No. 375 NAI DFA Unregistered Papers

Memorandum by Joseph P. Walshe on the possibility of an Irish concordat
with the Holy See

Dublin, 24 October 1936

Should we make a concordat with Rome? The concordat is a remnant of the bad days of the temporal power, one of the methods by which the Popes tried to secure material power and influence in the ordinary affairs of States so that they might be able to bring pressure to bear on princes. It could be said that the object of the Papacy in making concordats in our times is to secure the unity of the material institution of the Church by making the powers and privileges of the clergy within the States dependent on agreement with the Holy See. Apart from the continuing objection that the central directing organ of the Church in Rome in its character as a human and political institution should try to extend its power, there is a far deeper objection to the system of concordats.

The practice of the spiritual teaching of Christ must suffer, and does in all cases suffer, when the ministers of religion derive the privileges of their position from any source but the people themselves. The Church in Ireland, for example, owes its strength to a purely Irish Church tradition. The ordinary people of Ireland from the time of Columbanus onwards always regarded their ministers of religion as much better exponents, and especially much better examples, of Christ's teaching than those who directed the central Church government in Rome. If we made a concordat with Rome we should cut at the roots of this very proper tradition, and we should take away from our people the feeling of security which they derive from spiritual contact with a glorious past. We should substitute therefore a mere paper security which would gradually bring them to regard institutional religion in Ireland as a material appendage of the central Roman government for which they have no great reverence. Furthermore, it would bring them ultimately by the normal process of popular confusion to regard the teachings of Christ as essentially bound up with the interference of an external institution.

The concordat made with Germany in 1933 was a grave error of judgment. I happened to be in Germany at the time, and I humbly suggested to a distinguished cleric in Cologne that the Bishops should have prevented it, that if it was not a deliberate trap prepared by the new Government it would certainly be used by them against the Catholics in Germany to show that Catholicism was a foreign importation which had to be protected by a treaty with a foreign Power. I suggested that with the new spirit of nationalism so quickly developing in the country German Catholics would be put in a false position, and that it would be much better for the German clergy to rely - for maintaining their position in the hearts of the people - on suffering and working with them and for them rather than on a treaty between Berlin and Rome. I have since had very many conversations with the clergy, regular and secular, in Germany and Austria, and I find that there is practical unanimity in support of that view.

A concordat made between this country and Rome could only have for its object to confirm the existing position of the clergy. So long as the privileges attaching to this position are deserved they will be maintained, but the moment they derive, however little, from a treaty with an external institution they will be criticised and will become a weapon for anti-clerical agitators.

The development by the present Pope of the system of concordats has gone side by side with an increasing Italianisation of the central government. The last creation of Cardinals was obviously intended to put Italian domination of the Church beyond dispute. It has created a nasty feeling everywhere, especially as it seemed in part to be a gesture of defiance to those countries which were opposing Italy in the Abyssinian adventure. No doubt the feeling that the time has come to put an end to Italian hegemony in the Church has been quickened by the Pope's imprudent action, and when efforts to that end become more open the Catholic people in countries without concordat relations will be less liable to suffer spiritually from the scandal which must accompany such a revolt.

We have the advantage of having a Nuncio without a concordat. He provides a useful link with Rome, secures the recognition of our State by a very powerful if small State. He provides a means, if not always efficient, for controlling the clergy who use their position to disturb the people. His presence here gives the clergy, especially the higher clergy, an exaggerated idea of our influence at Rome, and modifies their conduct accordingly. A concordat would give us no increased power at Rome. It is well known from experience that Rome regards concordats as integrally binding on the other party, but on Rome only to the extent to which at any given moment it may serve the glory of God as interpreted by the Civil Servants in the Vatican Department of State. We should especially remember that on the question of interference by the clergy in politics the Vatican has never taken and never will take the same view as a secular State.

Concordats have sometimes temporarily modified the hostile attitude of Governments towards the Church, but they are generally an indication that there has been trouble or that trouble is expected, and (speaking from a very modest knowledge of history) I believe they are almost always a cause of trouble. A concordat with Rome would in any case be a beginning of that process through which the clergy gradually become quasi servants of the State without the accompanying control. And we all know that that process inevitably ends in creating a clergy without a real vocation and in the eventual elimination amongst the people of the spiritual influence of a Church. We have at this moment before our eyes the terrible example of the evils which are brought on the people by a semi-State clergy bereft of all spiritual power.

[signed] J.P. Walshe

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