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Controversy Surrounds Transfer of Churches: A Historical Perspective |

Controversy Surrounds Transfer of Churches: A Historical Perspective

In a recent article titled “Are We Thieves and Robbers?” published in the Church of Ireland Gazette, an attempt is made to refute accusations against the late Established Church by various parties, including the Bishop of Limerick. The focus of the article primarily revolves around the charge that the Protestant Episcopalian body in Ireland had allegedly stolen churches from the Catholic Church in the past.

The author of the article argues that the term “steal” may be too strong and suggests using the word “appropriate” instead. They point out that the transfer of churches could only have occurred under the sanction of an Act of Parliament. However, it is worth noting that no one in the current controversy has claimed that the transfer was carried out through a formal Act.

Prior to the Reformation, the Catholic Church was the established church in Ireland. Church property, including the buildings themselves, was owned by the people and managed by churchwardens appointed by the community. In England, the majority of the population accepted the Reformation, resulting in the church buildings remaining in the hands of the same proprietors who simply shifted their allegiance from the Pope to King Edward VI.

In contrast, the situation in Ireland was different. There was no widespread acceptance of the Reformation, and the church buildings were considered part of the Catholic Church’s property when it was the established church. When the new Protestant establishment was established, the public buildings of the old establishment were assumed to belong to it. However, this did not include monasteries and abbeys, which required specific legislation for their appropriation by King Henry VIII.

Even after the dissolution of the monasteries, there were still remnants of Catholic properties, such as charities, hospitals, and free chapels, in England. To address this, an Act was passed during Henry VIII’s last Parliament in 1545 for their dissolution. Similarly, in the early years of Edward VI’s reign, an Act was passed for the destruction of images, pictures, and other ornaments, particularly concerning Ireland.

The controversy surrounding the transfer of churches from the Catholic Church to the Protestant establishment reflects historical complexities and differing circumstances between England and Ireland. While the accusations of theft or appropriation persist, understanding the historical context is crucial in comprehending the dynamics of religious and property transitions during that time.

Dublin Leader – Saturday 02 January 1904

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