Friday, July 1, 2011

St. Oliver Plunkett and the "Popish Plot"

Oliver Plunkett, the Archbishop of Armagh in Ireland, was executed at Tyborn in London on July 1, 1681. He was the last priest to be executed there and the final victim of the "Popish Plot"--that fraudulent, perjured plot cooked up by the BBC's Worst Briton of the 17th Century: Titus Oates.

So in the Catholic dioceses of England and Wales AND Ireland, today is the memorial of St. Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh, victim of Stuart injustice during the Anti-Catholic madness of Oates' fake plot.

The Whigs in Parliament, opposed most of all to the succession of Charles II's Catholic brother, James the Duke of York, jumped at the opportunity to attack Catholics--and James--when Titus Oates fabricated the story of a great conspiracy. Charles II did not believe most of the elements of the plot Oates "revealed", especially when the perjuror implicated his own queen, Catherine of Braganza and his brother.

Once Oates was able to compound English fear of Jesuits and Catholics with English fear of Irish Catholics, Plunkett was in grave danger. St. Oliver Plunkett was brought to London from Ireland and accused of conspiring to bring French soldiers and recruit members of his diocese to mount a rebellion against the King and Parliament. There was, of course, no evidence of these accusations and Plunkett could bring no witnesses to testify for him. He had been tried before in Ireland--no double jeopardy applied here--and English authorities like Shaftesbury were convinced that no Irish jury (even if packed with Protestants) would convict him.

St. Oliver Plunkett was born in 1629 in Loughcrew, County Meath, Ireland of well-to-do parents and studied for the priesthood at the Irish College in Rome. While Oliver Cromwell was inflicting the "righteous judgement of God" on the Irish who had rebelled against English rule during Charles I's reign, Plunkett had been unable to return to serve his people as a priest after ordination in 1654. He therefore remained in Rome and taught theology. In 1669 he was appointed the Archbishop of Armagh and the Primate of All Ireland and finally returned to Ireland the next year. For a time, Charles II's Restoration leniency allowed Plunkett to accomplish many reforms and reorganizations in education and catechesis. As Archbishop, he confirmed thousands (48,000!) but in 1673, persecution of Catholics in England's colony forced him to go into hiding and close the schools. Arrested in connection with Oates' plot, he was imprisoned at Dublin Castle. He was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1975 and in 1997 he was named the Patron Saint of Peace and Reconciliation in Ireland.

The picture above is from Wikipedia Commons; it depicts the reliquary at St. Peter's Church, Drogheda.

I will be on the SON RISE MORNING SHOW this morning at 7:45 a.m. Eastern/6:45 a.m. Central to discuss this saint with Brian Patrick.

Update: Note that July 1 is not a good day for English justice in the 16th and 17th centuries--it is also the anniversary of the trial of St. Thomas More for treason at Westminster Hall in 1535.

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