Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The Scandalous Bishop of Cork

The Convenor has been showing off his knowledge of the Bishops of Cork but the most interesting of all is the scandalous Bishop John Butler, who was Bishop of Cork from 1763 to 1787.

The Butlers of Ormonde
John Butler came of the great Butlers of Ormonde, one of the greatest families in the kingdom of Ireland whose titles included a Dukedom, a Marquisate, four Earldoms and a Barony - the Barony was the problem. Under the pressure of the penal laws, members of each branch of the family were forced to 'conform' to the Protestant religion in order to save the family's property. For example, the famous Catholic family, the Butlers of Kilcash, Thomas Butler, who fought for the Jacobite cause, died in 1738. Whatever difficulties oppressed Catholics during life, special penalties were reserved for them at the passage of their estate to their heirs. Thus, Thomas' son, John, 'conformed' in 1739.
Father Butler
It was into this atmosphere of spiritual genocide that our John Butler was born in 1731. He was the third son of Edmond Butler, 8th Baron Dunboyne. While his two brothers, James and Pierce, joined the Wild Geese fighting with the Armies of the King of France, John pursued a vocation to the priesthood by studying at the Irish College in Rome from 1749. While there, he was not entirely passive - or well-behaved - and lost an eye in a duel. By reason of this defect, it required a special dispensation for him to be ordained, which he was on 20 December 1755 at the Lateran Basilica, which had newly acquired its Baroque façade and interior. He then studied at the College of Propaganda Fide, the great missionary college in Rome, and obtained his Doctorate in Divinity.

Father Butler returned to Ireland in 1758 where, under the penal laws, he was required to register as a Popish minister. He was examined before a Justice of the Peace in Whitehaven when he landed. If the Murphys ruled large parts of the Irish Church in the 19th cent., the Butlers held sway in the 18th. Father Murphy returned to his native Archdiocese of Cashel to serve as Parish Priest of Ardmayle, just north of Cashel, under his cousin, Archbishop James Butler. Christopher Butler had been Archbishop from 1712 to 1757, James succeeded him in 1757 and was succeeded by another James Butler in 1774. At his death in 1791, there had been an unbroken succession of Butler Archbishops for 71 years. During four years as a Parish Priest, Father Butler was also the Archbishop's Secretary and Archdeacon of the Archdiocese.

Bishop of Cork
When the Bishop of Cork died, Father Butler was placed dignissimus among the list of candidates submitted by Cardinal Spinelli, in one of his last acts as Prefect of the Propaganda Fide. The Congregation of Propaganda Fide was the Vatican Department of mission territories. Ireland (as well as Scotland, Canada and the United States) came under this Department of the Vatican until the Constitution of 29 June 1909. He was duly appointed Bishop of Cork on 16 April 1763 by Pope Clement XIII (the man who put the fig leaves on the statues of Rome) and he was consecrated the following June.

It is not hard to imagine that his time as Bishop was characterised by adherence to the status quo of the English Protestant ascendency. His Statuta synodalia pro dioecesi Corcagiensi in 1768 made membership of the Whiteboys, the geurilla fighters against the Protestant penal régime, a reserved sin. In 1771, he managed to prevent the introduction of the Ursuline Nuns to Cork by Nano Nagle - a felix culpa that was to see his successor, Bishop Moylan, preside over the foundation of the Presentation Sisters. The Ursulines don't seem to have been the only Order that didn't find Bishop Butler too helpful. The Carmelites of Kinsale had to endure repeated attempts by him to take over their Chapel as a Parish Church. When he couldn't succeed by other means, he withdrew their faculties to hear confessions and administer the Sacraments. Their appeal to Rome was supported by Fr. O'Mahony, the Parish Priest, who declared that the Chapel and Friary were built and owned by the Carmelite Order. Such incidents didn't bode well for the scandalous Bishop of Cork.

The Barons Dunboyne
Bishop Butler's father had died in 1732 and his brother James became the 9th Baron Dunboyne. James died in 1768 and their brother Pierce became 10th Baron. Pierce died in 1773 and his son, also Pierce, became 11th Baron, until his death in 1785. On the death of his nephew Pierce, Bishop Butler became 12th Baron Dunboyne.

This is where the scandal begins and it is the point at which I stop understanding the train of events - or the train of logic of the Bishop. Lord Dunboyne fears for the extinction of his family - he has, after all, outlived his father, brothers, and nephews. In order to preserve his line, he is anxious to have heirs, legitimate heirs, in which the small matter of a vow of celibacy is an obstacle. Thus, he resigns as Bishop of Cork and seeks a dispensation from his vow of celibacy from Pope Pius VI in order to marry and beget heirs to the title. "It is no pleasure for me after a life of celibacy, to share my bed and board," wrote the Reverend Lord Dunboyne. However, when he died in 1800, he was succeeded by a cousin, a nephew of Archbishop James Butler. It may have struck Pope Pius (and it strikes me) was it really necessary for him to marry? Couldn't the cousin have inherited just as well from a Bishop as from a Lord?

The Catholic Dunboynes had been, until that time, merely de facto Barons, since their Letters Patent couldn't be issued until they 'conformed.' It was not until the cousin inherited as 13th Baron that there was the "reversal of outlawries which affected the title, in the Court of King's Bench in Dublin in Michaelmas term 1827, by virtue of His Majesty's warrant dated at Windsor 26 October 1827."

The Scandal Begins
the 12th Lord Dunboyne seemed to think it was necessary that he should marry and after resigning as Bishop of Cork but without the dispensation from his vows from the Pope, he visited Brookley House in Tipperary, the home of some Protestant cousins, where (the worse for drink it is said) he met Miss Maria Butler. At the time, she was 23 and he was 57. By Christmas 1786, Maria's father had informed her that 'the Bishop' had asked for her hand in marriage. The courting began in earnest and they were married by the following April 1787 - need I say - in the Anglican Church. 'The Dunboynes' took up residence at Dunboyne Castle, Co. Meath.

On the 11 August 1787 Archbishop Butler met Lord Dunboyne to give him the Pope's reply (dated 9 June 1787). When he had finished reading the letter Lord Dunboyne is reported to have said “I fear my case has not been fully understood. I am not a young man, nor am I seeking release from my vows for selfish reasons. The Holy Father must be told again that I am solely concerned with the continuation of our family.” Mind you, the small matter of a wife might have made the explanation that much more difficult.

Eight days later, on 19 August 1787 Lord Dunboyne 'conformed' to Anglicanism at St. Mary’s Church, Clonmel before Rev. M.R. Dunlevy. The Catholic people of Clonmel protested outside. Fr. Arthur O’Leary, OFMCap., of Cork published a pamphlet against the apostate Bishop. An anonymous satire was published in Irish.

Nuair a bheas tú in Ifrionn go fóill,
Agus do deora ag silleadh leat,
Sin an áit a bhfuagh tú na scéala,
Cé is fearr sagairt no ministéar.

Later when you’ll be in hell,
And your tears flow,
That's the place that you’ll discover,
Which is better, a priest or minister.

The Dunboyne Marriage
The marriage was not a happy one. Their only child, a daughter, was born deformed and lived only a few minutes. It is said that the child was buried in ruins of the Augustinian Friary in Fethard, Co. Tipperary. A cloud of depression enveloped the couple which they attempted to lift by taking up residence at 18, Leeson Street, Dublin, now the home of the Standards in Public Office Commission. It didn't help their relationship and they soon divorced. Maria married John Moore from Portumna. They had one son, Hubert Butler Moore, and a grandson called Butler Dunboyne Moore, one of whose descendants was the British World War II commander Field Marshal Claude Auchinlech. Lady Dunboyne died in 1860.

Lord Dunboyne showed many signs of remorse for his actions. When the Catholic Chapel at Dunboyne was destroyed in 1798, Lord Dunboyne offered to pay for the rebuilding himself. On another occasion he offered his own chalice, dated 1621, to the Parish Priest of Kilusty near Fethard saying "Here is a chalice for you with which I often celebrated Mass in happier days. Take it from my polluted hands." The chalice is still in the possession of the Parish.

From his residence in Leeson Street, Lord Dunboyne sought reconciliation with the Church through Archbishop Troy of Dublin. A letter begging for absolution was sent to Rome. Dunboyne's friend of 20 years, Fr. Gahan, O.S.A., an Augustinian and Prior of their house in John's Lane, was the man chosen by the Archbishop to attend him as he crept towards his judgement. Dr. Gahan was to fall under the shadow of the curse of the apostate Bishop.

Persecution Post Mortem
Dunboyne died on 5 May 1800 and was buried in the ruins of the Augustinian Friary in Fethard, near his infant daughter. He was reconciled to the Church on his deathbed, which made him, in the eyes of English Law "a relapsed Papist," in which condition, legacies of land in his will were automatically voided. Once again, the penal laws acted to persecute Catholics even after death. Dunboyne's will left a large endowment based on land to the recently founded Maynooth College. That endowment was later to form the basis of the Post-graduate Faculty, 'The Dunboyne Establishment.' However, before the endowment passed to the College, the will was challenged by Mrs. Catherine O’ Brien Butler, a cousin.

Dr. Gahan was compelled to appear as a witness in the case and he was required by the Court to reveal the secrets of his conversations with Dunboyne. The most famous of the series of cases, Butler v. Moore, MacNally [1802], 253, decided that Priest-Penitent privilege was not recognised in law, per Sir Michael Smith, MR. Dr. Gahan refused to breach the seal of confession. At the Trim assizes on 24 August 1802 his persistent refusal to testify as to the religion in which Dunboyne had died was ruled by the Chief Justice, Lord Kilwarden (who was caught up in the Robert Emmet rising) as contempt of court. Dr. Gahan was imprisoned but only for a short time.

Sir Jonah Barrington in his 'Personal Sketches' says that Kilwarden "had no natural genius, and but scanty general information; his talents were originally too feeble to raise him by their unassisted efforts into any political importance. Though patronised by the Earl of Tyrone, and supported by the Beresford aristocracy, his rise was slow and gradual, and his promotion to the office of solicitor-general had been long predicted, not from his ability, but in consequence of his reputation as a good-hearted man and a sound lawyer."

The famous case of Cook v. Carroll [1945] IR 515, a judgement of Mr. Justice Gavan Duffy, firmly established Priest-Parishioner Privilege in Ireland.

In the end, faced with the prospect of endless litigation, the parties agreed to a division of the property, including the endowment at Maynooth.

Robert Butler, 16th Baron and direct descendant of the brother of Archbishop Butler, was a barrister and Master of the High Court in Ireland. His grandson, Patrick Butler, 18th Baron, was also a barrister (Middle Temple 1947, King's Inns 1966) and an English Circuit Court Judge. His son is the present Baron Dunboyne.

First published on the St. Conleth's Catholic Heritage Association blog in July, 2010.

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