Joyce was very well capable of savaging the "prelates" of his Catholic "communion" for taking craven political positions. But he does not allow this Protestant polemicist, Deasy, to do so without committing still another distortion of the historical record. Gifford observes that "The Irish Roman Catholic bishops were far more energetic in their support of O'Connell's successful campaign for Catholic emancipation than they were of his subsequent campaign for repeal of the Act of Union. While some bishops were suspicious of O'Connell and his methods, it is hardly accurate to say that they 'denounced' him."
The Irish church, once Romanized, had produced a long line of "castle-bishops": leaders finely tuned to the concerns of the Castle in Dublin and the Parliament in Westminster. But despite this acquiescence to empire among the princes of the church, many Irish priests, and a few bishops, sympathized with nationalist aspirations in the 19th century and lent them verbal encouragement. The line between tolerable and anathematizable nationalism was drawn through the terrain of illegal protest and violent revolution. The Church had learned from the French revolutionaries and from their Italian imitators (the Carbonari, Mazzini, Garibaldi) to dread armed uprisings, and in the late 1850s and early 60s it saw them threatening to appear in Ireland, in the form of the Fenian movement.
Priests denounced the Fenians and the Irish Republican Brotherhood from the pulpit, and sometimes refused to grant absolution after confession to people who admitted membership in one or the other organization. They took their direction from the top, in the person of Archbishop Paul Cullen, who in 1867 became the first Irish cardinal in history. In 1861 Cullen refused to allow the body of Terence MacManus to lie in state in the Pro-Cathedral of Dublin, and forbade priests to participate in the funeral. MacManus was a supporter of O'Connell who had become a fenian, was arrested and sentenced to transportation to Australia, escaped, and died in the US, from whence his body was returned to Ireland. One priest defied the archbishop's ban, and the funeral drew an immense crowd—to the satisfaction of the fenians and the discomfiture of the church.
Joyce was aware of this episode, and of many other ways in which the Irish Catholic church had lent tepid support to nationalist efforts throughout the preceding century. In the Christmas dinner scene in A Portrait of the Artist, Simon Dedalus' revolutionary friend Mr. Casey sums up the whole history, in terms no less critical than Deasy's: "—Didn't the bishops of Ireland betray us in the time of the union when Bishop Lanigan presented an address of loyalty to the Marquess Cornwallis? Didn't the bishops and priests sell the aspirations of their country in 1829 in return for catholic emancipation? Didn't they denounce the fenian movement from the pulpit and in the confessionbox? And didn't they dishonour the ashes of Terence Bellew MacManus?" Simon chimes in, with "a guffaw of coarse scorn": "—O, by God, he cried, I forgot little old Paul Cullen! Another apple of God's eye!" Simon contemns not only Cullen but also William Walsh (seen in the top picture), a strong nationalist who became more conservative after the Parnell scandal broke: "Respect! he said. Is it for Billy with the lip or for the tub of guts up in Armagh? Respect! —Princes of the church, said Mr. Casey with slow scorn."