Butler, Christopher (1673–1757), Roman Catholic archbishop of Cashel, was born 18 January 1673 at Garryricken, Co. Kilkenny, third son among the nine children of Walter Butler, nephew of the 1st duke of Ormond (qv), and his wife Lady Mary Plunkett, daughter of the 2nd earl of Fingal (qv). According to his funeral oration, he received his early education at a public school in England. He was possibly the ‘Mr Christopher Butler’ who received a horse, saddle, and bridle in the will drawn up by Archbishop John Brenan (qv) of Cashel on 1 July 1693.
Butler studied at the Sorbonne, becoming doctor of divinity and common law, and was ordained as a priest for the diocese of Ossory. However, he was still in France when the clergy of the diocese of Cashel petitioned (1 August 1710) for his appointment to the vacant see. Butler produced a lengthy memorial seeking to refuse the office, but was nevertheless consecrated at St Clement's, Rome, on 7/18 October 1712. He appears to have returned to Ireland almost immediately afterwards. The priest-hunter Edward Tyrrell reported on 6 May 1713 that Butler was at Kilcash, Co. Tipperary, which had been his residence since coming from France six months earlier. He also reported having witnessed the archbishop ordaining two men in a chapel near Cork on 29 January. Butler had already failed to appear to answer an indictment at Cork assizes in April. The high sheriff of Tipperary subsequently reported that he had raided Kilcash on 27 May but found no sign of the archbishop.
Butler acted as archbishop of Cashel till his death. In May 1718 he received a papal brief as administrator of the neighbouring diocese of Emly. The union of Cashel and Emly has been dated from this event (NHI, ix, 356). But in fact the papal nuncio reported in 1735 that Butler had in that year applied to have the two dioceses united, on the grounds that Emly was too poor to provide even the most meagre support for a bishop, while the inhabitants lacked respect for a mere administrator. In 1723 he received six months' leave of absence to allow him to go to France for medical treatment and to drink the waters at Plombières.
Surviving records of Archbishop Butler's administration include a set of diocesan statutes, dated 7 April 1737, as well as a number of pastoral letters. The most significant of these, entitled ‘The psalter of Cashel’, is a lengthy meditation on the sanctity and duty of the priestly state. Another, dated 15 February 1742, restates the strict rules on lenten fasting, which had been relaxed over the previous two years in response to famine. In 1718 he joined with his suffragan bishops in declaring their acceptance of the bull Unigenitus. In 1733, however, he was reported as complaining that the influence of Jansenist doctrine in Ireland had been maliciously exaggerated, whereas in fact the papal condemnation had been unquestioningly accepted. In 1723 he complained to Rome of the numbers being accepted into novitiates within Ireland, and in 1733 called on Propaganda to prohibit both ordinations and admissions to religious orders for five years. However, he opposed a decision in 1736 to exclude ordained students from the Irish College, Paris, insisting that prior ordination of those sent abroad to study was essential. He himself made provision, at an early stage in his episcopate, for the training of ecclesiastical students for service in the diocese. The students concerned did not reside communally, but presented themselves regularly before a designated superior for instruction and examination.
In 1733–4 Butler was at the centre of a new drive to enforce the laws against unregistered priests and other illegal categories of catholic ecclesiastic. The crisis began in January 1732 when John Hennessy, a suspended priest in the diocese of Cork, deposed on oath that he had been present when his bishop had received a letter from Butler concerning a papal indulgence intended to raise money for the Pretender James Stuart, (d.1766). The allegation gained apparent substance from a collection of money that had in fact taken place for the purpose of lobbying in London against proposed new penal legislation. Agitation within parliament led to a proclamation in January 1734 for the enforcement of the laws. Butler and others were forced into hiding, although by April 1734 he reported that the worst was over. In 1744 fears of a French and Jacobite invasion provoked a new wave of searches and arrests. A group of catholic inhabitants of Cashel, questioned by local authorities, named Butler as their archbishop and once again identified his place of residence as Kilcash, but there is no record of what attempts, if any, were made to apprehend him.
In 1749 Butler applied to have his relative James Butler (qv) appointed coadjutor with right of succession. The younger Butler was appointed on 5 January 1750 and consecrated in May, and the archbishop seems immediately to have handed over responsibility for the administration of the diocese. In September 1750 he complained that ‘my eyes have almost quite failed me, my memory is short and treacherous, and my understanding as faulty as my outward senses, which threaten a speedy dissolution’ (Fenning, 213). He died on 4 September 1757 at the home of his niece Helen Butler and her husband (also the archbishop's first cousin), Col. Richard Butler, at Westcourt, near Callan, Co. Kilkenny. He was buried in the family vault at Kilcash. A portrait from Kilkenny Castle is reproduced in Carrigan, iv, 339.