The Unknown Saviour of Irish Catholicism – Paul Cardinal Cullen

Contrary to popular belief, Ireland hasn’t always been a bastion of Catholicism. Especially considering that most people nowadays – in their decadency – consider the Church’s condemnation of contraception as the pinnacle of Catholic belief, even though that condemnation would be considered a self-evident and mundane point to real Catholics who practice and understand the faith properly.

The fall of the people of Ireland from a Logos affirming and believing society can all be traced back to the Reformation. The Church was demoted from its high legal status to a status of persecution. While the rest of the British Isles turned their back on the papacy, Ireland remained strong to its Roman faith. The strategy the Church takes when its being persecuted by the government is not to start a revolution to overthrow the government, but to accept the persecution as a test from God about whether you are worthy of eternal life or not. Those that were warriors for the faith were instructed to convert the ruling-class over to the faith in a peaceful and consensual manner.

Although you might think this strategy is silly, especially if you idolise the revolution that founded your country, it was the strategy that worked in the Roman Empire and every other European nation. This stems from the Church’s strong emphasis on respecting the rule of law, and in its glorification of suffering and martyrdom as the ultimate way to emulate Christ. In a way you could say the Church set the blueprints for Antonio Gramsci’s tactic of the slow march through the institutions.

This strategy was eventually abandoned by the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland, mainly due to their isolation from Rome, centuries long oppression from their Protestant landlords, uneducated masses and from the seeping of Enlightenment ideas into the hierarchy. The Irish Church became quite primitive in this dark age. Intellectualism ceased to exist; Irish Catholics to some extent descended back into the superstitions of fairy folklore that is still believed by many Irish people, especially elderly people, to this day.

The two heretical sides of the Irish Hierarchy

The old guard in the Church hierarchy at the beginning of the 19th century were regarded as ‘Castle Gallicans’, which is a heretical Catholic belief that can be described as a compromise between Anglicanism and Catholicism. The Church in that country lets the government officials have some say in Church affairs while also giving some allegiance to the pope. They sought to avoid confrontation with secular power over issues such as a government veto over episcopal appointments and the payment of state pensions to the clergy.

They also conceded to satisfy the government even more by agreeing to take an oath of allegiance to the crown to assure they wouldn’t interfere in temporal affairs. These bishops were trained in continental Gallican seminaries, which had a track record of educating its students to be submissive and to avoid any struggle between church and state. Castle Gallicans were headed mainly by the Archbishop of Armagh, William Crolly and the Archbishop of Dublin, Daniel Murray.

The new spirit that was arising in the hierarchy during the 19th century was a mutation of Castle Gallicanism. This new heretical faction wanted the Church to be free to identify with the new spirit of nationalism and liberalism that was sweeping Europe. This new Irish nationalism had its origins in Protestant Nationalists like Wolfe Tone and culminated into Daniel O’Connell’s Repeal movement which advocated to repeal the Act of Union that united Ireland with Britain.

An important characteristic of this nationalism was that they were anti-British but not anti-Protestant. These new Gallicans could also be described as populists as they used the resentment the people had for the British authorities to garner support. Their usual targets were the British establishment with emphasis on the landlords exploiting the poor and the Castle Gallicans, whom they saw as defenders of British exploitation. These attacks were mainly led by the ‘Lion of the West’, Archbishop of Tuam, John MacHale.

These two sides of ‘submission to the Protestant establishment to avoid conflict’ and ‘revolutionary nationalism that ignited the passions of the Irish’, were two sides of the same coin – both lead men to get occupied in earthly affairs. This distraction inevitably leads men to put their earthly pursuits above their Catholic faith. Ireland needed a zealous reformer that could turn Ireland away from its primitive state and into a new era of Catholic intellectualism. This was the task undertaken by Paul Cullen.

The Beginning of Cullen

Paul Cullen came onto the scene at the latter end of O’Connell’s Repeal movement. He was educated in Rome, where he became immersed in the ecclesiastical triumphalism that illuminated the Eternal City. Pope Pius VII, returning from French captivity, was revered as the pope who stood up to Napoleon, and there he became a symbol of all that was worth preserving in the turbulent world of the 19th century. The papal office directed a triumphal rebuilding of papal Rome which became the holiday of choice for the European aristocracy. This triumphalism revitalised the Church, it now had the confidence to begin its Inquisition and Counter-Reformation on a Europe that had become so hostile to the Church and directives of the Supreme Pontiff.

Catholic Europe, unlike the Roman Curia, had become so infested in heresy – especially the heresy of Gallicanism – that it led many Catholic intellectuals to believe that the only way it could be saved from this downfall was to emphasise the supreme authority the pope had over his Church. This strong emphasis is described as Ultramontanism. The bishops from around the world should look towards the Pope for inspiration instead of trying to outdo each other on how revolutionary their new ideas were. This movement led to the dogma of papal infallibility being decreed at the First Vatican Council in 1870. Interestingly enough, this decree of papal infallibility was predicted by Mother Mariana de Jesús Torres over 200 years beforehand as she received a Marian apparition.

Cullen, being an intellectual himself, caught the attention of the Roman Curia for his stern defence of Ultramontanism against the masonic forces of liberalism and nationalism. In 1831, Cullen became the rector of the fledgling and struggling Pontifical Irish College. Irish bishops at the time were unfamiliar with either Italian or working Latin, lacked sophistication to prepare briefs in diplomatic languages and were too aware that when they approached the centre of the Catholic faith, they did so from an area Rome viewed as remote and primitive. In the 18th century they indirectly approached Rome through the papal nuncio in Brussels. With Cullen as rector of the Irish College, they approached him. Cullen was well liked by the Roman Curia as they knew he was a committed Ultramontanist, so he became a natural agent for the Irish hierarchy.

Throughout his 18 years as rector of the Pontifical Irish College he became well versed in Irish Church affairs. More importantly, he was able to record who was a Castle Gallican and who was a Nationalist Gallican. The Castle Gallicans were open about their Gallicanism while the Nationalist Gallicans tended to feign affirmations of Ultramontanism. They sounded like Ultramontanists as they opposed government initiatives, but on the grounds that they were instituted by the British, not on the grounds that they were harmful to the faith. They were aware of Cullen’s Ultramontanism so they framed their correspondence with Cullen so that they would seem to be supporters of Cullen’s cause.

The issues facing Ireland

The big issues in 19th century Ireland was the Church’s response to government legislation establishing the National System of primary education, the reforming of charity laws in the Charitable Bequests Act, and the setting up of the non-denominational Queen’s Colleges (more commonly known today as UCC, NUIG and Queen’s University Belfast). Cullen was worried that any education that wasn’t exclusively run by the Church would lead the faithful into heresy and would be used as a ploy by the British to destroy the Church. This was already the case when Irish Catholics attended the Protestant Trinity College Dublin. The worry with the Charitable Bequests Act was that it would give the government authority over the Church and allow the government to interfere in Church affairs.

The big defender of these measures were the Castle Gallicans – Archbishop of Armagh, William Crolly and the Archbishop of Dublin, Daniel Murray. During Cullen’s time in Rome, he was inundated with letters from the Nationalist bishops, led by Archbishop of Tuam, John MacHale, attacking the Castle bishops, whom Cullen heard from much less. In fact, what Cullen knew about the Castle bishops came largely from their Nationalist enemies. Cullen generally agreed with the Nationalist cause, but for a different reason. Cullen didn’t like the measures because it would hurt the Ultramontanist mission in Ireland to attain Catholic ascendancy. The Nationalists didn’t like these measures as they were imposed on Ireland by the British. Cullen begrudgingly formed a strategic alliance with the Nationalist.

When it came to the establishment of the National System of primary education in 1831, Cullen initially sided with the Nationalists along with advice from Tobias Kirby, vice rector of the Pontifical Irish College, who was also uncompromising in his Ultramontanism. Upon personal investigation of the schools, Cullen concluded that the schools were sufficiently Catholic, but he still left it up to the bishops to decide whether the schools would be tolerated in their diocese. Cullen’s personal policy was to condemn it in theory but adopt it in practice. In the end, the only bishop that stood in defiance of the schools was MacHale. Going as far as to deny sacraments to anyone that brought their children there.

The greatest crisis of Cullen’s Roman career came in 1844, when he launched an ill-considered attack on the Charitable Bequests Acts. Cullen, encouraged on by MacHale, assumed that the Bill was a sinister attempt by the government to attain control over the Church. The Bill was actually an improvement on the original laws in place, but Cullen’s usual discretion and prudence was overblown by the ‘Lion in the west’, John MacHale. Cullen went into full retreat when he realised his mistake, from that moment forward he never again trusted the Nationalists. This crisis nearly lost him his trust from Rome but he soon recovered by profusely writing to MacHale to stop his agitation and by apologising to the Irish Bishops and the Curia for siding with MacHale.

Cullen appointed Archbishop of Armagh

With the death of the Archbishop of Armagh, William Crolly, in 1849, Cullen was appointed Archbishop and in the following year, became an Apostolic Delegate. Cullen was the obvious choice for the Curia as he could be trusted to commence the Ultramontanist mission in Ireland, as well as bring together the fractured Irish hierarchy as he had a good understanding and relationship with them. Upon arriving in Armagh, Cullen was amazed at how primitive the Church had gotten. Cullen soon realised he had nowhere to live as there were complications with the house willed to him as Archbishop. There was also no diocesan archives, so Cullen had no way of getting to know his priests. Because of all these complications, Cullen couldn’t fully focus on his Ultramontanist mission.

He was shocked at how un-Roman Irish Catholicism had become. The Churches were quite bare and the processional cross for the Archbishop of Dublin was just plain wood without even a crucifix. This was in stark contrast to the magnificent décor of the Church’s in Rome. To commence his mission, Cullen issued the Letter to the Catholic Clergy of the Arch-diocese of Armagh in 1850. In it, he stressed the role of the Supreme Pontiff as guardian of the faith, insisting that only total submission to the pope would protect the faithful from infidelity and heresy. Seeking to unite the hierarchy in a new Ultramontanist goal and end the division that caused great scandal for the Church, Cullen declared the Synod of Thurles in 1850.

At the synod, Cullen, with the backing of Rome, defended his opposition to the Queens Colleges, which he regarded as ‘Godless Colleges’, to Murray and the other Castle Bishops. Murray argued that they should be welcomed as they were the only means available to Catholics for higher education, apart from the Protestant Trinity College. Cullen realised that once these non-denominational colleges were accepted by the Catholic public, it would be hard for any Catholic Colleges to ever rival them. History proved this right as Ireland was forever dominated by these non-denominational colleges.

Cullen sought to disregard the Colleges and set up a new Catholic University that could rival Trinity College. If real Catholic ascendancy was to be achieved, ascendancy when it came to universities had to be the one of its core goals. The condemnation of the Colleges that Cullen desired was only barely won by one vote, with Murray and his followers opposing the establishment of a Catholic University also. Murray set up a counter offence on the results of the synod, but age wasn’t on his side as he died two years later in 1852.

Cullen appointed Archbishop of Dublin

With Murray deceased, Rome took this opportunity to transfer Cullen to Dublin, where he could focus more on his Ultramontanist mission, as Dublin was at the heart of all political affairs in Ireland. Now with the two big figures of Castle Gallicanism deceased, Crolly and Murray, the Castle Gallican camp soon deteriorated. This allowed Cullen to focus all his energy to subdue revolutionary nationalism and to begin his Counter-Reformation war in Ireland. Cullen was determined to convince the Nationalists that the great evil in Ireland was not the crown but Protestantism with all its heresies.

Protestants knowing that Cullen’s uncompromising and triumphant Ultramontanism was on the rise, slandered him relentlessly in the papers calling him a new resident alien in the city that wanted ‘to exalt the pope’s sovereignty in the United Kingdom.’ Being a passionate Ultramontanist, Cullen was always wary of Protestants. His view of Protestants was optimised in the very liberal Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, Richard Whately, who denied the Trinity and even the Divinity of Christ. His successor, Dr Stanley, wasn’t any better, he seemed to have ‘every qualification for a bishop except that he is not Christian.’

With many skirmishes with the Protestant establishment, Cullen through his priests, preached a practice of avoiding Protestants to his parishioners so as not to fall into heresy. This attitude was a reversal of the Gallicans goal, headed by both the Nationalist and Castle bishops, which was to promote religious indifferentism by blurring the line between Protestantism and Catholicism. This heresy of indifferentism got so bad before the advent of Cullen in Ireland, that the bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, James Doyle, seriously proposed a union of the Roman Catholic Church with the Church of Ireland in 1824.

The Protestant establishment – surprisingly enough – eventually became in awe of Cullen, when he became the first Irish Cardinal in 1866. The establishment began to bend the knee for Cullen’s demands. This was especially noticeable with the RIC’s disregard of the Ecclesiastical Titles Act of 1851, which made it a criminal offence for anyone outside the Church of England to use any episcopal title of any city, town or place in the United Kingdom. The Protestant officers of the state paid their respects to Cullen upon returning to Ireland as a Cardinal, who by law should have arrested him for assuming ecclesiastical titles. Cullen’s cardinalship was a great moral boost to the Catholics who were still facing the effects of the great Irish Famine 20 years earlier.

Cullen soon became the most sought-after guest for the Protestant ascendancy, who were intrigued by this sophisticated and charming Irish-Italian prelate. But Cullen was careful not to be seen as supporting the Protestant establishment, he never attended any Protestant Church service or attended a ceremony that wasn’t diplomatically worthwhile. It was quite ironic in the end, Cullen became more popular with the establishment than Murray, even though Cullen was a firm anti-Protestant while Murray always pandered to them.

Cullen’s Counter-Reformation

The establishment of a Catholic University was of big interest to Cullen during his reign in Dublin. Cullen realised that he wouldn’t find any Irish intellectuals that could head the new Catholic University as Maynooth graduates were mainly nationalistic zealots. Cullen appointed John Henry Newman, the famous Oxford convert, an Englishman, to become the first rector of the Catholic University. Newman leading the University ended up being a massive mistake.

He took lengthy absences from the University, spent money recklessly, and was disliked by the other bishops especially MacHale, who took offence to an Irishman not being appointed. With the Nationalist bishops in rebellion against the University, Cullen failed to attain the unity needed to pressure the government into giving the University legal status.

The failure to secure Catholic education for Irelands youth led to Irelands third level education system being overwhelmingly secular which was inevitably used by our elites to promote liberalism and eventually bioleninism. Cullen foresaw this possibility, which is why he was so passionate about this issue, at a time when people saw it as trivial.

Another issue Cullen had to deal with was the proselytising campaigns propagated by Protestant Bible societies. With MacHale and the other Nationalist bishops focused on secular politics, these proselytisers made massive inroads in converting the demoralised Catholics. MacHale’s diocese was worst effected as he denied his parishioners the right to attend the National Schools. This led to the big threat that Connacht would become the next Ulster. Cullen’s strategy was to appoint a reforming coadjutor bishop which would eventually make the Irish hierarchy more Ultramontanist as time went on, known to many historians as the Cullenisation of Ireland. The Irish College in Rome gave a constant flow of Ultramontanists to Cullen, with the help of its equally fervent rector Tobias Kirby.

A major event under Cullen’s reign was the disestablishment of the Protestant Church of Ireland in 1869. This was a major victory for the Ultramontanists who saw this as a key stepping-stone for Catholic ascendancy.

During Cullen’s reign, the pressure the Pope was facing in Rome by the Italian nationalists, was of great concern to him as a stern defender of the Pope. The Irish Church raised a massive amounts of money, considering that Ireland was still severely poverty sickened by the Great Famine. The Protestant establishment enthusiastically supported the invasion of the Papal States by donating massive amounts to the revolutionaries, while Irish Catholics were going abroad to fight for the Papal army. During this conflict, First Vatican Council was called, which would be Cullen’s last significant contribution to the Ultramontanist cause.

Under Pope Pius IX long reign, the Ultramontanist camp was in a strong position as all new cardinals and bishops appointed were of strong Ultramontanist persuasion. MacHale and his other Gallican allies embarrassed Cullen with their speeches, but Cullen status wasn’t tainted as his definition of papal infallibility would eventually become the definition adopted by the Council. With great appreciation from Pius XI and others to Cullen for his contribution, he was marked as a potential candidate for succeed Pius XI, but Cullen being ill during the death of Pope Pius XI in 1878, made sure that it would never be.

Cullen’s Inquisition

Throughout his time in Ireland, Cullen began his Inquisition to eradicate the heresy of Gallicanism plaguing the land. When it came to Castle Gallicanism, it was mainly centered around Ulster. Ulster was known as the Black North as the Orange Order was ruthless in their intimidation of Catholics. Wanting to avoid conflict, the bishops had a tendency to avoid any religious conflict between Church and State or from the Orange Order. Although this conciliatory attitude was needed in some scenarios, this strategy made the Church timid and weak when it faced bullying. This cowardice was unacceptable to Cullen and his Ultramontanist mission.

In other parts of Ireland, Catholics that were Castle Catholics tended to be those that were averse to revolutionary nationalism because of their bad experience of civil unrest in many parts of the country. With the death of Murray and Crolly, this old form of Gallicanism soon died. With Castle Gallicanism dying, the battle for what would replace this as the hegemonic culture of the people was now fought between the Nationalists and Ultramontanists. The nationalists would now be Cullen’s main target for his inquisition.

Where Nationalist Gallicanism was strongest was in western Ireland, led mainly by MacHale, as Archbishop of Tuam. With the Irish Reform Act of 1850, the electorate trebled, which encouraged many priests to get involved in political affairs. These nationalist priests began to lose interest in their spiritual role, instead becoming agitators for tenants’ rights and Home Rule. This nationalism was mainly nurtured in Maynooth and the Irish College in Paris. Cullen tried to reprimand the Gallican tendency of these Colleges but the Colleges untamed and undisciplined spirit couldn’t be controlled.

The only college that seemed to have a track record of producing Ultramontanist priests was the Irish College in Rome. More so, only a minority of priests were trained in Rome due to high costs and tough discipline by rector Kirby. This meant that most clerical positions outside of Cullen’s Dublin diocese would by nationalists. The best Cullen could do was to appoint a reforming Ultramontanist coadjutor bishop so that Ultramontanist bishops would have as much power as possible.

Another resistance Cullen had to face, that could be seen in both sides of the Gallican spectrum was in the Gallican bishops strong belief of the inviolability of local custom even against the demands of the papacy. Many priests started to act like politicians who would position themselves as defenders of the beliefs held by the locals against the supposed tyranny Cullen’s Ultramontanist mission. The priest would in turn construct their opinions from the locals instead of the priest instructing the locals. It was a complete inversion of the Catholic belief in hierarchy. This belief came mainly from the growth of democracy in Ireland and the Presbyterians in Ulster where the laity had a lot of power over their clergy.

To someone as zealous as Cullen, local custom could not be tolerated. The problem Cullen faced was how to deal with it without alienating any bishops or priests from his mission.  Cullen wasn’t impressed by this spirit at all, as the Catholic Church has always been a hierarchical institution, especially after Vatican I, where strong emphasis on the power of the Pope was the main decree established by the council. 

The big supporters of nationalism at the time was the Freeman’s Journal led by the Protestant Nationalist Sir John Gray and the Young Islanders journal, the Nation, led by Charles Gavan Duffy. The nationalist clergy were heavily influenced by these publications.

As Cullen concluded, ecclesiastically these clergymen were Gallican in nature as they were concerned more about promoting Irish nationalism than promoting the ideals of the Universal Church. Religiously they promoted indifferentism as they sided with Protestants like Duffy and idealised Wolfe Tone, while also deploring the culture of separation between Catholics and Protestants promoted by Cullen.

Behind these movements, Cullen suspected, lay the sinister power of continental liberalism and Freemasonry. These movements were very reminiscent of the Italian nationalists who invaded the papal states, which Cullen experienced first-hand. Cullen set up his own tenants’ rights movement, the Catholic Defence Association, that could absorb some of the energy created by the nationalists. He also involved the papacy in this affair, but the passion of MacHale and his nationalists were too much to make much of a difference. Although in the Synod of Maynooth in 1875, Cullen did succeed in getting a condemnation of Fenianism and reiterated the encyclicals promulgated by Pope Pius IX, but these decrees were ignored by many.

The result of Cullen’s reign

As hindsight is 20/20, we can look back on history to see what path Ireland took when it came to Nationalism vs Ultramontanism. Irish nationalism as we know, captured the minds of Irish people at the end of the 19th century till the first half of the 20th century. The 1916 rising could be seen as a turning point for Irish people when it came to supporting revolutionary nationalism. The terrorists involved in the rising came to be known as the Irish founding fathers. This foundation of revolutionary nationalism became the cornerstone of the Irish nation, which would in later decades be subverted by the forces of bioleninism.

One could theorise, that without Cullen and his Ultramontanist passion, Irish Catholicism could have devolved into the status it took in Italy and France. At best a secondary culture that was only tolerated by the hegemonic culture of liberalism as long as it didn’t challenge its primacy. After the founding of the State, Catholicism in Ireland was still generally held in high esteem by the general public but never hegemonic. Although, to the ruling-class, Catholicism was seen as something that needed to be destroyed.

This can be seen in the questionnaire issued in the 1960s, 90% of the general public said the Catholic Church was a force for good in Ireland while only 10% of the ruling-class at the time thought so. Just like in every other cultural movement, the public converted to the views of the ruling class by osmosis through their institutions of power like the courts, parliament, media, literature etc. The fate of Irish Catholicism was destined for collapse in the 1960s, but the hierarchy was too ignorant of the subversive forces at play and still are.

Cullen was a beacon of light in a world that was turning to darkness. One man could never reverse the forces that were at play, but he did succeed in slowing down the advancements made by the enemies of God which can be seen in Irelands Catholicism during the 20th century. To that we must pay our respects to man who did so much as a servant of God but has been forgotten in history.

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