Connolly on the Catholic Church in Ireland (Connolly, 1910)

1.638-44. James Connolly, Labour, Nationality and Religion: Being a discussion of the Lenten discourses against Socialism delivered by Father Kane, S.J., in Gardiner Street Church, Dublin, 1910, (Dublin: New Books Publications, 1969), pp. 7-8, 14. BL X.108.10090

Extracts from James Connolly, Labour, Nationality and Religion (1910), on the Catholic Church in Ireland.

In the ‘Author’s Foreword’ to his pamphlet, Connolly locates “the recent efforts of ecclesiastics to put the Socialist movement under the ban of the Catholic Church” within the context of broader interference in politics on the part of the Church. He begins by  showing how this distorts the ideal relationship between clergy and laity, whereby the former should ‘serve’ the latter:

¶¶It seems to be unavoidable, but it is entirely regrettable, that clergymen consecrated to the worship of God, and supposed to be patterned after a Redeemer who was the embodiment of service and humility, should in their relation to the laity insist upon service and humility being rendered to them instead of by them. Their Master served all mankind in patience and suffering; they insist upon all mankind serving them, and in all questions of the social and political relations of men they require the common laity to bow the neck in a meekness, humility and submission which the clergy scornfully reject. They have often insisted that the Church is greater than the secular authority, and acted therefore in flat defiance of the secular powers, but they have forgotten or ignored the fact that the laity are a part of the Church, and that, therefore, the right of rebellion against injustice so freely claimed by the Papacy and the hierarchy is also the inalienable right of the laity. And history proves that in almost every case in which the political or social aspirations of the laity came into opposition to the will of the clergy the laity represented the best interests of the Church as a whole and of mankind in general.
¶¶Whenever the clergy succeeded in conquering political power in any country the result has been disastrous to the interests of religion and inimical to the progress of humanity. From whence we arrive at the conclusion that he serves religion best who insists upon the clergy of the Catholic Church taking their proper position as servants of the laity, and abandoning their attempt to dominate the public, as they have long dominated the private life of their fellow-Catholics.

Connolly then turns to the principal subject of his essay, recent sermons delivered by Father Kane condemning Socialism. He places these in a historical context of interference in Irish politics on the part of the Catholic Church, stretching right from the papacy of Adrian IV up to the present day. He stresses the recurrent condemnations on the parts both of the Vatican and the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland of any number of Nationalist and more recently, Socialist movements and points out that these actions have characteristically been at the expense of Ireland’s interests, as part of the Church’s own attempt to serve two masters:

¶¶In all the examples covered by this brief and very incomplete retrospective glance into history the instincts of the reformers and revolutionists have been right, the political theories of the Vatican and the clergy unquestionably wrong. The verdict of history as unquestionably endorses the former as it condemns the latter. And intelligent Catholics everywhere accept that verdict. Insofar as true religion has triumphed, in the hearts of men it has triumphed, in spite of, not because of, the political activities of the priesthood. That political activity in the past, like the clerical opposition to Socialism at present, was and is an attempt to serve God and Mammon — an attempt to combine the service of Him who in His Humbleness rode upon an ass, with the service of those who rode rough-shod over the hearts and souls and hopes of suffering humanity.

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