From The Irish People, September 16, 1865.
Nothing would please us better than to keep clear of the vexed question of “priests in politics,” if we could do so without injury to the cause which we are endeavouring to serve. But the question was forced upon us. We saw clearly that the people should be taught to distinguish between the priest as a minister of religion and the priest as a politician before they could be got to advance one step on the road to independence. The people for whom God created it must get this island into their own hands. If they do not the Irish nation must disappear from the face of the earth. Our beautiful and fruitful land will become a grazing farm for the foreigner’s cattle, and the remnant of our race wanderers and outcasts all over the world if English rule in Ireland be not struck down. Our only hope is in revolution. But most of the bishops and many of the clergy are opposed to revolution. Is it not then the duty of the Irish patriot be he priest or layman to teach the people that they have a right to judge for themselves in temporal matters? This is what we have done. We have over and over declared it was our wish that the people should respect and be guided by their clergy in spiritual matters. But when priests turn the altar into a platform; when it is pronounced a “mortal sin” to read the IRISH PEOPLE, a “mortal sin” even to wish that Ireland should be free; when priests actually call upon the people to turn informers, and openly threaten to set the police upon the track of men who are labouring in the cause for which our fathers so often bled; when true men are reviled and slandered; when the uprooting of the people is called a “merciful dispensation of Providence” – when, in a word, bishops and priests are doing the work of the enemy, we believe it is our duty to tell the people that bishops and priests may be bad politicians and worse Irishmen.
Long before the establishment of this journal the bishops solemnly condemned “dangerous brotherhoods,” whether oath-bound or not, and altar-denunciations were the order of the day. The Brotherhood of St. PATRICK, an open and legal association, was denounced in precisely the same language as has since been applied to the so-called Fenians; and, though it had a priest for vice-president, its members were denied the sacraments of the Church. In fact, the cry raised against oaths and secrecy was a mere pretence. The Fenian Brotherhood in America, with the hope of steering clear of ecclesiastical censure, substituted a word of honour for the oath; but they gained nothing by the change. They were told a pledge was just as bad as an oath. In fact it is nonsense to talk of conciliating priests and bishops, who think it a crime to attempt to gain our liberty “by force and the aid of foreign armies.” They would be opposed to any movement that might lead to the desired end. Liberty must be won by force or not at all. It is criminal in the eyes of certain ecclesiastics to attempt to save our country by force. Therefore we must either give up our country in despair, or teach the people to disregard politico-ecclesiastical dictation. The course we have pursued in reference to priests in politics was the only course open to us. We have never written a word calculated to injure religion in the slightest degree. We challenge our assailants to point to a single sentence in the IRISH PEOPLE, from its first number to the present, which could be construed into an attack upon religion. The charge that we are enemies of the Catholic Church is a vile calumny invented by trading politicians, and perhaps believed by weak men who are ready to believe any thing of any one who would dare question their right to dictate to the people, or to disturb the peaceful contentment of their lives.
Some persons find fault with the letters of our correspondents, and we have published the letters of the fault-finders as willingly as we have those to which they object. But for the life of us we can’t see why well-meaning men should object to those letters. When an Archdeacon O’BRIEN tears down the placards of the IRISH PEOPLE, and denounces the man who sells it as Antichrist, we see no reason why such conduct should not be publicly condemned.
We would call the attention of our readers to a letter which we reprint from the Irish American. The writer, it will be seen, is as hard upon anti-Irish priests as any correspondent of the IRISH PEOPLE could be. Yet the Irish American is a Catholic journal, and greatly admired by some of our assailants. This fact ought to convince honest men that the cry raised against us on the score of attacking priests is clap-trap.
But after all the war we have been forced to wage against ecclesiastical dictation in politics has done some good. The people are now so used to denunciation there is no reason to fear they will be frightened by it when the time has come for the final struggle. This is something to be thankful for.