By Charles Chiniquy
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, Matthew Dillon, Pro Secretary.
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I had withdrawn in a corner, alone, in order to observe everything.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 to-day 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.
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, to-day, 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 to-day."
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). 50year23.htm