in the Church of Rome
by Charles Chiniquy
It was evident that the betrayal of Mr. Desaulnier would be followed by new efforts on the part of the bishop to crush us. Two new priests were sent from Canada, Mr. Mailloux, a vicar general, and Mr. Campo, to strengthen his hands, and press the people to submit. Mr. Brassard wrote me from Canada in December:
"All the bishops are preparing to hurl their thunders against you, and your people, on account of your heroic resistance to the tyranny of the Bishop of Chicago. I have told them the truth, but they don't want to know it. My lord Bourget told me positively that you must be forced, at any cost, to yield to the authority of your bishop; and he has threatened to excommunicate me if I tell the people what I know of the shameful conduct of Desaulnier. If I were alone I would not mind his excommunication, and would speak the truth, but such a sentence against me would kill my poor old mother. I hope you will not find fault with me if I remain absolutely mute. I pray you to consider this letter confidential. You know very well the trouble you would put me into by its publication."
The French Canadians of Chicago saw, at once, that their bishop, strengthened by the support of Desaulnier, would be more than ever obstinate in his determination to crush them. They thought that the best way to force him to do them justice, was to publish a manifesto of their grievances against him, and make a public appeal to all the bishops of the United States, and even to the Pope.
On the 22nd of January, 1857, The Chicago Tribune was requested by them to publish the following document:
At a public meeting of the French and Canadian Catholics of Chicago, held in the hall of Mr. Bodicar, on the 22nd of January, 1857, Mr. Rofinot being called to preside, and Mr. Franchere,[*] acting as a secretary, the following address and resolutions being read, have been unanimously approved:
"Editors of the 'Tribune.' Will you allow a thousand voices from the dead to speak to the public through your valuable paper?
"Everybody in Chicago knows that, a few years ago, there was a flourishing congregation of French people coming from France and Canada to this city. They had their priest, their church, their religious meeting. All that is now dispersed and destroyed. The present Bishop of Chicago has breathed his deadly breath upon us. Instead of coming to us as a father, he came as a savage enemy; instead of helping us as a friend, he has put us down as a revengeful foe. He has done the very contrary to which was commanded him by the Gospel. 'The bruised reed He shall not break, and the smoking flax He shall not quench.' Instead of guiding us with the cross of the meek Jesus, he has ruled over us with an iron rod.
"Every Sunday, the warm-hearted and generous Irish goes to his church to hear the voice of his priest in his English language. The intelligent Germans have their pastors to address them in their mother tongue.
"The French people are the only ones now who have no priest and no church. They are the only ones whose beautiful language is prohibited, and which is not heard from any pulpit in Chicago. And is it from lack of zeal and liberality? Ah! no, we take the whole city of Chicago as a witness of what we have done. There was not in Chicago a better looking little church than the French Canadian church called St. Louis. But, alas! we have been turned out of it by our very bishop. As he is now publishing many stories to contradict that fact, we owe to ourselves and to our children to raise from the tomb, where Bishop O'Regan has buried us, a voice to tell the truth.
"As soon as Bishop O'Regan came to Chicago, he was told that the French priest was too popular, that his church was attended not only by his French Canadian people, but that many Irish and Germans were going daily to him for their religious duties. It was whispered in the ears of his Rt. Reverence that, on account of this, many dollars and cents were going to the French priest which would be better stored in his Rt. Reverence's purse.
"Till that time the bishop was not, in appearance, taking much trouble about us. But as soon as he saw that there were dollars and cents at stake, we had the honour to occupy his thoughts day and night. Here are the facts, the undeniable public facts. He (the bishop) began by sending for our priest, and telling him that he had to prepare himself to be removed from Chicago to some other place. As soon as we knew that determination, a deputation was sent to his Rt. Reverence to get the promise that we would get another French priest, and we received from him the assurance that our just request would be granted. But the next Sunday an Irish priest having been sent to officiate instead of a French one, we sent a deputation to ask him where the French priest was that he had promised us? He answered, 'That we ought to take any priest we could get, and be satisfied.' This short and sharp answered raised our French blood, and we began speaking more boldly to his Reverence, who got up and walked through the room in a rage, saying some half a dozen times, 'You insult me!' But seeing that we were a fearless people, and determined to have no other priests but one whom we could understand, he at last promised again a French priest, if we were ready to pay the debt of our church and priest house. We said we would pay them, but our verbal promise was nothing to his Reverence. He immediately wrote an agreement, though it was Sunday, and we signed it. But to attain, sooner or later, his object, he imposed upon that unfortunate priest a condition that he knew no Christian would obey.
"This condition was that he should not receive in his church any one but the French. This was utterly impossible, as many Irish, Germans, and American Catholics had been in the habit, for years past, of coming to our church: it was impossible to turn them out at once.
"We did everything in our power to help our priest in the matter, by taking all the seats in the church, against the will of the respectable people of the different nations who had occupied them for years. Finding themselves turned out of the church, and unable to conceive the reason of so gross an insult from a fellow-Christian people, they said to us, 'Have we not paid for our seats in your church till this day? Double the rent if you like; we are ready to pay for it; but, for God's sake, permit us to come and pray with you at the foot of the same altars.'
"We explained to them the tyrannical orders of the bishop, and they, too, commenced cursing the bishop and the ship that brought him over.
"They continued, however, to come to our church, though they had no seat. They attended divine service in the aisles of the church, and we did not like to disturb them; but our feelings were too Christian for the bishop. He kept a watch over our priest, and, of course, found out that he was receiving many who were forbidden by him to attend our religious meetings.
"The bishop, then, thought once more of his dear French priest, so he came in person to his house, and asked him if he had kept his orders. The priest answered that it was quite impossible to obey such orders, and remain a Christian. He acknowledged that, in many instances, he had been obliged, by the laws of charity, to give religious help to some who were not French people.
"'Well, then,' answered the bishop, 'from this very moment, I silence you, and I forbid you the functions of priest in my diocese.'
"The poor trembling priest, thunderstruck, could not say a word.
"He went to some friends to relate what had just happened him; and he was advised by them to go back to the bishop immediately to beg the privilege of remaining at the head of his congregation till Lent was over. The bishop said:
"'I will consent to your request, if you pay me one hundred dollars.'
"'I will give you the sum as soon as I can collect it, and will give you my note for thirty days,' answered the priest.
"'I want the money, cash down,' said the bishop; 'go to some of your friends, you can easily collect that amount.'
"This poor priest went away in search of the almighty dollars; but he could not find them as soon as he wished, and did not return to his lordship that day. The bishop started that night for St. Louis, but he did not forget his dear French people in his long journey. As soon as he arrived in St. Louis, he wrote to his grand vicar, Rev. Mr. Dunn, that the French priest pay him one hundred dollars or remain suspended.
"This goodwill of the bishop for our spiritual welfare, and his paternal love for our purses, did not fail to strike us. Our priest made a new effort that very day; he went to see an old friend who had been absent from town for some time, and related to him his sad position. This old friend (P.F. Rofinot), seeing that he could redeem a priest for so little a sum (for the priest had collected part of it himself), immediately proceeded with the priest to the house of very Reverend Dunn, with the money in hand, to satisfy the bishop.
"But, alas! that bargain did not last very long; for as soon as the bishop returned, the watch that he had left behind him performed his duty well, and told him that the French priest was going on as before. So the poor priest had to go again to the bishop to explain his conduct. But this time he could not bear the idea of officiating any longer under such a tyrant. He left us to fight the hardest battles ourselves against the bishop.
"As the church and the house of our priest were on leased grounds, the lease had to be renewed or the buildings removed. We went to the bishop, who advised us to buy a lot and remove the church on it, and sell the house to help pay for the lot. Suspecting nothing wrong in that advice, we followed it. We bargained for a lot, agreed to sell the house, and went to report our progress.
"But we were going too fast. The bishop must stop us, or he would be frustrated in his calculations, for he had a lot himself to put the church on: he opposed our removing our church, by telling us that there was another lot adjoining the one we had bargained for; and that we must buy it also. We went immediately and bought the lot on ninety days' time. But he objected to this again, saying that he would not allow us to touch the church, unless we had the whole lot paid for, and put the deed in his hands, and that the deed should be made to himself personally.
"This had the effect desired by the bishop. We had collected all the money that could be collected then, in our small congregation; it was impossible for us to do any more, so we concluded to give up the battle. The bishop then went on, took the money we had sold the house for (one thousand two hundred dollars). A Catholic lady, whose husband had bought the house, had subscribed one hundred dollars for removing the church, providing the bishop would promise that it would remain in the hands of the French, and attended by a French priest. The bishop proffered again to that lady the lie, which he so often uttered to us, everywhere, even from the altar, that upon his word of bishop, it should remain a French church, and that they should have a French priest. (This we shall call lie number one.) He then moved the church to another lot of his own, sent an Irish priest to officiate in it, put the money in his pocket, and made the congregation, which is now Irish, pay for the lot, the moving and repairing of the church, and he takes quarterly the revenues, which are no less than two thousand dollars a year.
"This is the way we have been swindled out of our church, of the house of our priest, and of our all, by the tyrant, Bishop O'Regan; and when a French priest visits our city, he forbids him to address us in our mother tongue. This is the way we French Catholics, as a society, have been blotted out of the book of the living!
"And when Rev. Father Chiniquy has publicly accused Bishop O'Regan to have deprived us most unjustly of our church, he has proffered a truth which has as many witnesses as there are Catholic and Protestants in Chicago.
"We know well that Bishop O'Regan is proclaiming that he has not deprived us of our church, that if it is in the hands of the Irish, it is because the Irish and not the French built it. 'This is lie number two, which can be proved by more than a thousand witnesses.'
"We would like to know if he has forgotten the agreement (mentioned above) which he made us sign in bargaining for a French priest. He has the receipts for every cent that was due up to the time he took possession of our church. He then proffered these words with the French gentlemen who brought him the receipts: "It takes the French to collect money quick these hard times,' (being in the winter).
"We must also add that we, French people, have paid for the very vestments that the bishop uses in his cathedral, which he has taken from our church. But he uses them only on some high feasts, thinking too much of stolen property, to use them on a common day.
"Will it be out of my place here, to say that the cathedral of Chicago was built by the French, and that the lot which it is built on was given by a Frenchman? It is very reluctantly that we expose all these facts before the eyes of the public; but having waited patiently, during two long years, and having used all the influence we could command in France and Canada, to no purpose, we must resort to the sympathy of the public for justice, through the free press of the United States.
"Resolved, 1st. That the Right Rev. O'Regan, Bishop of Chicago, has entirely lost the confidence of the French and Canadian population of Chicago since he has taken away from us our church.
"Resolved, 2nd. That the Right Rev. O'Regan has published a base slander against the French and Canadian population of Chicago, when he said he took our church from our hands on the pretense that we could not pay for it.
"Resolved, 3rd. That the Right Rev. O'Regan, having said to our deputies, who went to inquire from him by what right he was taking our church from us to give it to another congregation: 'I have the right to do what I like with your church, and your church properties; I can sell them and put the money in my pocket, and go where I please with it,' has assumed a power too tyrannical to be obeyed by a Christian and a free people.
"Resolved, 4th. That the nature of the different suits which the Right Rev. O'Regan has had before the civil courts of this state, and which he has almost invariably lost, have proved to the whole people of Illinois that he is quite unworthy of the position he holds in the Catholic Church.
"Resolved, 5th. That the Right Rev. O'Regan is here publicly accused of being guilty of simony for having extorted one hundred dollars from a priest to give him permission to officiate and administer the sacraments among us.
"Resolved, 6th. That the Right Rev. O'Regan, in forbidding the Irish and German Catholics to communicate with the French Catholic Church, and allowing the French and Canadians to communicate with the Irish and German Churches, has acted with a view to deprive the French Church of religious fees and other donations, which acts we consider unjust and against the spirit of the church, and more resembling a mercantile transaction than a Christian work.
"Resolved, 7th. That the French and Canadian people of Illinois have seen with feelings of grief and surprise that the Rev. Mr. Desaulnier has made himself the humble valet of the merciless and shameless persecutor of his countrymen.
"Resolved, 8th. That the Rev. Mr. Chiniquy, pastor of St. Anne, deserves the gratitude of every Catholic of Illinois, for having, at first, put a stop to the rapacious tyranny of the Bishop of Chicago.
"Resolved, 9th. That the French Catholics of Chicago are determined to give all support in their power to the Rev. Mr. Chiniquy, in his struggle against the Bishop of Chicago.
"Resolved, 10th. That a printed copy of these resolutions be sent to every bishop and archbishop of the United States and Canada, that they may see the necessity of giving to the church of Illinois a bishop more worthy of that high position.
"Resolved, 11th. That a copy of these resolutions be sent to His Holiness Pius IX., that he may be incited to make inquiries about the humiliated position of the church of Illinois, since the present bishop is among us.
"Resolved, 12th. That the independent and liberty-loving press of the United States be requested to publish the above address and resolutions all over the country.
"P.F. Rofinot, President,
"David Franchere, Secretary."
That cry of more than two thousand Roman Catholics of Chicago, which was reproduced by almost the whole press of Illinois, and the United States, fell as a thunderbolt upon the head of my lord O'Regan and Desaulnier; they wrote to all the bishops of America, to hasten to their rescue, and for several months the pulpits of the Roman Catholic Churches had no other mission than to repeat the echoes of the Episcopal Fulminations hurled against my devoted head. Many bishop's letters and mandements were published denouncing me and my people as infamous schismatics, whose pride and obstinacy were troubling the peace of the church. But the most bitter of all these was a letter from my lord Bourget, Bishop of Montreal, who thought the best, if not the only way to force the people to desert me, was by for ever destroying my honour. But he had the misfortune to fall into the pit he had dug for me in 1851.
The miserable girl he had associated with himself, to satisfy his implacable hatred, was dead. But, he had still in hand the lying accusations obtained from her against me. Having probably destroyed her sworn recantation written by the Jesuit Father Schnieder, and not having the least idea that I had kept three other sworn copies of her recantations he thought he could safely publish that I was a degraded man, who had been driven from Canada by him, after being convicted of some enormous crime, and interdicted.
This declaration was brought before the public, for the first time, by him, with an hypocritical air of compassion and mercy for me, which added much to the deadly effect he expected to produce by it. Here are his own words, addressed to the people of Bourbonnais, and through them, to the whole world:
"I must tell you that on the 27th of September, 1851, I withdrew all his powers, and interdicted him, for reasons which I gave him in my letter addressed to him; a letter which he had probably kept. Let him publish that letter, if he finds that I have persecuted him unjustly."
I could hardly believe my eyes when I read this ignominious act of perfidy on the part of that high dignitary: it seemed incredible, and surpassed anything I had ever seen, even in Bishop O'Regan. I cannot say, however, that it took me entirely by surprise, for I had anticipated it. When Father Schneider asked me why I had taken four sworn copies of the recantation of the unfortunate girl whose tears of regret were flowing before us, I told him that I knew so much of the meanness and perfidy of Bishop Bourget, that I thought he might destroy the copy we were sending him, in order to pierce me again with his poisonous arrows, whilst, if I kept three other copies, one for him, one for Mr. Brassard, and one for myself, I would have nothing to fear. I am convinced that my merciful God knew the malice of that bishop against me, and gave me that wisdom to save me.
I immediately sent him, through the press, the following answer:
To Monsignor Bourget:
St. Anne, April 18th, 1857.
My Lord: In your letter of the 19th of March, you assure the public that you have interdicted me, a few days before my leaving Canada for the United States, and you invite me to give the reasons of that sentence. I will satisfy you. On the 28th of September, 1851, I found a letter on my table from you, telling me that you had suspended me from my ecclesiastical offices, on account of a great crime that I had committed, and of which I was accused. But the name of the accuser was not given, nor the nature of the crime. I immediately went to see you, and protesting my innocence, I requested you to give me the name of my accusers, and allow me to be confronted by them, promising that I would prove my innocence. You refused to grant my request.
Then I fell on my knees, and with tears, in the name of God, I requested you again to allow me to meet my accusers and prove my innocence. You remained deaf to my prayer and unmoved by my tears; you repulsed me with a malice and air of tyranny which I had thought impossible in you.
During the twenty-four hours after this, sentiments of an inexpressible wrath crossed my mind. I tell it to you frankly, in that terrible hour I would have preferred to be at the feet of a heathen priest, whose knife would have slaughtered me on his altars, to appease his infernal gods, rather than be at the feet of a man who, in the name of Jesus Christ, and under the mask of the gospel, should dare to commit such a cruel act. You had taken away my honour you had destroyed me with the most infamous calumny and you had refused me every means of justification! You had taken under your protection the cowards who were stabbing me in the dark!
Though it is hard to repeat it, I must tell it here publicly, I cursed you on that horrible day.
With a broken heart I went to the Jesuit college, and I showed the wounds of my bleeding soul to the noble friend who was generally my confessor, the Rev. Father Schneider, the director of the college.
After three days, having providentially got some reasons to suspect who was the author of my destruction, I sent some one to ask her to come to the college, without mentioning my name.
When she was in the parlour, I said to Father Schneider:
"You know the horrible iniquity of the bishop against me; with the lying words of a prostitute, he has tried to destroy me; but please come and be the witness of my innocence."
When in the presence of that unfortunate female, I told her:
"You are in the presence of God Almighty, and two of His priests. They will be the witnesses of what you say! Speak the truth. Say in the presence of God and this venerable priest, if I have ever been guilty of what you have accused me to the bishop."
At these words, the unfortunate female burst into tears; she concealed her face in her hands, and with a voice half suffocated with her sobs, she answered:
"No sir; you are not guilty of that sin!"
"Confess here another truth," I said to her: "Is it not true that you came to confess to me with the desire to tempt me than to reconcile yourself to God?"
She said, "Yes, sir, that is the truth." Then I said again, "Continue to say the truth, and I will forgive you, and God also will forgive your iniquity. Is it not through revenge for having failed in your criminal designs, that you have tried to destroy me by that false accusation to the bishop?" "Yes, sir, it was the only reason which has induced me to accuse you falsely."
And all I say here, at least in substance, has been heard, written, and signed by the Right Rev. Schneider, one of your priests, and the present director of the Jesuit College. That venerable priest is still living in Montreal; let the people of Canada go and interrogate him. Let the people of Canada also go to the Rev. Mr. Brassard, who has in his hands an authentic copy of that declaration.
Your lordship gives the public to understand that I was disgraced by that sentence, some days before I left Canada for Illinois. Allow me to give you my reasons for differing from you in this matter.
There is a canon law of the church which says:
"If a censure is unjust and unfounded, let the man against whom the sentence has been passed pay no attention to it. For, before God and His church, no unjust sentence can bring any injury against any one. Let the one against whom such unfounded and unjust judgment has been pronounced even take no step to annul it, for it is a nullity by itself."
You know very well that the sentence you had passed against me was null and void for many good reasons; that it was founded on a false testimony. Father Schneider is there, ready to prove it to you, if you have any doubt.
The second reason I have to believe that you had yourself considered your sentence a nullity, and that I was not suspended by it from my ecclesiastical dignity and honour, is founded on a good testimony, I hope the testimony of your lordship.
A few hours before my leaving Canada for the United States, I went to ask your benediction, which you gave me with every mark of kindness. I then asked your lordship to tell me frankly if I had to leave with the impression that I was disgraced in his mind? You gave me the assurance of the contrary.
Then I told you that I wanted to have a public and irrefutable testimony of your esteem, written with your own hand, and you gave me the following letter:
"Montreal, Canada, October 13, 1851.
"Sir, You ask me permission to leave my diocese to go and offer your services to the Bishop of Chicago. As you belong to the diocese of Quebec, I think it belongs to my lord the archbishop to give you the exact you wish. As for me, I can not but thank you for your labours among us, and I wish you in return the most abundant blessings from heaven. You shall ever be in my remembrance and in my heart, and I hope that Divine Providence will permit me, at a future time, to testify all the gratitude I owe you.
"Meanwhile, I remain your very humble and obedient servant,
"Ignatius, Bishop of Montreal.
I then asked you to give me some other tangible token of your esteem, which I might show everywhere I should go.
You answered that you would be happy to give me one, and you said: "What do you wish?"
"I wish," I said, "to have a chalice from your hands to offer the holy sacrifice of the mass the rest of my life."
You answered: "I will do that with pleasure;" and you gave an order to one of your priests to bring you a chalice that you might give it to me. But that priest had not the key of the box containing the sacred vases; that key was in the hands of another priest, who was absent for a few hours.
I had not the time to wait; the hour of the departure of the trains had come; I told you: "Please, my lord, send that chalice to the Rev. Mr. Brassard, of Longueuil, who will forward it to me in a few days to Chicago." And the next day one of your secretaries went to the Rev. Mr. Brassard, gave him the chalice you had promised me, which is still in my hands. And the Rev. Mr. Brassard is there still living, to be the witness of what I say, and to bring that fact to your memory if you have forgotten it.
Well, my lord, I do believe that a bishop will never give a chalice to a priest to say mass, when he knows that that priest is interdicted. And the best proof that you know very well that I was not interdicted by your rash and unjust sentence, is that you gave me that chalice as a token of your esteem, and of my honesty, ect.
Ten thousand copies of this exposure of the depravity of the bishop were published in Montreal. I asked the whole people of Canada to go to the Rev. Mr. Schneider and to the Rev. Mr. Brassard to know the truth, and many went. The bishop remained confounded. It was proved that he had committed against me a most outrageous act of tyranny and perfidy; and that I was perfectly innocent and honest, and that he knew it, in the very hour that he tried to destroy my character. Probably the Bishop of Montreal had destroyed the copy of the declaration of the poor girl he had employed, and thinking that this was the only copy of her declaration of my innocence and honesty, he thought he could speak of the socalled interdict after I was a Protestant. But in that he was cruelly mistaken, for as I have already said, by the great mercy of God, three other authenticated copies had been kept: one by the Rev. Mr. Schneider himself, another by the Rev. Mr. Brassard, another by one whom it is not necessary to mention, and then he had no suspicion that the revelation of his unchristian conduct, and of his determination to destroy me with the false oath of a prostitute, were in the hands of too many people to be denied.
The Bishop of Chicago, whom I met a few days after, told me what I was well aware of before. "That such a sentence was a perfect nullity in every way, and it was a disgrace only for those who were blind enough to trample under their feet the laws of God and men to satisfy their bad passions."
A few days after the publication of that letter in Canada, Mr. Brassard wrote me:
"Your last letter has completely unmasked our poor bishop, and revealed to the world his malice, injustice and hypocrisy. He felt so confounded by it, that he has been three days without being about to eat or drink anything, and three nights without sleeping. Everyone says that the chastisement you have given him is a terrible one, when it is in the face of the whole world; but he deserved it."
When I received that last friendly letter from Mr. Brassard on the 1st of April, 1857, I was far from suspecting that on the 15th of the same month, I should read in the press of Canada, the following lines from him:
St. Roch De L' Achigan, Le 9 Avril, 1857.
Messieurs:I request you to insert the following lines in your journal. As some people suspect that I am favouring the schism of Mr. Chiniquy, I think it is my duty to say that I have never encouraged him by my words or writings in that schism. I must say that, last November, when I went to St. Anne, accompanied by Mr. Desaulnier, Superior of St. Hyacinthe College, my only object was to persuade that old friend to leave the bad ways in which he was walking. And in Chicago I pressed him to put himself in a canonical way.
I, more than anyone else, deplore the fall of a man whom, I confess, I loved much, but for the sake of whom I will not sacrifice the sacred ties of Catholic unity. I hope that all the Canadians who were attached to Mr. Chiniquy when he was united to the church, will withdraw from him in horror of his schism. For before anything else, we must be truly and faithfully Catholic.
However, we have a duty to perform towards the man who has fulfilled such a holy mission in our midst, by establishing the society of temperance. It is to call back, with our prayers, that stray sheep who has left the true Pastor's fold.
I request all journals to reproduce this declaration. Truly yours,
Moses Brassard, Pastor.
M.M., the Editors of the Courier du Canada.
I felt that there was not a line, not a sentiment of Mr. Brassard in that letter. It smelt Bishop Bourget's hand, from the beginning to the end. I thought, however, that it was my duty to address him the following answer:
St. Anne, Kakakee County, Illinois, April, 23, 1857.
My Dear Mr. Brassard: I have just received your letter of the 9th inst., but no! I will not call it a letter, it will be better named a bitter tear, and a sad wail of a heart as good as it is noble and generous.
You have been a witness how the people and missionary of St. Anne have been betrayed by Mr. Desaulnier. You were at my side as a friend and father, when this traitor said to me, as well as to my brethren, "Sign this act of submission to the Bishop of Chicago; this act alone is enough to make him withdraw the sentence which fills your Canadian friends with anxiety. If the bishop does not give you the place you want, and if he does not withdraw the excommunication after having been presented with this act, I will tell him, 'It is neither the pastor nor the people of St. Anne who wish a schism, they have done that which religion and honour commanded, to prove it; it is you who wishes it.'" Your tears were mingled with mine, and the incense of your prayer ascended with those of my brethren, when on the 26th of November Mr. Desaulnier said to the people of St. Anne, "You cannot be blamed for when you have done since the beginning of your difficulties with your bishop." You were a witness that our first condition to the signing of the act which you and Mr. Desaulnier presented to us, was that you should be the pastor of St. Anne, and that I should remain with you as long as you would find it to the interest of my colony. You know that he gave me his word of honour, in presence of all the people, that if the bishop would not give us peace after the signing of the act, he (Mr. Desaulnier) would go with us to St. Louis and even to Rome, to plead my cause and show the iniquity and unbearable tyranny of the Bishop of Chicago. Did he not assure us that, in case the Bishop should refuse to accept the act of submission we had signed, your mission to St. Anne was finished, and that you both would return to Canada, after your voyage to St. Louis? Is it not true that when in Chicago, in reply to our question, "What news?" Mr. Desaulnier said, "You have only to take your bags and both return to Canada at once." Mr. Desaulnier denies all those facts, with an impudence of which he alone is capable. You are my only witness before our Canada, which wishes and has a right to know the truth in this matter.
I took you as my witness, and you replied in many of your letters, that you could not say the truth without compromising yourself. Is not this an acknowledgment that we, priests of Jesus Christ, are groaning under the weight of the most frightful tyranny; and that we are in the power of men who threaten our honour and life, if we dare speak the truth in favour of an oppressed brother? And this is the system which proclaims itself as the divine and ineffable news which the Messiah brought to the world!! And this abominable oppression, this system of deceit, is the religion which the Son of the God of truth, justice, and mercy, has established to save the world? This is the foundation stone of the church of Christ!!! No! You do not believe that, my dear Mr. Brassard. Neither do I. I never did, and never will believe it.
They tell us it is for the greater good of the church that they act thus; that it is to preserve the respect which is due to the Holy Catholic Hierarchy, that they take those extreme measures against the people of St. Anne!
But I have carefully studied the laws of the church upon these great questions, and I see they say precisely the contrary. I see that the Catholic church said to us, 1. "In the church there is no arbitrary power." 2. "The censures are null when they have been pronounced against sins which have not been committed. 3. Never receive any accusation against a priest, which has not been proven by two or three witnesses. 4. If a sentence is visibly unjust, the condemned must not pay any attention to it; for before God and His Church, no unjust sentence can injure anyone. 5. The unjust excommunication is not binding neither before God nor the people, when that people know its injustice, because the Holy Ghost cannot abandon those who have not deserved it."
You wish me to act according to the canons of the church. I have already told you that if I had been interdicted on the 19th of August, I would have been able to appeal from that sentence, but I had not. I had fifteen days to consider. How could I have appealed from a sentence which had not been pronounced? What witness could I bring against a fact which, I knew, had never taken place? But you will say: "The excommunication? Should it not give you some anxiety?" "Not the least." St. Thomas said positively that an excommunication of which the injustice is known by the people, ought not to prevent a priest from exercising his ministry among them. They will perhaps say, "But where did the people get the right to judge in such things?" St. Thomas must have believed that the people had that right, since he said it. St. Thomas was neither a heretic nor schismatic for believing these things.
Why, then, should I be one for having thought, spoken, and acted, according to the doctrine of him whom the church has named the angel of the school? Besides that, you know that the excommunication was a nullity from want of being signed.
The reason of this surprise about the right which the people has to exercise its judgment upon this question, is that, lately, the bishops have not only stripped the priests, but also the people, of the holy and just rights which Jesus Christ had given them. Those who have carefully studied the history of the church in the first centuries know this as well as I do. But be it known, there are rights against which time does not prescribe. There are rights which the priests and people have never renounced, and which the Church of Christ will always like to see them enjoy. I do not say that the bishops are not appointed by the church to govern the flock according to their caprices, but according to the unchangeable rules of justice, equity, and truth of the gospel. In the primitive church, every time that a bishop forgets this, other bishops reminded him of it.
Do we not see in the gospel, that the first Christians complained bitterly to the apostles themselves of the manner in which they had administered the goods entrusted to them? Were they excommunicated for that? Did they receive in answer the insolent reply that the people receive today? viz.: "You are but the laity, that does not concern you?" No! The apostles listened to the complaints of the people; they found them just, and the people were allowed to choose the administrators of their goods. The people, then, were looked upon as something worthy of attention and respect, and were not tied, as today, to the feet of a dignitary, and obliged to go right and left at the good pleasure of their pretended master. The people were not, then, bridled; were not mere machines to pay tithes, build palaces, raise proud cathedrals; nor were they degraded, demoralized, as today; obliged to believe they had minds, but had no right to make use of them; they were not, then, as now, poor beasts of burthen, whose only duty is to obey their master. But their wants and wishes were consulted, their voice was heard. They had not yet the idea that the Holy Ghost was to enlighten only a certain class of men, and that the rest of humanity were given up to ignorance, only to walk in the light of a few privileged luminaries.
But the spirit of wisdom, charity, and tolerance, this respect for the will and wishes of the people, where do you find them today? On the contrary, we find tyranny on the one side, and stern and necessary resistance on the other; resistances which are but the expression of the law of God. Let the tolerant conduct of the apostles, who listened with so much humility to the complaints of the first Christians, be compared to that of Bishop O'Regan when questioned by the French people of Chicago upon the right he had to deprive them of their church, to give it to another congregation, put them out of doors saying, "You do not know your religion; I have the right to sell your churches, and the grounds attached to them, put the money in my pocket, and eat and drink where I like."
This is what Bishop O'Regan has said and done; and this is what the Bishop of Canada approves and sanctions in the name of the gospel! They try to make you believe that it is the doctrine of Jesus Christ which these high dignitaries peach and practice. Let the poor people of Canada believe this if they wish; as for us in St. Anne, we do not, and never will believe it. Are not these men who cry the loudest to make us respect the canons of the church the very men who publicly trample the most holy laws of the people and of the church under their feet? How easy it would be to put to those powerful personages questions which they would call impertinent, but which would shed great light in the midst of the profound darkness in which a certain corner of the world is kept today? You who overwhelm us with curses and send us to hell if we are not ready to say amen to all you say, what have you done with the canon of the holy Council of Nice, which forbids you to change a priest's charge without his permission? Where is the canon of a general council which allows the bishops to add the words "usque ad revocationem" in the powers given to the priests! While one of the canons of the church says: "It is the authority of the canons and the examination of the conduct of the priests which ought to give or take away the ecclesiastical dignities, and not the will of the prelates."
History has preserved the names of certain tyrants who forced the trembling hand of a father to set fire to the pile which consumed his own child. Ah! why do these bishops of Canada remind us of that lamentable page of past centuries in commanding you to throw burning coals on the pile to which they have led me. You are more than a friend to me. I have the right to call you "Father." When still very young, domestic misfortunes forced me to leave for a strange country in search of a living; you stretched out to me a helping hand. Although poor yourself, you shared your bread with the poor orphan. You opened to me the doors of the college where I studied. And ever since, when a tempest threatened my fragile bark with shipwreck, in your arms I found a sure port. Every time I received a wound in the struggles of life, in your affection I found a remedy. When heaven chose your poor friend to change the face of our dear country, it was beneath your hospitable roof that I found rest. Your hand was the last one which pressed mine, when in 1851 I left Canada to consecrate myself to the service of the emigrants; and lastly, when the thunders of three deluded prelates fell upon my head, I said to myself: I have in Canada a friend, a father. I am so sure of his heart that I do not even need to call him to aid; there is a voice in his soul which cries to him: "Go, go to the aid of thy friend, of thy child!" I was not mistaken. On the 24th of November you pressed me to your heart; your words of peace and charity cheered my broken heart. For the love of God and for your sake also, my dear Mr. Brassard, I have consented to do all you require of me. Ah! why did you not come alone? How easily everything would have been safely settled! But without knowing it, you had with you a traitor, who came to give the people and pastor of St. Anne the kiss of Judas before delivering them into the hands of their enemies. Today you are commanded to add your efforts to those of this traitor, to strike me. They want you to add a new thorn to that crown of shame which the bishops have placed on my forehead. But how can I be guilty for having called you as a witness of the iniquities of my enemies? Have you forgotten with what sincerity and promptitude I signed, as well as my brethren of St. Anne, the act of submission to the Bishop O'Regan? Have you forgotten the desolation of your heart and mine when (on the conditions you well know) I declared to my people that I would no longer be their pastor?
Since the bishops of Canada command you to speak, in the name of the God of truth and justice, I also ask you to speak. Yes, state to the people of Canada how shamefully Mr. Desaulnier has deceived the generous people who surround me here. Yes! tell your surprise, your just indignation, your bitter sorrow when Mr. Desaulnier refused, in Chicago, to fulfill the sacred promise he had made! Tell the nature of the new document which he wanted me to sign at Chicago. Declare honestly that you said to me: "My poor friend, you cannot sign that act without lying and dishonouring yourself for ever."
Since the bishops of Canada command you to speak, raise your voice to say to the Canadian people what you wrote to Dr. Letourneaux and to myself: They do not wish to know the truth in Canada more than at Chicago about the shameful conduct of Mr. Desaulnier in this affair! Yes, speak! Give to my dear Canada the reply which the Bishop of Chicago made when you asked: "Have you any accusation in hand against the character of Mr. Chiniquy?" I need your testimony upon this question for the Bishop of Chicago, forgetting what he confessed to you is circulating, through my enemies, a thousand calumnies against me, which are reproduced today by the Bishop of Montreal. Say to Canada that the Bishop of Chicago assured you that he had interdicted me only because I disobeyed him in refusing to leave St. Anne, whilst, at the very time he held a letter brought by four witnesses, saying that I was ready to obey, and that I would prefer going to the end of the world rather than be interdicted.
If, having said all these things, you are still commanded to strike me, do so, dear friend. Though your blows go more directly to my heart than all the thunders of Bishop O'Regan, they will never shake my constancy, nor make me betray my brethren; they will neither make me change my convictions, nor force me any longer to bend the knee before men who wish us to submit to their caprices and impious commands rather than to the laws of the God of justice, truth and mercy, whose priest I have the honour to be. I have sworn at the foot of the altar to preach truth and justice, nothing will make me break my oath. Do you remember with what dignity you refused one day to bow before one of those modern divinities, who believe that everything is allowed them on earth. Do you not recollect that the Bishop of Ottawa had the audacity to take one of your letters out of the post office and read it, hoping the shameful act would never be known? I shall never forget the noble independence with which you protested against that abuse of power, and with what indignation you threatened to drag that haughty bishop before the courts of justice if he did not ask pardon for that outrage! Were you revolting against the church of Christ then? No! for you knew that her principles of truth and justice could not sanction such brigandage. So I did not revolt against the church of Christ when I resisted the insolence and outrages of the Bishop of Chicago.
Like St. Jerome, I know the rights of the bishops. I respect their authority. The Catholic Hierarchy is to me a holy and venerable institution. But when men, sheltering themselves behind those holy institutions, trample under their feet the principles of justice, truth, and holiness which the Gospel of Christ inculcates, I will fight to the end, with my poor emigrants, for the preservation of their Christian rights. You say that before all, we must be frankly and sincerely "Catholics." I answer, yes. But when one is wrongfully deprived of this glorious name before men because he opposes, as I have done, the brigandage of a bishop who believes all is allowed him, he can remain in peace, and be like St. Paul, who did not care what men said or thought of him. To be anathematized, because I have devoted myself to the welfare of my brethren, is not such a sad destiny as some people think. St. Paul said: "I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according the flesh." The favour after which the apostle of the Gentiles signed has been accorded me. I cannot complain of it. Besides, does not Christ Himself say to those who labour to scatter seeds of justice and truth upon the earth, that they ought not expect to be treated better than He?
From every part of Canada and the United States men of distinction cease not to cry, Courage! It is true that several curse us, but it is because they are forced to do it. Many keep silent for fear of their masters, but their prayers and sympathies are for us. The bishops will see, sooner or later, that in order to retain their power on earth that power must be found, as in heaven, upon justice and truth.
When the priests of Canada, to please the bishops, contrary to their convictions, have degraded their own sacerdotal character in my person; when they have burned the effigy of the proscribed, having no more the glorious privilege of burning his body; when the father whom, by the grace of God, I have snatched from an abyss, cursed me; when this dear young man who has, so many times blessed me, because I have shown him the Gospel, the way of honour and virtue, by removing the stumbling block of intemperance offered to his weakness, has been forced to curse me; when that poor woman who, by the grace of God, owes me the bread she eats, and the few days of holy felicity she has enjoyed upon earth, has cursed me; when this fine little child, who has so many times blessed my name, because God made use of me to give him back a father, has cursed me, there will be a silence of sorrow in Canada around my proscribed name. Then a reaction will take place. A great prestige will be destroyed. A great power, holy and benevolent in its origin, but fallen by its excesses, will be destroyed. God grant that, in the midst of those ruins there may be no tears, no blood. This is not prophecy, it is history. Yes, let the Canadian clergy open the records of the past, and they will find where their blind and demoralizing obedience to the bishops leads them and their good and generous people, if not to infidelity and atheism.
You advise me, dear Mr. Brassard, to put myself in the canonical ways; but have I not already done so? Have not the bishops of Canada told you that the letter signed by me had already placed me in that position? Has not Mr. Desaulnier said, in your presence, to my people and myself at St. Anne: "Sign this act, and if the bishop does not take away his sentence of excommunication, I will say to him: 'It is not Mr. Chiniquy, neither his people, who wish a schism; they have done what religion and honour command them; it is the Bishop of Chicago who makes the schism.'" What have we gained by taking that public step? Nothing, but to be cruelly and shamefully betrayed. Was not Jesus Christ betrayed only once by Judas? Do not, then, expect that we will be stronger than the Son of God. The bishops of Canada, by their emissary, have already betrayed us, of which you have been witness. The people and missionary of St. Anne do not feel strong enough to present their cheek again to the smiter. In spite of the clamours which rise around us, we are convinced that we may be good Catholics without submitting to that degradation twice.
The bishops of Canada want you to speak. Very well! my dear Mr. Brassard, I also implore you to speak. In the name of the friendship which has united us for forty years, I implore you to tell the truth. Did you not, after reading the document which the Bishop of Chicago commanded me to sign as the only condition of peace, say to me:
"My dear friend, you cannot sign such a writing without lying and dishonouring yourself for ever?" And behold! Today you cry to my brethren to destroy and abandon me, when you know that the position in which I stand is but the result of my refusal to sign a most infamous, lying, and degrading document. These things, and many others which you know, would serve wonderfully to open the eyes of the people upon the awful abuse of power, which certain bishops are, every day, guilty. This would aid to unmask certain modern divinities who pretend that we cannot go to heaven without their permission; who preach that it is not the blood of Jesus Christ, but a certain passport, of which they hold the patent, which assures us a place among the elect of God. A sentence founded upon a public lie, and which was resisted, cannot constitute a schism. Christian men who, like the Catholics of Chicago, Kankakee, and St. Anne, resist iniquity, may be condemned by men, but not by God.
I was not suspended on the 19th of August, and so I could exercise the holy functions of my ministry the following morning and after. It is the church which assures me of this, through her greatest theologians. As it is not enough to say, "My God! My God!" to be saved; so, it is not enough to cry, "You are lost! you are lost!" for one to be lost. The Son of God, who gave His life to save man, gave us a thousand proofs that the salvation of our soul has a foundation more certain than the capricious will of a sinful being. He has given to no one the power to save or condemn according to his pleasure. If some bishops and priests believe this, it is not the faith of the people of Chicago, Kankakee, and St. Anne.
I will tell you again, my dear Mr. Brassard, that if, in order to obey the Bishop of Montreal, you should strip me of the little honour which surrounds my name in Canada, I shall still never forget the good you have done me. Yes! command my friends to betray me, to trample me under their feet, to turn away from me in horror. Never will you be able to weaken my sentiments of respect and gratitude for you!
I will still love and bless you; for I know the hand which forced yours to do so. I will always know that your own heart was first struck and wounded by the blows they commanded you to give to your friend and son in Jesus Christ,
The effect of that letter upon Mr. Brassard was still more powerful than I had expected. It forced him to blush at his own cowardice, and to ask my pardon for the unjust sentence he had passed upon me to obey the bishop. Here are the parts of the letter bearing on that subject: -
St. Roch, 29 Mai, 1857
Mon cher Chiniquy, Je suis plus convaincu que jamais que tu n'as jamais ete interdit legalement, depuis que j'ai appris par Monseigneur de Montreal, que l'eveque de Chicago t'a interdit de vive voix, dans sa chambre; ce que ligoury dit etre nul et de nul effet."
I am more than ever convinced that you have been legally interdicted, since Bishop Bourget told me that Bishop O'Regan had interdicted you privately, viva voce in his private room. Ligouri says that it is a nullity, and that it can have no effect. I beg your pardon for what I wrote against you. I have been forced to do so. Because I had not yet sufficiently condemned you, and that my name, which you were citing in your writings, was giving you too much power, and a too clear condemnation of Bishop O'Regan, the Bishop of Montreal, abusing his authority over me, forced me to sign that document against you. I would not do it today if it were to be done again. Keep silence on what I tell you in this letter. It is all confidential. You understand it.
Your devoted friend,
No priest in Canada had more deservedly enjoyed the reputation of a man of honour than Mr. Brassard. Not one ever stood so high in my esteem and respect. His sudden and unexpected fall filled my heart with an unspeakable sadness. I may say that it snapped the last thread which held me to the Church of Rome. Till then, it was not only my hope, by my firm conviction, that there were many honest, upright priests in that church, and Mr. Brassard was, to me, the very personification of honesty. How can I describe the shock I felt when I saw him there, in the mud, a monument of the unspeakable corruption of my church! The perfidious Delilah had seduced and destroyed this modern Samson, enchained, as a trembling slave, at the feet of the new implacable Moloch, "The authority of the bishop!" He had not only lost the fear of God, and the respect he owed to himself, by publicly declaring that I was guilty, when he knew that I was innocent, but he had so completely lost every sentiment of honesty, that he wanted me to keep secret his declaration of my innocence, at the very moment he was inviting my whole country, through the press, to abhor and condemn me as a criminal!
I read again and again the strange letter. Every word of it was destroying the last illusions which had concealed from my mind the absolute and incurable perversity of the Church of Rome. I had no hard feelings against this last friend whom she had poisoned with the wine of her prostitutions. I felt only a profound compassion for him. I pitied and forgave him from the bottom of my heart. But every word of his letter sounded in my ears as the warning voice of the angel sent to save Lot from the doomed city of Sodom: "Escape for thy life. Look not behind thee; neither stay thou in all the plain. Escape to the mountain lest thou be consumed" (Gen. xix. 17).
[*] These two gentlemen are still living in Chicago, 1885.
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