From The Irish People, September 24, 1864.
We received a letter last week commenting upon a “sermon” delivered in the Catholic church of Inchicore by the Rev. Mr. COOKE, of the Order of Mary Immaculate. The writer gave his name in the usual way, and we saw no reason for doubting the correctness of his statements. Had he written upon any other subject of interest to our readers we should have published his letter at once. But so anxious are we to guard against mistakes, when clergymen are concerned, we required our correspondent, before publishing his letter, to call at this office and satisfy us that a Catholic priest did really tell an Irish congregation that it was a mortal sin to read the IRISH PEOPLE. Our correspondent has done as we desired, and, we are sorry to say, we believe there can be no doubt about the matter. The Reverend Mr. COOKE has declared from the pulpit that it is a mortal sin to read this journal. We trust there are not many intelligent Catholics in Ireland, even among those who differ from us, who will not condemn this language.
We challenge the Rev. Mr. COOKE to search the columns of the IRISH PEOPLE, from its first number, and point out a single article calculated to injure religion. We distinctly declared that it was our wish that the Catholics of Ireland should revere their clergy as ministers of religion. But we deny the right of the clergy to dictate to the people in politics. We are convinced that if the people continued to look upon the priests as leaders there would be no hope for Ireland. Admitting that a considerable proportion of the priesthood are national at heart. What then? Must they not bow to the authority of their superiors? And so late as last year did not the hierarchy solemnly ban all brotherhoods, whether bound by oath or otherwise, and extend the ban to all newspapers that might publish any defence of them! We really wonder that every national priest in Ireland has not called upon the people to give up the delusion that their clergy would or could ever lead them out of bondage. Too many of the priesthood are conceited West-Britons. Too many of them are prone to exaggerate the danger to religion which revolution may involve. Too many of them are blinded by prejudice. And all of them must submit to a hierarchy which will never sanction any movement that must bring the people into collision with the power which crushes them. The national priest can serve his country; but he ought to see that he cannot serve her as a leader.
However we may admire the earnestness of the priest who dares the censure of his superior for the sake of his country’s cause, we cannot help thinking that in doing so he is likely to injure that cause as to serve it. And for this reason, among others, we have thought it best to avoid all reference to a recent well-known case.
The object we have at heart is the liberation of Ireland. We know how devoted the people are to their religion, and how they revere its ministers. Surely, then, we should be glad to see priests at the head of the people in the life and death struggle to which we are pledged, if we thought that such leadership would help our cause. But we are convinced the very contrary would be the result. If we knew a priest whom nature had marked for a leader of men, ready and willing to take his stand at the head of the people, we should ask him to pause. We should dread the consequence. Every priest believes he is bound to bow humbly to the decrees of his ecclesiastical superiors. And the censure might come at some critical moment when the eyes of the people would be turned to him; and then the people should be left distracted, bewildered, and disheartened. This is why we think it our duty to teach the people not to hope or wish for ecclesiastical leadership; and we wonder every national priest in Ireland does not do the same.
We have words of praise and encouragement from many priests who share our views; but they acknowledge they dare not openly profess the faith that is in them. We are not sure that even an archbishop would be safe in doing so. What utter folly then to talk of the priests as “the natural leaders of the people?”
Does not the history of the “Tenant League,” teach the same lesson? Have we not seen bishops and priests taking the perjured traitor by the hand? Have we not seen priests banned and hunted down like wolves for merely endeavouring to get some security for the plundered tenant-farmer? Well might one of the best and ablest priests of the League, on finding his efforts to save the people from extermination baffled by members of his own order, exclaim: “’Tis not the people who are rotten. ‘Tis the priests who are rotten. Aye, and the bishops are rotten.” In fact the politically honest priests of Ireland are powerless as leaders; and, therefore, they ought to fling their claims to leadership to the four winds, and rejoice that the people are now sufficiently enlightened to draw a clear line of demarcation between spiritual and temporal affairs. If they were not so enlightened, the last hope of our race would be extinguished.
But to return to our unscrupulous assailants. They have slandered us most foully. We have been denounced as enemies of religion. The people have been told from the altar that our object was to betray them for English gold. Attempts, mean cowardly attempts, have been made to frighten our agents and subscribers. And now it is declared from the pulpit “a mortal sin to read the IRISH PEOPLE.” Many thousands of our countrymen and countrywomen, at home and abroad, read the IRISH PEOPLE. Many priests read it. And we may safely ask them all, have they ever seen a word in its columns calculated to endanger religion or morality? We not only endeavour to give our readers sound political teaching, but we give them wholesome and elevating literature also. The country is flooded with the political trash that flows from the cheap English press. But it is only the IRISH PEOPLE that is pronounced dangerous.
Of course our sin is that we are awakening a spirit of manhood in the country. If we succeed, as we hope to do, will not the people of Ireland be deprived of the honour and glory of dying like dogs? If we succeed, the cry of a famine-stricken nation may never again be heard on the face of the earth. If we succeed, our exiled countrymen will not have to hang their heads for shame when they are “taunted” (as the Bishop of Toronto said) with the misery of their country; and foreign cities will cease to be “corrupted by Irish workhouse girls.” If we succeed, the wail of the emigrant will be no longer borne upon the summer breeze and the wintry winds. If we succeed, the Irishman will be no more the trembling serf of an irresponsible master, but can look the world in the face, standing upon his own land, and owning no lord but the Lord of All. And – greatest crime of all – our success may disturb for a season the holy reveries of reverend, right reverend, and most reverend divines, who can contemplate with pious rapture the agonies which haunt the straw pallet – but never rustle the silken curtains of the bed of down.
For this we are denounced. But there is nothing new in the denunciation. Are we not old enough to remember the Young Ireland party? Were they not denounced from numberless altars, as “infidels,” as “traitors” – even as murderers? Did not the prayer ascend from an Irish altar – that the blackened corpse of SMITH O’BRIEN might swing from the gallows? Was not JOHN MITCHEL driven to declare that there was no hope for Ireland till her whole people should be excommunicated “with bell, book, and candle?” ‘Tis an old story. We ought to have it by heart long ago.
But if ours were the impious intention to bring the religion of the majority of our countrymen, or its ministers, into contempt – though we had the genius of a dozen VOLTAIRES, we could not do as much in a year towards that end, as the priest who pronounces it a mortal sin to read the IRISH PEOPLE does in an hour.