In the preceding chapter I attempted to estimate the influence of our political leaders as a potential and as an actual force. I come now to the second great influence upon the thought and action of the Irish people, the influence of religion, especially the power exercised by the priests and by the unrivalled organisation of the Roman Catholic Church. I do not share the pessimism which sees in this potent influence nothing but the shackles of mediævalism restraining its adherents from falling into line with the progress of the age. I shall, indeed, have to admit much of what is charged against the clerical leaders of popular thought in Ireland, but I shall be able to show, I hope, that these leaders are largely the product of a situation which they themselves did not create, and that not only are they as susceptible as are the political leaders to the influences of progressive movements, but that they can be more readily induced to take part in their promotion. In no other country in the world, probably, is religion so dominant an element in the daily life of the people as in Ireland, and certainly nowhere else has the minister of religion so wide and undisputed an authority. It is obvious, therefore, that, however foreign such a theme may prima facie appear to the scope and aim of the present volume, I have no choice but to analyse frankly and as fully as my personal experience justifies, what I conceive to be the true nature, the salutary limits, and the actual scope of clerical influence in this country.
But before I can discuss what I may call the religious situation, there is one fundamental question--a question which will appear somewhat strange to anyone not in touch with Irish life--which I must, with a view to a general agreement on essentials, submit to some of my co-religionists. In all seriousness I would ask, whether in their opinion the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland is to be tolerated. If the answer be in the negative, I can only reply that any efforts to stamp out the Roman Catholic faith would fail as they did in the past; and the practical minds among those I am now addressing must admit that in toleration alone is to be found the solution of that part of the Irish difficulty which is due to sectarian animosities.
This brings us face to face with the question, What is religious toleration--I do not mean as a pious sentiment which we are all conscious of ourselves possessing in a truer sense than that in which it is possessed by others, but rather toleration as an essential of the liberty which we Protestants enjoy under the British Constitution, and boast that all other creeds equally enjoy? Perhaps I had better state simply how I answer this question in my own mind. Toleration by the Irish minority, in regard to the religious faith and ecclesiastical system of the Irish majority, implies that we admit the right of Rome to say what Roman Catholics shall believe and what outward forms they shall observe, and that they shall not suffer before the State for these beliefs and observances. I do not think exception can be taken to the statement that toleration in this narrow sense cannot be refused consistently with the fundamental principles of British government.
Now, however, comes a less obvious, but, as I think, no less essential condition of toleration in the sense above indicated. The Roman Catholic Hierarchy claim the right to exercise such supervision and control over the education of their flock as will enable them to safe-guard faith and morals as preached and practised by their Church. I concede this second claim as a necessary corollary of the first. Having lived most of my life among Roman Catholics--two branches of my own family belonging to that religion--I am aware that this control is an essential part of the whole fabric of Roman Catholicism. Whether the basis of authority upon which that system is founded be in its origin divine or human is beside the point. If we profess to tolerate the faith and religious system of the majority of our countrymen we must at least concede the conditions essential to the maintenance of both the one and the other, unless our tolerance is to be a sham.
So far all liberal-minded Protestants, who know what Roman Catholicism is, will be with me; and for the main purposes of the argument contained in this chapter it is not necessary to interpret toleration in any wider sense than that which I have indicated. Many Protestants, among whom I am one, do, it is true, make a further concession to the claim of our Roman Catholic fellow-countrymen. We would give them in Ireland facilities for higher education which we would not give them in England, and we would advocate liberal endowment by the State to this end. But this attitude is, I admit, based upon something more than tolerance, and those who would withhold this concession need not be accused of bigotry or intolerance for so doing. They may be, and often are, actuated by the most liberal motives, by a perfectly legitimate conception of educational principles, or by other considerations which are neither of a narrow nor sectarian character.
I need hardly say that in criticising religious systems and their ministers I have not the faintest intention of entering on the discussion of doctrinal issues. I am, of course, here concerned with only those aspects of the religious situation which bear directly on secular life. I am endeavouring, it must be remembered, to arrive at a comprehensive and accurate appreciation of the chief influences which mould the character, guide the thought, and, therefore, direct the action of the Irish people as citizens of this world and of their own country. From this standpoint let us try to make a dispassionate survey of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism in Ireland, and see wherein their votaries fulfil, or fail to fulfil, their mission in advancing our common civilisation. Let us examine, in a word, not merely the direct influence which the creed of each of the two sections of Irishmen produces on the industrial character of its adherents, but also its indirect effects upon the mutual relations and regard for each other of Protestants and Roman Catholics.
Protestantism has its stronghold in the great industrial centres of the North and among the Presbyterian farmers of five or six Ulster counties. These communities, it is significant to note, have developed the essentially strenuous qualities which, no doubt, they brought from England and Scotland. In city life their thrift, industry, and enterprise, unsurpassed in the United Kingdom, have built up a world-wide commerce. In rural life they have drawn the largest yield from relatively infertile soil. Such, in brief, is the achievement of Ulster Protestantism in the realm of industry. It is a story of which, when a united Ireland becomes more than a dream, all Irishmen will be proud.
But there is, unhappily, another side to the picture. This industrial life, otherwise so worthily cultivated, is disturbed by manifestations of religious bigotry which sadly tarnish the glory of the really heroic deeds they are intended to commemorate. It is impossible for any close observer of these deplorable exhibitions to avoid the conclusion that the embers of the old fires are too often fanned by men who are actuated by motives, which, when not other than religious, are certainly based upon an unworthy conception of religion. I am quite aware that it is only a small and decreasing minority of my co-religionists who are open to the charge of intolerance, and that the geographical limits of the July orgy are now strictly circumscribed. But this bigotry is so notorious, as for instance in the exclusion of Roman Catholics from many responsible positions, that it unquestionably reacts most unfavourably upon the general relations between the two creeds throughout the whole of Ireland. The existence of such a spirit of suspicion and hatred, from whatever motive it emanates, is bound to retard our progress as a people towards the development of a healthy and balanced national life.
Many causes have recently contributed to the unhappy continuance of sectarian animosities in Ireland. The Ritualistic movement and the struggle over the Education Bill in England, the renewed controversy on the University Question in Ireland, instances of bigotry towards Protestants displayed by County, District, and Urban Councils in the three southern provinces of Ireland, the formation of the Catholic Association, the question of the form of the King's oath, and, more remotely, the protest against clericalism in such Roman Catholic countries as France and Austria, have one and all helped to keep alive the flame of anti-Roman feeling among Irish Protestants.
There are, happily, other influences now at work in a contrary direction. Among the industrial leaders a better spirit prevails. A well-known Ulster manufacturer told me recently that only a few years ago, when an applicant for employment appeared at certain Northern factories, which my friend named, the first question always put was, 'Are you a Protestant or Roman Catholic?' Now, he said, it is not what a man believes, but what he can do, which is considered when engaging workers. And outside the cities there are most gratifying signs of better relations between the two creeds. We are on the eve of the creation of a peasant proprietary, involving the rehabilitation of rural life, and one essential condition of the successful inauguration of the new agrarian order is the elimination of anything approaching to sectarian bitterness in communities which will require every advantage derivable from joint deliberation and common effort to enable them to hold their own against foreign competition. I recall a trivial but significant incident in the course of my Irish work which left a deep impression on my mind. After attending a meeting of farmers in a very backward district in the extreme west of Mayo, I arrived one winter's evening at the Roman Catholic priest's house. Before the meeting I had been promised a cup of tea, which, after a long, cold drive, was more than acceptable. When I presented myself at the priest's house, what was my astonishment at finding the Protestant clergyman presiding over a steaming urn and a plate of home-made cakes, having been requested to do the honours by his fellow-minister, who had been called away to a sick bed. A cycle of homilies on the virtue of tolerance could add nothing to the simple lesson which these two clergymen gave to the adherents of both their creeds. I felt as I went on my way that night that I had had a glimpse into the kind of future for Ireland towards which my fellow-workers are striving.
It is, however, with the religion of the majority of the Irish people and with its influence upon the industrial character of its adherents that I am chiefly concerned. Roman Catholicism strikes an outsider as being in some of its tendencies non-economic, if not actually anti-economic. These tendencies have, of course, much fuller play when they act on a people whose education has (through no fault of their own) been retarded or stunted. The fact is not in dispute, but the difficulty arises when we come to apportion the blame between ignorance on the part of the people and a somewhat one-sided religious zeal on the part of large numbers of their clergy. I do not seek to do so with any precision here. I am simply adverting to what has appeared to me, in the course of my experience in Ireland, to be a defect in the industrial character of Roman Catholics which, however caused, seems to me to have been intensified by their religion. The reliance of that religion on authority, its repression of individuality, and its complete shifting of what I may call the moral centre of gravity to a future existence--to mention no other characteristics--appear to me calculated, unless supplemented by other influences, to check the growth of the qualities of initiative and self-reliance, especially amongst a people whose lack of education unfits them for resisting the influence of what may present itself to such minds as a kind of fatalism with resignation as its paramount virtue.
It is true that one cannot expect of any church or religion, as a condition of its acceptance, that it will furnish an economic theory; and it is also true that Roman Catholicism has, at different periods of history, advantageously affected economic conditions, even if it did not act from distinctively economic motives--for example, by its direct influence in the suppression of slavery and its creation of the mediæval craft guilds. It may, too, be admitted that during the Middle Ages, when Roman Catholicism was freer than now to manifest its influence in many directions, owing to its practically unchallenged supremacy, it favoured, when it did not originate, many forms of sound economic activity, and was, to say the least, abreast of the time in its conception of the working of economic causes. But from the time when the Reformation, by its demand for what we Protestants conceive to be a simpler Christianity, drove Roman Catholicism back, if I may use the expression, on its first line of defence, and constrained it to look to its distinctively spiritual heritage, down to the present day, it has seemed to stand strangely aloof from any contact with industrial and economic issues. When we consider that in this period Adam Smith lived and died, the industrial revolution was effected, and the world-market opened, it is not surprising that we do not find Roman Catholic countries in the van of economic progress, or even the Roman Catholic element in Protestant countries, as a rule, abreast of their fellow-countrymen. It would, however, be an error to ignore some notable exceptions to this generalisation. In Belgium, in France, in parts of Germany and Austria, and in the north of Italy economic thought is making headway amongst Roman Catholics, and the solution of social problems is being advanced by Roman Catholic laymen and clergymen. Even in these countries, however, much remains to be done. The revolution in the industrial order, and its consequences, such as the concentration of immense populations within restricted areas, have brought with them social and moral evils that must be met with new weapons. In the interests of religion itself, principles first expounded to a Syrian community with the most elementary physical needs and the simplest of avocations, have to be taught in their application to the conditions of the most complex social organisation and economic life. Taking people as we find them, it may be said with truth that their lives must be wholesome before they can be holy, and while a voluntary asceticism may have its justification, it behoves a Church to see that its members, while fully acknowledging the claims of another life, should develop the qualities which make for well-being in this life. In fact, I believe that the influence of Christianity upon social progress will be best maintained by co-ordinating these spiritual and economic ideals in a philosophy of life broader and truer than any to which the nations have yet attained.
What I have just been saying with regard to Roman Catholicism generally, in relation to economic doctrines and industrial progress, applies, of course, with a hundred fold pertinence to the case of Ireland. Between the enactment of the first Penal Laws and the date of Roman Catholic Emancipation, Irish Roman Catholics were, to put it mildly, afforded scant opportunity, in their own country, of developing economic virtues or achieving industrial success. Ruthlessly deprived of education, are they to be blamed if they did not use the newly acquired facilities to the best advantage? With their religion looked on as the badge of legal and social inferiority, was it any wonder that priests and people alike, while clinging with unexampled fidelity to their creed, remained altogether cut off from the current of material prosperity? Excluded, as they were, not merely from social and political privileges, but from the most ordinary civil rights, denied altogether the right of ownership of real property, and restricted in the possession of personalty, is it any wonder that they are not to-day in the van of industrial and commercial progress? Nay, more, was it to have been expected that the character of a people so persecuted and ostracised should have come out of the ordeal of centuries with its adaptability and elasticity unimpaired? That would have been impossible. Those who are intimate with the Roman Catholic people of Ireland, and at the same time familiar with their history, will recognise in their character and mental outlook many an inheritance of that epoch of serfdom. I speak, of course, of the mass, for I am not unmindful of many exceptions to this generalisation.
But I must now pass on to a more definite consideration of the present action and attitude of the Irish Roman Catholic clergy towards the economic, educational, and other issues discussed in this book. The reasons which render such a consideration necessary are obvious. Even if we include Ulster, three quarters of the Irish people are Roman Catholics, while, excluding the Northern province, quite nine-tenths of the population belong to that religion. Again, the three thousand clergymen of that denomination exercise an influence over their flocks not merely in regard to religious matters, but in almost every phase of their lives and conduct, which is, in its extent and character, quite unique, even, I should say, amongst Roman Catholic communities. To a Protestant, this authority seems to be carried very far beyond what the legitimate influence of any clergy over the lay members of their congregation should be. We are, however, dealing with a national life explicable only by reference to a very exceptional and gloomy history of religious persecution. What I may call the secular shortcomings of the Roman Catholics in Ireland cannot be fairly judged except as the results of a series of enactments by which they were successively denied almost all means of succeeding as citizens of this world.
From such study as I have been able to give to the history of their Church, I have come to the conclusion that the immense power of the Irish Roman Catholic clergy has been singularly little abused. I think it must be admitted that they have not exhibited in any marked degree bigotry towards Protestants. They have not put obstacles in the way of the Roman Catholic majority choosing Protestants for political leaders, and it is significant that refugees, such as the Palatines, from Catholic persecutions in Europe, found at different times a home amongst the Roman Catholic people of Ireland. My own experience, too, if I may again refer to that, distinctly proves that it is no disadvantage to a man to be a Protestant in Irish political life, and that where opposition is shown to him by Roman Catholics it is almost invariably on political, social, or agrarian, but not on religious grounds.
A charge of another kind has of late been often brought against the Roman Catholic clergy, which has a direct bearing upon the economic aspect of this question. Although, as I read Irish history, the Roman Catholic priesthood have, in the main, used their authority with personal disinterestedness, if not always with prudence or discretion, their undoubted zeal for religion has, on occasion, assumed forms which enlightened Roman Catholics, including high dignitaries of that Church, think unjustifiable on economic grounds, and discourage even from a religious standpoint. Excessive and extravagant church-building in the heart and at the expense of poor communities is a recent and notorious example of this misdirected zeal. It has been, I believe, too often forgotten that the best monument of any clergyman's influence and earnestness must always be found in the moral character and the spiritual fibre of his flock, and not in the marbles and mosaics of a gaudy edifice. And without doubt a good many motives which have but a remote connection with religion are, unfortunately, at work in the church-building movement. It may, however, to some extent, be regarded as an extreme re-action from the penal times, when the hunted soggarth had to celebrate the Mass in cabins and caves on the mountain side--a re-action the converse of which was witnessed in Protestant England when Puritanism rose up against Anglicanism in the seventeenth century. This expenditure, however, has been incurred; and, no one, I take it, would advocate the demolition of existing religious edifices on the ground that their erection had been unduly costly! The moral is for the present and the future, and applies not merely to economy in new buildings, but also in the decoration of existing churches.
But it is not alone extravagant church building which in a country so backward as Ireland, shocks the economic sense. The multiplication--in inverse ratio to a declining population--of costly and elaborate monastic and conventual institutions, involving what in the aggregate must be an enormous annual expenditure for maintenance, is difficult to reconcile with the known conditions of the country. Most of these institutions, it is true, carry on educational work, often, as in the case of the Christian Brothers and some colleges and convents, of an excellent kind. Many of them render great services to the poor, and especially to the sick poor. But, none the less, it seems to me, their growth in number and size is anomalous. I cannot believe that so large an addition to the 'unproductive' classes is economically sound, and I have no doubt at all that the competition with lay teachers of celibates 'living in community' is excessive and educationally injurious. Strongly as I hold the importance of religion in education, I personally do not think that teachers who have renounced the world and withdrawn from contact with its stress and strain are the best moulders of the characters of youths who will have to come into direct conflict with the trials and temptations of life. But here again we must accept the situation and work with the instruments ready to hand. The practical and statesmanlike action for all those concerned is to endeavour to render these institutions as efficient educational agencies as may be possible. They owe their existence largely to the gaps in the educational system of this country which religious and political strife have produced and maintained, and they deserve the utmost credit for endeavouring to supply missing steps in our educational ladder. If they now fully respond to the spirit of the new movements and meet the demand for technical education by the employment of the most approved methods and equipment, and by the thorough training on sound lines of their staffs, it is impossible that their influence on the young generation should not be as salutary as it will be wide-reaching.
But, after all, these criticisms are, for the purposes of my argument, of minor relevance and importance. The real matter in which the direct and personal responsibility of the Roman Catholic clergy seems to me to be involved, is the character and morale of the people of this country. No reader of this book will accuse me of attaching too little weight to the influence of historical causes on the present state, social, economic and political, of Ireland, but even when I have given full consideration to all such influences I still think that, with their unquestioned authority in religion, and their almost equally undisputed influence in education, the Roman Catholic clergy cannot be exonerated from some responsibility in regard to Irish character as we find it to-day. Are they, I would ask, satisfied with that character? I cannot think so. The impartial observer will, I fear, find amongst a majority of our people a striking absence of self-reliance and moral courage; an entire lack of serious thought on public questions; a listlessness and apathy in regard to economic improvement which amount to a form of fatalism; and, in backward districts, a survival of superstition, which saps all strength of will and purpose--and all this, too, amongst a people singularly gifted by nature with good qualities of mind and heart.
Nor can the Roman Catholic clergy altogether console themselves with the thought that religious faith, even when free from superstition, is strong in the breasts of the people. So long, no doubt, as Irish Roman Catholics remain at home, in a country of sharply defined religious classes, and with a social environment and a public opinion so preponderatingly stamped with their creed, open defections from Roman Catholicism are rare. But we have only to look at the extent of the 'leakage' from Roman Catholicism amongst the Irish emigrants in the United States and in Great Britain, to realise how largely emotional and formal must be the religion of those who lapse so quickly in a non-Catholic atmosphere.
It is not, of course, to the causes of the defections from a creed to which I do not subscribe that my criticism is directed. I refer to the matter only in order to emphasise the large share of responsibility which belongs to the Roman Catholic clergy for what I strongly believe to be the chief part in the work of national regeneration, the part compared with which all legislative, administrative, educational or industrial achievements are of minor importance. Holding, as I do, that the building of character is the condition precedent to material, social and intellectual advancement, indeed to all national progress, I may, perhaps, as a lay citizen, more properly criticise, from this point of view, what I conceive to be the great defect in the methods of clerical influence. For this purpose no better illustration could be afforded than a brief analysis of the results of the efforts made by the Roman Catholic clergy to inculcate temperance.
Among temperance advocates--the most earnest of all reformers--the Roman Catholic clergy have an honourable record. An Irish priest was the greatest, and, for a brief spell, the most successful temperance apostle of the last century, and statistics, it is only fair to say, show that we Irish drink rather less than people in other parts of the United Kingdom. But the real question is whether we more often drink to intoxication, and police statistics as well as common experience seem to disclose that we do. Many a temperate man drinks more in his life than many a village drunkard. Again, the test of the average consumption of man, woman and child is somewhat misleading, especially in Ireland where, owing to the excessive emigration of adults, there is a disproportionately large number of very young and old. Moreover, we Irish drink more in proportion to our means than the English, Scotch, and Welsh, whose consumption is absolutely larger. Anyone who attempts to deal practically with the problems of industrial development in Ireland realises what a terribly depressing influence the drink evil exercises upon the industrial capacity of the people. 'Ireland sober is Ireland free,' is nearer the truth, than much that is thought and most of what is said about liberty in this country.
Now, the drink habit in Ireland differs from that of the other parts of the United Kingdom. The Irishman is, in my belief, physiologically less subject to the craving for alcohol than the Englishman, a fact which is partially attributable, I should say, to the less animal dietary to which he is accustomed. By far the greater proportion of the drinking which retards our progress is of a festive character. It takes place at fairs and markets, sometimes, even yet, at 'wakes,' those ghastly parodies on the blessed consolation of religion in bereavement. It is intensified by the almost universal sale of liquor in the country shops 'for consumption on the premises,' an evil the demoralising effects of which are an hundredfold greater than those of the 'grocer's licences' which temperance reformers so strenuously denounce. It is an evil in defence of which nothing can be said, but it has somehow escaped the effective censure of the Church.
The indiscriminate granting of licences in Ireland, which has resulted in the provision of liquor shops in a proportion to the population larger than is found in any other country, is in itself due mainly to the moral cowardice of magistrates, who do not care to incur local unpopularity by refusing licences for which there is no pretence of any need beyond that of the applicant and his relatives. Not long ago the magistrates of Ireland met in Dublin in order to inaugurate common action in dealing with this scandal. Appropriate resolutions were passed, and much good has already resulted from the meeting, but had the unvarnished truth been admissible, the first and indeed the only necessary resolution should have run, "Resolved that in future we be collectively as brave as we have been individually timid, and that we take heart of grace and carry away from this meeting sufficient strength to do, in the exercise of our functions as the licensing authority, what we have always known to be our plain duty to our country and our God." No such resolution was proposed, for though patriotism is becoming real in Ireland, it is not yet very robust.
I do not think it unfair to insist upon the large responsibility of the clergy for the state of public opinion in this matter, to which the few facts I have cited bear testimony. But I attribute their failure to deal with a moral evil of which they are fully cognisant to the fact that they do not recognise the chief defect in the character of the people, and to a misunderstanding of the means by which that character can be strengthened. There are, however, exceptions to this general statement. It is of happy augury for the future of Ireland that many of the clergy are now leading a temperance movement which shows a real knowledge of the causa causans of Irish intemperance. The Anti-Treating League, as it is called, administers a novel pledge which must have been conceived in a very understanding mind. Those enlisted undertake neither to treat nor to be treated. They may drink, so far as the pledge is concerned, as much as they like; but they must drink at their own expense; and others must not drink at their expense. The good nature and sociability of Irishmen, too often the mere result of inability to say 'no,' need not be sacrificed. But even if they were, the loss of these social graces would be far more than compensated by a self-respect and seriousness of life out of which something permanent might be built. Still, even this League makes no direct appeal to character, and so acts rather as a cure for than as a preventive of our moral weakness.
The methods by which clerical influence is wielded in the inculcation of chastity may be criticised from exactly the same standpoint as that from which I have found it necessary to deal with the question of temperance. Here the success of the Irish priesthood is, considering the conditions of peasant life, and the fire of the Celtic temperament, absolutely unique. No one can deny that almost the entire credit of this moral achievement belongs to the Roman Catholic clergy. It may be said that the practice of a virtue, even if the motive be of an emotional kind, becomes a habit, and that habit proverbially develops into a second nature. With this view of moral evolution I am in entire accord; but I would ask whether the evolution has not reached a stage where a gradual relaxation of the disciplinary measures by which chastity is insured might be safely allowed without any danger of lowering the high standard of continence which is general in Ireland and which of course it is of supreme importance to maintain.
There are, however, many parishes where in this matter the strictest discipline is rigorously enforced Amusements, not necessarily or even often vicious, are objected to as being fraught with dangers which would never occur to any but the rigidly ascetic or the puritanical mind. In many parishes the Sunday cyclist will observe the strange phenomenon of a normally light-hearted peasantry marshalled in male and female groups along the road, eyeing one another in dull wonderment across the forbidden space through the long summer day. This kind of discipline, unless when really necessary, is open to the objection that it eliminates from the education of life, especially during the formative years, an essential of culture--the mutual understanding of the sexes. The evil of grafting upon secular life a quasi-monasticism which, not being voluntary, has no real effect upon the character, may perhaps involve moral consequences little dreamed of by the spiritual guardians of the people. A study of the pathology of the emotions might throw doubt upon the safety of enforced asceticism when unaccompanied by the training which the Church wisely prescribes for those who take the vow of celibacy. But of my own knowledge I can speak only of another aspect of the effect upon our national life of the restrictions to which I refer. No Irishmen are more sincerely desirous of staying the tide of emigration than the Roman Catholic clergy, and while, wisely as I think, they do not dream of a wealthy Ireland, they earnestly work for the physical and material as well as the spiritual well-being of their flocks. And yet no man can get into the confidence of the emigrating classes without being told by them that the exodus is largely due to a feeling that the clergy are, no doubt from an excellent motive, taking joy--innocent joy--from the social side of the home life.
To go more fully into these subjects might carry me beyond the proper limits of lay criticism. But, clearly, large questions of clerical training must suggest themselves to those to whom their discussion properly belongs--whether, for example, there is not in the instances which I have cited evidence of a failure to understand that mere authority in the regions of moral conduct cannot have any abiding effect, except in the rarest combination of circumstances, and with a very primitive people. Do not many of these clergy ignore the vast difference between the ephemeral nature of moral compulsion and the enduring force of a real moral training?
I have dealt with the exercise of clerical influence in these matters as being, at any rate in relation to the subject matter of this book, far more important than the evil commonly described as "The Priest in Politics." That evil is, in my opinion, greatly misrepresented. The cases of priests who take an improper part in politics are cited without reference to the vastly greater number who take no part at all, except when genuinely assured that a definite moral issue is at stake. I also have in my mind the question of how we should have fared if the control of the different Irish agitations had been confined to laymen, and if the clergy had not consistently condemned secret associations. But whatever may be said in defence of the priest in politics in the past, there are the strongest grounds for deprecating a continuance of their political activity in the future. As I gauge the several forces now operating in Ireland, I am convinced that if an anti-clerical movement similar to that which other Roman Catholic countries have witnessed, were to succeed in discrediting the priesthood and lowering them in public estimation, it would be followed by a moral, social, and political degradation which would blight, or at least postpone, our hopes of a national regeneration. From this point of view I hold that those clergymen who are predominantly politicians endanger the moral influence which it is their solemn duty to uphold. I believe however, that the over-active part hitherto taken in politics by the priests is largely the outcome of the way in which Roman Catholics were treated in the past, and that this undesirable feature in Irish life will yield, and is already yielding to the removal of the evils to which it owed its origin and in some measure its justification.
One has only to turn to the spirit and temper of such representative Roman Catholics as Archbishop Healy and Dr. Kelly, Bishop of Ross--to their words and to their deeds--in order to catch the inspiration of a new movement amongst our Roman Catholic fellow-countrymen at once religious and patriotic. And if my optimism ever wavers, I have but to think of the noble work that many priests are to my own knowledge doing, often in remote and obscure parishes, in the teeth of innumerable obstacles. I call to mind at such times, as pioneers in a great awakening, men like the eminent Jesuit, Father Thomas Finlay, Father Hegarty of Erris, Father O'Donovan of Loughrea, and many others--men with whom I have worked and taken counsel, and who represent, I believe, an ever increasing number of their fellow priests.
My position, then, towards the influence of the Roman Catholic clergy--and this influence is a matter of vital importance to the understanding of Irish problems--- may now be clearly defined. While recognising to the full that large numbers of the Irish Roman Catholic clergy have in the past exercised undue influence in purely political questions, and, in many other matters, social, educational, and economic, have not, as I see things, been on the side of progress, I hold that their influence is now, more than ever before, essential for improving the condition of the most backward section of the population. Therefore I feel it to be both the duty and the strong interest of my Protestant fellow-countrymen to think much less of the religious differences which divide them from Roman Catholics, and much more of their common citizenship and their common cause. I also hold with equal strength and sincerity to the belief, which I have already expressed, that the shortcomings of the Roman Catholic clergy are largely to be accounted for, not by any innate tendency on their part towards obscurantism, but by the sad history of Ireland in the past. I would appeal to those of my co-religionists who think otherwise to suspend their judgment for a time. That Roman Catholicism is firmly established in Ireland is a fact of the situation which they must admit, and as this involves the continued powerful influence of the priesthood upon the character of the people, it is surely good policy by liberality and fair dealing, especially in the matter of education, to turn this influence towards the upbuilding of our national life.
To sum up the influence of religion and religious controversy in Ireland, as it presents itself from the only standpoint from which I have approached the matter in this chapter, namely, that of material, social, and intellectual progress, I find that while the Protestants have given, and continue to give, a fine example of thrift and industry to the rest of the nation, the attitude of a section of them towards the majority of their fellow-countrymen has been a bigoted and unintelligent one. On the other hand, I have learned from practical experience amongst the Roman Catholic people of Ireland that, while more free from bigotry, in the sense in which that word is usually applied, they are apathetic, thriftless, and almost non-industrial, and that they especially require the exercise of strengthening influences on their moral fibre. I have dealt with their shortcomings at much greater length than with those of Protestants, because they have much more bearing on the subject matter of this book. North and South have each virtues which the other lacks; each has much to learn from the other; but the home of the strictly civic virtues and efficiencies is in Protestant Ireland. The work of the future in Ireland will be to break down in social intercourse the barriers of creed as well as those of race, politics, and class, and thus to promote the fruitful contact of North and South, and the concentration of both on the welfare of their common country. In the case of those of us, of whatever religious belief, who look to a future for our country commensurate with the promise of her undeveloped resources both of intellect and soil, it is of the essence of our hope that the qualities which are in great measure accountable for the actual economic and educational backwardness of so many of our fellow-countrymen, and for the intolerance of too many who are not backward in either respect, are not purely racial or sectarian, but are the transitory growth of days and deeds which we must all try to forget if our work for Ireland is to endure.