imagine that when some Bishops come to this kingdom they are sent to disturb them, not only in the religion which they profess, but in the possession of the temporal goods which they enjoy. This stupid and malign idea is confirmed for them by the novel doctrines of friar Peter Walsh, who never ceases publication of printed pamphlets, full of rancour against the Pope and against the Bishops.

A short time since, two printed books were published in reply to an offensive sermon of Andrew Sall, a Jesuit, who, more than a year ago, apostatized from the Faith. These books have made an impression, even among Protestants, for their statements are sound and well arranged, with solidity and without offence, and the errors of the aforesaid sermon are clearly refuted. This gave great joy to all the Catholics. These books were printed in France and Flanders, and many copies were circulated throughout the kingdom, to the great advantage of religion and the discredit of the apostate, who, since the appearance of those books has been overwhelmed with confusion. His apostasy seemed to augur to the Protestants that many Catholics would follow his example, but it is not known that, in almost two years, anyone followed him, excepting one artisan who was in his employment.

This is all that occurs to me at present to write to Your Excellency, and I request you to lay this Report before the Sacred Congregation.


Posted on March 1, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. thanks for this Shane. I note the conflict between the religious and diocesan clergy (especially the bishop) echoes of which can still be heard in parts of the country – I guess there will always be a certain tension. i must ask around and find out who the Capuchin was.

  2. The bit about the youth being ‘deprived of good learning’ reminded me of the comment under ‘The Vatican Council and You’ about the young extraordinary minister of Holy Communion who didn’t know what rosary beads were. The majority of Catholic here in the Philippines are still ‘deprived of good learning’ but everyone knows what rosary beads are.

    When I was at home in November a young woman approached me in a church where I was praying. She asked for some help for her sick baby or something like that. Though i wasn’t fully convinced that there was a sick baby I gave her something. She then asked me if I could give her rosary beads. As it happened, I had beads with me and gladly gave them to her.

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