Fifty Years
in the
Church of Rome

by Charles Chiniquy

Charles Chiniquy

Charles Chiniquy


When alone, on my knees, in the presence of God, on the 1st of January, 1855, I took the resolution of opposing the acts of simony and tyranny of Bishop O'Regan, I was far from understanding the logical consequences of my struggle with that high dignitary. My only object was to force him to be honest, just and Christian towards my people. That people, with me, had left their country and had bid an eternal adieu to all that was dear to them in Canada, in order to live in peace in Illinois, under what we then considered the holy authority of the Church of Christ. but we were absolutely unwilling to be slaves of any man in the land of Liberty.

If any one, at that hour, could have shown me that this struggle would lead to a complete separation from the Church of Rome, I would have shrank from the task. My only ambition was to purify my church from the abuses which, one after the other, had crept everywhere about her, as noxious weeds. I felt that those abuses were destroying the precious truths which Jesus Christ and His apostles had revealed to us. It seemed to me that was a duty imposed upon every priest to do all in our power to blot from the face of our church the scandals which were the fruits of the iniquities and tyranny of the bishops. I had most sincerely offered myself to God for his work.

From the beginning, however, I had a presentiment that the power of the bishops would be too much for me, and that, sooner or later, they would crush me. But my hope was that when I should have fallen, others would have taken my place and fight the battles of the Lord, till a final victory would bring the church back to the blessed days when she was the spotless spouse of the Lamb.

The great and providential victory I had gained at Urbana, had strengthened my conviction that God was on my side, and that He would protect me, so long as my only motives were in the interests of truth and righteousness. It seemed, in a word, that I could not fail so long as I should fight against the official lies, tyrannies, superstitions, and deceits which the bishops had everywhere in the United States and Canada, substituted in the place of the Gospel, the primitive laws of the church, and the teachings of the holy fathers.

In the autumn of 1856, our struggle against the Bishop of Chicago had taken proportions which could not have been anticipated either by me or by the Roman Catholic hierarchy of America. The whole press of the United States and Canada, both political and religious, were discussing the causes of the probable results of the contest.

At first, the bishops were indignant at the conduct of my lord O'Regan. They had seen with pleasure, that a priest from his own diocese would probably force him to be more cautious and less scandalous in his public and private dealings with the clergy and the people. But they also hoped that I should be paralyzed by the sentence of excommunication, and that the people, frightened by those fulminations, would withdraw the support they had, at first, given me. They were assured by Spink, that I would lose my suit at Urbana, and should, when lodged in the penitentiary, become powerless to do any mischief in the church.

But their confidence was soon changed into dismay when they saw that the people laughed at the excommunication; that I had gained my suit, and that I was triumphing on that very battle-field from which no priest, since Luther and Knox, had come out unscathed. Everywhere, the sound of alarm was heard, and I was denounced as a rebel and schismatic. The whole body of the bishops prepared to hurl their most terrible fulminations at my devoted head. But before taking their last measure to crush me, a supreme effort was made to show us what they considered our errors. The Rev. Messrs. Brassard, curate of Longueuil, and Rev. Isaac Desaulnier, President of St. Hyacinthe College, were sent by the people and bishops of Canada to show me what they called the scandal of my proceedings, and press me to submit to the will of the bishop, by respecting the so-called sentence of excommunication.

The choice of those two priests was very wise. They were certainly the most influential that could be sent. Mr. Brassard had not only been my teacher at the college of Nicolet, but my benefactor, as I have already said. When the want of means, in 1825, had forced me to leave the college and bid adieu to my mother and my young brothers, in order to get to a very distant land, in search of a position, he stopped me on the road to exile and brought me back to the college; and along with the Rev. Mr. Leprohon, he paid all my expenses to the end of my studies. He had loved me since, as his own child, and I cherished and respected him as my own father. The other, Rev. I. Desaulnier, had been my classmate in the college form 1822 to 1829, and we had been united during the whole of that period, as well as since, by the bonds of the sincerest esteem and friendship. They arrived at St. Anne on November 24th, 1856.

I heard of their coming only a few minutes before their arrival; and nothing can express the joy I felt at the news. The confidence I had in their honesty and friendship, gave me, at once, the hope that they would soon see the justice and holiness of our cause, and they would bravely take our side against our aggressor. But they had very different sentiments. Sincerely believing that I was an unmanageable schismatic, who was creating an awful scandal in the church, they had not only been forbidden by the bishops to sleep in my house, but also to have any friendly and Christian communication with me. With no hatred against me, they were yet filled with horror at the thought that I should be so scandalous a priest, and so daring, as to trouble the peace, and destroy the unity of the church.

On their way from Canada to St. Anne, they had often been told that I was not the same man as they knew me formerly to be, and that I had become sour and gloomy, abusive, insolent, and haughty; that also I would insult them, and perhaps advise the people to turn them away from my premises, as men who had no business to meddle in our affairs. They were pleasantly disappointed, however, when they saw me running to meet them, as far as I could see them, to press them to my heart, with the most sincere marks of affection and joy. I told them that all the treasures of California brought to my house would not make me half so happy as I was made by their presence.

I at once expressed my hope that they were the messengers sent by God to bring us peace and put an end to the deplorable state of things which was the cause of their long journey. Remarking that they were covered with mud, I invited them to go to their sleeping rooms, to wash and refresh themselves.

"Sleeping rooms! sleeping rooms!!" said Mr. Desaulnier, "but our written instructions from the bishops who sent us, forbid us to sleep here on account of your excommunication."

Mr. Brassard answered, "I must tell you, my dear Mr. Desaulnier, a thing which I have kept secret till now. After reading that prohibition of sleeping here, I said to the bishop that if he would put such a restraint upon me, he might choose another one to come here. I requested him to let us both act according to our conscience and common sense when we should be with Chiniquy, and today my conscience and common sense tell me that we cannot begin our mission of peace by insulting a man who gives us such a friendly and Christian reception. The people of Canada have chosen us as their deputies, because we are the most sincere friends of Chiniquy. It is by keeping that character that we will best fulfill our sacred and solemn duties. I accept, with pleasure, the sleeping room offered me."

Mr. Desaulnier rejoined: "I accept it also, for I did not come here to insult my best friend, but to save him." These kind words of my guests added to the joy I experienced at their coming. I told them: "If you are here to obey the voice of your conscience and the dictates of your common sense, there is a glorious task before you. You will soon find that the people and priest of St. Anne have also done nothing but listened to the voice of their honest conscience, and followed the laws of common sense in their conduct towards the bishop." But, I added, "this is not the time to explain my position, but the time to wash your dusty faces and refresh yourselves. Here are your rooms, make yourselves at home."

After supper, which had been spent in the most pleasant way, and without any allusion to our troubles, they handed me the letters addressed to me by the bishops of Montreal, London, and Toronto, to induce me to submit to my superior, and offer me the assurance of their most sincere friendship and devotedness if I would obey.

Mr. Desaulnier then said: "Now, my dear Chiniquy, we have been sent here by the people and bishops of Canada to take you away from the bottomless abyss into which you have fallen with your people. We have only one day and two nights to spend here, we must lose no time, but begin at once to fulfill our solemn mission."

I answered: "If I have fallen into a bottomless abyss as you say, and that you will draw me out of it, not only God and men will bless you, but I will also for ever bless you for your charity. The first thing, however, you have to do here, is to see if I am really fallen, with my people, into that bottomless abyss of which you speak."

"But are you not excommunicated," quickly rejoined Mr. Desaulnier, "and, notwithstanding that excommunication, have you not continued to say your mass, preach, and hear the confessions of your people? Are you not then fallen into that state of irregularity and schism which separate you entirely from the church, and to which the Pope alone can restore you?"

"No, my dear Desaulnier," I answered, "I am not more excommunicated than you are. For the simple reason that an act of excommunication which is not signed and certified, is a public nullity; unworthy of any attention. Here is the act of the so-called excommunication, which makes so much noise in the world! Examine it yourself; look if it is signed by the bishop, or any one else you know; consider with attention if it is certified by anybody." And I handed him the document.

After he had examined it, and turned it every way for more than half an hour, with Mr. Brassard, without saying a word, he at last broke his silence, and said: "If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I could never have believed that a bishop can play such a sacrilegious comedy in the face of the world. You have several times published it in the press, but I confess that your best friends, and I among the rest, did not believe you. It could not enter our minds that a bishop should be so devoid, I do not say of every principle of religion, but of the most common honesty, as to have proclaimed before the whole world that you were excommunicated, when he had to offer us only that ridiculous piece of rag to support his assertion. But, in the name of common sense, why is it that he has not signed his sentence of excommunication, or get it signed and countersigned by some authorized people, when it is so evident that he wanted to excommunicate you?"

"His reason for not putting his name, nor the name of any known person at the bottom of that so-called excommunication is very clear," I answered; "though our bishop is one of the most accomplished rogues of Illinois, he is still more a coward than a rogue. I had threatened to bring him before the civil court of the country if he dared to destroy my character by a sentence of interdict or excommunication; and he found that the only way to save himself in the same time that he was outraging me, was not to sign that paper; he thereby took away from me the power of prosecuting him. For, the first thing I would have to do in a prosecution in that case, would be to prove the signature of the bishop. Where could I find a witness who would swear that this is his signature? Would you swear it yourself, my dear Desaulnier?" "Oh! no, for surely it is not his signature, nor that of his grand vicar or secretary. But without going any further," added he, "we must confess to you that we have talked to the bishop, when passing through Chicago, asking him if he had made any public or private inquest against you, and if he had found you guilty of any crime. As he felt embarrassed by our questions, we told him that it was in our public character as deputies of the bishops and people of Canada towards you that we were putting to him those questions. That it was necessary for us to know all about your public and private character, when we were coming to press you to reconcile yourself to your bishop. He answered that he had never made any inquest about you, though you had requested him several times to do it, for the simple reason that he was persuaded that you were one of his best priests. Your only defect, he said, was a spirit of stubbornness and want of respect and obedience to your superior, and your meddling with his dealings with his diocesans, with which you had no business. He told us also that you refused to go to Kahokia. But his face became so red, and his tongue was so strangely lisping when he said that, that I suspected it was a falsehood; and we have now, before our eyes, that document, signed by four unimpeachable witnesses, that it was more than a falsehood it was a lie. He proffered another lie also, we see it now, when he said that he had signed himself the act of excommunication; for surely this is not his handwriting. Such conduct from a bishop is very strange. If you would appeal to the Pope, and go to Rome with such documents in hand against that bishop, you would have an easy victory over him. For, the canons of the church are clear and unanimous on that subject. A bishop who pronounces such grave sentences against a priest, and makes use of false signatures to certify his sentences, is himself suspended and excommunicated, ipso facto, for a whole year."

Mr. Brassard added: "Cannot we confess to Chiniquy that the opinion of the bishops of Canada is, that Bishop O'Regan is a perfect rogue, and that if he (Chiniquy) would submit at once, under protest, to those unjust sentences, and appeal to the Pope, he would gain his cause, and soon be reinstated by a public decree of his Holiness."

Our discussion about the troubles I had had, and the best way to put an end to them, having kept us up till three o'clock in the morning without being able to come to any satisfactory issue, we adjourned to the next day, and went to take some rest after a short prayer.

The 25th of November, at 10 a.m., after breakfast and a short walk in our public square, to breathe the pure air and enjoy the fine scenery of our beautiful hill of St. Anne, we shut ourselves up in my study, and resumed the discussion of the best plans of putting an end to the existing difficulties.

To show them my sincere desire of stopping those noisy and scandalous struggles without compromising the sacred principles which had guided me from the beginning of our troubles, I consented to sacrifice my position as pastor of St. Anne, provided Mr. Brassard would be installed in my place. It was decided, however, that I should remain with him, as his vicar and help, in the management of the spiritual and temporal affairs of the colony. The promise was given me that on that condition the bishop would withdraw his so-called sentence, give back to the French Canadians of Chicago the church he had taken away from them, put a French-speaking priest at the head of the congregation, and forgive and forget what he might consider our irregular conduct towards him, after we should have signed the following document:

To His Lordship O'Regan, Bishop of Chicago.

My Lord:As my actions and writing in opposition to your orders have, since a few months, given some scandals, and caused some people to think that I would rather prefer to be separated from our holy church than to submit to your authority, I hasten to express the regret I feel for such acts and writings. And to show to the world and to you, my bishop, my firm desire to live and die a Catholic, I hasten to write to your lordship that I submit to your sentence, and that I promise hereafter to exercise the holy ministry only with your permission. In consequence, I respectfully request your lordship to withdraw the censures and interdicts you have pronounced against me and those who have had any spiritual communication with me. I am, my lord, your devoted son in Christ,

C. Chiniquy.

It was eleven o'clock at night when I consented to sign this document, which was to be handed to the bishop and have any value, only on the above conditions. The two deputies were beside themselves with joy at the success of their mission, and at my readiness to sacrifice myself for the sake of peace. Mons. Desaulnier said:

"Now we see, evidently, that Chiniquy has been right with his people from the beginning, that he never meant to create a schism and to put himself at the head of a rebellious party, to defy the authority of the church. If the bishop does not want to live in peace with the people and pastor of St. Anne after such a sacrifice, we will tell him that it is not Chiniquy, but Bishop O'Regan, who wants a schism we will appeal to the Pope I will go with Chiniquy, and we will easily get there the removal of that bishop from the diocese of Chicago."

Mr. Brassard confirmed that sentence, and added that he also would accompany me to Rome to be the witness of my innocence, and the bad conduct of the bishop. He added that it would not take him a week to raise twice the amount of money in Montreal we would require to go to Rome.

After thanking them for what they had done and said, I asked Mr. Desaulnier if he would be brave enough to repeat before my whole people what he had just said before me and Mr. Brassard in the presence of God.

"Surely, I would be most happy to repeat before your whole people that it is impossible to find fault with you in what you have done till now. But, you know very well, I will never have such an opportunity, for it is now eleven o'clock at night, your people are soundly sleeping, and I must start to-morrow morning, at six o'clock, to take the Chicago train at Kankakee at 8 a.m.

I answered: "All right!"

We knelt together to make a short prayer, and I led them to their rooms, wishing them refreshing sleep, after the hard work of the day.

Ten minutes later I was in the village, knocking at the door of six of my most respectable parishioners, and telling them:

"Please do not lose a moment; go with your fastest horse to such and such a part of the colony; knock at every door and tell the people to be at the church at five o'clock in the morning, to hear with their own ears what the deputies from Canada have to say about past struggles with the Bishop of Chicago. Tell them to be punctual at five o'clock in their pews, where the deputies will address them words which they must hear at any cost."

A little before five the next morning Mr. Desaulnier, full of surprise and anxiety, knocked at my door and said:

"Chiniquy, do you not hear the strange noise of buggies and carriages which seem to be coming from every quarter of the globe. What does it mean? Have your people become crazy to come to church at this dark hour, so long before the dawn of day?"

"What! what!" I answered, "I was sleeping so soundly that I have heard nothing yet. What do you mean by this noise of carriages and buggies around the chapel? Are you dreaming?" "No, I am not dreaming," he answered; "not only do I hear the noise of a great many carriages, wagons, and buggies; but, though it is pretty dark, I see several hundred of them around the chapel. I hear the voices of a great multitude of men, women, and even children, putting questions to each other, and giving answers which I cannot understand. They make such a noise by their laughing and jokes! Can you tell me what this means? I have never been so puzzled in my life."

I answered him: "Do you not see that you are dreaming. Let me dress myself that I may go and see something of that strange and awful dream!"

Mr. Brassard, though a little more calm than Desaulnier, was not, himself, without some anxiety at the strange noise of that multitude of carriages, horses, and people around my house and chapel at such an hour. Knocking at my door, he said: "Please, Chiniquy, explain that strange mystery. Do that people come to play us some bad trick, and punish us for our intruding in their affairs?"

"Be quiet," I answered, "my dear friends. You have nothing to fear from that good and intelligent people. Do you not remember that, last night, a few minutes before eleven o'clock, Desaulnier said that he would be honest and brave enough to repeat before my whole people what he had said before you and me, and in the presence of God. I suppose that some of the angels of heaven have heard those words, and have carried them this night to every family, inviting them to be here at the chapel, that they might hear from your own lips what you think of the grand and glorious battle they are fighting in this distant land for the principle of truth and justice, as the gospel secures them to every disciple of Christ."

"Well! well!" said Desaulnier, "there is only one Chiniquy in the world to take me in such a trap, and there is only one people under heaven to do what this people is doing here. I would never have given you that answer had I not been morally sure that I would never have had the opportunity to fulfill it. Who would think you would play me such a trick? But," he added, "though I know that this will terribly compromise me before certain parties, it is too late to retract, and I will fulfill my promise."

It is impossible to express my own joy and the joy of that noble people when they heard from the very lips of those deputies that, after spending a whole day and two nights in examining all that had been done by their pastor and by them in that solemn and fearful contest, they declared that they had not broken any law of God, nor of His holy church; and that they had kept themselves in the very way prescribed by the canons.

Tears of joy were rolling down every cheek when they heard Mr. Desaulnier telling them, which Mr. Brassard confirmed after, that the bishop had no possible right to interdict their pastor, since he had told them that he was one of his best priests; and that they had done well not to pay any attention to an act of excommunication which was a sham and sacrilegious comedy, not having been signed nor certified by any known person. Both deputies said:

"Mr. Brassard will be your pastor, and Mr. Chiniquy, as his vicar, will remain in your midst. He has signed an act of submission, which we have found sufficient, on the condition that the bishop will let you live in peace, and withdraw the sentence he says he has fulminated against you. If he does not accept those conditions we will tell him, it is not Mr. Chiniquy, but he, who wants a schism, and we will go with Mr. Chiniquy to Rome, to plead his cause and prove his innocence before his Holiness."

After this, we all knelt to thank and bless God; and never people went back to their homes with more cheerful hearts than the people of St. Anne on that morning of the 25th of November, 1856.

At six o'clock a.m., Mr. Desaulnier was on his way back to Chicago, to present my conditional act of submission to the bishop, and press him, in the name of the bishops of Canada, and in the name of all the most sacred interests of the church, to accept the sacrifice and the submission of the people of St. Anne, and to give them the peace they wanted and were purchasing at such a price. The Rev. Mr. Brassard had remained with me, waiting for a letter from the bishop to accompany me and put the last seal to our reconciliation.

The next day he received the following note from Mr. Desaulnier:

Bishopric of Chicago, Nov. 26th, 1856.

"The Rev. Mr. Brassard,

"Monsieur, It is advisable and indispensable that you should come here, with Mr. Chiniquy, as soon as possible. In consequence, I expect you both day after to-morrow, in order to settle that matter definitely.

"Respectfully yours,
"Isaac Desaulnier."

After reading that letter with Mr. Brassard, I said:

"Do you not feel that these cold words mean nothing good? I regret that you have not gone with Desaulnier to the bishop. You know the levity and weakness of his character, always bold with his words, but soft as wax at the least pressure which he feels. My fear is that the bulldog tenacity of my lord O'Regan has frightened him, and all his courage and bravados have melted away before the fierce temper of the Bishop of Chicago. But let us go. Be sure, however, my dear Mr. Brassard, that if the bishop does not accept you to remain at the head of this colony, to protect and guide it, no consideration whatever will induce me to betray my people and let them become the prey of the wolves which want to devour them."

We arrived at the Illinois Central depot of Chicago, the 28th, at about ten a.m. Mr. Desaulnier was there, waiting for us. He was pale as a dead man. The marks of Cain and Judas were on his face. Having taken him at a short distance from the crowd, I asked him:

"What news?"

He answered: "The news is, that you and Mr. Brassard have nothing to do but to take your bags and go away from St. Anne, to Canada. The bishop is unwilling to make any arrangements with you. He wants me to be the pastor of St. Anne, pro tempore, and he wants you, with Mr. Brassard, to go back quietly to Canada, and tell the bishops to mind their own business."

"And what has become of the promise you have given me and to my people, to go with me and Mr. Brassard to Rome, if the bishop refused that proposed arrangements you have fixed yourselves?"

"Tat! tat! tat!" answered he. "The bishop does not care a straw about your going, or not going to Rome. He has put me as his grand vicar at the head of the colony of St. Anne, from which you must go in the shortest time possible."

"Now, Desaulnier," I answered, "you are a traitor, and a Judas, and if you want to have the pay of Judas, I advise you to go to St. Anne. There, you will receive what you deserve. The beauty and importance of that great colony have tempted you, and you have sold me to the bishop, in order to become a grand vicar and eat the fruits of the vine I have planted there. But, you will soon see your mistake. If you have any pity for yourself, I advise you never to put your feet into that place any more."

Desaulnier answered: "The bishop will not make any arrangements with you unless you retract publicly what you have written against him, on account of his taking possession of the church of the French Canadians of Chicago, and you must publish, in the press, that he was right and honest in what he did in that circumstance."

"My dear Mr. Brassard," I said, "can I make such a declaration conscientiously and honorably?" That venerable man answered me:

"You cannot consent to do such a thing."

"Desaulnier," I said, "do you hear? Mr. Brassard and your conscience, if you have any, tell you the same thing. If you take sides against me with a man whom you have yourself declared, yesterday, to be a sacrilegious thief, you are not better than he is. Go and work with him. As for me, I go back into the midst of my dear and noble people of St. Anne."

"What will you do there," answered Mr. Desaulnier, "when the bishop has forbidden you to remain?"

"What will I do?" I answered. "I will teach those true disciples of Jesus Christ to despise and shun the tyrants and the traitors, even though wearing a mitre, or a square bonnet (un bonnet carre). Go, traitor! and finish your Judas work! Adieu!"

I then threw myself into the arms of Mr. Brassard, who was almost speechless, suffocated in his sobs and tears. I pressed him to my heart and said! "Adieu! my dear Mr. Brassard. Go back to Canada and tell my friends, how the cowardice and ambition of that traitor has ruined the hope we had of putting an end to this deplorable state of affairs. I go back among my brethren of St. Anne, with more determination than ever to protect them against the tyranny and impiety of our despotic rulers. It will be more easy than ever to show them that the Son of God has not redeemed us, on the cross, that we might be slaves of those heartless traders in souls. I will more earnestly than ever teach my people to shun the modern gospel of the bishops, in order to follow the old Gospel of Jesus Christ, as the only hope and life of our poor fallen humanity."

Mr. Brassard wanted to say something; but his voice was suffocated by his sobs. The only words he could utter, when pressing me to his heart, were: "Adieu, dear friend, adieu!"

Continue to Chapter Sixty-Three

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