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Unholy row brews over anti-Fenian Pope Pius IX

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

Irish Americans are being asked to rally behind a campaign opposing the beatification of a pope.

And the call to arms has come from a priest.

Fr. Sean McManus, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Irish National Caucus, is causing ripples in the Holy See by his strident opposition to a Vatican plan to beatify Pope Pius IX.

McManus, a member of the Redemptorist Order, is against the beatification because Pius IX excommunicated the Fenians, including one of the brotherhood’s founders, John O’Mahony, in 1870.

On Jan. 20, 1870, Pius issued a decree that resulted in the excommunication of all in "the American or Irish society called Fenian."

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Fr. McManus believes the action, which was caused in part by pressure from bishops in the U.S. and Ireland, was unjust.

"They were some of Ireland’s finest men and women, whom we should revere," McManus said of the Fenians.

"The Fenians had massive support among Irish Americans, those who in great measure built the Catholic church in the U.S. Yet Pope Pius IX excommunicated them.

"If Pope Pius IX had condemned the Fenians because he believed in the philosophy of non-violence, then I could accept that, but Pope Pius did not believe in the philosophy of non-violence. He had his own army, for God’s sake.

"Pope Pius IX, instead of condemning the oppressor, England, condemned the Irish Americans who were trying to liberate their homeland. And now we are expected to honor that pope, even pray to him as a saint. No way in hell."

McManus said that it had never been the case that an Irishman had been excommunicated for fighting for the British Empire or indeed the Papal States, which retained its own army under the pope at the time of the Fenian excommunications.

"This was a naked example of people with power siding with people with power," McManus said of the excommunication decree.

He said that Fenian John O’Mahony is particular suffered a terrible blow as a result of being excommunicated.

"O’Mahony was an extraordinarily fine man and a deeply religious man. Ecclesiastically speaking, it was a terrible thing for Rome to use that power against him and the other Fenians," McManus said.

Shortly before his death, in New York in February 1877, O’Mahony quit the Fenian movement. As a result, he was allowed burial in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery. His funeral was attended by huge crowds.

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