Today in Catholic History – Catholics obtain religious freedom in Hawaii

On 17 June 1839, King Kamehameha III issued an Edict of Toleration permitting Catholics in Hawaii to freely practice their religion which had been facing severe persecution.

Under the influence of Congregationalists from New England, Kamehameha III’s mother had been baptized and the Congregationalists encouraged a policy preventing the establishment of a Catholic presence in Hawaii. Catholic priests were forcibly expelled from the country on 24 December 1831. Native Hawaiian Catholics accused King Kamehameha and his government of imprisoning, beating and torturing them.

On 10 July 1839 a French frigate sailed into Honolulu Harbor on the justification that it was sent to protect the rights of the Catholic Church. Its captain had been ordered to:

Destroy the malevolent impression which you find established to the detriment of the French name; to rectify the erroneous opinion which has been created as to the power of France; and to make it well understood that it would be to the advantage of the chiefs of those islands of the Ocean to conduct themselves in such a manner as not to incur the wrath of France. You will exact, if necessary with all the force that is yours to use, complete reparation for the wrongs which have been committed, and you will not quit those places until you have left in all minds a solid and lasting impression.

King Kamehameha feared a French attack on his kingdom and so issued the Edict of Toleration permitting religious freedom for Catholics in the same way as it had been granted to the Protestants. King Kamehameha also donated land on which the first permanent Catholic church would be constructed, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace, and paid $20,000 in compensation to the Catholics who had been persecuted.

More on the Edict of Toleration in Hawaii

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