James Connolly


The Controversy with Father MacErlean, S.J.


Catholic Times, 22 November 1912

He would indeed be a hardened controversialist who could repress a feeling of sympathy for Father MacErlean in his latest pitiful attempt to wriggle out of the absurd position created by his first article on the above subject. By no other name can his article be described. A pitiful wriggle exciting a feeling of sympathetic wonderment that he should rush in so lightly to essay a task for which he was so poorly equipped. An attempt to suppress a material incident in a certain period of Irish history when exposed is airily followed by a declaration that he was not discussing that material incident. Such antics may serve to obscure the issue – and perhaps that is why they are introduced – but that they can deceive the discriminating reader I refuse to believe.

I have proven that the so-called intervention of Pope John XXII in favour of the Irish was in reality an intervention in favour of the English power over the Irish, and a threat to excommunicate all those who preferred the chance of national independence to the hopes or promises of English justice.

The Fact of the Excommunication

was the dominating factor in the national war for national liberty, and an attempt to explain the letter of his Holiness without mentioning that threat of excommunication would be more ridiculous than the proverbial play of Hamlet with Hamlet left out. Yet it is this ridiculous travesty which Father MacErlean attempts to foist upon us as history. Save us from such history! In a similar manner he most disingenuously attempts to misinterpret my statement that I found no fault with, nor spent any time in carping over the obligations resting upon the Holy See to recognise the de facto government in any given country. He says that I admit that “the Popes were justified in recognising the rights of the King of England over those parts of Ireland which had acknowledged his lordship,” but he adds quite gratuitously and unjustifiably that this is an admission of the justice of the act of the Pope in excommunicating all those who refused to acknowledge such lordship, as in the case under discussion. As this point is as vital today as it was then, and is of the last importance to the understanding of

My True Position,

which he is so studiously striving to distort, permit me to again re-state the position as indicated in the conclusion of my last letter.

I admit unquestioningly the obligation resting upon the Holy See to recognize the de facto government and de facto social order in any given country or age. But side by side with, part and parcel of that admission, and not to be divorced from it, I insist upon the right of the individual Catholic to disregard that obligation, and to be a reformer of, or rebel and revolutionist against the government which the Holy See is compelled by its international relations to recognise. Without this right Catholicity would be synonymous with the blackest reaction and opposition to all reform. As an example Ireland is illuminating. For the greater part of seven centuries

The “de facto Government” of Ireland

has been a foreign government imposed upon the country by force, and maintained by the same means. The Holy See was compelled by its position to recognise that government, but the holiest and deepest feelings of the Catholics of Ireland were in rebellion against that government, and in every generation the scaffold and the prison, and the martyr’s grave have been filled in Ireland with devout subjects of the Holy See, but unrelenting enemies of the de facto government of Ireland.

The firm distinction in the minds of Irish Catholics between the duties of the Holy See and the rights of the individual Catholics has been a necessary and saving element in keeping Ireland Catholic, and he, by whatever name he calls himself or to whatever order he belongs, who would seek to destroy that distinction or make acquiescence in the political obligations of the Papacy a cardinal article of Catholic faith is an enemy of the faith and liberties of our people.

My Pamphlet

was and is no more than a setting forth of the above position – illustrated by such references to recorded facts as serve to prove the point that disregard of the political instructions or commands of the Vatican has in the past been practised upon occasions by devout Catholics, and such disregard has been justified by the event. My pamphlet was published for Catholics. I know of no way by which Protestants could be prevented from reading it, were I ever so desirous, but I do not believe that the Catholic Church need fear the result of a difference of opinion, or even a sharp discussion amongst Catholics upon matters of historical interest to all.

We have long since learned that some clergymen are more Catholic than the Pope, and that some others seem to see an enemy in everyone who refuses to see eye to eye with them upon all points as well as upon Church doctrine, but we believe that the hope of the Church is in those who refuse to accept such bull-dozing and who stand by their rights as citizens, whilst observing their duties as Catholics.

Upon the historical points raised – the questions of fact, as, for instance, that of

The Battle of the Boyne

I shall, with the Editor’s permission, write hereafter. But upon the interpretation of such points as, for instance, whether the letter already discussed of Pope John XXII was an “intervention in favour” or a condemnation, I shall not endeavour to further follow Father MacErlean in his casuistry or verbal gymnastics.


Last updated on 12.8.2003