Condemnation of the Queen's Colleges

This article was originally published in the 'The Galway Vindicator' on Wednesday, October 27, 1847.

The Holy See has at length pronounced its decision with regard to the New Colleges for Ireland ; and we deeply regret to state that that decision is an absolute and emphatic condemnation of them. This result has been communicated in a rescript from the Propaganda transmitted to the most Rev. Dr. MacHale, and to each of the other Catholic Archbishops of Ireland. The sacred congregation declares that not only does it not dare promise to itself any good from the erection of these colleges ; but dreads that the Catholic faith would thereby be placed in imminent danger in one word, it is convinced that institutions of this sort prove detrimental to religion. Such is the decision of the Holy See, after the most mature deliberation on the deep importance of the question at issue, and duly weighting the great variety of topics that were to be considered. It is a decision which, at the least deserves to be eminently respected, if not implicitly concurred in, not only on account of the sage character of the sacred congregation, but the authority which it possesses with every genuine Catholic.

It must, however, be admitted that it is not a decision that can altogether satisfy the public mind ; and that though of imperative obligation on the Catholic Hierarchy by virtue of their vows of obedience to the decisions of the Holy See, yet is not of obligation on the consciences of lay Catholics only in as far as they may feel convinced that the decision is correct, and that it has been come to upon a thorough knowledge of all the bearings of the question. On this latter point we, for our own part, feel persuaded that the Sacred Congregation could not have been fully informed. The Rescript assigns no grounds whatever for the decision which it embodies. It is true, it alludes to the Sacred Congregation's having devoted much time "to the due examination of the documents and reasons" were the lay Catholics of Ireland know nothing whatever. It was a question that most intimately concerned their interests ; but they have been left wholly in the dark as to the documents and reasons which were submitted to the Propaganda, and upon which it has come to the decision communicated in the Rescript.

The Catholic laity are not told whether it was on account of the Government arrogating to itself for the present the appointment of the professors - the want of a state provision for the religious instruction of the students in the Colleges, or because the system provides for the secular education of the pupils of all creeds in common. Or, finally, whether it is because the Catholic prelates, by the existing provisions of the Colleges' Act, are invested with no control either over the appointment of the professors, or the government of the Colleges. In fact we know nothing of the precise grounds upon which the decision of the Sacred Congregation was founded. It can, however, be inferred from the caution given to the Catholic prelates not only against taking any part in establishing these Colleges but even against, suggesting any amendments in the Act, and to withdraw those that have been suggested already that it is against the system itself, or the education in common of pupils of different religious persuasions that the condemnation is directed.

If this inference is correct, and that it is so, we have corroborative proof in the recommendation given not only to amplify the few lay Catholic Colleges established in the country, but to found a Catholic Academy such as the Belgium Prelates have established in the city of Louvain, the decision of the sacred congregation makes equally against the National System of Education and against Catholics resorting to any Educational Establishment whatever, whether Trinity College, or most of our public schools and seminaries, where pupils of all religious persuasions are received. Whether such a decision be calculated to promoted the interests of religion or the welfare of this country we shall not take it upon us to determine ; but if one of the greatest curses of Ireland hitherto has been the sectarian enmity between the children, this decision of the sacred congregation does not appear to us calculated to remove it.

The Propaganda, however intimately acquainted with the religious condition of Ireland, seems to know but very little respecting its social position when it imagines that it is in the power of the Catholic laity, for the present at least, to provide out of their own means for the establishment of Colleges for the superior education of their children. The notion is perfectly utopian, or if not, why have they not only submitted to, but thankfully accepted of a state endowment for the education of their clergy? Or why did the Catholic Hierarchy themselves patiently bear with the calumnies and insults levelled every session of parliament against the Catholic religion because of their acceptance of the wretched pittance annually voted for the maintenance of Maynooth? Never was there a period when this country so much required the extension of a superior scientific and practical education among the children of the gentry and the middle class in order to elevate her condition, and never was there a period when either class was so little able to provide it. It is therefore deeply to be regretted that the sacred congregation felt it imperative to pronounce the decision expressed in this rescript. But it may, notwithstanding, be all for the better.

The British Government knowing that the establishment of these Colleges must be a complete failure, so long as they continue under the condemnation of the holy See, will be likely to propose such amendments to the act as may ultimately satisfy the wishes of the Sacred Congregation. In fact, from one of the clauses of the Rescript, it is evident that the decision that has been come to is still open to modification upon cause shown. It is true Prelates are prohibited from holding the Holy See ; but at the same time, the Propaganda not only expresses its willingness to hear anything further of importance that might affect its present decision, but even invites the Catholic Prelates to supply it with such information that "it may come to a due decision upon them all".

If this can be done either through the prelates or even the Catholic laity themselves, we hope, for the interests of Ireland, that it will not be neglected. But whatever may be the final issue of this important question we fondly trust that the ties which have hitherto existed between the Catholic Hierarchy and their flocks will never experience any disruption, and that through every vicissitude of fortune they will ever prove their fidelity and attachment to the Chair of Peter.

The following is a translation of the Latin text of the Rescript:?

Most illustrious and most reverend Lord - It will perhaps appear strange that the reply of the Sacred Congregation on the subject of the academicals colleges should have been so long delayed ; but the deep importance of the question at issue, as well as the great variety of topics which were to be considered, rendered it necessary that much time should be devoted to the due examination of the documents and reasons produced on both sides before a decision could be safely pronounced.

First of all, we deem it our duty to declare that it never entered the mind of the Sacred Congregation that the Prelates who appeared to be in favour of establishing the colleges, had anything wrong in view, since long experience has convinced us of their probity, and that they were induced to adopt those views solely from the hope of effecting greater good, and consulting the interests of religion in Ireland. However, the Sacred Congregation having considered the matter maturely and in all its bearings, dares not promise itself such fruits from the erection of those colleges. Nay, more, it dreads that the Catholic faith would thereby be placed in imminent danger ; in one word, it is convinced that institutions of this sort prove detrimental to religion.

For those reasons it has felt it its duty to caution the Archbishops and Bishops of Ireland against taking any part in establishing them. But as the Sacred Congregation would have wished before some of the Prelates had entered into any negotiation with the government for amending the law regarding the aforesaid colleges and procuring other measures in their favour, that they had taken the opinion of the Holy see, so it doubts not but that from the profound obedience which the Prelates of Ireland invariably exhibited towards it, they will retract those things which they have done to the contrary. But notwithstanding all this, should any of you have matters of importance further to be remarked upon, you are at liberty freely to communicate them to the Sacred Congregation, in order that it may come to a due decision on them all.

The Sacred Congregation is well aware how important it is that provision should be made for the scientific instruction of the youth especially of the higher class, it therefore exhorts your Grace and your Suffragans to adopt all the legitimate means in your power to promote such instruction.

It will be your duty to take care that the Catholic colleges already established may be rendered still more flourishing, by the erection of additional and useful chairs, especially in the philosophical department, in case they should be wanting ; and that those colleges be so prepared as to be open to a greater number of pupils, as the circumstances of the several districts may require. Above all things the Sacred Congregation would deem it advantageous that the Bishops, uniting their exertions should procure the erection in Ireland of such a Catholic Academy as the prelates of Belgium have founded in the city of Lovain.

And that these matters may have desired happy respite the Sacred Congregation exhorts the Bishops to preserve mutual union and the greatest concord ; nor to suffer themselves to be carried away by partisan zeal on matters which do not regard the sacred ministry entrusted to them ; that it may be evident to all that they have nothing in view but the worship of God, the good of religion, and the salvation of souls.

With all these things you will, we are sure, comply with the greatest earnestness, whereas they are in entire conformity with the judgment of our most Holy Lord, Pius IX, for after he had obtained accurate information on the whole of this case, he sanctioned with his approbation the decision of the Sacred Congregation, and gave to it the supreme weight of his authority.

In the mean time we pray to God that he may grant your Grace a long and happy life.
Your Grace's most obedient servant,
J. Phil Cardinal Fransoni, P.D.P.F., Alexander Barnabo, Pro-Secretary,
College of the Sacred Congregation for the Propaganda of the Faith,
Rome, 9th October, 1847.

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