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FALVEY MEMORIAL LIBRARY
FALVEY MEMORIAL LIBRARY
American Catholic Historical Society
Press Release no. 59, From: Friends of Irish Freedom, National Bureau of Information, .
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Press Release no. 59, From: Friends of Irish Freedom, National Bureau of Information, .
Friends of Irish Freedom, National Bureau of Information.
11 January 2014
Moral and ethical aspects.
Disclaimer of Liability
Disclaimer of Endorsement
NEWS BULLETIN Friends of Insh Freedom National Bureau of Information WRIGHT McCORMICK, Acting Director «2236 Release Immediately 1051 Munsey Building, Washington, D. C. . No. 59 Theology, Some Theologians and the Hunger Strike The discussion which has been carried. — struggle’ between physical force and on in the newspapers during the last few weeks in regard to the morality of the “hunger-strike” gives evidence of a desire for correct theological teaching which can never be too highly com- mended, even though the discussion commenced with the wide dissemina- tion of a statement by a certain English priest, named Vaughan, to the effect that he (Vaughan) would not adminis- ter the last sacraments to Lord Mayor MacSwiney, because he considered “hunger-striking” suicide, and there- fore a defiance of the Law of God and of the Church, Father Tierney, $.J., the editor of America, set the scruples of a timid correspondent at rest by expound- ing at considerable length the teaching of the Church on the subject of volun- tary starvation, and showed that Lord Mayor MacSwiney was deserving neither of ecclesiastical censure nor of the vindictive treatment outlined in the communication of Father Vaughan. A Philadelphia clergyman, named Mac- Cabe, came to the rescue of his English colleague by attempting to controvert the arguments of Father Tierney on the ground that the latter was illogical, and that there is no precedent in Catholic history for his defense of Mayor Mac- Swiney’s action. By a strange per- version of Togic the Philadelphian asks: “Did the Burgomaster Max of Brussels go on a hunger-strike?” implying, no doubt, that the Belgian Burgomaster could have made legitimate something which is “sinful in itself.”’ Monsignor “MacCabe’s theological subtlety was not lost on the newspaper world and the columns of many papers were opened to discussions of the moral- ity of the “hunger-strike”” by Catholic clergymen, with the result that it would seem Catholic theological opinion if solidly in favor of Mayor MacSwincy. There was, however,,; one dissentient voice, that of another Monsignor, a Washingtonian, named Thomas. ~~ It will not be necessary here to enter into theological technicalities in order to show how utterly unwarranted in morality and common sense is the posi- tion taken by those defenders of English frightfulness. Such a discussion might run to interminable lengths with the tisk of haying essential facts buried in legal and technical verbiage. There is one point, however, to which sufficient attention has not been paid, an omission to which the friends of Mayor MacSwiney may with all justice take exception, namely, the case for the Mayor both on its political and on its ethical side has not been stated fully and fairly. In order to form a just conception of the issues involved it must be borne in mind that a condition of war exists in Ireland and has existed for some time. The legally estab- lished government of Ireland, a govern- ment republican in form and resting on the freely expressed will of the people, a government de jure and de facto is hindered from exercising its legitimate functions by the presence on Irish soil of the military forces of a foreign power. The administration of the government of the Republic of Ireland is interfered with, its responsible heads are seized and imprisoned, exiled or sentenced to death. , The officials of the Irish Repub- lic know that the struggle they are carrying on against England is an un- equal but not a hopeless one. It is a moral force. .On one side are all the resources of a great militaristic state, a state filled with imperialistic ambition and the lust of war; on the other side the moral strength of a_great people determined to be free. The conflict can end only when the military forces of the invading power are withdrawn or when the moral force of the Irish people is shattered and destroyed. Any weak- ening or any diminution of the moral resistance of the Irish people is a victory for England as decisive as the defeat or the destruction of England’s army of occupation would be for Ireland. Ire- land's armament is moral; England’s is material. “The moral considerations on which Ireland’s claim to national exist- ence rest are now, unhappily, closely bound up. with the—moral power of Terence’ MacSwiney to resist physical force. The case of Ireland and that of Terence MacSwiney may have few parallels in history: the struggle of the Irish people may be unequal, though not hopeless; but the Irish people are at the present moment the foremost defenders of the modern principle of civilization. The Irish people, in spite of the odds against them, are giving heroic expression to the doctrine enun- ciated by. President Wilson, in_ New | “York on September 27, 1918, and con- curred in by the entire civilized world as a condition essential to permanent peace. The President asked: “Shall peoples be ruled and dominated in their own internal affairs by arbitrary and irresponsible force or by their own will and choice?” : : At the present moment Lord Mayor MacSwiney is the embodiment of that moral thing, the will of the Irish people. His slender life is pitted against. that other thing, hideous and immoral, from which the world sought escape through the fiery ‘ordeal of war, arbitrary and irresponsible force embodied in the armed bands of murderers loosed on the defenceless people of Ireland by English officialdom. Were the choice his, he would no doubt prefer to meet these Janizaries sword in hand, he would’ gladly risk his life in open combat; but he employs the only weapon at his dis- posal, the weapon of the spirit. We may be permitted to’ ask what reply Father Vaughan has to offer in the case where a man sacrifices con- viction for profit, when he places his own life above that of his fellows, or when he seeks ease and comfort through the betrayal of his country? That man has read the history of the Catholic Church to little advantage who is at a loss for a reply. . . One of those persons who joined the ranks of Mayor MacSwiney's accusers sought an argument to bolster up his position by asking: “Why is it that we nowhere read of St. Peter or St. Paul or any of the thousands upon thousands of Christian martyrs ever haying gone ona hunger striked” A. question of this kind exhibits as much sense of historic values as if one were to ask whether the carly Christians had been victims of rifle fire and hand-grenades or if their homes had been wrecked by bombs thrown by bands of armed raffians from armored automobiles. The alternative presented to Lord Mayor MacSwiney is in the fullest sense the same alternative presented to every Christian who was brought before a pagan tribunal ig im- perial Rome. To the pagan mind, per- sistence in confessing Christ, ‘when denial would have meant releasey was suicide, pure and. simple. Tertullian tells us that, “when Arrius Antoninus was driving things hard in Asia, wl the Christians of the province, in one united band, presented themselves before his judgment-seat; on which, ordering a few to be led forth to execution, he said to the rest, ‘O miserable men, if you wish to die, you have precipices or halters.’” low Father Vaughan and Doctor MacCabe would have wagged their heads in approval of the Roman magistrate’s dictum, and how they would have cried out against those suicidally- minded Christians! In fact it may seriously be questioned whether the pagans of old did not have a better understanding of the Christian attitude on the subject of the hunger-strike than some who, in modern times, set them- selves up as the authorized interpreters of Christian morals. that the Emperor Maximinus ordered among other things that, ‘the things for sale in the market should be polluted with libations from the sacrifices.” In other words the action of the Emperor gave the Christians the choice between apostasy or a general hunger-strike. What their answer was is clear from scores of incidents. To mention one among countless instances of the man- ner in which the followers of Christ pre- ferred voluntary self-immolation to the surrender of their faith, let us take the case of the Forty Martyrs of Sebaste. “According to St. Basil, forty soldiers who had openly confessed themselves Christians were condemned by the Pre- fect to be exposed naked upon a frozen pond near Sebaste on a bitterly cold night, that they might freeze to death. Among the confessors one yiclded and, leaving his companions, sought the warm baths near the lake which had been prepared for any who might prove inconstant. One of the guards set to watch over the martyrs beheld at this moment a supernatural brillidncy over~ shadowing them and at once proclaimed himself a Christian, threw off his gar- ments, and placed himself beside the thirty-nine soldiers of Christ. Thus the number of forty remained complete. At daybreak, the stiffened bodies of the confessors, which still showed signs of life, were burned and the ashes cast into ariver. The Christians, however, col- lected the precious remains, and the relics were distributed throughout many cities; in this way the veneration paid to the Forty Martyrs became .videspread, and numerous churches were erected in their honor.” Had Father “Bernard Vaughan passed that way the night these martyrs were dying of exposure and seen the easy and sure means pro- vided for their escape in the warm baths and shelter, he would, no doubt, have acted as he does in-the case of Lord Mayor MacSwiney, and refused them the sacraments. His Philadelphia con- gener, in the same circumstances, would have added another chill to the enthusi- asm of the confessors by an inane vati- cination, as he does in the case of the Lord Mayor. Ie might have addressed them in the words with which he pooh- poohs the sacrifice of the heroic Irish- man. “The alleged good effects appear to me to be greatly exaggerated, if not altogether imaginary. Outside. of en- thusiastic Catechumenate. and} Chris- tian circles, there is reason, I think, to’ fear that the effect will be the reverse of what ardent confessors are led-to be- lieve.” Lord Mayor ‘MacSwiney, dying in Brixton prison as a martyr to the cause of freedom and Ireland, is doing as he would have done in the lake at Sebaste had his faith been at stake. - He .would have died then as he is dying now, and the taunt of the pagan would have de- terred him as little from his duty as that of the priest; the blandishments and the sophistry of the magistrates, as little as those of the Monsignori in Philadelphia or in Washington. ' In speaking so glibly ®8 they have Eusebius relates » done about this matter of suicide, none of the theologians who have con- demned Lord Mayor MacSwiney seems to have taken the trouble to find out what suicide really is. Suicide is the direct killing of one’s self. ° But in order that any moral depravity may attach to the act it is necessary, theologians say, that “the slaying must be done by one’s own authority.” Public author- ity has always demanded the right to order an individual to place him- self in a position from which there is no escape. If the duly constituted authority in Ireland is satisfied that Lord Mayor MacSwiney’s action is con- ducive to the life of his country who can deny that it has the right to demand from him this sacrifice. If he is under- going the tortures of starvation in his prison with the assent of President De Valera, is he doing more than the humblest soldier who is assigned to rear- guard action, as the Irish soldiers of the Irish regiments were assigned in ‘}c English retreat in the Balkan campaign. It was certain death for those Irish lads to save the fleeing “Englishmen, but, there was no outcry that they were guilty of suicide or unworthy of the sacraments for having done so. _ The fatility and the dishonesty of raising a question regarding the morality of Mayor-MacSwiney’s courageous refusal to take food is all the more objection- able because _ manuals of . Catholic Morals have been in circulation for years in which such questions have been discussed apart from political bias, and in which voluntary self-immolation in certain circumstances is said to be en- tirely in accordance with Catholic morals. In a work entitled Moral Briefs, published in 1904 with ecclesi- astical authority, the Reverend John I. Stapleton, expounds the teaching of the Church as follows: “To escape sure death, to escape from grave danger or ills, to preserve one’s Virtue, to save another's life, fo assure a great public benefit, etc., these are reasons propor- tionate to the evil of risking life; and in these and similar cases, if death results, it is indirect suicide, and is in no wise criminal.” No protests- were raised against the publication of this book | by that astute watch-dog of Catho- lic orthodoxy, the Reverend Luke MacCabe, or the inconsequential Mon-- signor Thomas. The theological shal- lowness which causes them to raise their voices at this time is less surprising than the stupidity which caused them to walk with open eyes into such a clumsily baited trap of English propaganda as the attempt to create dissension about - a matter of Theology while the English themselves are proceeding systematic- ally with their campaign of official murder. . The case of MacSwiney is the acid test by Which “the plain people every- where’’ are to learn whether they are to ~ live for the future under the regime of _force or under a dispensation with purely moral sanctions; the case of Ire- land is the test-case of the sincerity of the nations of the Entente that they fought Germany to end militarism and to crush force. . Mayor MacSwiney and those who believe in him and trust in him, may be wrong in their conviction that moral force will ultimately triumph over brute force; that unflinching ad- herence to the principles of liberty will destroy the savagery of ruthless war; but this, at least, must be admitted— Mayor MacSwiney does not hesitate to die for his convictions. lis life, the lives and the liberties of his people are at stake, and it is a desecration, an act of unmitigated poltroonery to attempt to measure his motives or to judge his deeds by the mean standards of the legalist. or the unworthy quibbling of the sophist. Mayor MacSwiney’s ap- peal is to.a larger tribunal—the con- science of mankind. . In conclusiorf, it may not be amiss to inquire how the tender moral suscepti- bilitiesof The Reverend Bernard Vaughan, The Right Reverend Luke McCabe and The Right Reverend C, F. Thomas react to the English pogroms in Ireland. \