in the Church of Rome
by Charles Chiniquy
CHAPTER 55 Back to Contents
On the first of August, 1855, I received the following letter:-
The College, Chicago, July 24th, 1855.
Rev. Mr. Chiniquy,
You will have the goodness to attend a spiritual retreat to be given next month at the college, in Chicago, for the clergy of the diocese of Chicago and Quincy.
The spiritual exercises, which will be conducted by the Rt. Rev. the Bishop of Louisville, are to commence on Tuesday, the 28th of August, and will terminate on the following Sunday. This arrangement will necessitate your absence from your church on Sunday the 14th, after Pentecost, which you will make known to your congregation. No clergyman is allowed to be absent from his retreat without the previous written consent of the bishop of the diocese, which consent will not be given except in cases which he will judge to be of urgent necessity.
By order of Rt. Rev. Bishop,
Wishing to study the personnel of that Irish clergy of which Bishop Vandeveld had told such frightful things, I went to St. Mary's University, two hours ahead of time.
Never did I see such a band of jolly fellows. Their dissipation and laughter. Their exchange of witty, and too often, unbecoming expressions, the tremendous noise they made in addressing each other, at a distance: Their "Hello, Patrick!" "hello, Murphy!" "hello, O'Brien! how do you do? How is Bridget? Is Marguerite still with you?" The answers: "Yes! yes! She will not leave me;" or "No! no! the crazy girl is gone," were invariably followed by outbursts of laughter.
Though nine-tenths of them were evidently under the influence of intoxicating drinks, not one could be said to be drunk. But the strong odour of alcohol, mixed with the smoke of cigars, soon poisoned the air and made it suffocating.
I had withdrawn in a corner, alone, in order to observe everything.
What stranger, in entering that large hall, would have suspected that those men were about to begin one of the most solemn and sacred actions of a priest! With the exception of five or six, they looked more like a band of carousing raftsmen than priests.
About an hour before the opening of the exercises, I saw one of the priests with hat in hand, accompanied by two of the fattest and most florid of the band, going to every one, collecting money and with the utmost hilarity and pleasure, each one threw his bank bills into the hat. I supposed that this collection was intended to pay for our board, during the retreat, and I prepared the fifteen dollars I wanted to give. When they came near me the big hat was literally filled with five and ten dollar bills. Before handing my money to them, I asked: "What is the object of that collection?"
"Ah! ah!" they answered with a hearty laugh. "Dear Father Chiniquy, is it possible that you do not know it yet? Don't you know that, when we are so crowded as we will be here, this week the rooms are apt to become too warm, and we get thirsty? Then a little drop to cool the throat and quench the thirst, is needed," and the collectors laughed outright.
I answered politely, but seriously: "Gentlemen, I came here to meditate and pray; and when I am thirsty, the fresh and pure water of Lake Michigan will quench my thirst. I have given up, long ago, the use of intoxicating drinks. Please excuse me, I am a teetotaler."
"So we are!" they answered, with a laugh; "we have all taken the pledge from Father Mathew; but this does not prevent us from taking a little drop to quench our thirst and keep up our health. Father Mathew is not so merciless as you are."
"I know Father Mathew well," I answered. "I have written to him and seen him many times. Allow me to tell you that we are of the same mind about the use of intoxicating drink."
"Is it possible! you know Father Mathew! and you are exchanging letters with him! What a holy man he is, and what good he has done in Ireland, and everywhere!" they answered.
"But the good he has done will not last long," I said, "if all his disciples keep their pledges as you do."
As we were talking, a good number of priests came around us to hear what was said; for it was evident to all that the bark of their collectors, not only had come to shallow waters, but had struck on a rock.
One of the priests said: "I thought we were to be preached to by Bishop Spaulding. I had no idea that it was Father Chiniquy who had that charge."
"Gentlemen," I answered, "I have as much right to preach to you in favour of temperance as you have to preach to me in favour of intemperance. You may do as you please about the use of strong drink, during the retreat; but I hope I also may have the right to think and do as I please in that matter."
"Of course," they all answered, "but you are the only one who will not give us a cent to get a little drop."
"So much the worse for you all, gentlemen, if I am the only one. But please excuse me, I cannot give you a cent for that object."
They then left me, saying something which I could not understand, but they were evidently disgusted with what they considered my stubbornness and want of good manners.
I must, however, say here, that two of them, Mr. Dunn, pastor of one of the best congregations of Chicago, and the other unknown to me, came to congratulate me on the stern rebuke I had given the collectors.
"I regret," said Mr. Dunn, "the five dollars I have thrown into the hat. If I had spoken to you before, and had known that you would be brave enough to rebuke them, I would have stood by you, and kept my money for better use. It is really a shame that we should be preparing ourselves for a retreat by wasting five hundred dollars for such a shameful object. They have just told me that they have raised that sum for the champagne, brandy, whisky and beer they will drink this week. Ah! what a disgrace! What a cry of indignation would be raised against us, if such a shameful thing should be known! I am sorry about the unkind words those priests have spoken to you; but you must excuse them, they are already full of bad whisky.
"Do not think, however, that you are friendless, here, in our midst. You have more friends than you think among the Irish priests; and I am one of them, though you do not know me. Bishop Vandeveld has often spoken to me of your grand colonization work among the French."
Mr. Dunn, then, pressed my hand in his, and taking me a short distance from the others, said: "Consider me, hereafter, as your friend: you have won my confidence by the fearless way in which you have just spoken, and the common sense of your arguments. You have lost a true friend in Bishop Vandeveld. I fear that our present bishop will not do you justice. Lebel and Carthuval have prejudiced him against you. But I will stand by you, if you are ever unjustly dealt with, as I fear you will, by the present administration of the diocese. I fear we are on the eve of great evils. The scandalous suit which Bishop O'Regan has brought against his predecessor is a disgrace. If he has gained fifty thousand dollars by it, he has for ever lost the respect and confidence of all his priests and diocesans.
"After the mild and paternal ruling of Bishop Vandeveld, neither the priests nor the people of Illinois will long bear the iron chains which the present bishop has in store for us all."
I thanked Mr. Dunn for his kind words, and told him that I had already tasted the paternal love of my bishop by being twice dragged by Spink before the criminal courts for having refused to live on good terms with the two most demoralized priests I have ever known. He, then, speaking with a more subdued voice, said: "I must tell you, confidentially, that one of those priests, Lebel, will be turned out ignominiously from the diocese during the retreat. Last week, a new fact, which surpasses all his other abominations, has been revealed and proved to the bishop, for which he will be interdicted."
At that moment, the bell called us to the chapel to hear the regulations of the bishop in reference to the retreat, after which we sang the matins. At 8 p.m. we had our first sermon by Bishop Spaulding, from Kentucky. He was fat fine-looking man, a giant in stature, and a good speaker. But the way in which he treated his subject, though very clever, left, in my mind, the impression that he did not believe a word of what he said. At certain times, there was much fire in his elocution, but it was a fire of straw. He delivered two sermons each day; and the Rev. Mr. Vanhulest, a Jesuit, gave us two meditations, each of them lasting from forty to fifty minutes. The rest of the time was spent in reading aloud the life of a saint, reciting the breviarum, examination of conscience, and going to confession. We had half-an-hour for meals, followed by one hour of recreation. Thus were the days spent. But the nights! the nights! what shall I say of them? What pen can describe the orgies I witnessed during those dark nights! and who can believe what I shall have to say about them! though I will not and cannot say the half of what I have seen and heard!
I got from the Rev. Mr. Dunn, then one of the bishop's counselors, and soon after Vicar General, the statement that the sum of five hundred dollars was expended in intoxicating drinks during the six days of the retreat. I ought to say during the five nights. My pen refuses to write what my eyes saw and my ears heard during the long hours of those nights, which I cannot forget though I should live a thousand years.
The drinking used to begin about nine o'clock, as soon as the lights were put out. Some were handing the bottles from bed to bed, while others were carrying them to those at a distance, at first, with the least noise possible; but half-an-hour had not elapsed before the alcohol was beginning to unloose the tongues, and upset the brain. Then the bons mots, the witty stories, at first, were soon followed by the most indecent and shameful recitals. Then the songs, followed by the barking of dogs, the croaking of frogs, the howling of wolves. In a word, the cries of all kinds of beasts, often mixed with the most lascivious songs, the most infamous anecdotes flying from bed to bed, from room to room, till one or two o'clock in the morning.
One night, three priests were taken with delirium tremens, almost at the same time. One cried out that he had a dozen rattle-snakes at his shirt; the second was fighting against thousands of bats, which were trying to tear his eyes from their sockets; and the third, with a stick, was repulsing millions of spiders, which, he said, were as big as wild turkeys, all at work to devour him. The cries and lamentations of those three priests were really pitiful! To those cries add the lamentations of some dozens of them whose overload stomachs were ejecting in the beds and all around, the enormous quantity of drink they had swallowed! The third day, I was so disgusted and indignant, that I determined to leave, without noise, under the pretest that I was sick. It was not a false pretext; for I was really sick. There was no possibility of sleeping before two or three o'clock. Besides, the stench in the dormitories was horrible.
There was, however, another thing which was still more overwhelming me. It was the terrible moral struggle in my soul from morning till night, and from night till morning, when the voice of my conscience, which I had to take for the voice of Satan, was crying in my ears: "Do you not clearly see that your church is the devil's church that those priests, instead of being the Lamb's priests, are the successors of the old Bacchus priests? Read your Bible a little more attentively, and see if this is not the reign of that great harlot, which is defiling the world with her abominations? How can you remain in such a church? how long will you remain in this sea of Sodom? Come out! come out of Babylon, if you do not want to perish with her! Can the tree which bears such fruits be the tree of life? Can the priests who surround you, be the priests, the ambassadors of the Saviour? Can the Son of God come down every morning in body, in soul, and divinity, into the hands and stomach of such men? Can the nations be led into the ways of God by them? Are you not guilty of an unpardonable crime when you are planting, with your own hands, over this magnificent country, a tree bearing such fruits? How dare you meet your God, after you have so deceived yourself and the people as to believe and say that these are the representatives, the leaders, the priests of the church out of which there is no salvation!"
Oh! what an awful thing it is to resist the voice of God! To take Him for the evil one, when, by His warnings, He seeks to save your soul! Although the horrible scandal I had seen distressed me more than human words can tell, those mental conflicts were still more distressing. Fearing lest I should entirely lose my faith in my religion, and become an absolute infidel, by remaining any longer in the midst of such profligacy, I determined to leave; but before doing so, I wanted to consult a new friend whom the providence of God had given me in Mr. Dunn. It seemed the unbearable burden which was on my shoulders would become lighter, by sharing it with such a sympathetic brother priest.
I went to him, after dinner, and taking him apart, I told him all about the orgies of last night, and asked his advice on my determination not to continue that retreat, which was evidently nothing else than a blind, and a sacrilegious comedy, to deceive the world.
He answered: "You teach me nothing, for I spent last night in the same dormitory were you were. One of the priests told me all about those orgies, yesterday; I could hardly believe what he said, and I determined to see and hear for myself what was going on. You do not exaggerate, you do not even mention half of the horrors of last night. It baffles any description. It is simply incredible for any one who has not himself witnessed them. However, I do not advise you to leave. It would for ever ruin you in the mind of the bishop, who is not already too well disposed in your favour. The best thing you can do is to go and say everything to Bishop Spaulding. I have done it this morning; but I felt that he did not believe the half of what I told him. When the same testimony comes from you, then he will believe it, and will probably take some measures, with our own bishop, to put an end to those horrors. I have something to tell you, confidentially, which surpasses, in a measure, anything you know of the abominations of these last three nights.
"A respectable policeman, who belongs to my congregation, came to me this morning, to tell me that the first night, six prostitutes, dressed as gentlemen, and last night twelve came to the University, after dark, entered the dormitory, and went, directed by signals, to those who had invited them, each being provided with the necessary key. I have just reported the thing to Bishop O'Regan; but instead of paying any attention to what I said, he became furious against me, and nearly turned me out of his room, saying, 'Do you think that I am going to come down from my dignity of bishop to hear the reports of degraded policemen, or of vile spies? Shall I become the spies of my priests? If they want to damn themselves, there is no help, let them go to hell! I am not more obliged or able than God Himself to stop them! Does God stop them? Does He punish them? No! Well! you cannot expect from me more zeal and power than in our common God!'
"With these fine words ringing in my ears," said good Mr. Dunn, "I had to leave his room at the double quick. It is of no use for us to speak to Bishop O'Regan on that matter. It will do no good. He wants to get a large subscription from those priests, at the end of the retreat, and he is rather inclined to pet than punish them, till he obtains the hundred thousand dollars he wants to build his white marble palace on the lake shore."
I replied: "Though you add to my desolation, instead of diminishing it, by what you say of the strange principles of our bishop, I will speak to my lord Spaulding as you advise me." Without a moment's delay, I went to his room. He received me very kindly, and did not at all seem surprised at what I said. It was as if he had been accustomed to see the same, or still worse abominations. However, when I told him the enormous quantity of liquor drank, and that the retreat would be only a ridiculous comedy, if no attempt at reform was tried, he agreed with me; "but it would be advisable to try it," he said. "Though this is not in our programme, we might give one or two sermons on the necessity of priests giving an example of temperance to their people. Will you please come with me to the room of my lord O'Regan, that we may confer on the matter, after you have told him what is going on?"
Although the Bishop of Chicago seemed puzzled at seeing me entering his room with my lord Spaulding, he was as polite as possible. He listened with more attention than I expected to the narrative I gave of what was going on among the priests. After telling him my sad story, Bishop Spaulding said: "My lord of Chicago, these facts are very grave, and there cannot be any doubt about the truth of what we have just heard. Two other gentlemen gave me the same testimony this morning."
"Yes!" said Bishop O'Regan, "it is very sad to see that our priests have so little self-respect, even during such solemn days as those of a public retreat. The Rev. Mr. Dunn has just told me the same sad story as Father Chiniquy. But what remedy can we find for such a state of things? Perhaps it might do well to give them a good sermon on temperance. Mr. Chiniquy, I am told that you are called 'the temperance apostle of Canada,' and that you are a powerful speaker on that subject; would you not like to give them one or two addresses on the injury they are doing to themselves and to our holy church, by their drunkenness?"
"If those priests could understand me in French," I replied, "I would accept the honour you offer me with pleasure; but to be understood by them, I would have to speak in English; and I am not sufficiently free in that language to attempt it. My broken English would only bring ridicule upon the holy cause of temperance. But my lord Spaulding has already preached on that subject in Kentucky, and an address from his lordship would be listened to with more attention and benefit from him than from me."
It was then agreed that he should change his programme, and give two addresses on temperance, which he did. But though these addresses were really eloquent, they were pearls thrown before swine. The drunken priests slept, as usual; and even snored, almost through the whole length of the delivery. It is true that we could notice a little improvement, and less noise the following nights; the change, however, was very little.
The fourth day of the retreat, the Rev. Mr. Lebel came to me with his bag in hand. He looked furious. He said: "Now, you must be satisfied, I am interdicted and turned out ignominiously from this diocese. It is your work! But mind what I tell you: you will, also, soon be turned out from your colony by the mitred tyrant who has just struck me down. He told me, several times, that he would, at any cost, break your plant of French colonization, by sending you to the south-west of Illinois, along the Mississippi, to an old French settlement, opposite St. Louis. He is enraged against you, for your refusing to give him your fine property at St. Anne."
I answered him: "You are mistaken when you think that I am the author of your misfortunes. You have disgraced yourself by your own acts. God has given you talents and qualities which, if cultivated, would have exalted you in the church, but you have preferred to destroy those great gifts, in order to follow the evil inclinations of your poor degraded human nature; you reap today what you have sown. Nobody is more sorry than I am for your misfortune, and my most sincere wish is that the past may be a lesson to guide your steps in the future. The desire of the bishop to turn me out of my colony does not trouble me. If it is the will of God to keep me at the head of that great work, the bishop of Chicago will go down from his episcopal throne before I go down the beautiful hill of St. Anne. Adieu!" He soon disappeared. But how the fall of this priest, whom I had so sincerely loved, saddened me!
The next Sabbath was the last day of the retreat. All the priests went in procession to the cathedral, to receive the holy communion, and every one of them ate, what we had to believe was the true body, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. This, however, did not prevent thirteen of them from spending the greater part of the next night in calabooses, to which they had been taken by the police, from houses of ill-fame, where they were rioting and fighting. The next morning they were discharged from the hands of the police by paying pretty round sums of money for the trouble of the night!
The next day, I went to Mr. Dunn's parsonage to ask him if he could give me any explanation of the rumour which was afloat, and to which Mr. Lebel had made allusion, that it was the intention of the bishop to remove me from my colony to some distant part of his diocese.
"It is unfortunately too true," said he. "Bishop O'Regan thinks that he has a mission from heaven to undo all his predecessor has done, and as a one of the best and grandest schemes of Bishop Vandeveld was to secure the possession of this magnificent State of Illinois to our church, by inducing all the Roman Catholic emigrants from France, Belgium and Canada, to settle here, our present bishop does not conceal that he will oppose that plan by removing you to such a distance, that your colonization plans will be at an end. He says that the French are, as a general thing, rebels and disobedient to their bishops. He prefers seeing the Irish coming, on account of their proverbial docility to their ecclesiastical superiors. I have, in vain, tried to change his mind. I told you before that he often asks my opinion on what I think the best thing to be done for the good of the diocese. But do not think that he intends to follow my advice; it is just the contrary. My impression now is, that he wants to know our views, only for the pleasure of acting diametrically in opposition to what we advise."
I must not omit to say that we have been requested to spend the forenoon of Monday in the University, for an important affair which the bishop had to propose to his clergy. We were all there, in the great hall, at the appointed hour. Even the thirteen priests who had spent the best part of the night at the police station, heard the voice of their bishop, and hey were there, as docile lambs.
We knew beforehand the proposition which was to be put before us. It was to build a palace for our bishop, worthy of the great Illinois State, the cost of which would be about one hundred thousand dollars.
Though every one of us felt that this was most extravagant in such a young and poor diocese, nobody dared to raise his voice against that act of pride and supreme folly. Every one promised to do all in his power to raise that sum, and to show our good-will, we raised among ourselves, at once, seven thousand dollars, which we gave in cash or in promissory notes. After this act of liberality, we were blessed and dismissed by our bishop. I was but a few steps from the University, when an Irish priest, unknown to me, ran after me to say, "My lord O'Regan wants to see you immediately." And, five minutes later, I was alone with my bishop, who, without any preface, told me, "Mr. Chiniquy, I hear very strange and damaging things about you, form every quarter. But the worst of all is that you are a secret Protestant emissary; that, instead of preaching the true doctrines of our holy church, about the immaculate conception, purgatory, the respect and obedience due to their superiors by the people, auricular confession, ect., ect., you spend a part of your time in distributing Bibles and New Testaments among your immigrants; I want to know from your own lips, if this be true or not."
I answered, "A part of what the people told you about the matter is not true, the other is true. It is not true that I neglect the preaching of the doctrines of our holy church, about purgatory, immaculate conception of Mary, auricular confession, or the respect due to our superiors. But it is true that I do distribute the Holy Bible and the Gospel of Christ, among my people."
"And instead of blushing at such unpriestly conduct, you seem to be proud of it," angrily replied the bishop.
"I do not understand, my lord, why a priest of Christ could blush for distributing the Word of God among his people; as I am bound to preach that Holy Word, it is not only my right but my duty to give it to them. I am fully persuaded that there is no preaching so efficacious and powerful as the preaching of our God Himself, when speaking to us in His Holy Book."
"This is sheer Protestantism, Mr. Chiniquy, this is sheer Protestantism," he answered me angrily.
"My dear bishop," I answered calmly, "if to give the Bible to the people and invite them to read and meditate on it is Protestantism, our holy Pope Pius VI. was a good Protestant, for in his letter to Martini, which is probably in the first pages of the beautiful Bible I see on your lordship's table, he not only blesses him for having translated that Holy Book into Italian, but invites the people to read it."
The bishop, assuming an air of supreme contempt, replied: "Your answer shows your complete ignorance on the subject on which you speak so boldly. If you were a little better informed on that grave subject, you would know that the translation by Martini, which the Pope advise the Italian people to read, formed a work of twenty-three big volumes in folio, which, of course, nobody, except very rich and idle people could read. Not one in ten thousand Italians have the means of purchasing such a voluminous work; and not one in twenty thousand have the time or the will to pursue such a mass of endless commentaries. The Pope would never have given such an advice to read a Bible, as the one you distribute so imprudently."
"Then, my lord, do you positively tell me that the Pope gave permission to read Martini's translation, because he knew that the people could never get it on account of its enormous size and price, and do you assure me that he would never have given such advice, had the same people been able to purchase and read that holy work."
"Yes, sir! It is what I mean," answered the bishop, with an air of triumph, "for I know positively that this is the fact."
I replied, calmly: "I hope your lordship is unwillingly mistaken; for if you were correct, the stern and unflinching principles of logic would force me to think and say that that Pope and all his followers were deceivers, and that encyclical a public fraud in his own hands; for we Catholic priests make use of it, all over the world, and reprint it at the head of our own Bibles, to make the people, both Protestants and Catholics believe that we approve of their reading our own versions of that Holy Book."
Had I thrown a spark of fire in a keg of powder, the explosion would not have been more prompt and terrible than the rage of that prelate. Pointing his finger to my face, he said: "Now, I see the truth of what I have been told, that you are a disguised Protestant, since the very day that you were ordained a priest. The Bible! The Bible is your motto! For you the Bible is everything, and the holy church, with her Popes and bishops is nothing! what an insolent, I dare say, what a blasphemous word, I have just heard from you? You dare call an encyclical letter of one of our most holy Popes, a fraud!"
In vain, I tried to explain, he would not listen; and he silenced me by saying: "If our holy church has, in an unfortunate day, appointed you one of her priests in my diocese, it was to preach the doctrines, and not to distribute the Bible! If you forget that, I will make you remember it!" And with that threat on my head as a Damocles' sword, I had to take the door which he had opened, without any au revoir. Thanks be to God, this first persecution and these outrages I received for my dear Bible's sake, did not diminish my love, my respect for God's Holy Word, nor my confidence in it. On the contrary, on reaching home, I took it, fell on my knees, and pressing it to my heart, I asked my heavenly Father to grant me the favour to love it more sincerely, and follow its divine teachings with more fidelity till the end of my life.
CHAPTER 56 Back to Contents
A month had scarcely elapsed since the ecclesiastical retreat, when all the cities of Illinois were filled by the most strange and humiliating clamors against our bishop. From Chicago to Cairo, it would have been difficult to go to a single town without hearing, from the most respectable people, or reading in big letters, in some of the most influential papers, that Bishop O'Regan was a thief or a simoniac, a perjurer, or even something worse. The bitterest complaints were crossing each other over the breadth and length of Illinois, from almost every congregation: "He has stolen the beautiful and costly vestments we bought for our church," cried the French Canadians of Chicago. "He has swindled us out of a fine lot given us to build our church, sold it for 40,000 dollars, and pocketed the money, for his own private use, without giving us any notice," said the Germans. "His thirst for money is so great," said the whole Catholic people of Illinois, "that he is selling even the bones of the dead to fill his treasures!"
I had not forgotten the bold attempt of the bishop to wrench my little property from my hands, at his first visit to my colony. The highway thief, who puts his dagger at the breast of the traveler, threatening to take away his life if he does not give him his purse, does not appear more infamous to his victim than that bishop appeared to me that day. But my hope then was, that this act was an isolated and exceptional case in the life of my superior; and I did not whisper a word of it to anybody. I began to think differently, however, when I saw the numerous articles in the principal papers of the State, signed by the most respectable names, accusing him of theft, simony, and lies. My hope, at first, was that there were many exaggerations in those reports. But as they came thicker day after day, I thought my duty was to go to Chicago and see for myself to what extent those rumours were true. I went directly to the French Canadian church; and to my unspeakable dismay, I found that it was too true that the bishop had stolen the fine church vestments, which my countrymen had bought for their own priest for grand festivals, and he had transferred them to the cathedral of St. Mary for his own personal use. The indignation of my poor countrymen knew no bounds. It was really deplorable to hear with what supreme disgust and want of respect they were speaking of their bishop. Unfortunately, the Germans and Irish people were still ahead of them in their unguarded, disrespectful denunciations. Several spoke of prosecuting him before the civil courts, to force him to disgorge what he had stolen; and it was with the greatest difficulty that I succeeded in preventing some of them from mobbing and insulting him publicly in the streets, or even in his own palace. The only way I could find to appease them was to promise them that I would speak to his lordship, and tell him that it was the desire of my countrymen to have those vestments restored to them.
The second thing I did was to go to the cemetery, and see for myself to what extent it was true or not that our bishop was selling the very bones of his diocesans, in order to make money. On my way to the Roman Catholic graveyard, I met a great many cart loads of sand, which, I was told by the carters, had been taken from the cemetery; but I did not like to stop them till I was at the very door of the consecrated spot. There I found three carters, who were just leaving the grounds. I asked and obtained from them the permission to search the sand which they carried, to see if there were not some bones. I could not find any in the first cart; and my hope was that it would be the same in the two others. But, to my horror and shame, I found the lower jaw of a child in the second, and part of the bones of an arm, and almost the whole foot of a human being, in the third cart! I politely requested the carters to show me the very place where they had dug that sand, and they complied with my prayer. To my unspeakable regret and shame, I found that the bishop had told an unmitigated falsehood when, to appease the public indignation against his sacrilegious trade, he had published that he was selling only the sand which was outside of the fence, on the very border of the lake.
It is true that, to make his case good, he had ordered the old fence to be taken away, in order to make a new one, many feet inside the old one. But this miserable and shameful subterfuge rendered his crime still greater than it had at first appeared. What added to the gravity of that public iniquity, is that the Bishop of Chicago had received that piece of land from the city, for a burial ground, only after he had taken a solemn oath to use it only for buying the dead. Every load of that ground sold then, was not only an act of simony, but the breaking of a solemn oath! No words can express the shame I felt, after convincing myself of the correctness of what the press of Chicago, and of the whole State of Illinois had published against our bishop, about this sacrilegious traffic.
Slowly retracing my steps to the city from the cemetery, I went directly to the bishop, to fulfill the promise I had made to the French Canadians, to try to obtain the restoration of their fine vestments. But I was not long with him without seeing that I would gain nothing but his implacable enmity in pleading the cause of my poor countrymen. However, I thought my duty was to do all in my power to open the eyes of my bishop to the pit he was digging for himself and for all us Catholics, by his conduct. "My lord," I said, "I shall not surprise your lordship, when I tell you that all the true Catholics of Illinois are filled with sorrow by the articles they find, every day, in the press, against their bishop."
"Yes! yes!" he abruptly replied, "the good Catholics must be sad indeed to read such disgusting diatribes against their superior; and I presume that you are one of those that are sorry. But, then, why do you not prevent your insolent and infidel countrymen from writing those things! I see that a great part of those libels are signed by the French Canadians."
I answered, "It is to try, as much as it is in my power, to put an end to those scandals that I am in Chicago, today, my lord."
"Very well, very well," he replied, "as you have the reputation of having a great influence over your countrymen, make use of it to stop them in their rebellious conduct against me, and I will, then, believe that you are a good priest."
I answered, "I hope that I will succeed in what your lordship wants me to do. But there are two things to be done, in order to secure my success."
"What are they?" quickly asked the bishop.
"The first is, that your lordship give back the fine church vestments which you have taken from the French Canadian congregation of Chicago.
"The second is, that your lordship abstain, absolutely, from this day, to sell the sand of the burying ground, which covers the tombs of the dead."
Without answering a word, the bishop struck his fist violently upon the table, and crossed the room at a quick step, two or three times; then turning towards me, and pointing his finger to my face, he exclaimed in an indescribable accent of rage:
"Now, I see the truth of what Mr. Spink told me! you are not only my bitterest enemy, but you are the head of my enemies. You take sides with them against me. You approve of their libelous writings against me! I will never give back those church vestments. They are mine, as the French Canadian church is mine! Do you not know that the ground on which the churches are built, as well as the churches themselves, and all that belongs to the church, belongs to the bishop? Was it not a burning shame to use those fine vestments in a poor miserable church of Chicago, when the bishop of that important city was covered with rags! It was in the interest of the episcopal dignity, that I ordered those rich and splendid vestments, which were mine by law, to be transferred from that small and insignificant congregation, to my cathedral of St. Mary, and if you had an ounce of respect for your bishop, Mr. Chiniquy, you would immediately go to your countrymen and put a stop to their murmurs and slanders against me, by simply telling them that I have taken what was mine from that church, which is mine also, to the cathedral, which is altogether mine. Tell your countrymen to hold their tongues, and respect their bishop, when he is in the right, as I am today."
I had, many times, considered the infamy and injustice of the law which the bishops have had passed all over the United States, making every one of them a corporation, with the right of possessing personally all the church properties of the Roman Catholics. But I had never understood the infamy and tyranny of that law so clearly as in that hour. It is impossible to describe with ink and paper the air of pride and contempt with which the bishop really in substance, if not in words, told me: "All those things are mine. I do what I please with them, you must be mute and silent when I take them away from you. It is against God Himself that you rebel when you refuse me the right of dispossessing you of all those properties which you have purchased with your own money, and which have not cost me a cent!" In that moment I felt that the law which makes every bishop the only master and proprietor of all the religious goods, houses, churches, lands and money of their people as Catholics, is simply diabolical: and that the church which sanctions such a law, is antichristian. Though it was at the risk and peril of everything dear to me, that I should openly protest against that unjust law, there was no help; I felt constrained to do so with all the energy I possessed.
I answered: "My lord, I confess that this is the law in the United States; but this is a human law, directly opposed to the Gospel. I do not find a single word in the Gospel which gives this power to the bishop. Such a power is an abusive, not a divine power, which will sooner or later destroy our holy church in the United States, as it has already mortally wounded her in Great Britain, in France and in many other places. When Christ said, in the Holy Gospel, that He has not enough of ground whereon to lay His head, He condemned, in advance, the pretensions of the bishops who lay their hands on our church properties as their own. Such a claim is an usurpation and not a right, my lord. Our Saviour Jesus Christ protested against that usurpation, when asked by a young man to meddle in his temporal affairs with his brothers; He answered that 'He had not received such power.' The Gospel is a long protest against that usurpation, in every page, it tells us that the kingdom of Christ is not of this world. I have myself given fifty dollars to help my countrymen to buy those church vestments. They belong to them and not to you!"
My words, uttered with an expression of firmness which the bishop had never yet seen in any of his priests, fell upon him, at first, as a thunderbolt. They so puzzled him, that he looked at me, a moment, as if he wanted to see if it were a dream or a reality, that one of his priests had the audacity to use such language, in his presence. But! soon, recovering from his stupor, he interrupted me by striking his fist again on the table, and saying in anger: "You are half a Protestant! Your words smell of Protestantism! The Gospel! the Gospel! that is your great tower of strength against the laws and regulations of our holy church! If you think, Mr. Chiniquy, that you will frighten me with your big words of the Gospel, you will soon see your mistake, at your own expense. I will make you remember that it is the Church you must obey, and it is through your bishop that the church rules you!"
"My lord," I answered, "I want to obey the church. Yes! but it is a church founded on the Gospel; a church that respects and follows the Gospel, that I want to obey!"
These words threw him into a fit of rage, and he answered: "I am too busy to hear your impertinent babblings any longer. Please let me alone, and remember that you will soon hear from me again if you cannot teach your people to respect and obey their superiors!" The bishop kept his promise. I heard of him very soon after, when his agent, Peter Spink, dragged me, again a prisoner, before the Criminal Court of Kankakee, accusing me falsely of crimes which his malice alone could have invented. My lord O'Regan had determined to interdict me; but, not being able to find any cause in my private or public life as a priest to found such a sentence, he had pressed that land speculator, Spink, to prosecute me again; promising to base his interdict on the condemnation which, he had been told, would be passed against me by the Criminal Court of Kankakee. But the bishop and Peter Spink were again to be disappointed; for the verdict of the court, given on the 13th of November, 1855, was again in my favour.
My heart filled with joy at this new and great victory my God had given me against my merciless persecutors. I was blessing Him, when my two lawyers, Messrs. Osgood and Paddock, came to me and said: "Our victory, though great, is not so decisive as was expected; for Mr. Spink has just taken an oath that he has no confidence in this Kankakee Court, and he has appealed, by a change of venue, to the Court of Urbana, in Champaign County. We are sorry to have to tell you that you must remain a prisoner, under bail, in the hands of the sheriff, who is bound to deliver you to the sheriff of Urbana, the 19th of May, next spring."
I nearly fainted when I heard this. The ignominy of being again in the hands of the sheriff for so long a time; the enormous expenses, far beyond my means, to bring my fifteen to twenty witnesses such a long distance of nearly one hundred miles; the new ocean of insults, false accusations, and perjuries with which my enemies were to overwhelm me again; and the new risk of being condemned, though innocent, at that distant court; all those things crowded themselves in my mind to crush me. For a few minutes I was obliged to sit down; for I would surely have fallen down had I continued to stand on my feet. A kind friend had to bring me some cold water and bathe my forehead, to prevent me from fainting. It seemed that God had forsaken me for the time being, and that He was to let me fall powerless in the hand of my foes. But I was mistaken. That merciful God was near me, in the dark hour, to give me one of the marvellous proofs of His paternal and loving care.
The very moment I was leaving the court with a heavy heart, a gentleman, a stranger, came to me and said: "I have followed your suit from the beginning. It is more formidable than you suspect. Your prosecutor, Spink, is only an instrument in the hands of the bishop. The real prosecutor is the land shark who is at the head of the diocese, and who is destroying our holy religion by his private and public scandals. As you are the only one among his priests who dares to resist him, he is determined to get rid of you: he will spend all his treasures and use the almost irresistible influence of his position to crush you. The misfortune for you is that, when you fight a bishop, you fight all the bishops of the world. They will unite all their wealth and influence to Bishop O'Regan's to silence you, though they hate and despise him. There was no danger of any verdict against you in this part of Illinois, where you are too well known for the perjured witnesses they have brought to influence your judges. But when you are among strangers, mind what I tell you: the false oaths of your enemies may be accepted as gospel truths by the jury, and then, though innocent, you are lost. Though your two lawyers are expert men, you will want something better at Urbana. Try to secure the services of Abraham Lincoln, of Springfield. If that man defends you, you will surely come out victorious from that deadly conflict!"
I answered: "I am much obliged to you for your sympathetic words: but would you please allow me to ask your name?"
"Be kind enough to let me keep my incognito here," he answered. "The only thing I can say is, that I am a Catholic like you, and one who, like you, cannot bear any longer the tyranny of our American bishops. With many others, I took to you as our deliverer, and for that reason I advise you to engage the services of Abraham Lincoln."
"But," I replied, "who is that Abraham Lincoln? I never heard of that man before."
He replied: "Abraham Lincoln is the best lawyer and the most honest man we have in Illinois."
I went immediately, with that stranger, to my two lawyers, who were in consultation only a few steps from us, and asked them if they would have any objection that I should ask the services of Abraham Lincoln, to help them to defend me at Urbana.
They both answered: "Oh! if you can secure the services of Abraham Lincoln, by all means do it. We know him well; he is one of the best lawyers, and one of the most honest men we have in our State."
Without losing a minute, I went to the telegraph office with that stranger, and telegraphed to Abraham Lincoln to ask him if he would defend my honour and my life (though I was a stranger to him) at the next May term of the court at Urbana.
About twenty minutes later I received the answer:
"Yes, I will defend your honour and your life at the next May term at Urbana.
My unknown friend then paid the operator, pressed my hand, and said: "May God bless you and help you, Father Chiniquy. Continue to fight fearlessly for truth and righteousness against our mitred tyrants; and God will help you in the end." He then took a train for the north, and soon disappeared, as a vision from heaven. I have not seen him since, though I have not let a day pass without asking my God to bless him. A few minutes later, Spink came to the office to telegraph to Lincoln, asking his services at the next May term of the Court, at Urbana. But it was too late.
Before being dragged to Urbana, I had to renew, at Easter, 1856, the oil which is used for the sick, in the ceremony which the Church of Rome calls the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, and in the Baptism of Children. I sent my little silver box to the bishop by a respectable young merchant of my colony, called Dorion. But he brought it back without a drop of oil, with a most abusive letter from the bishop, because I had not sent five dollars to pay for the oil. It was just what I expected. I knew that it was his habit to make his priests pay five dollars for that oil, which was not worth more than two or three cents.
This act of my bishop was one of the many evident cases of simony of which he was guilty every day. I took his letter, with my small silver box, to the Archbishop of St. Louis, my lord Kenrick, before whom I brought my complaints against the Bishop of Chicago, on the 9th April, 1856. That high dignitary told me that many priests of the diocese of Chicago had already brought the same complaints before him, and exposed the infamous conduct of their bishop. He agreed with me that the rapacity of Bishop O'Regan, his thefts, his lies, his acts of simony were public and intolerable, but that he hand no remedy for them, and said: "The only thing I advise you to do is to write to the Pope directly. Prove your charges against that guilty bishop as clearly as possible. I will myself write to corroborate all you have told me; for I know it is true. My hope is that your complaints will attract the attention of the Pope. He will, probably, send some one from Rome to make an enquiry, and then that wicked man will be forced to offer his resignation. If you succeed, as I hope, in your praiseworthy efforts to put an end to such scandals, you will have well deserved the gratitude of the whole church. For that unprincipled dignitary is the cause that our holy religion is not only losing her prestige in the United States, but is becoming an object of contempt wherever those public crimes are known."
I was, however, forced to postpone my writing to the Pope. For, a few days after my return from St. Louis to my colony, I had to deliver myself again into the hands of the Sheriff of Kankakee, who was obliged by Spink to take me prisoner, and deliver me as a criminal into the hands of the Sheriff of Champaign County, on the 19th of May, 1856.
It was then that I met Mr. Abraham Lincoln for the first time. He was a giant in stature; but I found him still more a giant in the noble qualities of his mind and heart. It was impossible to converse five minutes with him without loving him. There was such an expression of kindness and honesty in that face, and such an attractive magnetism in the man, that after a few moments' conversation one felt as tied to him by all noblest affections of the heart. When pressing my hand, he told me: "You were mistaken when you telegraphed that you were unknown to me. I know you, by reputation, as the stern opponent of the tyranny of your bishop, and the fearless protector of your countrymen in Illinois; I have heard much of you from two priests; and, last night, your lawyers, Messrs. Osgood and Paddock have acquainted me with the fact that your bishop is employing some of his tools to get rid of you. I hope it will be an easy thing to defeat his projects, and protect you against his machinations." He then asked me how I had been induced to desire his services. I answered by giving him the story of that unknown friend who had advised me to have Mr. Abraham Lincoln for one of my lawyers, for the reason that "he was the best lawyer and the most honest man in Illinois." He smiled at my answer with that inimitable and unique smile, which we may call the "Lincoln smile," and replied: "That unknown friend would surely have been more correct had he told you that Abraham Lincoln was the ugliest lawyer of the country!" and he laughed outright.
I spent six long days at Urbana as a criminal, in the hands of the sheriff, at the feet of my judges. During the greatest part of that time, all that human language can express of abuse and insult was heaped on my poor head. God only knows what I suffered in those days; but I was providentially surrounded, as by a strong wall. I had Abraham Lincoln for my defense "the best lawyer and the most honest man of Illinois," and the leaned and upright David Davis for my judge. The latter became Vice-president of the United States in 1882; and the former its most honoured President from 1861 to 1865.
I never heard anything like the eloquence of Abraham Lincoln when he demolished the testimonies of the two perjured priests, Lebel and Carthuval, who, with ten or twelve other false witnesses, had sworn against me. I would have surely been declared innocent after that eloquent address and the charge of the learned Judge Davis, had not my lawyers, by a sad blunder, left a Roman Catholic on the jury. Of course, that Irish Roman Catholic wanted to condemn me, when the eleven honest and intelligent Protestants were unanimous in voting "Not guilty." The court, having at last found that it was impossible to persuade the jury to give an unanimous verdict, discharged them. But Spink again forced the sheriff to keep me prisoner, by obtaining from the court the permission to begin the prosecution de novo at the term of the fall, the 19th of October, 1856. Humanly speaking, I would have been one of the most miserable men, had I not had my dear Bible, which I was mediating and studying day and night in those dark days of trial. But tough I was then still in the desolate wilderness, far away yet from the Promised Land, my heavenly Father never forsook me. He many times let the sweet manna fall from heaven to feed my desponding soul, and cheer my fainting heart. More than once, when I was panting with spiritual thirst, He brought me near the Rock, from the side of which the living waters were gushing to refresh and renew my strength and courage.
Though the world did not suspect it, I knew from the beginning, that all my tribulations were coming from my unconquerable attachment an my unfaltering love and respect for the Bible, as the root and source of every truth given by God to man; and I felt assured that my God knew it also; -- that assurance supported my courage in the conflict. Every day my Bible was becoming dearer to me. I was then constantly trying to walk in its marvellous light and divine teaching. I wanted to learn my duties and rights. I like to acknowledge that it was the Bible which gave me the power and wisdom I then so much needed, to face fearlessly so many foes. That power and wisdom I felt were not mine. On this very account my dear Bible enabled me to remain calm in the very lions' den; and it gave me, from the very beginning of that terrible conflict, the assurance of a final victory; for every time I bathed my sould in its Divine light, I heard my merciful heavenly Father's voice, saying, "Fear not, for I am with thee" (Isaiah 43:5).
CHAPTER 57 Back to Contents
The Holy Scriptures say that an abyss[*] calls for another abyss (abyssus abyussum invocat). That axiom had its accomplishment in the conduct of Bishop O'Regan. When once on the declivity of iniquity, he descended to its lowest depths with more rapidity than a stone thrown into the sea. Not satisfied with the shameful theft of the rich vestments of the French Canadian Church of Chicago, he planned iniquity which was to bring upon him, more than ever, the execration of the Roman Catholics of Illinois. It was nothing less than the complete destruction of the thriving congregations of my French Canadian countrymen of Chicago from his people, as well as my removal from my colony, were determined.
Our churches were at first to be closed, and after some time sold to the Irish people, or to the highest bidder, for their own use. It was in Chicago that this great iniquity was to begin. Not long after Easter, 1856, the Rev. Mons. Lemaire was turned out, interdicted, and ignominiously driven from the diocese of Chicago, without even giving the shadow of a reason, and the French Canadians suddenly found themselves without a pastor. A few days after, the parsonage they had built for their priest in Clark Street was sold for 1,200 dollars to an American. The beautiful little church which they had built on the lot next to the parsonage, at the cost of so many sacrifices, was removed five or six blocks south-west, and rented by the bishop to the Irish Catholics for about 2,000 dollars per annum, and the whole money was pocketed, without even a notice to my countrymen.
Though accustomed to his acts of perfidy, I could not believe at first the rumours which reached me of those transactions! They seemed to be beyond the limits of infamy, and to be impossible. I went to Chicago, hoping to find that the public rumour had exaggerated the evil. But alas! nothing had been exaggerated!
The wolf had dispersed the sheep and destroyed the flock. The once thriving French congregation of Chicago was no more! Wherever I went, I saw tears of distress among my dear countrymen, and heard cries of indignation against the destroyer. Young and old, rich and poor among them, with one voice, denounced and cursed the heartless mitred brigand, who had dared to commit publicly such a series of iniquities, to satisfy his thirst for gold and his hatred of the French Canadians.
They asked me what they should do: but what could I answer! They requested me to go again to him and remonstrate. But I showed them that after my complete failure which I had tried to get back the sacerdotal vestments, there was no hope that he would disgorge the house and the church. The only thing I could advise them was to select five or six of the most influential members of their congregation to go and respectfully ask him by what right he had taken away, not only their priest, but the parsonage and the church they had built, and transferred them to another people. They followed my advice. Messrs. Franchere and Roffinot (who are still living) and six other respectable French Canadians, were sent by the whole people to put those questions to their bishop. He answered them:
"French Canadians! you do not know your religion! Were you a little better acquainted with it, you would know that I have the right to sell your churches and church properties, pocket the money, and go, eat and drink it where I please." After that answer they were ignominiously turned out from his presence into the street. Posterity will scarcely believe those things, though they are true.
The very next day, Aug. 19th, 1856, the bishop having heard that I was in Chicago, sent for me. I met him after his dinner. Though not absolutely drunk, I found him full of wine, and terribly excited. "Mr. Chiniquy," he said, "you had promised me to make use of your influence to put an end to the rebellious conduct of your countrymen against me. But I find that they are more insolent and unmanageable than ever; and my firm belief is that it is your fault. You, and that handful of French Canadians of Chicago, give me more trouble than all the rest of my priests and my people in Illinois. You are too near Chicago, sir, your influence is too much felt on your people here. I must remove you to a distant place, where you will have enough to do without meddling in my administration. I want your service to Kahokia, in my diocese of Quincy; and if you are not there by the 15th of Sept. next, I will interdict and excommunicate you, and for ever put an end to your intrigues."
These words fell upon me as a thunderbolt. The tyranny of the bishop of my church, and the absolute degradation of the priest whose honour, position and life are entirely in his hands, had never been revealed to me so vividly as in that hour. What could I say or do to appease that mitred despot? After some moments of silence, I tried to make some respectful remonstrances by telling him that my position was an exceptional one; that I had not come to Illinois as his other priests, to be at the head of any existing congregation, but that I had been invited by his predecessor to direct the tide of the emigration of the Frenchspeaking people of Europe and America. That I had come to a wilderness which, by the blessing of God, I had changed into a thriving country, covered with an industrious and religious people. I further told him, that I had left the most honourable position which a priest had ever held in Canada, with the promise from his predecessor that, as long as I lived the life of a good priest, I should not be disturbed in my work. As I soon perceived that he was too much under the influence of liquor to understand me, and speak with intelligence, I only added:
"My lord, you speak of interdict and excommunication! Allow me to respectfully tell you that if you can show me that I have done anything to deserve to be interdicted or excommunicated, I will submit in silence to your sentence. But before you pass that sentence, I ask you, in the name of God, to make a public inquest about me, and have my accusers confront me. I warn your lordship, that if you interdict or excommunicate me without holding an inquest, I will make use of all the means which our holy church puts in the hands of her priests to defend my honour and prove my innocence; I will also appeal to the laws of our great Republic, which protects the character of all her citizens against any one who slanders them. It will, then, be at your risk and peril that you will pass such a sentence against me."
My calm answer greatly excited his rage. He violently struck the table with his fist, and said: "I do not care a straw about your threats. I repeat it, Mr. Chiniquy, if you are not at Kahokia by the 15th of next month, I will interdict and excommunicate you."
Feeling that it was a folly on my part to argue with a man who was beside himself by passion and excess of wine, I replied "With the help of God, I will never bear the infamy of an interdict or excommunication. I will do all that religion and honour will allow me to prevent such a dark spot from defiling my name, and the man who does try it, will learn at his own expense that I am not only a priest of Christ, but also an American citizen. I respectfully tell your lordship that I neither smoke nor use intoxicating drinks. The time which your other priests give to those habits, I spend in the study of books, and especially of my Bible. I found in them, not only my duties, but my rights; and just as I am determined, with the help of God, to perform my duties, I will stand by my rights." I then immediately left the room to take the train to St. Anne.
Having spent a part of the night praying God to change the heart of my bishop, and keep me in the midst of my people, which were becoming dearer and dearer to me, in proportion to the efforts of the enemy to drive me away from them, I addressed the following letter to the bishop:
To the Rt. Rev. O'Regan, Bishop of Chicago.
My Lord. The more I consider your design to turn me out of the colony which I have founded, and of which I am the pastor, the more I believe it a duty which I owe to myself, my friends, and to my countrymen, to protest before God and man against what you intend to do.
Not a single one of your priests stands higher than I do in the public mind, neither is more loved and respected by his people than I am. I defy my bitterest enemies to prove the contrary. And that character which is my most precious treasure, you intend to despoil me of by ignominiously sending me away from among my people! Certainly, I have enemies, and I am proud of it. The chief ones are well known in this country as the most depraved of men. The cordial reception they say they have received from you, has not taken away the stains they have on their foreheads.
By this letter, I again request you to make a public and most minute inquest into my conduct. My conscience tells me that nothing can be found against me. Such a public and fair dealing with me would confound my accusers. But I speak of accusers, when I do not really know if I have any. Where are they? What are their names? Of what sin do they accuse me? All these questions which I put to you, last Tuesday, were left unanswered! and would to God that you would answer them today, by giving me their names. I am ready to meet them before any tribunal. Before you strike the last blow on the victim of this most hellish plot, I request you, in the name of God, to give a moment's attention to the following consequences of my removal from this place at present.
You know I have a suit with Mr. Spink at the Urbana Court, for the beginning of October. My lawyers and witnesses are all in Kankakee and Iroquois counties; and in the very time I want most to be here to prove my innocence and guard my honour, you order me to go to a place more than three hundred miles distant! Did you ever realize that by that strange conduct, you help Spink against your own priest? When at Kahokia, I will have to bear the heavy expenses of traveling more than three hundred miles, many times, to consult my friends, or be deprived of their valuable help! Is it possible that you thus try to tie my hands and feet, and deliver me into the hands of my remorseless enemies? Since the beginning of that suit, Mr. Spink proclaims that you help him, and that, with the perjured priests, you have promised to do all in your power to crush me down! For the sake of the scared character you bear, do not show so publicly that Mr. Spinks' boastings are true. For the sake of your high position in the church, do not so publicly lend a helping hand to the heartless land speculator of L'Erable. He has already betrayed his Protestant friends to get a wife; he will, ere long, betray you for less. Let me then live in peace here, till that suit is over.
By turning me away from my settlement, you destroy it. More than ninetenths of the emigrants come here to live near me; by striking me you strike them all.
Where will you find a priest who will love that people so much as to give them, every year, from one to two thousand dollars, as I have invariably done? It is at the price of those sacrifices that, with the poorest class of emigrants from Canada, I have founded, here, in four years, a settlement which cannot be surpassed, or even equaled, in the United States, for its progress. And now that I have spent my last cent to form this colony, you turn me out of it. Our college, where one hundred and fifty boys are receiving such a good education, will be closed the very day I leave. For, you know very well the teachers I got from Montreal will leave as soon as I will.
Ah! if you are merciless towards the priest of St. Anne, have pity on these poor children. I would rather be condemned to death than to see them destroy their intelligence by running in the streets. Let me then finish my work here, and give me time to strengthen these young institutions which would fall to the ground with me. If you turn me out or interdict me, as you say you will do, if I disobey your orders, my enemies will proclaim that you treat me with that rigour because you have found me guilty of some great iniquity; and this necessarily will prejudice my judges against me. They will consider me as a vile criminal. For who will suppose, in this free country, that there is a class of men who can judge a man and condemn him as our Bishop of Chicago is doing today, without giving him the names of his accusers, or telling him of what crimes he is accused?
In the name of God, I again ask you not to force me to leave my colony before I prove my innocence, and the iniquity of Spink, to the honest people of Urbana.
But, if you are deaf to my prayers, and if nothing can deter you from your resolution, I do not wish to be in the unenviable position of an interdicted priest among my countrymen; send me, by return mail, my letters of mission for the new places you intend trusting to my care. The sooner I get there the better for me and my people. I am ready! When on the road of exile, I will pray the God of Abraham to give me the fortitude and the faith He gave to Isaac, when laying his head on the altar, he willingly presented his throat to the sword. I will pray my Saviour, bearing His heavy cross to the top of Calvary, to direct and help my steps towards the land of exile you have prepared for your
This letter was not yet mailed when we heard that the drunkard priests around us were publishing that the bishop had interdicted me, and they had received orders from him to take charge of the colony of St. Anne. I immediately called a meeting of the whole people and told them: "The bishop has not interdicted me as the neighbouring priests publish; he has only threatened to do so, if I do not leave this place for Kahokia, by the 15th of next month. But though he has not interdicted me, it may be that he does today, falsely publish that he has done it. We can expect anything from the destroyer of the fine congregation of the French Canadians of Chicago. He wants to destroy me and you as he has destroyed them. But before he immolates us, I hope that, with the help of God, we will fight as Christian soldiers, for our life, and we will use all the means which the laws of our church, the Holy word of God, and the glorious Constitution of the Untied States allow us to employ against our merciless tyrant.
"I ask of you, as a favour, to send a deputation of four members of our colony, in whom you place the most implicit confidence, to carry this letter to the bishop. But before delivering it, they will put to him the following questions, the answers of which they will write down with great care in his presence, and deliver them to us faithfully. It is evident that we are now entering into a momentous struggle. We must act with prudence and firmness." Messrs. J. B. Lemoine, Leon Mailloux, Francis Bechard, and B. Allaire, having been unanimously chosen for that important mission, we gave them the following questions to put to the bishop:-
1st. "Have you interdicted Mr. Chiniquy?
2nd. "Why are you interdicted him? Is Mr. Chiniquy guilty of any crime to deserve to be interdicted? Have those crimes been proved against him in a canonical way?
3rd. "Why do you take Mr. Chiniquy away from us?
[Our deputies came back from Chicago with the following report and answers, which they swore to, some time after before the Kankakee court.]
1st. "I have suspended Mr. Chiniquy on the 19th inst. on account of his stubbornness and want of submission to my orders, when I ordered him to Kaholia.
2nd. "If Mr. Chiniquy has said mass since, as you say, he is irregular, and the Pope alone can restore him in his ecclesiastical and sacerdotal functions.
3rd. "I take him away from St. Anne. despite his prayers and yours, because he has not been willing to live in peace and friendship with the Rev. Messrs. Lebel and Carthuval.
[The bishop, being asked if those two priests had not been interdicted by him for public scandals, was forced to say: "Yes!"]
4th. "My second reason for taking Mr. Chiniquy from St. Anne, and sending him to his new mission, is to stop the law-suit Mr. Spink has instituted against him.
[The bishop being asked if he would promise that the suit would be stopped by the removal of Mr. Chiniquy, answered: "I cannot promise that."]
5th. "Mr. Chiniquy is one of the best priests in my diocese, and I do not want to deprive myself of his services, no accusation against his morality has been proved before me.
6th. "Mr. Chiniquy has demanded an inquest to prove his innocence against certain accusations made against him; he asked me the names of his accusers, to confound them; I have refused to grant his request.
[After the bishop had made those declarations, the deputation presented him the letter of Mr. Chiniquy; it evidently made a deep impression upon him. As soon as he read it, he said:]
7th. "Tell Mr. Chiniquy to come and meet me to prepare for his new mission, and I will give him the letters he wants, to go and labour there.
(Signed) J. B. Lemoine,
Basilique Allaire, Leon Mailloux."[**]
After the above had been read and delivered to the people, I showed them the evident falsehood and contradictions of the bishop when he said in his second answer:
"If Mr. Chiniquy said mass since I Interdicted him, he is irregular, and the Pope alone can restore him in his ecclesiastical functions," and then in the seventh, "tell Mr. Chiniquy to come and meet me to prepare for his new mission, and I will give him the letters he wants to go and labour there."
The last sentence, I said, proves that he knew he had not interdicted me as he said at first. For, had he done so, he could not give me letters to administer the sacraments and preach at Kahokia before my going before the Pope, who, alone, as he said himself, could give me such powers, after he (the bishop) knew that I had said mass since my return from Chicago. Now, my friends, here is the law of our holy church, not the saying, or the law of a publicly degraded man, as the Bishop of Chicago: "If a man had been unjustly condemned, let him pay no attention to the unjust sentence: let him even do nothing to have that unjust sentence removed."[***]
"If the bishop had interdicted me on the 19th, his sentence would be unjust, for, from his own lips, we have the confession, 'that no accusation has ever been proved before him; that I am one of his best priests; that he does not want to be deprived of my services.' Yes, such a sentence, if passed, would have been unjust, and our business, today, would be to treat it with the contempt it would deserve. But that unjust sentence has not even been pronounced, since, after saying mass every day since the 19th, the bishop himself wants to give me letters to go to Kahokia and work as one of his best priests! It strikes me, today, for the first time, that it is more your destruction, as a people, than mine, which the bishop wants to accomplish. It is my desire to remain in your midst to defend your rights as Catholics. If you are true to me, as I will be to you, in the impending struggle, we have nothing to fear; for our holy Catholic Church is for us; all her laws and canons are in our favour; the Gospel of Christ is for us. The God of the Gospel is for us. Even the Pope, to whom we will appeal, will be for us. For, I must tell you a thing, which, till to day I kept secret; viz.: The Archbishop of St. Louis, to whom I brought my complaint, in April last, advised me to write to the Pope and tell him, not all, for it would make too large a volume, but something of the criminal deeds of the roaring lion who wants to devour us. He is, today, selling the bones of the dead which are resting in the Roman Catholic cemetery of Chicago! But if you are true to yourselves as Catholics and Americans, that mitred tyrant will not sell the bones of our friends and relatives which rest here on our burying ground. He has sold the parsonage and the church which our dear countrymen had built in Chicago. Those properties are, today, in the hands of the Irish: but if you promise to stand by your rights as Christian men and American citizens, I will tell that avaricious bishop: "Come and sell our parsonage and our church here, if you dare!' As I told you before, we have a glorious battle to fight. It is the battle of freedom against the most cruel tyranny the world has ever seen: it is the battle of truth against falsehood: It is the battle of the old Gospel of Christ against the new gospel of Bishop O'Regan. Let us be true to ourselves to the end, and our holy church, which that bishop dishonours, will bless us. Our Saviour Jesus Christ, whose Gospel is despised by that adventurer, will be for us, and give us a glorious victory. Have you not read in your Bibles that Jesus wanted His disciples to be free, when He said: 'If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed' (John viii. 36). Does that mean that the Son of God wants us to be the slaves of Bishop O'Regan? 'No!' cried out the whole people. May God bless you for your understanding of your Christian rights. Let all those who want to be free, with me, raise their hands.
"Oh! blessed by the Lord," I said, "there are more than 3,000 hands raised towards heaven to say that you want to be free! Now, let those who do not want to defend their rights as Christians, and as American citizens, raise their hands. Thanks be to God," I again exclaimed, "there is not a traitor among us! You are all the true, brave and noble soldiers of liberty, truth and righteousness! May the Lord bless you all!"
It is impossible to describe the enthusiasm of the people. Before dismissing them, I said: "We will, no doubt, very soon, witness one of the most ludicrous comedies ever played on this continent: that comedy is generally called excommunication. Some drunkard priests, sent by the drunkard Bishop of Chicago, will come to excommunicate us. I expect their visit in a few days. That performance will be worth seeing; and I hope that you will see and hear the most amusing thing in your life."
I was not mistaken. The very next day, we heard that the 3rd of September had been chosen by the bishop to excommunicate us.
I said to the people: "When you see the flag of the free and the brave floating from the top of our steeple, come and rally around that emblem of liberty."
There were more than 3,000 people on our beautiful hill, when the priests made their appearance. A few moments before, I had said to that immense gathering:
"I bless God that you are so many to witness the last tyrannical act of Bishop O'Regan. But I have a favour to ask of you, it is, that no insult or opposition whatever will be made to the priests who come to play that comedy. Please do not say an angry word; do not move a finger against the performers. They are not responsible for what they will do, for two reasons. 1. They will probably be drunk. 2. They are bound to do that work, by their master and Lord Bishop O'Regan.
The priests arrived at about two o'clock p.m., and never such shouting and clapping of hands had been heard in our colony as on their appearance. Never had I seen my dear people so cheerful and good-humoured, as when one of the priests, trembling from head to foot with terror and drunkenness, tried to read the following sham act of excommunication; which he nailed on the door of the chapel:
The Reverend Monsieur Chiniquy, heretofore curate of St. Anne, Colonie of Beaver, in the Diocese of Chicago, has formally been interdicted by me for canonical causes.
The said Mr. Chiniquy, notwithstanding that interdict, has maliciously performed the functions of the holy ministry, in administering the holy sacraments and saying mass. This has caused him to be irregular, and in direct opposition to the authority of the church, consequently, he is a schismatic.
The said Mr. Chiniquy, thus named by my letters and verbal injunction, has absolutely persisted in violating the laws of the church, and disobeyed her authority, is by this present letter excommunicated.
I forbid any Catholic having any communication with him, in spiritual matters, under pain of excommunication. Every Catholic who goes against this suspense, is excommunicated.
Bishop of Chicago, and administrator of Quincy. Sept. 3rd., 1856.
As soon as the priests, who had nailed this document to the door of our chapel, had gone away at full speed, I went to see it, and found, what I had expected, that it was not signed by the bishop, neither by his grand vicar, nor any known person, and, consequently it was a complete nullity, according to the laws of the church. Fearing I would prosecute him, as I threatened, he shrank from the responsibility of his own act, and had not signed it. He was probably ignorant of the fact that he was himself excommunicated, ipso facto, for not having signed the document himself, or by his known deputies. I learned afterwards, that he got a boy twelve years old to write and sign it. In this way, it was impossible for me to bring that document before any court, on account of its want of legal and necessary forms. That act was also a nullity, for being brought by three priests who were not compos mentis, from their actual state of drunkenness. And again, it was a nullity from the evident falsehood which was its base.
It alleged that the bishop had interdicted and suspended me on the 19th of August, for canonical causes. But he had declared to the four deputies we had sent him: "That Mr. Chiniquy was one of my best priests, that nothing had been proved against him," consequently, no canonical cause could exist for the allegation. The people understood very well that the whole affair was a miserable farce, designed to separate them from their pastor. It had just, by the good providence of God, the contrary effect. They had never shown me such sincere respect and devotedness as since that never-to-be-forgotten day.
The three priests, after leaving, entered the house of one of our farmers, called Bellanger, a short distance from the chapel, and asked permission to rest awhile. But after sitting and smoking a few minutes they all went out to the stables. The farmer thinking this very strange, went after them to see what they would do in his stables; to his great surprise and disgust, he found them drinking the last of their whiskey. He exclaimed, "Is it not a shame to see three priests in a stable drinking spirits?"
They made no answer, but went immediately to their carriage and drove away as quickly as possible, singing with all their might, a bacchanalian song! Such was the last act of that excommunication, which has done more than anything else to prepare my people and myself to understand that the Church of Rome is a den of thieves, a school of infidelity and the very antipodes of the Church of Christ.
[*] Psalm xlii. 7, "Deep calleth unto deep." - A.V.
[**] Those gentlemen, with the exception of Mr. Allaire, are still living, 1885.
[***] Canon of the Church, by Pope Gelasius.
Continue to Chapter 58