Archive for the ‘Political Commentary’ Category

Irish Perspectives on Exile

March 6, 2014

reprinted from the April 2003 Issue of the “Irish American Post”

Irish Perspectives on Exile

By Fr. Paul Surlis

During the fifteen hundred years that have elapsed since the majority of the inhabitants of Ireland were converted to Christianity, the Irish have had many and varied experiences of exile and of interpretations of its meaning. At times exile was voluntarily undertaken for religious reasons; at times it was imposed by political or economic constraints and at other times what was called exile would be more correctly seen as emigration in search of a better life.

Even when the emigration was voluntary and a search for life enhancing conditions it was still often interpreted in political categories as British-imposed exile. It was made to serve anti-British sentiment and political opportunism particularly in the United States where over centuries support, financial and other, was generated to sustain revolutionary movements in Ireland particularly in the six northeastern counties of the island or Northern Ireland as it is often imprecisely labeled. That these revolutionary movements by Catholics were a response to institutionalized injustice is well established.

At times, exile was imposed especially on the poor as a penalty for criminal offenses. Often these offenses were trivial but were sufficient to merit banishment to the Caribbean or to Australia or Tasmania, the real purpose behind the banishment was to populate such regions especially Australia with white people.

It is interesting to note that the so-called criminals when given fresh opportunities went on to live productive lives and many “criminals” including those banished to Australia became successful politicians and public figures in Europe, Latin America, the United States and elsewhere. In the case of creative writers-like Joyce, Beckett, Edna O Brien – to name a few-exile was self-imposed and considered necessary to escape a repressive, censorious ethos in Ireland which was intolerant especially of fiction which questioned aspects of religion and social injustices and narrow mindedness or treated sexuality openly and honestly.

Experience of Exile
Joyce and Beckett found the experience of exile to be an indispensable source of creative impulse and value. Joyce famously wrote: “I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use – silence, exile, and cunning.”(Portrait of the Artist)

Philosopher Richard Kearney has written of Beckett that in him:

” we witness an Irish mind less concerned with self-regarding questions of Irish history and tradition than with the universal concerns of western humanistic culture as a whole, particularly as it combines the founding heritages of Hellenic idealism and Judeo-Christian theology. Faithful to his specifically Irish experience of exile, marginality and dissent, Beckett has brought a sense of critical humor to bear on philosophical questions of international import. His writing is testimony to the fact that the Irish mind is no less for dispensing with the mirror of indigenous self-absorption and embarking on the endless quest for the other.”

Christianity’s Role
Christianity has played an enormous role in the formation of the Irish psyche especially in Irish missionary endeavors over a fifteen hundred year period. Joyce and Beckett were profound and original explorers of the deepest religious issues contrary to some prevailing ideas about them. Joseph S. O’ Leary writes of Joyce as Ireland’s first liberation theologian and he emphasizes the importance for Christians of Joyce’s call to ‘linguistic self-awareness.’

O’ Leary suggests that “It may be that only a theology written in awareness of the Joycean questions can permit an inculturation of the Gospel in contemporary Western minds.” If this is true then Joyce in exile from both the Irish Church and the Irish nation and their constricting nets is in fact a pioneer of the most profound religious and political re-creation. It is estimated that there may be around 70 million persons of Irish descent living abroad with about 40 million of these living in the United States of America.

While emigration from Ireland has continued in recent years relatively inexpensive air transport has made periodic returns easier for those who leave the country for whatever reasons; in these circumstances it makes little sense to speak of exile as traditionally understood. As we shall see Christianity has played a variety of roles in the minds and lives of Irish emigrants and exiles.

St. Patrick, Slave and Exile
Christian converts appear to have existed in southern and eastern coastal regions of Ireland around the middle of the fourth century. This may have been the work of missioners whose names have not come down to us and traders who were Christian may also have played a role. St. Patrick is the person whose name is most prominently associated with converting the Irish.

Prior to Patrick’s arrival there was a missioner called Palladius sent to Ireland in 431 by Pope Celestine. Palladius appears to have died (he may have been murdered) after a year. Scholars give 431 as the most probable date for the arrival of Patrick to begin his missionary work as a bishop in Ireland. He worked at consolidating existing Christian groups and making converts until he died in about 460.

While historical details about Patrick are controverted or unknown we do have two documents from his own hand which give us valuable insights into his formative teenage years and into experiences that marked his personality and above all his faith and spirituality. One document is the Confession in which Patrick defends himself against his detractors and in which he tells us about his youth and his growth toward mature faith.

The other document is a Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus in which Patrick condemns Coroticus, a British warlord who captured many recent converts all of whom were brutally treated and some of whom were sold into slavery while others were murdered. In the course of denouncing Coroticus Patrick expresses outrage at selling free persons, especially Christian converts, into slavery.

It will be over a thousand years before another bishop, a pioneer of the theology of liberation, Bartolome de las Casas (1490-1558) expresses similar outrage at the inhumanity of slavery.

Patrick was a Romanized Briton. His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest. At about age 16, Patrick was snatched from his native place (in the southwest of either England, Wales or Scotland) by Irish slave traders and with thousands of others was sold into slavery in Ireland where he tended swine or sheep for about six years.

Brutal Transition
The transition from a well-off Roman household to slavery on a mountain in Ireland was brutal and painful. At the time of his capture, Patrick tells us he had turned away from God and did not practice his religion. However, as a slave and exile he began to pray and he tells us that as his love for God grew and his faith became stronger he prayed as often as a hundred times a day and a hundred times a night. “This I did even when I was in the woods and on the mountains. Even in times of snow or frost or rain I would rise before dawn to pray. I never felt the worse for it; nor was I in any way lazy because, as I now realize, I was full of enthusiasm” (Confession, #16).

Patrick’s experience of re-discovering his faith in God in a situation of slavery and exile has had the deepest influence on his mature spirituality and also on the faith he imprinted on the Christianity he left as his legacy to the nascent Irish Church.

A Monastic Church
Within 100 years of Patrick’s death the Irish church had become a monastic church with monasteries scattered all over the countryside. These monasteries were not only for monks; they became important centers of learning with students from all over Europe who came to study the bible in Latin and sometimes Greek and Hebrew.

In a development unique to the Irish church and one not yet understood in its historical origins, the abbots of these monasteries ruled or had jurisdiction over the local faith community. Bishops were limited to conferring the sacraments. Abbesses also had jurisdiction over their convents and communities and in this they also took precedence over the local bishop.

The Irish monasteries lasted until the 16th century when they were looted and suppressed by Henry V111. Ruins of these monasteries can be seen all over Ireland. One most impressive ruins is Clonmacnoise near the river Shannon.

A professor of mine in Maynooth seminary said one day: “In another hundred years (2055) Oxford university will be as old as Clonmacnoise was when it was destroyed in the 16th century.”

If the monasteries had adhered to stricter poverty they would not have been targets for lay control by members of powerful families that had led to abuses prior to their dissolution nor would they have provided wealth for Henry V111 to enrich his military and other supporters. However, some land is always necessary for production of food and for animal husbandry on which monastic self-sufficiency depend.

Martyrdom: Green and White:  There is no record of any person being martyred for the faith in Ireland in the first thousand years of the existence of Christianity. Awareness of this prompted early Irish monks to seek out other forms of witness that were ascetical in nature. The first of these may be described as a form of internal exile. Monks left family and friends and repaired to isolated places on hillsides in woods or on rocky promontories where they fasted and prayed and copied manuscripts in solitary situations.

This they called Green Martyrdom in contrast to the shedding of their blood for the faith, which was denied to them. But isolation was difficult to preserve when hosts of people flocked to the monks for instruction in the faith and for access to the biblical and pagan, secular manuscripts they were copying and studying.

Ireland in the fifth and sixth centuries did not have towns but so many people lived in or around the monasteries that the Gaelic word for people ismuintir, which is directly derived from the Latin monasterium and which is an indication of the importance the monasteries occupied in the life of the people.

White Martyrdom:  This refers to undergoing exile as an exercise in supreme ascetical discipline and as an expression of love of Christ and commitment to the faith. The first person to undergo White Martyrdom was Columcille and initially he did so involuntarily being banished from Ireland as a penalty for engaging in warfare in which blood was shed. Columcille was an aristocrat and highly educated. He loved nice things including a psalter belonging to Finian.

Columcille borrowed the psalter and surreptitiously made a copy for himself. Finian was offended and demanded return of the copy. The dispute was mediated by a king named Diarmait whose celebrated judgment was “To every cow her calf; to every book its copy;” which may be a first among copyright rulings.

Later, when a follower of Columcille was murdered on Diarmait’s orders, Columcille waged a battle against the king and, legend has it, three thousand and one men were killed. In punishment for taking up arms as a monk Columcille was sentenced to permanent exile and so in 563 he set off with twelve companions and headed for an island named Iona off the west coast of Scotland an island from which Ireland is not visible.

A verse attributed to Columcille reads: “There is a blue eye which will look back at Ireland; never more shall it see the men of Ireland nor her women.”  Like other exiles after him down almost to modern times Columcille was sorrowful on leaving Ireland voluntary exile was the most difficult penance he could impose on himself.

He wrote:
I ever long for the land of Ireland
          Where I had power,
An exile now in midst of strangers,
           Sad and tearful

Columcille’s fame as a monk and scholar spread rapidly in Scotland and he attracted large numbers of followers. When the Iona community had reached one hundred and fifty members groups of twelve plus one were sent to start new foundations and by the time of Columcille’s death sixty monastic communities in Scotland traced their lineage to him.

Columcille made one return journey to Ireland after his banishment and he did so to take part in a national convention at a place called Drumceatt where a debate occurred on the banishing of bards or poets from Ireland. The bards were of Druidic origin and they exercised enormous social influence through their writings.

Any king or nobleman who did not receive a bard with lavish celebrations and appropriate honor could expect to be mercilessly satirized. If a bard was wronged or considered himself seriously affronted he might go on hunger strike near the dwelling of the injuring party and shame the household until reparation was made. Because of their great social control some wished to expel the bards from Ireland.

Distinguished Poet
Columcille who was himself a distinguished poet and lover of literature argued successfully in favor of retaining the bards and won their gratitude and admiration for doing so. During the time of his brief visit to Ireland he wore a blindfold to keep his vow made at the time of his banishment never to see Ireland again.

Following Columcille’s example Aidan journeyed with Irish missioners to Lindisfarne and Irish missionary influence extended to much of Eastern Britain and the Midlands.

Towards the end of the sixth century a Continental mission was undertaken and it led Irish monks to France, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, northern Italy, and Southern Germany. Occasional journeys were made also to, Poland, Hungary and Yugoslavia and some monks appear to have reached the western borders of Russia. Everywhere these scholar monks went they founded monasteries, preached the Gospel, built up libraries and above all they studied the bible and copied manuscripts.

Columbanus, Ireland’s Greatest Exile
One of the most distinguished of the Irish monks who imposed exile on themselves, as a form of the strictest asceticism, and also to spread the Gospel was Columbanus who is considered a co-founder with Benedict of western monasticism. The noted historian Tomas O Fiaich who traveled to all the known Irish monastic sites in Europe describes Columban (as he is also known) as ” Ireland’s first European.” and “Ireland’s greatest exile.”

Columbanus once memorably reflected: “We are all members of one body, whether Franks or Britons or Irish or whatever our race.” Today fourteen hundred years after he lived as Irish people are rediscovering the rich contribution made by Irish monks to Europe and as Irish tourists, politicians and business people travel to the continent in ever increasing numbers they discover numerous towns and villages in France and Italy named after Columbanus.

Two international commemorations held in honor of Columbanus -Luxeuil in 1950 and Bobbio in 1965- drew scholars and admirers from many nations among whom was Cardinal Roncalli, papal nuncio to France and later pope John XX111. A statue dedicated in Columbanus’s honor by Archbishop Dubourg of Besancon at Luxeuil in 1939 contains the phrasesauveur de la civilization in a lengthy inscription on the plaque. It has been suggested that Christopher Columbus is descended from a family that took its surname from the Irish monk.

Columbanus, a controversial figure in his own time and since, has left a considerable body of writings, including sermons, poetry, scripture commentaries especially on the psalms, and letters to kings, popes and bishops whom he did not hesitate to rebuke if he considered that they were failing to live up to the highest standards. In 613, he warned Pope Boniface:” Look out, for water has already entered the vessel of the Church and the ship is in peril.” However, criticism of the pope co-existed with intense loyalty when he considered the pope was being unfairly attacked.

Columbanus was a vigorous defender of orthodoxy in the prolonged Arian controversy which continued to rage during his lifetime. Volume 80 of the Abbe Migne’s Patrologia Latina contains all of Columbanus’s extant writings and gives him an honored place among the Western Fathers of the church. Columbanus wrote a celebrated Penitential or guide for assigning appropriate penances for serious sins in private confessions.

This and other Irish Penitentials introduced to the Western Church the practice of private confession, which had originated in the monasteries in Ireland when monks confessed to a special friend (in Gaelic anam charaor soul friend). The Penitentials extended private confessions to lay persons and influenced the theology and practice of the sacrament down to the present.

Contributors to Religious Poetry
Some poet-monks copied existing sagas from wandering bards on occasion they also inscribed verses in Irish in the margins of manuscripts they were copying thus leaving us the earliest recorded literature in a vernacular language in Europe. Irish writers were also prolific contributors to religious poetry and hymns for liturgical celebration written both in Latin and Irish.

Irish writers especially from Columcille on see nature and created things as beings imbued with divine presence, we would say today they exemplified a sacramental imagination. Many examples of journey literature survive, the journey being through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven and some scholars have compiled convincing evidence that at least one poem The Vision of Tundalfrom this genre was known to Dante and influenced the Divine Comedy.

The ninth century saw an influx of Irish exiles who were scholars in various disciplines; they were lexicographers, geographers, grammarians, philologists and philosophers. Among the latter one of the most eminent was John Scotus Eriugena who worked out a complete philosophical synthesis. He was the most noted speculative thinker of his era both in theology and philosophy. He was also a poet and a wit.

On one occasion seated across a dinner table from Emperor Charles the Bald, he was asked by the Emperor: Quid distat inter sottum et Scottum (what separates a fool from an Irishman). Eriugena replied immediately:Tabula tantum (only the table).

After the collapse of the Roman Empire Irish monks were instrumental in saving much pagan Latin literature and some Greek and Hebrew manuscripts that contributed greatly to what was to become the Carolingian Empire and subsequently to European and western civilization. They also wrote considerable amounts of scripture commentaries especially commentaries on the psalms. Thomas Cahill surmises that more than half of all the biblical commentaries written between 650 and 850 were by Irishmen. These works are now being produced in scholarly editions and fuller evaluation of their significance is expected.

Irish Exiles in Latin America
Spain was frequently an ally of the Irish in their resistance to British occupation and oppression and because of this Irish military leaders and later students for the priesthood fearing political or religious persecution in Ireland sought and received refuge in Spain.

In 1607, after a defeat by the British at the Battle of Kinsale (1601) in which Spanish troops took part, a group of Irish leaders escaped to Spain and France an incident referred to as the Flight of the Earls. Most of these emigrants were equipped to take part in professional and political occupations and they came to occupy positions of importance in their new homelands.

During the 17th and 18th centuries some of these highly cultured and educated émigrés became Ambassadors for Spain in Berlin, London, Paris, Vienna and Stockholm. They also provided ambassadors for France and Portugal. Some became professors, doctors, historians, and theologians at universities in – then- Catholic Europe.

Numbers of Irish migrated from Spain to the countries of Latin America where again they were successful in political, military and social affairs. We find them, for example, fighting with Simon Bolivar (1783-1830) in his pan-American wars of liberation. The Argentine navy was founded by the Irish-born Admiral William Brown who was born in Foxford, Co. Mayo in the west of Ireland.

Some Irish landowners exploited indigenous labor in the tobacco growing industry a not uncommon but still regrettable practice. Dr. Ernesto (Che) Guevara who fought with Castro in the liberation of Cuba in 1959 was a 12th generation descendant of Irish emigrants.

Records indicate that a Patrick Lynch who was born near Galway in 1715 settled in Buenos Aires in 1749. Lynch became a successful businessman and married Rosa de Galaya de la Camara, who was a wealthy heiress. It was from this marriage that Che’s grandmother Ana Lynch y Ortiz was descended. She married Roberto Guevara Castro and their eldest son Ernesto Guevara Lynch married Celia de la Serna de la Llose and their son Ernesto who was nicknamed “Che” was born in Rosario, Argentina, in 1928. Che Guevara visited Ireland on Dec. 18, 1964, when the plane he was traveling in was forced down because of mechanical difficulties.

From Ireland, Che wrote to his father

Dear Dad: With the anchor dropped and the boat at a standstill, I am in this green land of your ancestors. When they found out, the (Irish) television came to ask me about the Lynch genealogy, but in case they were horse thieves or something like that I didn’t say much . — Ernesto

Irish missioners were active in Latin America in the 17th century. Thomas Field, S.J., who was born in Limerick in the west of Ireland, was one of the founders of the Reductions, the famous Jesuit mission to the Guarani people of Paraguay. He is reputed to be the first priest who offered Mass in the Americas. These Reductions were utopian societies founded on Christian social principles.

Cromwell’s Invasion
After he defeated and beheaded Charles 1 in England (1649) Cromwell (1599-1658) invaded Ireland to suppress Irish rebels, destroy Gaelic culture and to confiscate property from Irish landowners. Cromwell murdered hundreds of thousands of people and started a process of expelling landowners from the rich lands of the east and midlands to the poorer and more easily defensible western province, Connaught. Using the slogan ‘to hell or to Connaught,’ many landholders were uprooted and transferred.

Some see here a Puritan attempt to establish a reservation for the Irish in the west of the country similar to the Puritan reservations established in the U.S. for the native peoples. Harsh laws penalizing Catholics for their faith began to be implemented and large numbers of seminarians, priests and religious fled Ireland for the continent of Europe. Already since the end of the fifteenth century intense efforts had been made to Protestantize Irish Catholics. To this end the bible was translated into Irish and tracts written in Irish promoting the Protestant religion were disseminated.

Coincidentally, it was the effort to force Irish Catholics and Old English Catholics to abandon their faith that led in Ireland to an identification of faith and politics to this extent that to be Catholic meant to be loyal to the faith and Irish, to become Protestant was to become loyal also to the British Crown. This trend had already begun in 1534 when Henry VIII broke with the papacy and began to seize monastic and church properties.

In the 19th century, when Rome condemned the Young Ireland Movement under the mistaken impression that it was anti-Catholic as was the Young Italy Movement , the Irish said in effect that they would take their religion from Rome but not their politics, a sentiment repeated by John F Kennedy during his presidential campaign in 1959.

It is important to recognize that a main reason for efforts made to promote the Protestant faith among the Catholic Irish was related to property – being Protestant provided what Marx aptly describes as a ‘ proprietary title to land.’ As one reads through the penal laws which dealt with confiscation of property and transfer of its ownership from Catholics to Protestants one notices that a constant condition imposed on Catholics who wished to retain some rights to property was that they denounce the Catholic teaching on transubstantiation thus making this aspect of belief an ideological cover for confiscating land.

The dissolution of the monasteries in Ireland and England was accompanied by distribution of their land and wealth to soldiers and aristocrats for whom sheep farming and agricultural production for the market were profitable. A transfer of social power also is at issue and many Irish especially who lost livelihoods owed to monasteries were driven to dependence on wage labor or charity and when these were not sufficient they were driven into exile.

In efforts to counter the efforts to make the Irish Protestant, religious from Ireland, now refugees on the Continent, provided biblical texts and catechisms written in Irish in defense of the Catholic faith and sent them back to Ireland where many people were in dire need of elementary instruction in the faith.

Faith Proscribed
Now it was the role of Irish priests and religious exiled to Europe to nourish the faith of their own people in Ireland. When anti-Catholic measures were intensified and legalized under the Penal Laws (1691-1829), practice of the Catholic faith was proscribed in Ireland. Celebration of Mass often took place on hillsides where a rock was the altar; to this day such Mass rocks can be seen in parts of the country.

Without profession of the Protestant faith Catholics were forbidden to educate their children, to hold positions in the legal profession or in public or political office. Under these and other savagely harsh conditions large numbers of Irish fled to the Continent and about thirty Colleges for the education principally of Irish priests and religious were founded at great European centers of learning. like Paris, Louvain, Salamanca, Douai, and Rome. From these centers priests returned and ministered to the people in Ireland.

Oliver Plunkett (1625-1681) who was educated in Rome and had become Archbishop of Armagh refused an edict to register at a seaport and be forced into exile under a new wave of persecution that began in 1673. He was imprisoned and found guilty of high treason on the perjured evidence of two disaffected Franciscans. He was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn in London in 1681. Canonized in 1975 St Oliver was the last Catholic martyr in England and Ireland’s first saint for a period of close to seven hundred years.

Irish in the Caribbean
As early as the 1620s, there was an extensive trade in indentured servants between Ireland and countries in the Caribbean, as well as Virginia and Maryland. Indentured servants were compelled to work for several years to pay off the costs of their passage from Ireland. Cromwell banished large numbers of Irish children women and men as indentured servants to the Caribbean where he also sent many so-called criminals and others as slaves.

As a result of the trade in indentured servants and politically motivated banishment large numbers of Irish people settled in the Barbados and the Leeward Islands. The trade in Irish indentured servants which had already begun in the 1620’s, continued into the 1730’s. Indentured servitude was slavery with a time limit. Dr. Williams an American colonist described indenture servitude to a Committee of the British House of Commons in 1774.

Williams said: ” It appeared that a trade was carried on in human flesh between Pennsylvania and the province of Ulster. Such of the unhappy natives of that part of Ireland as cannot find employment at home, sell themselves to the masters of vessels, or persons coming from America to deal in that species of merchandise. When they are brought to Philadelphia they are either sold aboard the vessel, or by public vendue, which sale on arrival there is public notice given of, either by handbill or in the newspapers. They bring generally about £15 currency at market, are sold for the term of their indentures, which is from two to four years, and on its expiration, receive a suit of clothes, and two implements of husbandry, consisting of a hoe, an axe and a bill from their taskmasters.”

The Belfast News Letter in which this report appeared commented, ” Several gentlemen in the committee expressed their abhorrence of such a barbarous traffic.” Subsequently an increase in the importation of slaves from Africa lessened the need for Irish laborers and they went to various North American colonies instead.

Religion, Language, Ideology and Exile
As we have seen the earliest interpretation of exile in Ireland was a religious or theological one that of the monks who set out ‘to journey for Christ’ peregrinari pro Christo in the golden age of Irish exile. Another religious factor influencing Irish interpretation of exile may be attributed to prayer, the Hail Holy Queen (Salve Regina) in particular.

Irish devotion to the Rosary was legendary, especially during the Penal Times when assistance at Mass was difficult or impossible. In my own youth the Rosary was recited every day in almost every Catholic home as family night prayer.

And every rosary concludes with the Hail Holy Queen where people refer to themselves as ‘poor banished children of Eve’ and pray that ‘after this our exile’ Mary will show them Jesus as salvation is achieved. It would be impossible to assess the influence on the Irish psyche of this constantly repeated prayer with its deep sense of exile but there is evidence from ballads and anecdotes suggesting that it conveyed to oppressed people a dolorous sense that bitter suffering was unavoidable ultimately because of original sin. This provided another religious strain to the interpretation of exile, which continued to be operative until the second half of the twentieth century.

When defeated political leaders were forced to flee from Ireland in the sixteenth century and later, their banishment was considered political exile and it was attributed to the presence of British conquerors who were militarily superior and intent on ruthlessly subduing rebellions. Sometimes those fleeing the country were accused of leaving behind oppressed, leaderless people while many of the exiles went on to successful careers in Europe and in the Americas.

The Irish language has several words for exile. Deora one of the root words connotes an alien, a non-native, a stranger, a wanderer, a fugitive, an exile, an outlaw and also a pilgrim, deora De (literally a wanderer of God). The emphasis on involuntary or constrained exile may at times have inhibited Irish Catholics from emigrating. A derivative, also often used isdeoraidheach, the adjectival form, which means one who is exiled, banished.

The idea of exile as compulsory banishment features in the penumbra of suggestions always surrounding the words related to or derived from deorashowing the deep entrenchment of this combination of concepts in the Irish psyche and also making this interpretation of exile as enforced, a ready tool for those who wished to attribute all exile exclusively to the evil English and their exploitative landlord class in Ireland. The noun deoraidheachtconnotes pilgrimage, exile, banishment, outlawry, or wandering.

The word dithreabhach connotes one who is a hermit or pilgrim whiledibeartha refers to one who is banished, an outcast, one who is excluded or dismissed while the word preasail refers to one conscripted or pressed (cf. English press ganged).

Irish servants used the word barbadosed to describe their being stolen or pressed into service in the Barbados by English soldiers. Wealthier Irish emigrants descendants of merchant families established sugar plantations and other enterprises in the Caribbean. Analogies between the exile imposed on ” the children of Israel” and the Irish “driven out of Erin” were frequently drawn.

Thus, we can see that the Irish language furnished a rich vocabulary to delineate nuances between states of being outside one’s native place because of persecution, exploitation, and fear of political reprisal or for other reasons. At times this vocabulary in both Irish and English facilitated blurring of distinctions so that the predominant sense of unmerited, unjustified, exploitative banishment prevailed no matter that at times actual, current market related or global economic developments were playing a major role.

Irish Exiles in the US and Canada
Already fairly large numbers of Irish immigrated to the North American colonies prior to 1776. In the 1600’s it is estimated that between 50-100,000 left Ireland and up to half a million may have left in the 18th century prior to the U.S Revolution. The majority of immigrants in the 17th century were Catholics but there were numbers also of Ulster Quakers and Presbyterians who experienced oppression as dissenters at the hands of the Anglican ascendancy class but some Anglicans also immigrated at this period mainly in search of better economic opportunities.

The majority of Irish immigrants since the 17th century settled in the United States of America where today there may be as many as 40 million people of Irish descent. What is not sufficiently recognized is that great numbers of Irish immigrants came from the six northeastern counties and were mostly of the Presbyterian faith and of Scotch descent. They were the direct descendants of the people from the English Scottish border who were planted in Ireland in the 17th century after the Cromwellian wars.

Over the centuries, there have also been many Methodists, Quakers, Baptists, and members of the Church of Ireland otherwise known as Anglicans or Episcopalians who settled in the US. In 1706, the Reverend Francis Makemie (1658-1708) a native of Co. Donegal in the north west of Ireland organized the first American presbytery in Virginia. He is regarded as the founder of Presbyterianism in the US.
In 1768, the Irishman Philip Embury (1728-1773), together with a group of Irish Methodists, founded the first Methodist church in North America at Wesley Chapel on John Street in New York City.

At least ten presidents of the USA were descendants of Protestant immigrants from Northern Ireland. The seventh president Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) was born to parents who had emigrated from Co. Antrim in Northern Ireland. The great-grand father of James Knox Polk (1845-49) was born in Co. Donegal also in Northern Ireland. John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1961-1963) was of Irish descent and his election was much celebrated by Catholics who saw it as heralding an end to the prejudice, which had dogged Catholics in the US in a way that it had seldom affected the Irish from Northern Ireland or Scots-Irish as they called themselves in an effort to differentiate themselves from Irish Catholics who took longer to assimilate.

Scots-Irish immigrants to the United States and Canada were themselves settlers or planters in the six northeastern counties of Ireland before they migrated. In the early 1600’s several thousand Protestant Scottish people from western Scotland and the English Scottish border were planted in Northern Ireland to provide a population loyal to the British monarchy and ruling class.

At least a half-million acres of land were given to these planters after the indigenous owners who held the land in common, were driven off or reduced to tenant status. The Puritans who were successful in England during the Cromwellian era ruthlessly suppressed the indigenous Irish when they rebelled against the settler class. In Northern Ireland not only were customs and culture attacked and suppressed but the Scots settlers or colonialists, also practiced scalping and beheading for bounty. It is necessary to recount this history, however briefly, to understand antagonisms that were prevalent in the United States and Canada between the Ulster Scots and the Irish.

It is necessary also to recognize that when the Ulster-Scots dispossessed, slaughtered and scalped Native Americans they were already experienced at this work of what Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz calls being “foot soldiers of empire.”

She writes further: ‘ During the last two decades of the eighteenth century, first and second generation Ulster-Scots continued to move westward into the Ohio Valley, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. Ulster-Scots were overwhelmingly frontier settlers rather than scouts, explorers or fur traders. They cleared forests, built log cabins, killed Indians, formed a wall of protection for the new United States, and during times of war, they employed their fighting skills effectively.’ Dunbar-Ortiz further argues that the Okies immortalized by John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath (1939) are descendants of the Ulster Scots.

Catholic Irish immigrants to the United States often suffered every imaginable form of discrimination and hardship. In the 17th century Catholics suffered at the hands of the Anglo-Irish Protestants many of whom constituted the ruling class sometimes referred to as White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants (WASPS). Driving this discrimination was a prevailing climate of enmity between Protestants and Catholics and also specific hostilities, which had developed between Ulster-Scots and Catholics whom they had dispossessed and persecuted.

A report from the Barbados in 1667 described the Irish there as “poor men, that are just permitted to live derided by the Negroes and branded with the Epithite of white slaves.” Many found themselves at the very bottom of West Indian society. On plantations in Maryland in the eighteenth century falling profits occasioned the imposition of harsh punishments for running away and subjected workers to inadequate food and clothing for longer work hours.

Poor pay and harsh conditions condemned some Irish Catholic workers to miserable lives as wanderers unable to afford even small plots of land for which they longed. In New England Protestants referred to Irish Catholic workers as ‘St Patrick’s Vermin.’ Elsewhere economic exploitation and discrimination were widely experienced by the Irish. Sometimes workers were paid in liquor instead of cash and were almost perpetually drunk or in debt as a result.

“I have spoken with Irish immigrants who saw signs in windows in Boston and elsewhere advising that ‘ No Irish Need Apply’ sometimes simply abbreviated to NINA in the confidence that it would be understood. Signs stating ” Catholics Need Not Apply” were often found even until the 20th century.

Commentators describe life for many Irish Catholics in colonial America as nasty, brutish and short. Many led lives as wanderers when they fled from harsh taskmasters, drunkenness and thievery were common. Many defected to various Protestant denominations when they found themselves in regions where priests were scarce and seldom visited isolated Catholics.

Little Participation
With a few exceptions such as Irish-born naval hero John Barry Irish Catholics did not participate in large numbers in the American Revolution. Many who did were driven by hopes of obtaining rewards such land or an early end to indentured servitude. Pre-Revolutionary America was seen as a place of continued Protestant persecution for numbers of Catholics and exile was seen as punitive political banishment.

Dissenters, Presbyterians, Quakers and others who often immigrated in large numbers saw America as a refuge from persecution (by Anglicans) and a place proffering religious liberty. Anglicans as members of the Established church and the Ascendancy mostly immigrated for economic and other opportunities. Religious and political enmities often followed Irish Protestants and Catholics to America.

The Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, commonly called the Orange Order, founded in 1795 to commemorate the Victory of William of Orange over James 1 at the Battle of the Boyne 1690, was imported to Canada and America and served to promote economic and supremacist interests of Irish Protestants over Catholics. In 1851 Bishop O’Connor of Pittsburgh blamed Orange Irishmen for unrelenting persecution of Irish Catholics.

During the Anglo-American war of 1812-1815 American and Irish patriots murdered Irish Orangemen in Baltimore. Thereafter Orangemen opted to migrate in larger numbers to Canada and Toronto became known as the Canadian Belfast because of Orange/Protestant hegemony there. The Great Hunger and Irish Immigration, 1845-1855

The failure of the potato crop in Ireland in 1845 was caused by a hitherto unknown blight, which destroyed most potatoes either in the ground or harvested. The potato was the staple food of Irish peasants. Sometimes this event is referred to as the Great Famine. However, The Great Hunger is the more correct designation because in a famine food is almost unobtainable except for the very rich whereas in a hunger there is an abundance of food but one must have cash to purchase it on the market.

In Ireland in 1845 cattle, pigs, poultry, butter, eggs, oats and barley were exported from the country under armed guard as rent to absentee landlords in England while over one million people died of starvation. Ireland was England’s first colony and the political, economic and (attempted) religious subservience imposed on the people exacerbated the effects of the potato blight, which was a natural phenomenon.

The English Parliament under Lord John Russell in 1846 reversed policies of his predecessor in office Robert Peel and instead of some government assistance for the horrendous suffering in Ireland Russell resorted to rigid discipline of laissez-faire economics.

Resort to market forces to supply food to the starving masses was done in complete ignorance of the fact that with their foodstuffs extorted as rent the peasants had no cash to engage in market purchases of food and so 1.5 million persons died in the most horrible conditions. With justification Irish people asserted that while nature brought the blight England brought the hunger/famine.

During and after the Great Hunger over two million people emigrated to North America, England, Australia and elsewhere.

So many emigrants died during the Atlantic crossing to North America that the ships they sailed in were referred to as ‘coffin ships.’ It has been said that if a cross were erected in the Atlantic everywhere a body was thrown overboard there would be a continuous line of crosses from the coast of Ireland to North America, a distance of 3,000 miles.

Irish refugees arrived in Canada and the United States in conditions of extreme misery suffering from malnutrition and disease. Many died soon after arrival. Some refugees were tailors, shoemakers, and farmers- small and large- not all were unskilled, illiterate, panic stricken refugees although their appearance gave that impression.

It is understandable that in the aftermath of the Great Hunger, Irish emigrants saw their exile as a result of Protestant English oppression and many entertained a savage hatred of England thereafter. Later this hatred was exploited to engage Irish immigrants in various political struggles to free Ireland from English rule, something that continued up to recent times where the six North Eastern counties were concerned.

Speaking Irish
Many refugees spoke only Irish. Already in Newfoundland at the end of the eighteenth century a request was made for an Irish-speaking priest and many post-Famine emigrants to Pennsylvania spoke only Irish. Some clerics and devout people saw in the post-Hunger exodus in terms of a divine plan to spread the catholic religion in distant lands.

Instead of missioners, however, Frederick Engels, writing to Karl Marx in 1856 described the matter differently: ‘By consistent oppression they have been artificially converted into an utterly impoverished nation and now, as everyone knows, fulfil the function of supplying England, America, etc., with prostitutes, casual laborers, pimps, pickpockets, swindlers, beggars and other rabble.’

There were not lacking those who attributed the Great Hunger to sin and saw in it divine punishment for human infidelity but these spiritualizers who had no sense of analyzing material conditions of oppression and exploitation, though vocal at times, were in a minority.

Many unskilled Irish Immigrants found life difficult in the United States and seldom rose from positions as servants and over worked laborers. Some lived in conditions of unemployment and near starvation in tenements that were crowded and teeming with vermin and disease, factors that contributed to high mortality rates.

In New York, many lived in cellars below ground and these were often flooded with rainwater and raw sewage. Women were frequently employed even after they married as unskilled workers in sweatshop garment manufacture and needle trades.

Bishop John Hughes described these overcrowded slums and he and other churchmen were aware that drunkenness, crime, violence and insanity resulted from conditions of social squalor. Moreover, prisons held large numbers of Irish criminals arrested for public drunkenness but also for violence and murder. In some cities, the term ‘animals’ was often applied to Irish immigrants and they were routinely seen as unfit for ‘civilized’ life.

The Irish and Race
Noel Ignatiev, a lecturer at Harvard University, has written a controversial book How the Irish Became White. Ignatiev asks how oppressed people like the Catholics in Ireland ‘became part of an oppressing race in America.’ In essence his answer is that in America the Irish soon came to perceive that whiteness was important in determining advancement and social betterment and they embraced it even though this involved being anti-Black.

He is clear in stating that the Irish did not create this color based system but he does argue that they quickly, but not without struggle, adapted to it and eventually benefited from it.

Ignatiev writes: “After the Civil war, Southern recalcitrance pushed the Republican Party to embrace Negro suffrage in the south (although many Republicans continued to oppose it in the North). That bold step opened the door to a far-ranging social revolution, the establishment of a degree of proletarian political power in the governments of Southern States under reconstruction.

“For a brief moment the abolitionists- men like Wendell Phillips, and women like Sojourner Truth and Lydia Maria Child- stood at the head of a nation struggling to find its soul. In this struggle the Irish threw their weight on the scales, and not, it may be said, on the side of the angels.”
It may be argued, however, that the issue is one of class as much if not more than an issue of race. Poor whites were sometimes given command of slave workers deliberately to exacerbate class conflict and to prevent solidarity among workers; in this way ethnic conflict was fostered to avoid class antagonism towards wealthy and elites.

It is well documented that Irish laborers were often treated worse under capitalism than were slaves. Thus in dangerous construction work, the tendency was to send in ‘the Micks.’ as Irish were contemptuously called, rather than to send in slaves who had to be bought and were often better housed and fed than Irish cheap laborers who were abundant, over-worked, ill housed and under-paid.

It was this disparity between the status of laborers under capitalism and slaves that led some prominent Irish politicians to oppose the abolitionist movement.

John Mitchel a vehemently partisan Irish politician who wanted to ‘use America’ in his anti-British struggles, supported slavery because like some other Irish politicians he viewed the abolitionist movement as an English stratagem to weaken the United States, his son, died at Fort Sumter defending slavery.

Daniel O’Connell is known in Irish history as the Liberator for his work in achieving Catholic Emancipation in 1829. O’ Connell was in Paris at the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 and he became fully committed to non-violence in his struggle against the penal laws. He organized monster meetings of Irish peasants as a method of exercising political pressure on the English government in favor of civil rights for Catholics.

In 1841 he signed an address issued by sixty thousand Irish to their compatriots in America calling on them to support the abolitionists in the struggle against slavery but Ignatiev argues the Irish in America ignored this appeal, which was decisive in that phase of the abolitionist struggle. Irish people who recall that he spoke in favor of freedom for Ireland and did so in England revere Frederick Douglass.

Douglass was critical of the Irish in America when he said; “The Irish, who, at home, readily sympathize with the oppressed everywhere, are instantly taught when they step upon our soil to hate and despise the Negro Sir the Irish-American will one day find out his mistake.” However, he showed also that he understood the plight that drove Irish laborers at the bottom of society to compete, sometimes violently, with Black lower class workers.

In 1853 Douglass commented: “Every hour sees us elbowed out of some employment to make room for some newly arrived emigrant from the Emerald Isle, whose hunger and color entitle him to special favor. These white men are becoming house servants, cooks, stewards, waiters, and flunkies. For aught I see they adjust themselves to their stations with all proper humility. If they cannot rise to the dignity of white men, they show that they can fall to the degradation of black men. In assuming our avocation, (the Irishman) has also assumed our degradation.”

Sometimes, Irish workers were referred to as ‘white Negroes’ to designate both that they were exploited and that they were at the bottom of society. Generally, too, Blacks were excluded from labor unions but in times of strikes capitalist managers gave them jobs to help break the strike then expelled them from their jobs when strikes were settled.

Again this class based issue exacerbated tensions between low paid workers who were all struggling to survive. When the abominable material conditions of the poorest workers in Ireland are taken into account and when the hostilities and discriminations they encountered as Catholic and Irish are factored in their ‘becoming white (in Ignatiev’s term) is understandable even if regrettable.

Workers and Capitalism
Karl Marx who studied the conditions of Irish workers in Ireland and England under capitalism saw a divide and conquer strategy at work: landlords extorted such exorbitant rents from peasants in Ireland that when they had their crops sown in spring they headed for England and were so desperate that they took the lowest paying menial jobs they were offered.

Large numbers of Irish laborers eager for work (a reserve army) kept a downward pressure on wages for English workers and they in turn resented the Irish workers for this. This is a main reason why English workers failed to hear repeated pleas from Marx and Engels that English workers should join Irish labor in a struggle against the system and class that exploited both groups of workers.

When one considers that foodstuffs grown in Ireland were taken from tenants as rents to English absentee landlords, one can see the merit in Marx’s argument that the Irish provided cheap labor and cheap food that were major elements in making the English Industrial Revolution possible and successful.

The Draft Riots of 1863 are sometimes referred to as demonstrative of anti-Negro Irish racism. There was horrible violence against Negro men, women and children and Irish rioters perpetrated much of it but the causes are complex. The conscription law of 1863 occasioned the riots especially the commutation clause, which permitted wealthy conscripted men to pay a fee of $300 and be excused from fighting. The poor who had to fight were outraged and referred to the conflict as ‘a poor man’s fight but a rich man’s war’.

Many of the rioters were the poorest inhabitants of over crowded slums; some were German Protestants, all feared competition for jobs from freed Negro slaves. Many Irish at the time were anti-abolitionist for a variety of reasons. Some clergy saw slavery as an established institution and considered the movement for abolition as Protestant tainted, English supported and socially subversive.

The Archbishop of New York, John Hughes (1797-1864) said he opposed the abolitionist movement but was not a defender of slavery, he and other clergy opposed the riots and helped to restore order but already much innocent blood had been shed and much property destroyed including an orphanage for Negro children which was burned to the ground. There are many instances on record of Irish in slum situations in American cities living in harmony with Black neighbors and intermarrying with them in the 19th century when miscegenation laws forbade that practice.

The Irish and Labor in the United States
Hordes of Irish immigrants were illiterate and unskilled when they arrived in the United States; they worked at the most menial and often dangerous jobs for the lowest wages. As Catholics they often faced hostility and discrimination from Know-nothings and Nativists. So it is no surprise to find them active in unions that were sometimes militant and occasionally revolutionary.

Their religious leaders and their own allegiance to the Church made Marxism out of bounds for all except a few. Skilled workers made great headway and often extended protection and favors to fellow Irish workers. Sometimes violence over jobs erupted among the Irish themselves as well as against other ethnic groups. The Knights of Labor, which included many working women, was mainly Irish in membership as was the Union labor party.

The nation’s first African-American bishop, James Healy of Portland, Maine, excommunicated those who joined the Knights. Archbishop Bayley of Baltimore condemned unions as communist. In 1887 Archbishop James Gibbons in Rome to receive the red hat urged Pope Leo X111 not to condemn the Knights of Labor or the land tax theories of Henry George.

Gibbons reflected to Leo, “To lose the heart of the people would be a misfortune for which the friendship of the few rich and powerful would be no compensation.” Gibbons was among those whose urgings led to the publication of Rerum Novarum, the first social encyclical, in 1891. He was instrumental in persuading Church leaders in the United States to be on the side of labor.

Archbishop Corrigan excommunicated the radical New York priest Edward Mc Glynn for his espousal of a Catholic version of the Social Gospel movement founded by Walter Rauschenbusch. It is recorded that lecturing at Cooper Union in New York, Mc Glynn repeated the Our Father and brought the audience to their feet with their first understanding of its social meaning.

Mc Glynn wanted a confrontational church but the pastoral needs of an immigrant people were put first. The excommunication against Mc Glynn was lifted in 1893 six years after it was imposed and after it was decided that nothing in his teachings contravened Catholic doctrine.

The role of John A. Ryan son of Irish immigrants, as a pioneer ‘labor priest’ and adviser to Franklin Delaware Roosevelt is well known. Because of his input into social legislation ameliorating the condition of the poor and workers in the aftermath of the Great Depression Ryan was known as Right Reverend New Dealer.

As professor of moral theology at the Catholic University in Washington, D.C., from 1915-1939, Ryan insisted that social and economic problems were moral problems and he drafted the program of social reconstruction, which formed the basis of the Catholic bishops’ statement issued in 1919. Many of the proposals made by the bishops were ignored until the crisis facing capitalism in the time of the Great Depression made welfare provision for the workers, the poor and the unemployed unavoidable. Contrary to opponents of this legislation who condemn it as socialism it was welfare capitalism and designed to save the capitalist system.

One of the most famous women in United States labor struggles was Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (1890-1964) who was born of radical Irish immigrants. Flynn was one of the few Irish labor leaders who ventured to join the Communist Party. She was imprisoned under the Smith Act and served a two-year sentence from 1955 to 1957. Flynn was an active spokesperson in the industrial Workers of the World and was given a state funeral in the Soviet Union. Toward the end of her life she is said to have regretted that she did not speak out forcefully against male chauvinism.

Irish Catholics in the USA
Especially after the arrival of the millions who fled hunger and famine in Ireland, priests arrived from Ireland to minister to them. The Catholicism in which the people were instructed was characterized by loyalty to Rome and by strict adherence to Catholic doctrine.

Novenas, other devotional practices like the nine Fridays, and devotion to the Sacred Heart were encouraged. Devotional, ultra-montane Catholicism was vigorously imposed on the Catholic Church in Ireland by Cardinal Paul Cullen who as primate in Dublin in post-Famine Ireland initiated a devotional revolution in Irish piety, one which Irish bishops and priests also impressed on Irish Catholics in the United States.

Sometimes the style of Irish religious practice was a cause of dissension and struggle with other ethnic groups. Catholics in the United States opposed the public school system because it represented a danger to the pupils’ faith and the enormous and expensive task was undertaken to provide an alternative Catholic school system from grade schools to Colleges and universities. Catholics established hospitals, orphanages and other helping institutions with enthusiastic help from Irish clergy, bishops and parishioners even the very poorest.

It should be noted that the sexual teaching endorsed by Irish Catholics was that found in textbooks written in Rome and Europe by German, Italian and other theologians. The Irish adhered to this teaching but it did not originate with them.

From our brief overview, it should be clear that every form of discrimination and hostility experienced by immigrants today especially the undocumented, was, in their time, experienced also by the Irish most of whom availed of opportunities offered and eventually prospered.

Perhaps greater knowledge of their own history may bring the Irish-born to greater solidarity with all the poor and oppressed who still suffer disproportionately from homelessness, hunger, disease and underemployment in the wealthiest country in the world which exploits their labor and blames them for the condition of misery which social, political and economic factors, largely beyond their control, imposes on them.

Fr. Paul Surlis was a professor of Catholic Social Teaching and Theologies of Liberation from 1975 to 2000 at St. John’s University, New York. He is now retired from teaching.

He was born in 1936 in Shroofe, Co. Sligo, in vicinity of Lough Gara where drainage in the 1950s uncovered crannogs or lake dwellings approximately 4,000 years old.

Surlis received his secondary education at St. Nathy’s College, Ballaghaderreen (1949-1954) and entered seminary at St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth in 1954. Maynooth is a recognized college of the National University of Ireland and a Pontifical University. There, he received a BA in English language and literature in 1957 and studied philosophy also during that period.

He became a Bachelor of Divinity ( BD) 1960 at Pontifical University and was ordained in 1961, receiving his Doctorate in Theology in 1963. His thesis topic was Natural Law in Anglican Moral Theology. 1963-1967: Coming to the States, he worked in San Angelo and Corpus Christi dioceses in Texas with Irish-born Bishop Thomas J. Drury. In 1965, Surlis attended the Second Vatican Council with Bishop Drury as his personal theologian and with title peritus or expert.

From 1967-1972, Surlis returned to Ireland to teach theology at St. Patrick’s College Maynooth. Between 1970-1971, he was the recipient of Von Humboldt Fellowship and studied at University of Muenster then the then-West Germany with Prof. Karl Rahner, S. J.

Back in the States , Surlis headed up adult education program in Ascension parish Saratoga, Calif., from1972-1975, with Frs. William Worner and Nicholas Ferana. The program was accredited for MA degree in pastoral theology by University of San Francisco. It was the first program of its kind in the States, with about two thousand students aking courses over a three-year period.

Between 1975-2000, Surlis taught Catholic Social Teaching and Theologies of Liberation at St. John’s University, N.Y.

Surlis is the youngest son of Terence Surlis and Honoria Corcoran who were married in Brooklyn, USA in 1917 and who returned to Ireland with daughter Anastasia in 1921. Ten other children were born. Seven of father’s siblings emigrated to the United States, two later returned and lived in Ireland. Five of mother’s siblings emigrated to US and remained. One became a nun and went to Alberta Canada. A brother Thomas Corcoran was active labor organizer in Chicago.

One brother, Francis Aidan became a priest with Kiltegan Missionary Society, Ireland. He served in Kenya for nine years, then requested laicization, married and now lives in Crofton, Md., with wife his Catherine and three children. All five conduct a flourishing real estate business.

One sister, Phyllis, became a nun, taught in Ballina Convent National School for many years and became principal, then Superior of Ballina Mercies for 12 years. She came to United States and received a master’s degree in Art Therapy which she now practices in Ballina where she devotes special attention to children of itinerants and poor children.

Fr. Paul Surlis is now retired as a professor but active as a priest and is now is writing a book on social ethics.

© Irish American Post

301 N Water Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Phone: (414) 273-8132
Fax: (414) 273-8196

De Matha Scandal

September 26, 2012

The illegality and immorality of the conduct of the De Matha athletes arranging
online to hire prostitutes  are indisputable.  But what about the response of
the school authorities expelling the students?
Petula Dvorak says that “ The
De Matha players betrayed the school’s strict moral code….( “ No surprise to
find kids wading into digital swamp” 9/11, B1) A Catholic school has more than a
strict moral code.  It has a Catholic mission central to which is dealing with
sin and repentance and central to this  are:assurance of intention not to offend
in this way again, an appropriate penance and forgiveness with restoration to
the community.
Expelling the students short circuits this process and results
in failure to expose students to the wider religious issues.  Surely, students
and parents could have been summoned to a dialogue with the authorities, and
alternatives could have been offered such as a week long retreat with each
student having a spiritual director and at the conclusion the students could
have gone through the confessional process and rejoined the school after,
perhaps, a description to the student body of what had transpired in the
religious area.  By now the students know the culprits  but they have no model
for how religion works in a meaningful way.
Paul Surlis, Crofton
writer is a Catholic priest.


Structural change in the Church

August 15, 2012

Catholis and contraception, conscience reigns

May 28, 2012
I was present in St. Peter’s in Rome in 1965 ( as peritus to Bishop Thomas J. Drury of Corpus Christi, Texas) when the document on the Church in the Modern World was being discussed.  On the day when the Bishops should have debated birth control a message was delivered to the Council  saying that Pope Paul V1 had reserved the issue to himself and asking that the Bishops move on without dealing with birth control. 
The Bishops applauded.
Later that day at a press conference given by representatives of the U.S. Bishops the religious affairs correspondent ( I believe he represented  Time magazine) asked why the Bishops applauded when the Pope took the most important issue facing the Council out of their hands.  The Bishops present simply hung their heads and fumbled an unconvincing response..Aside from the Pope making an unwarranted entry into Conciliar deliberations, this intervention, was a major mistake from which we Catholics are still suffering.
An ecumenical council is the highest teaching authority in the Catholic Church. but a conservative curia did not accept that.
At present confusion is  still being generated concerning the Catholic Church’s stance on birth control.

There is no single position that would qualify for the status of Catholic doctrine.

In 1968 Pope Paul V1 against the view of the majority of his advisers issued a letter in which he asserted that every act of intercourse must be open to new life meaning no birth control by artificial means.  The letter while authoritative was not infallible as the pope himself pointed out.  Many Catholics including theologians and priests dissented from the teaching.  Then bishops in national conferences intervened but they too were divided: some agreed with the pope others (about one third of national conferences) stressed the legitimacy of dissent from the papal position.

Here in the DC area Father Charles Curran, a former student of Bernard Haring led the dissent from the papal teaching in 1968.  He and other professors at CU who joined in dissenting were fired by Cardinal O Boyle but they were reinstated after student protests. Ten years later in 1978 Pope John Paul 11 deprived Curran of the title “Catholic theologian” and Curran lost his job at CU.  No Catholic university in the US offered him a position.  Southern Methodist University where Curran still teaches did offer him a position.

The Belgian bishops wrote in 1968: “If someone competent in the matter and capable of forming a well founded judgment—which necessarily supposes sufficient information—after serious investigation, before God, reaches different conclusions on certain points, he has the right to follow his convictions in this matter, provided that he remains disposed to continue his investigations.”

The Belgian Bishops and other national conferences endorsed Curran’s dissent

This position has never been condemned or rescinded.  Today one may argue that the papal position as expounded in Humanae Vitae has been rejected through non-acceptance.

A majority of Catholic couples follow their consciences in electing to practice contraception. Some bishops, and a majority of moral theologians accept the legitimacy of this practice. And all of these are part of the  People of God, namely the Church, and what they advocate is Church teaching also. So at most there are different positions being argued even at the highest levels in the Church

What is sometimes called  ‘fundamental Catholic teaching’ has now changed. And as is customary when disputes exist the legitimacy of conscience and being obedient to it prevails.

Paul Surlis

1684 Albermarle Drive

Crofton, MD 21114


Catholic Teaching on Birth Control

February 15, 2012

Birth control,

In 1968 Pope Paul V1 against the majority of his advisers issued a letter ( encyclical entitled Humanae vitae, of  Human Life) in which he asserted that every act of intercourse must be open to new life meaning no birth control by artificial means.  The letter while authoritative was not infallible as the pope himself pointed out.  Many Catholics including theologians and priests dissented from the teaching.  Then bishops in  national  conferences intervened but they too were divided: some agreed with the pope others stressed the legitimacy of dissent.

 The Belgian bishops wrote: “If someone competent in the matter and capable of forming a well founded judgment—which necessarily supposes sufficient information—after serious investigation, before God, reaches different conclusions on certain points, he has the right to follow his convictions in this matter, provided that he remains disposed to continue his investigations.”

A majority of Catholic couples follow their consciences in electing to practice contraception and a majority of moral theologians accept the legitimacy of this practice.  The  Belgians Bishops, Catholic faithful and theologians are part of the People of God, namely the Church, and what they advocate is Church teaching also.

What is called ‘fundamental Catholic teaching’ has now changed.







same sex marriage

December 28, 2011

Letter published in Capital , Annapololis, 12-15-11

Same-sex marriage

Citizens are being rallied already to again oppose legalization of same-sex marriage, which is presented by religiously affiliated groups as an attack on the traditional definition of marriage.

Gov. Martin O’Malley wishes to enlarge the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. I do not see any interference with traditional religious definitions of marriage, which religious organizations may continue to uphold. Since the changes proposed by the governor refer to the secular definition of marriage, there is no “threat to religious liberty,” as some Catholics argue.

In some states, Catholic Charities has shut down adoption services rather than place children with same-sex couples – a decision they say was forced on them. The unproven assumption here is that same-sex persons are unsuitable as parents or adoptive parents. I know of no solid empirical studies that verify that claim. If such studies exist where are they?

Anecdotal evidence is not scientific. I, and people I have spoken to, can point to many same-sex couples who have raised well-adjusted children who are as emotionally and spiritually healthy as their peers from so-called traditional marriages.

It must never be forgotten that some of the most ardent opponents of same-sex people in western society have been Christian groups, especially those claiming biblical evidence for their hatred and violence.

We are grateful that ours is a pluralistic society; we must not claim infringements of religious rights where none exist, nor should we try to impose any reduction of the rights of others in the name of religious beliefs.