Daniel Mannix (1864 – 1963) Catholic archbishop
Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne was the most influential and indeed controversial churchman in Australia of his day. A fervent Irish nationalist born in Charleville, Co Cork in 1864, Dr Mannix was also a provocative defender of Catholic rights in politics and education.
Over 40 years have passed since the death of Archbishop Daniel Mannix, arguably the most influential and controversial churchman of Australia’s 200 year history. No other church figure was so involved in issues of national – even international – significance over such a long period of leadership.
The present book originated in research for a Master’s thesis at the University of Melbourne in the mid-1970s and involved interviews with a large number of contemporaries of Dr Mannix, many of whom are now deceased. No other writings on the Archbishop, to the best of my knowledge, have utilised this important resource to such an extent.
Subsequently, the thesis developed into a book, published in 1982, titled Daniel Mannix: Priest & Patriot, which drew – apart from further interviews – from Mannix’s rare and hard-to-find correspondence and many document collections housed around Australia. Relatively little from these specific sources has appeared in other writings on Mannix as far as I am aware.
Lastly, I consulted a wide range of contemporary newspapers and journals covering a 50 year period – religious and secular, Catholic and non-Catholic – many of which have not been quoted from substantially elsewhere.
In preparing the present book, I have extensively revised the contents of Daniel Mannix: Priest & Patriot and taken into account subsequently published writings for additional insights and data.
Overall, I have found little reason to alter what I consider to be the central aspects of Archbishop Mannix’s role as a religious leader in a secular, pluralist society.
At the outset, few if any leaders throughout Australia’s history – religious or secular – were as well-endowed as Daniel Mannix for a leadership role: tall and impressive in appearance, a pleasant, almost musical, sounding voice and clear diction (as surviving recordings confirm), keen intelligence and retentive memory, a prophetic grasp of big issues, rapier-like wit, penetrating logic, unflappable dignity and poise, and fearless out-spokenness.
Famous actor and writer, Robert Speight, wrote in an obituary for Dr Mannix in 1963: “He spoke the English language more beautifully than I have ever heard it on or off the stage”. Former Australian Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, described him as “an almost legendary figure, possessing great intellectual power and courage, with a power of persuasive speech I have never known surpassed.”
Central to his approach to Church leadership and involvement in issues, spiritual and temporal, and arising from his Catholic and Irish roots and family upbringing, was respect for the basic dignity of the human individual, as a child of God; the entitlement of ethnic and religious groups to respect, freedom of opinion, and an equitable share of a nation’s resources – on merit – in a pluralist democracy; and the right of nations to self-determination and freedom from oppression.
Those whom he regarded as enemies of these principles were on the receiving end of his sharp tongue for around half a century.
His outspoken defence of the underdog, whether individual, community or national, his educational policies to raise the status of the Catholic community, and his “light rein” in Church leadership, reflected these underlying principles. As Dr Matthew Beovich, a former Archbishop of Adelaide and Mannix’s first Director of Education, recalled, he had “a benevolent bias towards the poor and less privileged.”
For him, when fundamentals were at stake, there was no room for compromises, prevarication or pious platitudes. He was ready to use his personal gifts to satirise, “tell it as it is” or “maintain the rage”, even if, in the short term – as he often conceded – this might make a difficult situation worse. In the long term, however, he was confident time would vindicate him.
This view is supported by a former Governor of Victoria, Sir James Gobbo, who believes that while Mannix took stands that were unpopular at the time, “in each case history has fully vindicated him”.
Third millennium readers might consider the readiness of a Catholic Archbishop to engage so actively in political controversies a case of overstepping the proper boundaries of Church and State. However, Dr Mannix’s long period in Ireland under British colonial rule prior to moving to Australia at the age of 50 had accustomed him to seeing Catholic bishops as the natural leaders of their people in spiritual and secular areas. This was especially embodied in the leadership of Archbishop Thomas Croke of Cashel, who served as a strong role model for the young Mannix.
For Dr Mannix, the line between Church and State was not always clear cut. Under British rule, Irish Catholics looked to their priests and bishops for guidance and support in the secular sphere (as was later the case in countries like Poland under communism). For the faith to survive and flourish, there had to be self-respect and self-determination; hence the spiritual and temporal could be interdependent.
The Catholics Dr Mannix first encountered in Australia in 1913 were predominantly of Irish descent, occupying the lowest rungs of the socio-economic ladder and tolerated as long as they “knew their place”. Many of them looked for a lead from their bishops in temporal as well as spiritual matters, given that the same “establishment” that had denied Irishmen basic rights in Ireland was seen as operational – to a degree – in early 20th century Australia, with the denial of State Aid to Catholic schools, the prevalence of job discrimination – “Catholics need not apply” – as well as sectarian bigotry.
B.A. Santamaria summarised the nexus between Church and State in Dr Mannix’s thinking as follows: “His view was this, that any clan or group which was prepared to accept second class citizenship could never be good Catholics in the strictly religious sense. They had to be full men to be full Catholics and he was determined to win full manhood and equality for them”.
Dr Mannix had an outsider’s fresh perspective when he assumed Church leadership in Australia. While his long period as President of prestigious Maynooth (described as the “West Point of Ireland”) was focused on setting elevated standards for the Church’s future priests, rather than direct involvement in Irish politics, he was well informed on what was occurring in Ireland and Australia. Most bishops, clergy and religious in Australia at the time hailed from Ireland or were of Irish descent and were in regular communication with Ireland.
In Australia, Archbishop Mannix was assured and confident in his own powers, a secure leader who did not need to look over his shoulder. At a time when running a large archdiocese was much less complicated than today, he could more or less let things happen if he chose to. (Theological dissent was almost unthinkable at that time. Of more concern would have been clergy with drinking or gambling problems.)
His early battles were with the powers that be which sought in his mind to deny Catholics their basic rights as Australian citizens. He saw it as his duty to grapple with this situation on his people’s behalf – for their spiritual and temporal good. But he was also prepared as a matter of principle to defend other “underdogs” outside the Catholic community.
Significantly, it was the determination of Irish Catholics from the very beginning of European settlement not to be put down by the British establishment that, according to Professor Patrick O’Farrell, “decided the future for a liberal Australia, an open society.” And it was through the leadership of men like Archbishop Mannix that the balance was tipped “in favour of a plural society and not an exclusivist and homogeneous one”. In the post-World War II period, Mannix extended his support and encouragement to the various non-British immigrant groups and even called for the ending of the so-called White Australia Policy barring non-European immigrants. In today’s jargon, he was very “inclusive” for his time.
Although he died – like Pope John XXIII – just as the Second Vatican Council was getting underway, recent research has revealed that he was the only Australian bishop to send back a response to the draft documents from Rome that were to form the basis of the Council’s deliberations. Interestingly, his submission closely reflected what he had already done and thought as Church leader over the previous 50 years. It revealed, remarkably, that even at almost 99 years of age he was the most progressive-minded prelate in the Australian Hierarchy.
This was underlined by John Ryan, a graduate of Newman College and later involved with the Catholic Worker at a time when that publication was at loggerheads with Dr Mannix in the 1950s over appropriate strategies to combat communism: “[Cardinal] Gilroy sat on you and you just didn’t flower. People used to come here from Sydney and sit in on a Newman Society meeting and remark: ‘How on earth can you get away with that? We’d never dare to put on such a talk and hear both sides’. That was Mannix’s influence. They realised here that they could disagree with him”.
There is no denying Archbishop Mannix was one of the most significant leaders in either Church or State ever to grace Australian public life. He did not hesitate to challenge – often with devastating satire – the conventional wisdom of his era, with the passing of time usually vindicating his “unpopular” stances. As Dr Mannix himself once put it, his problem was not that he spoke the truth, but that he spoke it too soon.
This country would benefit enormously if there were more men and women of his calibre prepared to take on the suffocating constraints of today’s political correctness – in some respects even more oppressive than its earlier counterparts.
Image source : http://www.portrait.gov.au/exhibit/pugh/l6.htm
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