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Irish Protestant Church.
estimated one-fourteenth belonged to the Established Church, or 490,000 souls; Presbyterian, or other dissenters, formed another fourteenth; so that there remained 5,820,000 Catholics. It is a most extraordinary fact, that for the last half century the proportion of Protestants in Ireland has rapidly declined. In 1766, the Protestants formed nearly one-half the population ; in 1822, they formed only one-seventh; while the Catholics had more than quadrupled from 1766 to 1822, the Protestant had scarcely doubled. This striking fact will be more evident from the following statement, drawn up partly from Parliamentary returns, and partly from the estimate of Dr. Beaufort, and other well-informed individuals.
544,865 522,023 980,000
Total 1,871,725 3,783,326 6,800,000 The increase of Protestants, from 1792 to 1822, is chiefly ascribed to the exertions of the Methodists. Here then we have a striking illustration of the efficacy of tithes, and large ecclesiastical endowments, in promoting religion; for it is clear, from the above, that the State religion has declined, in spite of its enormous emoluments. We wonder what Mr. Wilberforce, or any other stickler for Church Establishments, can say to this statement ? Those who are zealous for the promotion of the Reformed Religion, ought not to defend either the Irish or English Established Church, for under both Protestantism has relatively declined. Pure Christianity, indeed, can never be allied to wealth and power ; its precepts and origin are in perfect contrast to the titles, pomps, and vanities of this world. It has no connection with bishops, nor courts, nor palaces; it was cradled in indigence; it flourished from persecution, it denouuced the cant of hypocrites, and never allied itself with the Scribes and Pharisees of authority. They may, indeed, baptize state religions under the name of Christianity, but it has nothing to do with them; they are mere heathen institutions, and their followers more the disciples of Mahomet than of Christ.
Not, however, to digress from our subject. Only one-fourteenth of the population of Ireland belong to the State religion, and yet the mere teachers of this fraction of the community claim one-tenth of the produce that feeds the whole SEVEN MILLIONS! Surely if Church property was intended for religion, it was intended for the religion of the PEOPLE, not for an insignificant minority of them. But this is far from the extent of the
Irish Protestunt Church.
injustice practised towards the Irish. A vast majority of the community are not only compelled to support an obnoxious creed, but are kept in the most opprobrious civil degradation.
First, with respect to their teachers. The Catholic Clergy are in number about 2,000, constantly residing among their flocks, and ministering to their spiritual comforts. This deserving body of men the law pursues with the utmost vindictiveness. If, from inadvertency, or misinformation, they marry two Protestants, or a Protestant and a Catholic, they are liable by law to suffer DEATH. The Act passed for the relief of the Catholics, in 1793, expressly continues this dreadful penalty in force, and, in a recent decision of the Lord-Chief-Justice of Ireland, it was declared to be the law of the land. The Clergy are liable to imprisonment for not disclosing the secrets of auricular confession. This law is in admirable accordance with the late decision of the Collective Wisdom in the case of Sir Abraham Bradley King, the court favourite; by which decision the secrets and symbols of Orange Societies are virtually acknowledged sacred and inviolate. They are bound, by their vows of ordination, to a life of celibacy, and are therefore subject to the Modern Tax, called the Bachelor's Tax. No recompense is given them for the performance of their religious functions; no personal endowment of any Catholic chapel, school-house, or other pious or charitable foundation is valid. Hence, from the absence of all permanent provision for their maintenance, and the general poverty of their followers, they live in indigence and misery. A Catholic priest has seldom the means of comfortable subsistence, is often without a decent place for religious worship, is overpowered by calls for religious exertion, lives in misery, and dies at last without ever tasting these emoluments which formerly belonged to his Church, and which are now showered on the Jocelyn's, Knox's, Saurin's, Plunket's, Beresford's, Daly's, and Trench's of the Establishment.
The Catholic laity live under a similar system of proscription, or rather persecution. The law, and the administration of the law, making them almost aliens in their native land; and the only reason assigned for it is, they worship God after the manner of their ancestors. All Catholics are excluded from seats in Parliament, consequently of the lucrative prospects which that privilege carries along with it. They are denied the exercise of the ELECTIVE FRANCHISE, except on condition of taking certain oaths, and making certain declarations, which are, generally, both expensive and inconvenient. They are excluded from all MUNICIPAL OFFICES: it is calculated that, by various statutes, the Catholics are excluded from about 2,548 principal, and about 1,200 secondary offices in corporations. The consequence of this is
Irish Protestant Church.
extremely harassing, oppressive, and ruinous; they are not only plundered by martial imposts and heavier tolls, but are aggrieved by the undue preferences and greater accommodations granted to their privileged neighbours. They are virtually denied the freedom of all cities and towns, and thus liable to the tolls and duties to which non-freemen are subject. It is true no express law prohibits Catholics from becoming freemen of cities and towns; yet the privileged class, having an immense majority of votes, can always command what depends upon votes; and when the Catholics have acquired by birth, services, or otherwise, a legal right to freedom, can with hold it from them by adjourning the consideration of their claim sine die. This is termed cushioning a petition, and is incessantly practised. They are excluded from various offices in the profession and administration of the law, to the amount of near 1,500, many of which are extremely lucrative. Something has been done to open the navy and army to the Catholics, but it is more in theory than in reality. Of the thousands and tens of thousands of Catholic sailors and soldiers, scarcely one has obtained the lowest promotion. There is no public provision for their religious instruction; and they are still liable to the penalties inflicted by the Articles of War, for not attending the Divine Service established by law. It appeared in Parliament, in 1813, that a meritorious private, for refusing (which he did in the most respectful manner) to attend the religious service of the regiment, was confined nine days in a dungeon upon bread and water.
There are various other offices and immunities interdicted to Catholics, but the above is sufficient to show the ignominious punishment inflicted on a vast majority of the community. Let us next advert to their condition in another respect
The whole of the execrable tithe system resolves itself into the levy of a vexatious and partial impost from the poor, for the sole benefit of the RICH. By a base and selfish law of the Irish Parliament, the aristocracy and gentry are comparatively exempted from tithes, and the burthen falls exclusively on the cotter tenants. It is from the food and labour of a halfstarved peasantry that the fat pluralists and reverend bishops draw their princely revenues. The vexatious and rapacious manner of levying this impost is almost beyond description. The tithes are leased out to a tithefarmer, at a fixed rent, like a farm, while the latter rot unfrequently re-lets them to another. Sometimes the tithe is set out on the premises, and sold by public auction. Nothing escapes the vigilance of the spiritual locust or his agent. No bog, however deep-no mountain, however high-nor heath, nor rock, whatever industry may have reclaimed, or capital fertilized,
Irish Protestant Church.
nothing escapes the spiritual locust; and the full penalty of being made available for the uses of man. The curse of barrenness, annual blight, or mildew, would be more tolerable to Ireland than her ecclesiastical establishment. We are, however, afraid to trust ourselves with the details of the horrid system, and shall hasten to the last division of our subject.
A brief notice of the proceedings of this Session of Parliament, relative to the Irish Church, will shew the little chance there is of improvement from that quarter. We shall merely state facts, without comment.
On the 4th of March, Mr. Hume brought forward his motion for an inquiry into the state of the Irish Church Establishment. After a very able speech, replete with information, on the enormous abuses in the Irish Church, he concluded with moving four resolutions, the substance of which was,--1st. That Church property is public property, and at the disposal of the Legislature. 2. That the revenues of the Irish Church are vastly disproportioned to the numbers and services of the Clergy. 3. That the interests of Ireland would be best promoted by a general commutation of tithes; and, lastly, That a select committee be appointed to consider the best mode of carrying the objects stated in these allegations into effect. The principles of these resolutions were all incontrovertible; but it is hardly necessary to state they were all negatived.
On the 11th of April, Sir John Newport introduced the subject of the First Fruits Fund. The nature of this fund, and the decision of the House respecting it, is more illustrative of Collective Wisdom than the preceding. The First Fruits, as is well known), are the whole first year's income of each ecclesiastical benefice, and were formerly payable in Ireland, as in other countries, to the Pope. In the reign of Henry VIII., when the papal rights were extinguished, this revenue, together with the twentieth, or yearly twelve pence in the pound, payable also to the Pope, was seized by the Crown, and remained annexed to the Crown till the year 1710. In that year Queen Anne (a great admirer of Mother Church), on the advice of the Duke of Ormond, remitted the twentieths to the Clergy, and gave the First Fruits to form a fund for building churches, purchasing glebes, and glebehouses, augmenting poor livings, and other ecclesiastical uses.
The management of this fund was given to trustees, who were, for the most part, the higher dignitaries of the Church, with power to levy the revenue, and “to search out the just and true value” of the benefices of which they were to levy the first year's income from each incumbent who came into possession. The valuation, under which this revenue was levied at the time when it was given to this fund, was made in the time of Henry VIII.
Irish Protestant Church.
and Elizabeth, and was not only of course very low, but did not embrace more than two-thirds of the benefices of Ireland. It was, of course, the duty of the trustees to promote the objects of the fund, to have remedied the inaccuracies, and supplied the defects of this valuation, but this has never been done, and, up to this day, the First Fruits are levied according to that defective valuation; so that this revenue, which should properly be a whole year's income of all the livings which become vacant in each year in Ireland, has only produced, on the average of the last ten years, £290 A-year. What was the consequence ?-why the Collective Wisdom has annually voted large sums out of the pockets of the people for the very objects for which the fund had been appointed. Within the eleven years, ending in 1818, nearly half a million had been voted out of the taxes for purchasing glebes and houses for the Clergy. The exact sum was £498,000, or an average of near £45,000 a-year. Instead of doing this, the commissioners ought to have been compelled to do what the law not only authorised but required them to do. Why the commissioners had not done their duty, and made a fair valuation, was manifest enough; they were also the holders and expectants of large preferments, and a just valuation would be a tax upon THEMSELVES. Ought, however, “ the Guardians of the Public Purse" to have sanctioned this selfish breach of trust? Ouglit they, whose business it is to watch over the interests of the people, yearly to have voted away the public money, for objects for which there was already a legal and adequate provision? This; however, is what they have done; and, as appears from their decision on the motion of Sir John Newport, what they are determined to continue to do. There were; in fact, only EIGHTY-SEVEN honourable members present, and forty-eight voted for the previous question, and thirtynine against it.
It is estimated that, at a fair valuation of Irish' benefices, omitting those under £150 a-year, the First Fruits would produce £40,000 'a-year. It is owing to the deficiencies of this fund, and the consequent non-residence of the Clergy, that the decay of Protestantism is ascribed. Here, one would think, then, was the strongest reasons for the Collective Wisdom to interfere. No innovation, nothing new was attempted; all that was required was, that they should enforce the law of the land, for which, on other occasions, they profess such profound veneration. This they neglected to do; so that, to save the richest Church in the world from contributing to its own necessities, the public will continue to be burthened with a yearly charge for purchasing glebes and houses for Irish parsons, many of whom have already half a dozen houses, and upwards of 2,000 acres of glebe.