in the Church of Rome
by Charles Chiniquy
In one of the pleasant hours which we used invariably to pass after dinner, in the comfortable parlour of our parsonage, one of the vicars, Mr. Louis Parent, said to the Rev. Mr. Tetu, "I have handed this morning more than one hundred dollars to the bishop, as the price of the masses which my pious penitents have requested me to celebrate, the greatest part of them for the souls in purgatory. Every week I have to do the same thing, just as each of you, and every one of the hundreds of priests in Canada have to do. Now I would like to know how the bishops can dispose of all these masses, and what they do with the large sums of money which go into their hands from every part of the country to have masses said. This question vexes me, and I would like to know your mind about it."
The good curate answered in a joking manner, as usual: "If the masses paid into our hands, which go to the bishop, are all celebrated, purgatory must be emptied twice a day. For I have calculated that the sums given for those masses in Canada cannot be less than 4,000 dollars every day, and, as there are three times as many Catholics in the United States as here, and as those Irish Catholics are more devoted to the souls in purgatory than the Canadians, there is no exaggeration in saying that they give as much as our people; 16,000 dollars at least will thus be given every day in these two countries to throw cold water on the burning flames of that fiery prison. Now these 16,000 dollars given every day, multiplied by the 365 days of the year, make the handsome sum of 5,840,000 dollars paid for that object in low masses every year. But, as we all know, that more than twice as much is paid for high masses than for the low, it is evident that more than 10,000,000 dollars are expended to help the souls of purgatory end their tortures every twelve months, in North America alone. If those millions of dollars do not benefit the good souls in purgatory, they at all events are of some benefit to our pious bishops and holy popes, in whose hands the greatest part must remain till the day of judgment. For there is not a sufficient number of priests in the world to say all the masses which are paid for by the people. I do not know any more than you do about what the bishops do with those millions of dollars; they keep that among their secret good works. But it is evident there is a serious mystery here. I do not mean to say that the Yankee and the Canadian bishops swallow those huge piles of dollars as sweet oranges; or that they are a band of big swindlers, who employ smaller ones, called Revs. Tetu, Bailargeon, Chiniquy, Parent, ect., to fill their treasures. But, if you want to know my mind on that delicate subject, I will tell you that the least we think and speak of it the better it is for us. Every time my thoughts turn to those streams of money which day and night flow from the small purses of our pious and unsuspecting people into our hands, and from ours into those of the bishops, I feel as if I were choking. If I am at the table I can neither eat nor drink, and if in my bed at night, I cannot sleep. But as I like to eat, drink, and sleep, I reject those thoughts as much as possible, and I advise you to do the same thing."
The other vicars seemed inclined, with Mr. Parent, to accept that conclusion; but, as I had not said a single word, they requested me to give them my views on that vexatious subject, which I did in the following brief words:-
"There are many things in our holy church which look like dark spots; but I hope that this is due only to our ignorance. No doubt these very things would look as white as snow, were we to see and know them just as they are. Our holy bishops, with the majority of the Catholic priests of the United States and Canada, cannot be that band of thieves and swindlers whose phantoms chill the blood of our worthy curate. So long as we do not know what the bishops do with those numberless masses paid into their hands, I prefer to believe that they act as honest men."
I had hardly said these few words, when I was called to visit a sick parishioner, and the conversation was ended.
Eight days later, I was alone in my room, reading the "L'Ami de la Religion et du Roi," a paper which I received from Paris, edited by Picot. My curiosity was not a little excited, when I read, at the head of a page, in large letters: "Admirable Piety of the French Canadian People." The reading of that page made me shed tears of shame, and shook my faith to its foundation. Unable to contain myself, I ran to the rooms of the curate and the vicars, and said to them: "A few days ago we tried, but in vain, to find what becomes of the large sums of money which pass from the people, through our hands, into those of the bishop, to say masses; but here is the answer, I have the key to that mystery, which is worthy of the darkest ages of the Church. I wish I were dead, rather than see with my own eyes such abominations." We then read that long chapter, the substance of which was that the venerable bishops of Quebec had sent not less than one hundred thousand francs, at different times, to the priests of Paris, that they might say four hundred thousand masses at five cents each! Here we had the sad evidence that our bishops had taken four hundred thousand francs from our poor people, under the pretext of saving the souls from purgatory! That article fell upon us as a thunderbolt. For a long time we looked at each other without being able to utter a single word; our tongues were as paralyzed by our shame: we felt as vile criminals when detected on the spot.
At last, Baillargeon, addressing the curate, said: "Is it possible that our bishops are swindlers, and we, their tools to defraud our people? What would that people say, if they knew that not only we do not say the masses for which they constantly fill our hands with their hard-earned money, but that we send those masses to be said in Paris for five cents! What will our good people think of us all when they know that our bishop pockets twenty cents out of every mass they ask us to celebrate according to their wishes."
The curate answered: "it is very lucky that the people do not know that sharp operation of our bishops, for they would surely throw us all into the river. Let us keep that shameful trade as secret as possible. For what is the crime of simony if this be not an instance of it?"
I replied: "How can you hope to keep that traffic of the body and blood of Christ a secret, when not less than 40,000 copies of this paper are circulated in France, and more than 100 copies come to the Untied States and Canada! The danger is greater than you suspect; it is even at our doors. It is not on account of such public and undeniable crimes and vile tricks of the clergy of France, that the French people in general, not only have lost almost every vestige of religion, but, not half a century ago, condemned all the bishops and priests of France to death as public malefactors?
"But that sharp mercantile operation of our bishops takes a still darker colour, when we consider that those `five-cent masses' which are said in Paris are not worth a cent. For who among us is ignorant of the fact that the greatest part of the priests of Paris are infidels, and that many of them live publicly with concubines? Would our people put their money in our hands if we were honest enough to tell them that their masses would be said for five cents in Paris by such priests? Do we not deceive them when we accept their money, under the well understood condition that we shall offer the holy sacrifice according to their wishes? But, instead of that, we get it sent to France, to be disposed of in such a criminal way. But, if you allow me to speak a little more, I have another strange fact to consider with you, which is closely connected with this simoniacal operation?"
"Yes! speak, speak!" answered all four priests.
I then resumed: "Do you remember how you were enticed into the `Three Masses Society'? Who among us had the idea that the new obligations we were then assuming were such that the greatest part of the year would be spent in saying masses for the priests, and that it would thus become impossible to satisfy the pious demands of the people who support us? We already belonged to the societies of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of St. Michael, which raised to five the number of masses we had to celebrate for the dead priests. Dazzled by the idea that we would have two thousand masses said for us at our death, we bit at the bait presented to us by the bishop as hungry fishes, without suspecting the hook. The result is that we have had to say 165 masses for the 33 priests who died during the past year, which means that each of us has to pay forty-one dollars to the bishop for masses which he has had said in Paris for eight dollars. Each mass which we celebrate for a dead priest here, is a mass which the more priests he enrolls in his society of `Three Masses,' the more twenty cents he pockets from us and from our pious people. Hence his admirable zeal to enroll every one of us. It is not the value of the money which our bishop so skillfully got from our hands which I consider, but I feel desolate when I see that by these societies we become the accomplices of his simoniacal trade. For, being forced the greatest part of the year to celebrate the holy sacrifice for the benefit of the dead priests, we cannot celebrate the masses for which we are daily paid by the people, and are therefore forced to transfer them into the hands of the bishop, who sends them to Paris, after spiriting away twenty cents from each of them. However, why should we lament over the past? It is no more within our reach. There is no remedy for it. Let us then learn from the past errors how to be wise in the future."
Mr. Tetu answered: "You have shown us our error. Now, can you indicate any remedy?"
"I cannot say that the remedy we have in hand is one of those patented medicines which will cure all the diseases of our sickly church in Canada, but I hope it will help to bring a speedy convalescence. That remedy is to abolish the society of `Three Masses,' and to establish another of `One Mass,' which will be said at the death of every priest. In that way it is true that instead of 2,000 masses, we shall have only 1,200 at our death. But if 1,200 masses do not open to us the gates of heaven, it is because we shall be in hell. By that reduction we shall be enabled to say more masses at the request of our people, and shall diminish the number of five cent masses said by the priests of Paris at the request of our bishop. If you take my advice, we will immediately name the Rev. Mr. Tetu president of the new society, Mr. Parent will be its treasurer, and I consent to act as your secretary, if you like it. When our society is organized, we will send our resignations to the president of the other society, and we shall immediately address a circular to all the priests, to give them the reason for the change, and respectfully ask them to unite with us in this new society, in order to diminish the number of masses which are celebrated by the five cents priests of Paris."
Within two hours the new society was fully organized, the reasons of its formation written in a book, and our names were sent to the bishop, with a respectful letter informing him that we were no more members of the `Three Masses Society.' That letter was signed, C. Chiniquy, Secretary. Three hours later, I received the following note from the bishop's palace:
"My Lord Bishop of Quebec wants to see you immediately upon important affairs. Do not fail to come without delay.
"Charles F. Cazeault, Secy."
I showed the missive to the curate and the vicars, and told them: "A big storm is raging on the mountain; this is the first peal of thunder the atmosphere looks dark and heavy. Pray for me that I may speak and act as an honest and fearless priest, when in the presence of the bishop."
In the first parlour of the bishop I met my personal friend, Secretary Cazeault. He said to me: "My dear Chiniquy, you are sailing on a rough sea you must be a lucky mariner if you escape the wreck. The bishop is very angry at you; but be not discouraged, for the right is on your side." He then kindly opened the door of the bishop's parlour, and said:
"My lord, Mr. Chiniquy is here, waiting for your orders."
"Let him come, sir," answered the bishop.
I entered and threw myself at his feet, as it is the usage of the priests. But, stepping backward, he told me in a most excited manner: "I have no benediction for you till you give me a satisfactory explanation of your strange conduct."
I arose to my feet and said: "My lord, what do you want from me?"
"I want you, sir, to explain to me the meaning of this letter signed by you as secretary of a new-born society called, `One Mass Society.'" At the same time he showed me my letter.
I answered him: "My lord the letter is in good French your lordship must have understood it well. I cannot see how any explanation on my part could make it clearer."
"What I want to know from you, is what you mean, and what is your object in leaving the old and respectable `Three Mass Society'? Is it not composed of your bishops and of all the priests of Canada? Did you not find yourself in sufficiently good company? Do you object to the prayers said for the souls in purgatory?"
I replied: "My lord, I will answer by revealing to your lordship a fact which was not sufficiently attracted your attention. The great number of masses which we have to say for the souls of the dead priests makes it impossible for us to say the masses for which the people pay into our hands; and then instead of having these holy sacrifices offered by the good priests of Canada, your lordship has recourse to the priests of France, where you get them said for five cents. We see two great evils in this: First, our masses are said by priests in whom we have not the least confidence; and though the masses they say are very cheap, they are too dearly purchased; for between you and me, we can say that, with very few exceptions, the masses said by the priests of France, particularly of Paris, are not worth one cent. The second evil is still greater, for in our eyes, it is one of the greatest crimes which our holy church has always condemned, the crime of simony."
"Do you mean to say," indignantly replied the bishop, "that I am guilty of the crime of simony?"
"Yes! my lord; it is just what I mean to say, and I do not see how your lordship does not understand that the trade in masses by which you gain 400,000 francs on a spiritual merchandise, which you get for 100,000, is not simony."
"You insult me! You are the most impudent man I ever saw. If you do retract what you have said, I will suspend and excommunicate you!"
"My suspension and my excommunication will not make the position of your lordship much better. For the people will know that you have excommunicated me because I protested against your trade in masses. They will know that you pocket twenty cents on every mass, and that you get them said for five cents in Paris by priests, the greatest part of whom live with concubines, and you will see that there will be only one voice in Canada to bless me for my protest and to condemn you for your simoniacal trade on such a sacred thing as the holy and tremendous sacrifice of the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ."
I uttered these words with such perfect calmness that the bishop saw that I had not the least fear of his thunders. He began to pace the room, and he heaped on my devoted head all the epithets by which I could learn that I was an insolent, rebellious and dangerous priest.
"It is evident to me," he said, "that you aim to be a reformer, a Luther, au petit pied, in Canada. But you will never be anything else than a monkey!"
I saw that my bishop was beside himself, and that my perfect calmness added to his irritation. I answered him: "If Luther had never done anything worse than I do today, he ought to be blessed by God and man. I respectfully request your lordship to be calm. The subject on which I speak to you is more serious than you think. Your lordship, by asking twenty-five cents for a mass which can be said for five cents, does a thing which you would condemn if it were done by another man. You are digging under your own feet, and under the feet of your priests the same abyss in which the Church of France nearly perished, not half a century ago. You are destroying with your own hands every vestige of religion in the hearts of the people, who will sooner or later know it. I am your best friend, your most respectful priest, when I fearlessly tell you this truth before it is too late. Your lordship knows that he has not a priest who loves and cherishes him more than I do God knows, it is because I love and respect you, as my own father, that I profoundly deplore the illusions which prevent you from seeing the terrible consequences that will follow, if our pious people learn that you abuse their ignorance and their good faith, by making them pay twenty-five cents for a thing which costs only five. Woe to your lordship! Woe to me, woe to our holy church, the day that our people know that in our holy religion the blood of Christ is turned into merchandise to fill the treasury of the bishops and popes!"
It was evident that these last words, said with the most perfect self-possession, had not all been lost. The bishop had become calmer. He answered me: "You are young and without experience; your imagination is easily fed with phantoms; when you know a little more, you will change your mind and will have more respect for your superiors. I hope your present error is only a momentary one. I could punish you for this freedom with which you have dared to speak to your bishop, but I prefer to warn you to be more respectful and obedient in future. Though I deplore for your sake, that you have requested me to take away your name from the `Three Mass Society' you and the four simpletons who have committed the same act of folly, are the only losers in the matter. Instead of two thousand masses said for the deliverance of your souls from the flames of Purgatory, you will have only twelve hundred. But, be sure of it, there is too much wisdom and true piety in my clergy to follow your example. You will be left alone, and I fear, covered with ridicule. For they will call you the `little reformer.'"
I answered the bishop: "I am young, it is true, but the truths I have said to your lordship are as old as the Gospel. I have such confidence in the infinite merits of the holy sacrifice of the mass, that I sincerely believe, that twelve hundred masses said by good priests, are enough to cleanse my soul and extinguish the flames of purgatory. But, besides, I prefer twelve hundred masses said by one hundred sincere Canadian priests, to a million said by the five cent priests of Paris."
These last words, spoken with a tone half serious, half jocose, brought a change on the face of my bishop. I thought it was a good moment to get my benediction and take leave of him. I took my hat, knelt at his feet, obtained his blessing, and left.
Continue to Chapter Twenty-Six
Back to Contents