James Connolly


Father MacErlean, S.J., and a Labour Publication


Catholic Times, 8 November 1912

In the issue of the Catholic Times of October 18 there appeared a long article upon the above subject by Father MacErlean, S.J., upon which I crave the permission of the Editor to make a few comments. In craving this permission I, of course, assume that the Editor is not at all responsible for the totally disingenuous insinuation of the article in question that my little book was, or is, “a rehash for unthinking Protestant prejudice”, or that because my address is in Belfast I must therefore be under suspicion by all true Catholics. The book was primarily written for and first published in Dublin amongst people of our own Catholic Faith; and we can afford to treat with contempt the suggestion that the Catholics living in Belfast and bearing the brunt of the struggle against Orangeism must also bear the odium of suspicion amongst Catholics elsewhere because of that very Orange bigotry from which they are the sufferers.

Father MacErlean’s Indictment

Father MacErlean says: “Mr. Connolly’s Catholicity may be gauged by his profession of Socialism; his thoughtfulness is disposed of by the exhibition he has given of his ignorance of history; and his candour may be judged from his falsification and misrepresentation of facts.” After this indictment one would expect to read at least some little proof of the “ignorance”, “falsification”, and “misrepresentation” so blatantly alleged, for in public controversy we do not expect a clergyman to be less honourable than a layman, and to frame such an indictment and then to calmly walk away and leave it totally unsupported would not be considered honourable nowadays by any reputable lay writer. Yet this is what Father MacErlean has done. The sneer at my Socialism we can leave unheeded save for the passing remark that as no Catholic doctrine forbids the State to hold a thousand acres of land it cannot therefore be immoral for it to hold a million acres; if it, the State, has the moral right to own a square mile of land, it cannot be denied the moral right to own 32,524 square miles – the total area of Ireland. Or, if it can be denied such right, at what point of magnitude does the extent of its possessions become immoral? And if the State can,

According to Catholic Doctrine,

morally own and conduct factories for the production of death-dealing instruments of war, as at Woolwich, why may it not own and conduct factories for the production of life-supporting articles, such as food, clothing, and other necessaries? And if it is permissible according to Catholic doctrine that Democracy should be applied to the government of countries, it cannot be immoral for Catholics to advocate the democratic ownership and control of workshops, fields, mills, and factories. If this is conceded – and it cannot logically be refused – then my Socialism is consistent with Catholicism, and we can leave my critic to waste his sneers upon some crude and fantastic Socialism of his own imaginings, but unrecognised in the authorised Socialist programmes of the world.

In a column and a half of an article ostensibly an onslaught upon my poor self the critic does not once quote any words of my own, but spreads himself upon a

Quotation from a Book by Judge Maguire

of the Supreme Court of California, and upon an opinion expressed in a review of my book by a writer in the Daily Herald. The opinion expressed by the latter writer upon the real attitude of the Pope and the higher clergy of Ireland towards Home Rule are his own opinions presumably, but I have never expressed myself upon the matter (having no means of informing myself reliably upon the question), despite the unwarranted assertion of my reverend critic. But of the substantial accuracy of the statement of Judge Maguire whatever Father MacErlean may say, there is ample historical confirmation. Let me quote it again: “Under all their Catholic Majesties from Henry II to Henry VIII (nearly four hundred years), the Irish people, with the exception of five families, were outlaws. They were murdered at will, like dogs, by their English Catholic neighbours in Ireland, and there was no law to punish the murderers. Yet during all of this unparalleled reign of terror history fails to record a single instance in which the power of the Catholic Church was ever exerted or suggested by the Pope for the protection of her faithful Irish children.” To refute this Father MacErlean cites

A Letter from Pope John XXII

to the Papal Nuncio in 1317 urging King Edward II to take steps for the “immediate correction and reformation of the aforesaid grievances,” and carefully avoiding any explanation of the accompanying circumstances, he seeks to create the impression that this is a crushing refutation of the statement of Judge Maguire. What were the circumstances attendant upon that letter? Donald O’Neill, King of Ulster, and a number of other Irish princes had united in sending to his Holiness a Remonstrance setting forth the sufferings of Ireland under the English, and the determination of the Irish to end those sufferings. They informed his Holiness that they had no hope of getting justice from the English King, and had invited the brother of Robert the Bruce of Scotland to aid them in throwing off the English yoke. Pope John XXII responded by sending a letter to King Edward counselling him to take steps for the “immediate correction and reformation of the aforesaid grievances,” “lest,” the letter goes on to say, “it might be too late hereafter to apply a remedy when the spirit of revolt has grown stronger.” It might be difficult to say whether this was intervention on behalf of the Irish, or rather intervention on behalf of English dominion over the Irish, but that there might be no doubt about his meaning the Pope also threatened with excommunication all those Irish who refused to trust to the clemency of an English King, but preferred to take up arms for the holy cause of their national independence. Father MacErlean says: “We do not know of Mr. Connolly as distinguished for historical research.” Alas, we are utterly crushed by thinking of the things Father MacErlean does not know of, but surely even Father MacErlean must know of

Father D’Alton,

a brother clergyman and author of a History of Ireland which, although but recently published, has already become a standard work of reference. Here is how Father D’Alton tells of the incident we are discussing. Will the reader please compare his account with the garbled and utterly misleading version given by our reverend critic? Father D’Alton says: “Donald O’Neill reminded the Pope that one of his predecessors, Adrian IV, led by false representations and by his partiality for England, had granted Henry II dominion over Ireland, but that he had done so for the good of Ireland itself and in the hope that it would prosper under English rule. He now instanced the evils his country had suffered and was suffering still; his countrymen and himself had no hope of getting justice from England, and had in consequence invited Edward Bruce, brother of King Robert of Scotland, to come and reign over them, and they hoped he would receive the Pope’s blessing and support. John XXII did not grant the prayer of the Remonstrance; he had no love for the Bruces, King Robert was already excommunicated, and far from approving Edward Bruce’s invasion he even warned the Irish against supporting it, and threatened with excommunication those who did.

Thus Father D’Alton on pages 282-283 of Volume I, and in confirmation of his account he quotes in a note from Volume I, page 275, of Leland, and from Volume III, pages 19 and 20, of Lingard. In fact, no reputable historian tells the story otherwise. Although some slur over the account of the threatened excommunication of the patriotic Irish, it was left for my critic to attempt to give a totally wrong impression of the matter by telling one part of the story and suppressing the other and the most vital part.

For the other incidents mentioned in refutation of Judge Maguire’s statement suffice it to say that they all appear to have been interventions on behalf of the right of the Holy See to control all ecclesiastical appointments in Ireland (as elsewhere), and against the continual encroachments of the English monarchy in

Matters of Church Government.

In short, they were not interventions on behalf of the Irish people, but were interventions in assertion of the immunity of ecclesiastical powers from civil control. On some occasions they worked out in favour of the Irish, on more occasions they operated in favour of English rule in Ireland, but on all occasions they were inspired primarily by considerations for the welfare of the Church. I find no fault with this, nor yet do I waste time by carping at its effects. First as an Irish Nationalist and latterly as a Socialist I have always accepted and understood the doctrine so well expressed by Father MacErlean that the Holy See must always “acknowledge the de facto government in any country without examining or deciding the question of its rightful title.” But the considerations which compel the Holy See as such to recognise the de facto government, and the de facto social order, are not binding upon individual Catholics, and we therefore retain to the full all our rights and prerogatives as citizens and workers for social betterment, without abating necessarily one jot of our Catholicity. As individual Catholics we claim it as our right, nay, as our duty, to refuse allegiance to any power or social system whose authority to rule over us we believe to be grounded upon injustice.


Last updated on 19.8.2007