A Daring Hoax

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXII (2) start of chapter

To the conduct of a misguided and headstrong priest named Hogan, who afterwards apostatized and took to himself a wife, was due a prolonged scandal in the city of Philadelphia. It is sufficient to state that, although deprived of his faculties by his Bishop, he still continued to perform the priestly functions—openly defying the episcopal authority. The daring contumacy of the unhappy man left no option to the Bishop but at once to cut him off from the Church of which he proved himself so unworthy a minister; and the priest was accordingly excommunicated according to the form prescribed by the Roman pontifical. This necessary act of vigour on the part of the Bishop of Philadelphia was made the occasion of one of the most daring literary frauds probably heard of in America before that date—though, as we shall show a little further on, a second, of more serious consequences, was perpetrated in a few years after. The excommunication being a matter of public notoriety, it was deemed advisable by the enemies of the Church to turn it to the best account against the 'tyranny and despotism of Rome;' and accordingly there was published in a Philadelphia newspaper a form of excommunication which, naturally enough, excited no little horror in the mind of the community. A sample or two of this precious document will afford the reader a sufficient idea of the whole:—

May he be damned wherever he be, whether in the house or in the stable, or the garden, or the field, or the highway, or in the path, or in the wood, or in the water, or in the church; may he be cursed in living and in dying. .................

May he be cursed inwardly and outwardly, may he be cursed in his brains, and in his vertex, in his temples, in his eyes, in his eyebrows, in his cheeks, in his jaw-bones, in his nostrils, in his teeth and grinders, in his lips, in his throat, in his shoulders, in his arms, in his fingers.

May he be damned in his mouth, in his breast, in his heart and purtenance, down to the very stomach.

Even his 'toe-nails' were not spared in this terrible anathema. Those who search for the original of this excommunication in the Roman pontifical would fail to discover it there; but those familiar with light literature may find it in Tristram Shandy! In his Miscellany, which did so much for the defence of the Church and the cause of religion, Bishop England, who was thoroughly familiar with the writings of Laurence Sterne, promptly exposed the unblushing fraud. But as it is difficult to overtake a lie, let it have never so short a start, many believed in the cursing of the grinders and the toe-nails—perhaps do to this day.

That the spirit of hostility to the Catholic Church was as virulent as ever, we have evidence in the Pastoral Letter of 1833; and an event which followed shortly after—the burning of the convent of Charlestown, Massachusetts—is a proof how successful were the appeals which were then, as in years subsequent, made by malignant sectaries and dishonest politicians to the passions of the unthinking and the brutal. The Bishops say:—

We notice with regret a spirit exhibited by some of the conductors of the press engaged in the interests of those brethren separated from our communion which has within a few years become more unkind and unjust in our regard. Not only do they assail us and our institutions in a style of vituperation and offence, misrepresent our tenets, vilify our practices, repeat the hundred-times-refuted calumnies of days of angry and bitter contention in other lands, but they had even denounced you and us as enemies to the Republic, and have openly proclaimed the fancied necessity of not only obstructing our progress, but of using their best efforts to extirpate our religion; and for this purpose they have collected large sums of money. It is neither our principle nor our practice to render evil for evil, nor railing for railing; and we exhort you rather to the contrary, to render blessing, for unto this you are called, that you by inheritance may obtain a blessing. .... We are too well known to our fellow citizens to render it necessary that we should exhibit the utter want of any ground upon which such charges could rest. We, therefore, advise you to heed them not; but to continue, whilst you serve God with fidelity, to discharge honestly, faithfully, and with affectionate attachment, your duties to the government under which you live, so that we may, in common with our fellow-citizens, sustain that edifice of rational liberty in which we find such excellent protection.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

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