mannixs_cover_useThe Real Archbishop Mannix – From The Sources

Edited by James Franklin, Gerald O Nolan and Michael Gilchrist

Connor Court

ISBN 9781925138344

RRP – $29.95

Reviewed by Ross Fitzgerald


In addition to Brenda Niall’s Mannix, also published this year is The Real Archbishop Mannix: From the Sources, edited by three scholars – James Franklin, Gerard O. Nolan and Michael Gilchrist.  Their fascinating assembly of primary sources, including letters and speeches by and about him, further illuminates our understanding of Archbishop Mannix – who was arguably Australia’s most famous Irishman and our most controversial prelate. Indeed it is difficult to disagree with George Pell, Mannix’s fourth successor as Archbishop of Melbourne, who maintains that Mannix was “the most influential churchman in Australian history.”

The front cover of this revealing collection of documents is graced by a particularly fine black and white headshot of Archbishop Mannix, which was taken for St Patrick’s Day, 1919. It seems that this is the same portrait of Archbishop Mannix that appears in colour and in a slightly enlarged form on the front cover of Brenda Niall’s controversial biography.

As Franklin, Nolan and Gilchrist point out in their helpful Preface, Mannix was “one of the great Australian orators, in a style uniquely sardonic and mockingly patrician”.

As this historically significant source-book demonstrates, the classic Mannix speech had the audience laughing, every few sentences, at the follies and self-contradictions of his opponents. The fact that audience participation was essential to the Archbishop’s publicly spoken utterances is underpinned by the fact that the printed versions of his most notable addresses and self-revelatory speeches are dotted with inserted words like “Laughter”, “Cheers’ and “Applause” – all emphasised in italics.

Especially early on in the book, there are some revealing illustrations. Two photographs in particular caught my eye. The first is a handsome full-page photograph of Coadjutor Archbishop Mannix shortly after his arrival in Australia in March 1913. The second is that of Mannix as president of St Patrick’s seminary at Maynooth during the royal visit in May 1911. Dr Mannix is standing, dignified and erect, beside the wife of King George V, Queen Mary and the Primate of All Ireland, Cardinal Michael Logue.

Intriguingly, The Real Archbishop Mannix points out that, at this time in Ireland, the extreme Nationalists suspected Dr Mannix, because he had not only opposed the introduction of Gaelic but because he had warmly entertained British royalty at Maynooth. As well as receiving King George V and Queen Mary, in July 1903 Mannix had previously hosted King Edward VII when he visited Ireland with Queen Alexandra.

Indeed, it was only after Mannix had arrived in Melbourne in 1913 , that his repeated radical utterances confirmed the suspicions of Protestants and other conservatives that he was implacably hostile to British rule.

One of the most fascinating sections in this intriguing source-book is Chapter 6, entitled ”Loyal Son of the Church?” This chapter is a useful exemplar of the tone and content of The Real Archbishop Mannix: From the Sources. As such, in this review, I will deal with it in some detail.

To understand this chapter, it is important to note the question mark at the title’s end i.e. ”Loyal Son of the Church?”  This is because the documents and letters quoted in Chapter 6 illustrate arguments both for and against the political and other positions Mannix adopted throughout his long reign as Archbishop of Melbourne.

As early as 1917, Mannix defended his right to speak about political and temporal matters: “There are people who say that freedom of speech is a valuable thing, but that it should be denied to Catholic Bishops and Archbishops.” In contrast, he argued that, “The countries in which the Church has failed most disastrously are those countries in which ecclesiastics kept within the sacristies and took no interest in the temporal concerns of their people.”

Two years before his death in 1963, Mannix indicated that he remained faithful to that view: “When a man becomes a bishop he doesn’t cease to be a citizen, and, as a responsible man, he has the right to make up his own mind and his own conscience and to follow it.”

Later in the chapter, a series of letters and correspondence demonstrate that in 1918 our insistently pro-war Prime Minister Billy Hughes was most anxious that Mannix be disciplined and recalled. But in response to this request, a highly placed clerical source warned that even though the Archbishop’s “revolutionary or semi-revolutionary attitude in Australia meets with no approval at the Vatican”, Mannix “enjoys a great influence upon the working classes” and that “severe measures taken against him by the Holy See would undoubtedly aggravate the situation.”

What Mannix thought about the efforts to restrain him can be gathered by the way he incorporated them into his personal mythology, as told to some confidants years later. Bob Santamaria, for example, recorded that a story Mannix most enjoyed retelling was that, after some promptings by Prime Minister Billy Hughes, the leading British politician Arthur Balfour urged Cardinal F A Gasquet to ask Pope Benedict XV to recall him. When the Cardinal said, “But what could we do with him? Where would we put him?” Balfour responded, “Couldn’t you bring him back to Rome and put him in charge of a college?” Tellingly, the Cardinal replied: “God forbid! At least in Australia he’s far away.”

Both in Ireland and in Australia, Mannix was at pains to assert his right to hold opinions and to speak “as a normal citizen”, not an archbishop. For example, in a 1925 speech in Dublin, Mannix stated : “When a man becomes a priest he does not cease to be a citizen, he has a right to his own opinions like other citizens. (Applause).”

At one crucial point in the 1920s, Mannix unexpectedly received support from the highest level.  After having being refused entry to Ireland and creating political disturbances in parts of Britain by his pro-Irish nationalist speeches, in April 1921 he met Pope Benedict XV. The British government, and probably the Archbishop of Melbourne himself, thought that he would be condemned by the pope, along with Irish Republican “terrorist” activities. Instead, Mannix’s meeting in Rome with His Holiness was cordial. The follow-up statement by Benedict XV even-handedly condemned the violence on both sides of the conflict in Ireland.

B A Santamaria remembered that, years later, Mannix described details of that meeting. Australia was not mentioned; it was Ireland that was on the agenda. When the Pope said to him: “What do they think of me in Ireland?”, Mannix allegedly replied, “The Irish people find it very strange that you seem to be against them, when for so many centuries they have been faithful to Rome. “But I am not against them” said the Pope. “I am for them.” “Then, Holy Father”, said Mannix, “You should write to let them know.”

Mannix recounted the story to Santamaria thus: “The Pope laughed at my impudence, and then surprised me: ‘You draft me a letter and if I agree with it I will sign it.’” So the Archbishop of Melbourne drafted the letter. As Franklin, Nolan and Gilchrist conclude, “The Pope agreed with the suggested text, and when his pronouncement on Ireland appeared on 22 May 1921 it clearly bore a Mannix imprint.”

Chapter 6 also deals with a letter of rebuke from Apostolic Delegate to Australia, Archbishop Philip Bernardini, to Archbishop Mannix dated 11 January 1934. It’s meaning seems clear. It is a direct order for Mannix to shut up: “You would do an act most pleasing to the Holy Father, and a precious work for the welfare of the Irish nation, if in future you would cautiously avoid public discussions.”

Mannix’s reply is dated 21 January 1934. He was, as almost always, unrepentant.  More than this, the Archbishop of Melbourne deliberately upped the ante: “I should also be proud if I could think that by any act or word of mine I helped others in some small measure to dispel from the minds of the Irish people the hateful idea that their Church was hostile to their legitimate political aspirations!”

Other sections in this useful collection of sources deal with Mannix and White Australia. The reality is that, as with his support for the rights of indigenous Australians, Mannix was publicly well ahead of his time. Thus, as early as 1945, he argued for a relaxation of our restrictive immigration practices and for a complete repudiation of the notion of racial superiority: “We should surely make it plain to our coloured friends that there is no colour bar in Australia and that, as children of the Father, we recognise our brotherhood with all men.”

The fact is that, for many years, Mannix disagreed with most Australians and almost all of our key immigration policy makers, on the White Australia policy. This included his fellow Catholic, the Melbourne–based, federal Labor Party luminary Arthur Calwell, who was Minister for Immigration in the government of Ben Chifley from 1945 to 1949.

It is useful to be reminded that Mannix’s stand on immigration was strongly supported and championed by B A Santamaria – who wrote in 1962 that “The Kingdom of Heaven has no White Australia policy!”

As this revealing book details, to Mannix’s deep disappointment, Calwell (who became federal leader of the ALP in 1960) remained a resolute supporter of our deeply inequitable and racist White Australia policy. Moreover, Calwell fell out with Mannix – whom he had previously regarded as a spiritual and sometimes political hero – because of the Archbishop’s strong support of Santamaria’s secret Movement, later the National Civic Council, as well as the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) – which came into existence in 1955 as the Australian Labor Party (Anti-Communist) and which was renamed the Democratic Labor Party in 1957.

In a section towards the end of The Real Archbishop Mannix, entitled “What AFL (sic) Team Did Mannix Support?”, Franklin, Nolan and Gilchrist quote Santamaria (who was a dyed in the wool Carlton supporter) as claiming that, as well as the news, on his black and white TV the Archbishop watched the footy replays. But contrary to Niall’s claim in Mannix about him supporting the Collingwood Magpies, in this detailed sourcebook the Archbishop is quoted as saying: “You know, I’m supposed to be a barracker for Collingwood. I suppose because Collingwood is in the vicinity. But the truth of it is that I have never seen a football match in my life!”

For some reason, in the Afterword to The Real Archbishop Mannix, entitled “Back of House”, all the footnotes stop at FN 13. It is puzzling that footnotes 15 to 35 inclusive are missing. Unfortunately this generally useful source book gives no intimation of what happened to them!

Much more concerning in the Afterword are gratuitous, and to my mind unfair, references to Archbishop Mannix – who died in 1963 – in relation to clerical sexual abuse, which didn’t begin to reach its height until the late 1960s and the 1970s.

While there is absolutely no evidence that Mannix was complicit in covering up Catholic sex abuse, or that he even knew about it, the real culprit in this respect is Frank Little, Archbishop of Melbourne from 1974 until 1996 when he was succeeded by George Pell.  In fact, it was Archbishop Little who destroyed a great many, if not all, papers and other documents concerning clerical sex abuse in Victoria. As it happens, Archbishop Little is Brenda Niall’s main source for her highly dubious claims that Mannix had his private papers burnt in a three-day bonfire.

In her 2015 biography Niall states that, in the absence of adequate records, “Mannix can’t be cleared of knowing about child abuse by priests in his diocese.” However, she does concede that, in the last decade of the Archbishop’s long life, it is possible that only about 20 per cent of Cathedral mail was taken to Raheen. Hence she concludes, “It may be true that Mannix was kept in the dark about many things.”

However, a huge problem for the Catholic Church, both here in Australia and worldwide, is that because child sexual abuse and its cover-up has been so endemic, it is difficult for Catholic leaders to be free of the taint. The challenge for current and future clerical leaders of all persuasions is to make full amends and to ensure that church governance matches its responsibilities to future generations.

Professor Fitzgerald, a columnist with The Australian, recently edited Alan Reid’s unpublished Labor novel of the 1950s, The Bandar-Log, (Connor Court)