Catholic Church in Ireland

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXVI

It should be observed, however, that Sir Henry Sidney's remarks apply exclusively to the Protestant clergy. Of the state of the Catholic Church and clergy he had no knowledge, neither had he any interest in obtaining information. His account of the Protestant clergy who had been intruded into the Catholic parishes, and of the Protestant bishops who had been placed in the Catholic dioceses, we may presume to be correct, as he had no interest or object in misrepresentation; but his observation concerning the neglect of the sacrament of baptism, may be taken with some limitation.

When a religious revolution takes place in a Catholic country, there is always a large class who conform exteriorly to whatever opinions maybe enforced by the sword. They have not the generosity to become confessors, nor the courage to become martyrs. But these persons rarely renounce the faith in their hearts; and sacrifice their conscience to their worldly interest, though not without considerable uneasiness. In such cases, these apparently-conforming Protestants would never think of bringing their children to be baptized by a minister of the new religion; they would make no nice distinctions between the validity of one sacrament and another; and would either believe that sacraments were a matter of indifference, as the new creed implied, or if they were of any value, that they should be administered by those who respected them, and that their number should remain intact.

In recent famine years, the men who risked their spiritual life to save their temporal existence, which the tempter would only consent to preserve on his own terms, were wont to visit the church, and bid Almighty God a solemn farewell until better times should come. They could not make up their minds to die of starvation, when food might be had for formal apostacy; they knew that they were denying their God when they appeared to deny their religion. It is more than probable that a similar feeling actuated thousands at the period of which we are writing; and that the poor Celt, who conformed from fear of the sword, took his children by night to the priest of the old religion, that he might admit them, by the sacrament of baptism, into the fold of the only Church in which he believed.