Mental reservation used 'to lie to jury'

 

A CANADIAN academic has claimed the leader of the Irish Catholic Church in the 1870s used the concept of “mental reservation” to “lie to a jury and commit perjury in a civil court case”.

“Mental reservation” allows clerics knowingly to mislead people “without being guilty of lying”, and came to public attention last year in the Murphy Report (on clerical sexual abuse).

But Prof Colin Barr, who has written a new book about a 19th century schism, claims Cardinal Paul Cullen, (appointed Ireland’s first cardinal in 1867), used “mental reservation” in a case which mirrors the contemporary debate about the conflict between civil and canon law. The author, an associate professor at Ave Maria University, Florida, is visiting Ireland this week to promote his book The European Culture Wars in Ireland – The Callan Schools Affair, 1868-81. The book explores a dispute which split the 19th century Irish Catholic Church.

Fr Robert O’Keeffe challenged the authority of his bishop, the cardinal and the Vatican over the control of education in Callan, Co Kilkenny. He championed the national school system and invited French nuns to come to the town. The church favoured the Christian Brothers and Mercy nuns. The dispute led to lawsuits, riots in Callan and extensive press coverage, and attracted the attention of prime minister William Gladstone.

On May 26th, 1876, The Irish Timesreported that Fr O’Keeffe was forced to make “a personal apology to Cardinal Cullen; to “submit himself to diocesan control”; to abandon litigation against his “ecclesiastical superiors”; and resign as parish priest.

Joe Kennedy, secretary of the Callan Historical Society, said people there remembered the bishop had described those who supported the priest as the “lower classes and women of ill-repute”.

Writer Thomas Kilroy wrote a fictitious account of the events in his novel The Big Chapel, which was awarded the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1971 and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Tonight the book will be launched at Newman House in Dublin at 8pm by Prof Vincent Comerford.