The Vatican? I have a cunning plan…

by Instant Noodle

That chap is George Errington, and as you can see, he is on his way to the Vatican.

As a staunch catholic, he became the center of a Baldrick-style cunning plan by the Gladstone government to fool the Vatican. They had him send a deviously crafted letter to mislead the Vatican about conditions in Ireland, and to exploit them over other aspects of foreign policy. The extent of his dealings were not made public at the time.

Here are some of the best bits of the behind-the-scenes dealing that went on,

Dear Lord Ampthill,
You have taken so kind an interest in the question of relations with the Holy See, that I venture to give you few
particulars as to how things are going on. I am happy to say that a most satisfactory and genuine change has at length come over the Pope and his advisers as regards Ireland.

You are probably ware that up to last year the sympathy of Rome was entirely in favour of the National (we may now call it revolutionary) party. This was natural enough far in almost everything concerning England and Ireland information had always come from the most bitterly anti-English sources and through the powerful Irish faction here.

The Irish College with dear old Kirby at its head was a single hot bed of sedition and, to make matters worse, the latter had great personal influence on the present Pope. Every possible opposition has been offered, but I think we have now completely triumphed and are reaping the fruits.

It is often argued in the English press that an accord with Rome, even if desirable in itself, would now come too late, that the Irish clergy have lost their influence over the people, and that the little they still possess would be destroyed if Roman interference were supposed to be inspired by England.

But there could not be two greater fallacies. It is true the influence of the Irish clergy for good has immensely diminished but their influence for evil continues to be enormous and my real hope and aim for the present has been to control this: with what success is proved by the totally altered attitude of the clergy generally this winter. No one could more fully recognise this than Lord Spencer and he authorised me to express here in the warmest terms his appreciation of the results already obtained. I am sorry that the rather interesting details pf all this are too long to write.

On coming here last year I soon proved that the old despotic power of Rome to control by a stroke of the pen the views and action of so independent a clergy as the Irish had certainly passed away; but it was equally clear that its power, used in the only way the Pope now ventures to use it, viz, by judicious and repeated admonition and bye constant steady pressure, is still absolutely omnipotent and perhaps more so now than ever it was.

In dealing with Ireland, however, the ecclesiastical department (centred at Propaganda) comes into play, especially in all administrative matters, far more than the political department at the Vatican; and you know the two departments are actuated by very different and sometimes conflicting motives and influences.

Fortunately I am on good terms at Propaganda and they are very kind to me[…]

There is one risk I feel strongly in all this, viz, that the good dispositions of the Pope, though quite honest and genuine in themselves, are really very dependent unconsciously perhaps on the continued friendly attitude of the English Government. Hitherto my presence here, minimised and denied as it has been, is accepted as, under present circumstances, sufficient evidence of friendliness and my hope is that the government will see the importance of at least not further weakening this very slender thread.

Of course what the Pope wants are some sort of avowed relations; he recognised, however, the great difficulties at present in the way of anything definite and is content to go one with things as they are, provided he can say to his friends that everything is not broken off. It is not easy, however, to go on for ever in this way. I return to England after Easter but I shall promise to come back here for a week in July if I am allowed, end again in the Autumn, so as to keep up an appearance of continuity. I must apologise for going into this at such length: I only venture to do so knowing your interest in all Roman matters.

I am very sorry for the line our government seems to be taking about the Congo matter. You are probably aware of the interesting and complicated way in which the Vatican through Portugal is mixed up in this affair. An important and extensive question might now have been settled on broader lines than merely using Portugal, the least civilizing and most retrograde of powers, to topple France. I see there has been some talk in the House [of Commons] about it.

I am,
Dear Lord Ampthill,
Truly yours.

One thing needs to be said here, and that is that politics is a very dirty business.