Holding your tongue

by Henry on April 3, 2005

Kieran’s post on Irish Catholic culture and Matt Yglesias’ recent writings on Archbishop Stepinac reminded me of the controversy surrounding Hubert Butler, whose essay on Stepinac, “The Sub-Prefect should have held his tongue,” is now happily online. Butler was a scion of the old Anglo-Irish aristocracy, a liberal of a thoroughly unconventional sort (sometimes a little reminiscent of Burke), and one of the best essayists of the twentieth century. His collection, The Children of Drancy, is especially fine. Butler also spent a substantial part of his career being ostracized by the community surrounding him, because he deviated from the Catholic consensus that Stepinac was a martyr to religious freedom. The story is recounted in “The Sub-Prefect.” Butler unwittingly began to present his views on Stepinac at a meeting where the Papal Nuncio was present, prompting the Nuncio to walk out. This led to Butler being condemned by local and national politicians for having ‘insulted’ the Church and being driven out of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society (which he had founded). If Butler hadn’t had independent means, he would have almost certainly lost his livelihood. It wasn’t a proud moment for Irish Catholicism.



Mrs Tilton 04.03.05 at 10:57 am

Chris Agee gives a good summation, also available online, of the Stepinac business and how it burnt Butler’s fingers. Butler witnessed and reported on some other unproud Irish catholic moments as well, notably the Fethard-on-Sea unpleasantness in his 1958 piece ‘Boycott Village’. SFAICT this one is not online, so people will have to shell out cash to Amazon for it. And well they should; a shelf without a collection of Butler’s essays is a shelf half-bare.

To be fair, Irish protestantism has not been without its own unproud moments. It affords Butler’s shade some rest, I hope, that when we read of the things he wrote about today, it all seems so very long ago. I like to think his humane spirit is one of the things that helped make them so.


strewelpeter 04.04.05 at 5:17 am

“It wasn’t a proud moment for Irish Catholicism”
errrmmmm…They had so many moments to be proud of.

Seriously I can’t think of one since they did for Parnell and I’m only guessing that there must have been some before then. All that running around saying Mass on top of mountains and starting huriling clubs etc.
I’m thinking in terms of the institution rather than individuals here.
Anyway thanks for the post and the link, I hadn’t come across it before, good stuff.
B.T.W. I haven’t seen so much activity around the local churches as there was this weekend since last holy communion season.

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