Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

The Uses and Abuses of Censorship: God, Ireland and the Battle to Extend Censorship Post 1929

Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

The Uses and Abuses of Censorship: God, Ireland and the Battle to Extend Censorship Post 1929

Article excerpt

The 1929 of Publications Act was the product of pressure from well organised Catholic lay organisations (1) and the hierarchy (2) of the Irish Catholic Church (Curtis 2010). The Catholic Church in Ireland was particularly authoritarian and pessimistic about the Irish people's ability to play out what it viewed to be their religionational mission, namely, to offer a Celtic-Catholic beacon of purity to a world otherwise sullied by sin (Keating 2012b). Ireland's population was believed, by religio-nationalist ideologues, to have been partially corrupted by centuries of imperial domination and the temptations of modernity. It was reasoned therefore, that if Ireland was to achieve its potential of true Catholic nationhood, its people required an unquestioned faith in the spiritual and moral leadership of the Catholic Church and the riddance from Ireland of spiritual and intellectual contaminants from within and without its borders (Keating 2012b). The main source of these 'contaminants' came in the shape of the cinema, for which censorship was legislated in the 1923 Censorship of Films (Rocket 2004) and the published word, which is focused upon here.

These 'contaminants' were described in warlike terms in the Catholic press of the day which warned: "Modern forces are not for but against the Church's mission. Today the enemy is invisible and omnipresent. The Irish Catholic is like a soldier who has turned aside the sword but is attacked by a poisonous gas" (Irish Monthly (3), 53, 1925: 350). Central to this 'protection' was the censorship of newspapers, periodicals and novels that were viewed as carriers of sexual immorality and blasphemy.

These publications were viewed as insidious vehicles of sin and corruption that the vast majority of Ireland's citizenry were too unsophisticated to resist. A concern alluded to by the Editor of the Catholic Bulletin, who observed, "the mind of England has been trained to criticise and think for itself; that of Ireland to believe and accept what it is taught" (Catholic Bulletin, 2,1928: 124).

The organisation in the vanguard of ensuring the protection of the Irish people from corruption carried in the printed word was the Catholic Truth Society of Ireland (CTSI). The Society, which has its headquarters in Dublin, was organized at the meeting of the Maynooth-Union in 1899, with the stated purpose of diffusing "by means of cheap publications sound Catholic literature in popular form so as to give instruction and edification in a manner most likely to interest and attract the general reader", and which would "create a taste for a pure and wholesome literature, and will also serve as an antidote against the poison of dangerous or immoral writings". It was then a proselytising organisation, with strong links to the Catholic hierarchy, which had an active interest in the published word.

The CTSI's first President was Dr. Healy, Bishop of Clonfert and its first lay Honourable Secretary was one John Rochford. The CTSI was overseen by a management committee made up of all the Irish hierarchy, a number of parish priests, a representative of the Jesuit Order and leading members of the Catholic laity, including a Papal Count, George Noble Plunkett, and the Papal Knight and leading physician Sir Francis Richard Cruise (The Tablet, 24.10.1903).

The CTSI's publications were numbered in the millions each year. Between 1918 and 1949 (4) records show they published 40 million units in Ireland, although this is thought to be a substantial underestimate (Hutton & Walsh 2011) and whilst in 1927 its core membership numbered little more than 6000 (Hutton & Walsh 2011), it had an extensive and nationwide activist core (Curtis 2010). By the 1920s leadership of the CTS included leading figures from the Dominican and Jesuit orders and it enjoyed widespread support across the political spectrum, doubtless, in part out of conviction, but also out of the reality that not to support the organisation could lead to political suicide (Curtis 2010). …

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