From an extraordinary proceeding at the petty sessions in county Mayo:
A Rev J Hughes, a Roman Catholic parish priest, brings a charge against a person named William Mairs, the steward of the Rev Mr Stoney, rector of the parish, for accosting him on the high road, or perhaps we should say, assaulting him with a Scriptural quotation.
That an assault may be committed on a person by throwing a Bible at his head, although it is the book of peace, is quite possible, but this is the first time we have ever of a quotation from Scripture constituting a breach of the peace.
The Rev complainant himself appears to be acquainted with more effectual modes of violating the peace than by citing a text of Scripture. It was in reference to an advice of energetic nature which he gave to his flock as to the most summary method of disposing of heretic teachers of religion and their arguments, that the obnoxious passage was quoted.
If the report be correct, the admission made by Mr Hughes of the instructions which he gave the people in the chapel on the preceding Sunday made him a fitter subject to be laid hold of by the strong arm of the law than the person whom he dragged into court.
“I did advise,” said the Rev gentleman, “I did advise (the people in the church), the Sunday before the defendant met me, if any person went into the villages or houses to talk to them about religion, to put them out with pitchforks, to hunt dogs after them, and to put them under water for so many minutes.”
A pitchfork in the hands of one of the “finest peasantry in the world,” in a fit of fanatical zeal, is an admirable instrument for giving the coup dr grace to any obstinate polemic whom priestly logic might otherwise find it very difficult to silence.
The hunting down of a Bible reader with dogs would be a shorter method for the priest than hunting out texts of Scripture to oppose him. As to dowsing the unfortunate preacher of reformed doctrines into the next convenient horse pond, it seems but a revival of the old mode of dealing with reputed witches, for according to the hydrostatic test so applied if they floated to the surface, they were possessed of a familiar spirit and stoned. If they sank to the bottom they were drowned in the act of proving their innocence.
We suspect that all Bible readers who would be subjected to Priest Hughes’ test by water would find it difficult to escape either drowing in the first instance or stoning afterwards as the reputed witches of the dark ages. Had his advice been followed, however the Rev Father might find himself in a very awkward predicament as an accessory before the fact.
That the fanatical violence of the Priest should have a great effect upon his ignorant hearers does not surprise us.