in the Church of Rome
by Charles Chiniquy
Two days after my arrival at Kamouraska, I received a letter from the surrounding priests, at the head of whom was the Grand Vicar Mailloux, expressing the hope that I would not try to form any temperance society in my new parish, as I had done in Beauport; for the good reasons they said, that drunkenness was not prevailing in that part of Canada, as it was in the city of Quebec. I answered them, politely, that so long as I should be at the head of this new parish, I would try, as I had ever done, to mind my own business, and I hoped that my neighbouring friends would do the same. Not long after, I saw that the curates felt ashamed of their vain attempt to intimidate me. The next Sabbath, the crowd was greater than at the first. Having heard that the merchants were to start the next day, with their schooners, to buy their winter provisions or rum, I said, in a very solemn way, before my sermon:
"My friends, I know that, to-morrow, the merchants leave for Quebec to purchase their rum. Let me advise them, as their best friend, not to buy any; and as the ambassador of Christ, I forbid them to bring a single drop of those poisonous drinks here. It will surely be their ruin, if they pay no attention to this friendly advice; for they will not sell a single drop of it, after next Sabbath. That day, I will show to the intelligent people of this parish, that rum and all the other drugs, sold here, under the name of brandy, wine, and beer, are nothing else than disgusting, deadly, and cursed poisons."
I then preached on the words of our Saviour: "Be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh: (Matt. xxiv. 44). Though the people seemed much pleased and impressed by that second sermon, they felt exceedingly irritated at my few warning words to the merchants. When the service was over, they all rallied around the merchants to tell them not to mind what they had heard.
"If our young curate," said they, "thinks he will lead us by the nose, as he has done with the drunkards of Beauport, he will soon see his mistake. Instead of one hundred tons, as you brought last fall, bring us two hundred, this year; we will drink them to his health. We have a good crop and we want to spend a jolly winter."
It is probable that the church of Kamouraska had never seen within its walls such a crowd as on the second Sabbath of October, 1842. It was literally crammed. Curiosity had attracted the people who, not less eager to hear my first sermon against rum, than to see the failure they expected, and wished, of my first efforts to form a temperance society. Long before the public service, at the door of the church, as well as during the whole preceding week, the people had pledged themselves never to give up their strong drink, and never to join the temperance society. But what are the resolutions of man against God? Is He not their master? The half of that first sermon on temperance was not heard, when that whole multitude had forgotten their public promises. The hearts were not only touched they were melted and changed by God, who wanted to show, once more, that His works of mercy were above all the works of His hands.
From the very day of my arrival in Kamouraska, I had made a serious and exact inquiry about the untold miseries brought upon the people by intoxicating drinks. I had found that, during the last twenty years, twelve men had been drowned and eight had been frozen to death, who had left twenty widows and sixty orphans in the most distressing poverty. Sixty farmers had lost their lands and had been obliged to emigrate to other places, where they were suffering all the pangs of poverty from the drunkenness of their parents; several other families had their properties mortgaged for their whole value to the rum merchants, and were expected, every day, to be turned out from their inheritances, to pay their rum bills. Seven mothers had died in delirium tremens, one had hung herself, another drowned herself when drunk. One hundred thousand dollars had been paid to the rum merchants during the last fifteen years. Two hundred thousand more were due to the storekeeper; threefourths of which were for strong drink. Four men had been murdered, among whom was their landlord, Achilles Tache, through their drunken habits!
When I had recapitulated all these facts, which were public and undeniable, and depicted the desolation of the ruined families, composed of their own brothers, sisters, and dear children; when I brought before their minds, the tears of the widows, the cries of the starving and naked children, the shame of the families, the red hand of the murderers and the mangled bodies of their victims; the eternal cries of the lost from drunkenness, the broken-hearted fathers and mothers whose children had been destroyed by strong drink; when I proved to them that there was not a single one in their midst who had not suffered, either in his own person, or in that of his father or mother, brothers, sisters or children yes, when I had given them the simple and awful story of the crimes committed in their midst; the ruin and deaths, the misery of thousands of precious souls for whom Christ died in vain, the church was filled with such sobs and cries that I often could not be heard. Many times my voice was drowned by the indescribable confusion and lamentation of that whole multitude. Unable to contain myself, several times I stopped and mingled my sobs and cries with those of my people.
When the sermon, which lasted two hours, was finished, I asked all those who were determined to help me in stopping the ravages of intoxicating drinks, in drying the tears which they caused to flow, and saving the precious souls they were destroying, to come forward and take the public pledge of temperance by kissing a crucifix which I held in my hand. Thirteen hundred and ten came. Not fifty of the people had refused to enroll themselves under the blessed and glorious banners of temperance! and these few recalcitrants came forward, with a very few exceptions, the next time I spoke on the subject.
The very same day, the wives of the merchants sent dispatches to their husbands in Quebec, to tell them what had been done, and not a single barrel of intoxicating drinks was brought by them. The generous example of the admirable people of Kamouraska spoke with an irresistible eloquence to the other parishes of that district, and before long, the banners of temperance floated over all the populations of St. Pascal, St. Andrew, Isle Verte, Cacouna, Riviere du Loup, Rimouski, Matane, St. Anne, St. Roch, Madawaska, St. Benoit, St. Luce, ect., on the south side of the St. Lawrence, and the Eboulements, La Malbaye, and the other parishes on the north side of the river; and the people kept their pledge with such fidelity that the trade in rum was literally killed in that part of Canada, as it had been in Beauport and its vicinity.
The blessed fruits of this reform were soon felt and seen everywhere, in the public prosperity and the spread of education. Kamouraska, which was owing two hundred thousand dollars to the merchants in 1842, had not only paid its interest, but had reduced its debt to one hundred thousand, when I left it to go to Montreal in 1846. God only knows my joy at these admirable manifestations of His mercies towards my country. However, the joys of man are never without their mixture of sadness.
In the good providence of God, being invited by all the curates to establish temperance societies among their people, I had the sad opportunity, as no priest ever had in Canada, to know the secret and public scandals of each parish. When I went to the Eboulements, on the north side of the river, invited by the Rev. Noel Toussignant, I learned from the very lips of that young priest, and the ex-priest Tetreau, the history of the most shameful scandals.
In 1830, a young priest of Quebec, called Derome, had fallen in love with one of his young female penitents of Vercheres, where he had preached a few days, and he had persuaded her to follow him to the parsonage of Quebec. The better to conceal their iniquity from the public, he persuaded his victim to dress herself as a young man, and throw her dress into the river, to make her parents and the whole parish believe that she was drowned. I had seen her many times at the parsonage of Quebec, under the name of Joseph, and had much admired her refined manners, though more than once I was very much inclined to think that the smart Joseph was no one else than a lost girl. But the respect I had for the curate of Quebec (who was the coadjutor of the bishop) and his young vicars, caused me to reject those suspicions as unfounded. However many even among the first citizens of the city had the same suspicions, and they pressed me to go to the coadjutor and warn him; but I refused, and told those gentlemen to do that delicate work themselves, and they did it.
The position of that high dignitary and his vicar was not then a very agreeable one. Their bark had evidently drifted into dangerous waters. To keep Joseph among themselves was impossible, after the friendly advice from such high quarters, and to dismiss him was not less dangerous. He knew too well how the curate of Quebec, with his vicars, were keeping their vows of celibacy, to dismiss him without danger to themselves; a single word from his lips would destroy them. Happily for them, Mr. Clement, then curate of the Eboulements, was in search of such a servant, and took him to his parsonage, after persuading the bishopcoadjutor to give Joseph a large sum of money to seal his lips.
Things went on pretty smoothly between Joseph and the priest for several years, till some suspicions arose in the minds of the sharp-sighted people of the parish, who told the curate that it would be safer and more honourable for him to get rid of his servant. In order to put an end to those suspicions, and to retain him in the parsonage, the curate persuaded him to marry the daughter of a poor neighbour.
The banns were published three times, and the two girls were duly married by the curate, who continued his criminal intimacies, in the hope that no one would trouble him any more on that subject. But not long after he was removed to La Petite Riviere, and in 1838 the Rev. M. Tetreau was appointed curate of the Eboulements. This new priest, knowing of the abominations which his predecessor had practiced, continued to employ Joseph. One day, when Joseph was working at the gate of the parsonage, in the presence of several people, a stranger came and asked him if Mr. Tetreau was at home.
"Yes, sir, Mr. Curate is at home," answered Joseph; "but as you seem a stranger to the place, would you allow me to ask you from what parish you come?"
"I am not ashamed of my parish," answered the stranger. "I come from Vercheres."
At the word "Vercheres," Joseph turned so pale that the stranger was puzzled. He looked carefully at him, and exclaimed:
"Oh! my God! What do I see here? Genevieve! Genevieve! over whom we have mourned so long as drowned! Here you are disguised as a man!"
"Dear uncle" (it was her uncle); "for God's sake, not a word more here!"
But it was too late; the people who were there had heard the uncle and the niece. Their long and secret suspicions were well-founded. One of their former priests had kept a girl, under the disguise of a man, in his house; and to blind his people more thoroughly, he had married that girl to another, in order to have them both in his house when he pleased, without awakening any suspicion!
The news went, almost as quickly as lightning, from one end to the other of the parish, and spread all over the country, on both sides of the St. Lawrence. I had heard of that horror, but could not believe it. However, I had to believe it, when, on the spot, I heard from the lips of the ex-curate, M. Tetreau, and the new curate, M. Noel Toussignant, and from the lips of the landlord, the Honourable Laterriere, the following details, which had come to light only a short time before.
The justice of the peace had investigated the matter, in the name of public morality. Joseph was brought before the magistrates, who decided that a physician should be charged to make, not a post-mortem, but an ante-mortem inquest. The Honourable Laterriere, who made the inquest, declared that Joseph was a girl, and the bonds of marriage were legally dissolved.
At the same time, the curate M. Tetreau, had sent a dispatch to the Right Rev. Bishop-coadjutor of Quebec, informing him that the young man whom he had kept in his house, several years, was legally proved a girl; a fact which, I need hardly state, was well-known by the bishop and his vicars! They immediately sent a trustworthy man with $500, to induce the girl to leave the country without delay, lest she should be prosecuted and sent to the penitentiary. She accepted the offer, and crossed the lines to the United States with her two thousand dollars, where she was soon married, and where she still lives.
I wished that this story had never been told me, or at least, that I might be allowed to doubt some of its circumstances; but there was no help. I was forced to acknowledge that in my Church of Rome, there was such corruption from head to foot, which could scarcely be surpassed in Sodom. I remember what the Rev. Mr. Perras had told me of the tears and desolation of Bishop Plessis, when he had discovered that all the priests of Canada, with the exception of three, were atheists.
I should not be honest, did I not confess that the personal knowledge of that fact, which I learned in all its scandalous details from the very lips of unimpeachable witnesses, saddened me, and for a time, shook my faith in my religion, to its foundation. I felt secretly ashamed to belong to a body of men so completely lost to every sense of honesty, as the priests and bishops of Canada. I had heard of many scandals before. The infamies of the Grand Vicar Manceau and Quiblier of Montreal, Cadieux at Three Rivers, and Viau at Riviere Oulle; the public acts of depravity of the priests Lelievre, Tabeau, Pouliot, Belisle, Brunet, Quevillon, Huot, Lajuste, Rabby, Crevier, Bellecourt, Valle, Nignault, Noel, Pinet, Duguez, Davely and many others, were known by me, as well as by the whole clergy. But the abominations of which Joseph was the victim seemed to overstep the conceivable limits of infamy. For the first time, I sincerely regretted that I was a priest. The priesthood of Rome seemed then, to me, the very fulfillment of the prophecy of Revelation, about the great prostitute who made the nations drunk with wine of her prostitution (Rev. xvii. 1 5).
Auricular confession, which I knew to be the first, if not the only cause, of these abominations, appeared to me, what it really is, a school of perdition for the priest and his female penitents. The priest's oath of celibacy was, to my eyes, in those hours of distress, but a shameful mask to conceal a corruption which was unknown in the most depraved days of old paganism. New and bright lights came, then, before my mind which, had I followed them, would have guided me to the truth of the gospel. But I was blind! The Good Master had not yet touched my eyes with His divine and life-giving hand. I had no idea that there could be any other church than the Church of Rome in which I could be saved. I was, however, often saying to myself: "How can I hope to conquer on a battlefield where so many, as strong and even much stronger than I am, have perished?"
I felt no longer at peace. My soul was filled with trouble and anxiety. I not only distrusted myself, but I lost confidence in the rest of the priests and bishops. In fact, I could not see any one in whom I could trust. Though my beautiful and dear parish of Kamouraska was, more than ever, overwhelming me with tokens of its affection, gratitude, and respect, it had lost its attraction for me. To whatever side I turned my eyes, I saw nothing but the most seducing examples of perversion.It seemed as if I were surrounded by numberless snares, from which it was impossible to escape. I wished to depart from this deceitful and lost world.
When my soul was as drowned under the waves of a bitter sea, the Rev. Mr. Guignes, Superior of the Monastery of the Fathers of Oblates of Mary Immaculate, at Longueil, near Montreal, came to pass a few days with me, for the benefit of his health. I spoke to him of that shameful scandal, and did not conceal from him that my courage failed me, when I looked at the torrent of iniquity which was sweeping everything, under our eyes, with an irresistible force. "We are here alone, in the presence of God," I said to him. "I confess that I feel an unspeakable horror at the moral ruin which I see everywhere in our church. My priesthood, of which I was so proud till lately, seems to me, today, the most ignominious yoke, when I see it dragged in the mud of the most infamous vices, not only by the immense majority of the priests, but even by our bishops. How can I hope to save myself, when I see so many, stronger than I am, perishing all around me?"
The Reverend Superior, with the kindness of a father and becoming gravity, answered me: "I understand your fears, perfectly. They are legitimate and too well-founded. Like you, I am a priest; and like you, if not more than you, I know the numberless and formidable dangers which surround the priest. It is because I know them too well, that I have not dared to be a secular priest a single day. I knew the humiliating and disgraceful history of Joseph and the coadjutor Bishop of Quebec. Nay! I know many things still more horrible and unspeakable which I have learned when preaching and hearing confessions in France and in Canada. My fear is that, today, there are not many more undefiled souls among the priests than in Sodom, in the days of Lot. The fact is, that it is morally impossible for a secular priest to keep his vows of celibacy, except by a miracle of the grace of God. Our holy church would be a modern Sodom long ago, had not our merciful God granted her the grace that many of her priests have always enrolled themselves among the armies of the regular priests in the different religious orders which are, to the church, what the ark was to Noah and his children in the days of the deluge. Only the priests whom God calls, in His mercy, to become members of any of those orders, are safe. For they are under the paternal care and surveillance of superiors whose zeal and charity are like a shield to protect them. Their holy and strict laws are like strong walls and high towers which the enemy cannot storm."
He then spoke to me, with an irresistible eloquence, of the peace of soul which a regular priest enjoys within the walls of his monastery. He represented, in the most attractive colours, the spiritual and constant joys of the heart which one feels when living, day and night, under the eyes of a superior to whom he has vowed a perfect submission. He added, "Your providential work is finished in the diocese of Quebec. The temperance societies are established almost everywhere. We are in need of your long experience and your profound studies on that subject in the diocese of Montreal. It is true that the good Bishop de Nancy had done what he could to support that holy cause, but, though he is working with the utmost zeal, he has not studies that subject enough to make a lasting impression on the people. Come with us. We are more than thirty priests, Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who will be too happy to second your efforts in that noble work, which is too much for one man alone. Moreover, you cannot do justice to your great parish of Kamouraska and to the temperance cause together. You must give up one, to consecrate yourself to the other. Take courage, my young friend! Offer to God the sacrifice of your dear Kamouraska, as you made the sacrifice of your beautiful Beauport, some years ago, for the good of Canada and in the interest of the Church, which calls you to its help."
It seemed to me that I could oppose no reasonable argument to these considerations. I fell on my knees, and made the sacrifice of my beautiful and precious Kamouraska. The last Sabbath of September I gave my farewell address to the dear and intelligent people of Kamouraska, to go to Longueil and become a novice of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Continue to Chapter Forty-One
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