Back to the Table of Contents
The first week of September, 1851,
I was hearing confessions in one of the churches of Montreal, when a fine-looking
girl came to confess sins, whose depravity surpassed anything I had ever heard.
Though I forbade her twice to do it, she gave me the names of several priests
who were the accomplices of her orgies. The details of her iniquities were told
with such cynical impudence, that the idea struck me at once, that she was sent
by some one to ruin me. I abruptly stopped her disgusting stories by saying:
"The way you confess your sins is a sure indication that you do not come
here to reconcile yourself to God, but to ruin me. By the grace of God, you
will fail. I forbid you to come any more to my confessional. If I see you again
among my penitents, I will order the beadle to turn you out of the church."
I instantly shut the door of the small aperture through which she was speaking to me. She answered something which I could not understand. But the tone of her voice, the shaking of her hands and head, with her manner of walking, when she left the confessional, indicated that she was beside herself with rage, as she went to speak a few words to a carter who was in the church, preparing himself to confess.
The next evening, I said to Rev. Mr. Brassard that I suspected that a girl was sent to my confessional to ruin me.
He answered: "Did I not warn you, some time ago, that there was a plot to destroy you? I have not the least doubt but that that girl was hired to begin that diabolical work. You have no idea of my anxiety about you. For I know your enemies will not shrink from any iniquity to destroy your good name, and prevent you from directing the tide of emigration from Canada to the valley of Mississippi."
I replied, "That I could not partake of his fears; that God knew my innocence and the purity of my motives; He would defend and protect me."
"My dear Chiniquy," replied Mr. Brassard, "I know your enemies. They are not numerous, but they are implacable, and their power for mischief knows no limits. Surely, God can save you from their hands; but I cannot share your security for the future. Your answer to the bishop, in reference to Mrs. Chenier, when you refused to send her to the nunnery, that he might inherit her fortune, has for ever alienated him from you. Bishop Bourget has the merited reputation of being the most revengeful man in Canada. He will avail himself of the least opportunity to strike you without mercy."
I answered, "Though there should be a thousand Bishops Bourget to plot against me, I will not fear them, so long as I am in the right, as I am today." As the clock struck twelve, I bade him good-night, and ten minutes later, I was sound asleep.
The following days, I went to deliver a course of lectures on temperance to several parishes south of Laprairie, till the 28th of September, after which I came back from St. Constant to rest for a few days, and prepare to start for Chicago. On my arrival, I found, on my table, a short letter from Bishop Bourget telling me, that, for a criminal action, which he did not want to mention, committed with a person he would not name, he had withdrawn all my priestly powers and interdicted me. I handed the letter to Mr. Brassard and said: "Is not this the fulfillment of your prophecies? What do you think of a bishop who interdicts a priest without giving him a single fact, and without even allowing him to know his accusers?"
"It is just what I expected from the implacable vengeance of the Bishop of Montreal. He will never give you the reasons of your interdict, for he knows well you are innocent, and he will never confront you with your accusers; for it would be too easy for you to confound them."
"But is not this against all the laws of God and man? Is it not against the laws of the church?" I replied.
"Of course it is," answered he, "but do you not know that, on this continent of America, the bishops have, long ago, thrown overboard all the laws of God and man, and all the laws of the church, to rule and enslave the priests?"
I replied: "If it be so, are not Protestants correct, when they say that our church has rejected the Word of God to follow the traditions of man? What can we answer them when they tell us that our church has no right to be called the church of God? Would the Son of God have given up His life on the cross to save men, that they might be the property of a few lawless tyrants, who should have the right to take away their honour and life?"
"I am not ready to answer those puzzling questions," he answered, "but this is the fact. Though it is absolutely against all the laws of the church to condemn a priest without showing him his guilt, and confronting him with his accusers, our modern bishops, every week, condemn some of their priests without specifying any fact, or even giving them the names of their accusers."
"Mind what I tell you," I replied. "I will not allow the bishop to deal with me in that way. If he dares to trample the laws of the Gospel under his feet, to accomplish my ruin, and satisfy his vengeance, I will teach him a lesson that he will never forget. Thanks be to God, it is not the gory cross of the bloody Inquisition, but the emblem of the British Lion, which I see there floating on the tower, to protect our honour and life, in Canada. I am innocent; God knows it. My trust is in Him; He will not forsake me. I will go immediately to the bishop. If he never knew what power there is in an honest priest, he will learn it today."
Two hours later, I was knocking at the bishop's door. He received me with icy politeness. "My lord," I said, "you already know why I am in your presence. Here is a letter from you, accusing me of a crime which is not specified, under the testimony of accusers whom you refuse to name! And before hearing me, and confronting me with my accusers, you punish me as guilty! You not only take away my honour with that unjust sentence, but my life! I come in the name of God, and of His Son, Jesus Christ, to respectfully ask you to tell me the crime of which I am accused, that I may show you my innocence. I want to be confronted with my accusers, that I may confound them."
The bishop was, at first, evidently embarrassed by my presence; his lips were pale and trembling, but his eyes were dry and red, like the tiger's eyes, in the presence of his prey. He answered: "I cannot grant your request, sir."
Opening then my New Testament, I read: "Receive no accusation against a priest, except under two or three witnesses" (1st Tim. v. 19). I added: "It was after I had heard this voice of God, and of His holy church, that I consented to be a priest. I hope it is not the intention of your lordship to put aside this Word of God and of His church. It is not your intention to break that solemn covenant made by Christ with His priests, and sealed with His blood?"
With an air of contempt and tyrannical authority, which I had never suspected to be possible in a bishop, he answered: "I have no lesson of Scripture or canonical law to receive from you, sir, and no answer to give to your impertinent questions; you are interdicted! I have nothing to do with you."
These words, uttered by the man whom I was accustomed to consider as my superior, had a strange effect upon me. I felt as if awakening from a long and painful dream. For the first time, I understood the sad prophecies of the Rev. Mr. Brassard, and I realized the honour of my position. My ruin was accomplished. Though I knew that that high dignitary was a monster of hypocrisy, injustice and tyranny, he had, among the masses, the reputation of a saint. His unjust sentence would be considered as just and equitable by the multitude over whom he was reigning supremely; at a nod of his head the people would fall at his feet, and obey his commands to crush me. All ears would be shut, and all hearts hardened against me. In that fatal hour, for the first time in my life, my moral strength and courage failed me. I felt as if I had just fallen into a bottomless abyss, out of which it was impossible to escape. What would my innocence, known only to God, avail me, when the whole world would believe me guilty? No words can give an idea of the mental torture of that horrible hour.
For more than a quarter of an hour, not a word was exchanged between the bishop and me. He seemed very busy writing letters, while I was resting my head between my hands, and shedding torrents of tears. At last I fell on my knees, took the hands of the bishop in mine, and, with a voice half-choked with sighs, I said: "My lord, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the presence of God, I swear that I have done nothing which could bring such a sentence against me. I again implore your lordship to confront me with my accusers, that I may show you my innocence."
With a savage insolence, the bishop withdrew his hands, as if I had contaminated them, and said, after rising from his chair: "You are guilty; go out of my presence."
A thousand times since I have thanked my God that I had no dagger with me, for I would have plunged it into his heart. But, strange to say, the diabolical malice and dishonesty of that depraved man suddenly brought back my former self-respect and courage. I, at once took the stern resolution to face the storm. I felt, in my soul, that giant strength which often God Himself implants in the breast of the oppressed, when he is in the presence of his merciless tyrants. It seemed that a flash of lightning had passed through my soul, after having written in letters of fire, on the walls of the palace: "Mystery of iniquity."
Relying entirely on the God of truth and justice, who knew my innocence and the great perversity of my oppressor, I left the room, without saying a word, and hastened back to Longueuil, to acquaint the Rev. Mr. Brassard with my firm resolution to fight the bishop to the end. He burst into tears when I told him what had occurred in the bishop's palace.
"Though innocent, you are condemned," he said. "The infallible proof of your innocence is the cruel refusal of allowing you to be confronted with your accusers. Were you guilty, they would be too glad to show it, by confounding you before those witnesses. But the perversity of your accusers is so well known, that they are ashamed of giving their names. The bishop prefers to crush you under the weight of his unmerited reputation for justice and holiness; for very few know him as we do. My fear is that he will succeed in destroying you. Though innocent, you are condemned and lost; you will never be able to contend against such a mighty adversary."
"My dear Mr. Brassard, you are mistaken," I replied. "I never was so sure of coming out victorious from a conflict as today. The monstrous iniquity of the bishop carries its antidote with itself. It was not a dream I saw when he so ignominiously turned me out of his room. A flash of lightning passed before my eyes, and wrote, as if on the walls of the palace: 'Mystery of iniquity!' When Canada, the whole of Christendom, shall know the infamous conduct of that dignitary; when they shall see the 'mystery of iniquity,' which I shall stamp upon his forehead, there will be only one cry of indignation against him! Oh! If I can only find out the names of my accusers! How I will force that mighty tyrant to withdraw that sentence, at double quick. I am determined to show, not only to Canada, but to the whole world, that this infamous plot is but the work of the vile male and female slaves by whom the bishop is surrounded. My first thought was to start immediately for Chicago, where Bishop Vandeveld expected me. But I am resolved not to go until I have forced my merciless oppressor to withdraw his unjust sentence. I will immediately go to the Jesuit College, where I purpose spending the next eight days in prayer and retreat. The Jesuits are the ablest men under heaven to detect the most hidden things. I hope they will help me to unearth that dark mystery of iniquity, and expose it to the world."
I am glad to see that you do not fear that terrible storm which is upon you, and that your sails are so well trimmed," answered Mr. Brassard. "You do well in putting your trust in God first, and in the Jesuits afterwards. The fearless way in which you intend to meet the attacks of your merciless enemies, will give you an easy victory. My hope is that the Jesuits will help you to find out the names of your false accusers, and that you will make use of them to hurl back in the face of the bishop the shame and dishonour he had prepared for you."
At six p.m., in a modest, well-lighted and ventilated room of the Jesuit College, I was alone with the venerable Mr. Schneider, its director. I told him how the Bishop of Montreal, four years before, after giving up his prejudices against me when I had left the Oblates, had earnestly supported me in my labours. I acquainted him also with the sudden change of those good feelings into the most uncontrollable hatred, from the day I had refused to force Mrs. Chenier to become a nun, that he might secure her fortune. I told him also how those bad feelings had found new food in my plan to consecrating the rest of my life to direct the tide of the French Catholic emigration towards the Mississippi Valley. I exposed to him my suspicions about that miserable girl I had turned out from my confessional. "I have a double object in view," I added. "The first is to spend the last eight days of my residence in Canada in prayer. But my second is to ask the help of your charity, wisdom, and experience in forcing the bishop to withdraw his unjust sentence against me. I am determined, if he does not withdraw it, to denounce him before the whole country, and to challenge him, publicly, to confront me with my accusers."
"If you do that," answered Mr. Schneider, "I fear lest you not only do an irreparable damage to the Bishop of Montreal, but to our holy church also."
I replied: "Our holy church would indeed suffer an irreparable damage, if she sanctioned the infamous conduct of the bishop; but this is impossible."
"You are correct," rejoined the Jesuit. "Our holy church cannot sanction such criminal conduct. She has, hundreds of times, condemned those tyrannical and unjust actions in other bishops. Such want of common honesty and justice will be condemned everywhere, as soon as it is known. The first thing we have to do it to find out the names of your accusers. I have not the least doubt that they are the blind instruments of Machiavelist plots against you. But those plots have only to be brought to light, to vanish away. My impression is, that the miserable girl you have so abruptly and so wisely turned out of your confessional, knows more than the bishop wants us to find out, about the plots. It is a pity you did not ask her name and residence. At all events, you may rely on my efforts to persuade our bishop that his personal interest, as well as the interest of our holy religion, is, that he should speedily withdraw that sentence, which is a nullity by itself. It will not be difficult for me to show him that he is fallen into the very pit he has dug under your feet. He has taken a position against you which is absolutely untenable. Before your retreat is at an end, no doubt he will be too happy to make his peace with you. Only trust in God, and in the blessed Virgin Mary, and you have nothing to fear from your conflict. Our bishop has put himself above all the laws of man and God, to condemn the priest he had himself officially named 'the Apostle of Temperance of Canada.' There is not a single man in the Church, who will allow him to stand on that ground. The 200,000 soldiers you have enrolled under the holy banners of temperance, will force him to retreat his too hasty and unjust sentence."
It would be too long to repeat here all the encouraging words which that wise Jesuit uttered. Father Schneider was a European priest, who was in Montreal only since 1849. He had won my confidence the very first time I met him, and I had chosen him, at once, for my confessor and adviser. The third day of my retreat, Father Schneider came to my room earlier than usual, and said:
"I have worked hard the last two days, to find out the name and residence of the carter to whom that miserable girl spoke in the church, after you had turned her out of your confessional, and I have it. If you have no objection I will send for him. He may know that girl and induce her to come here."
"By all means, dear father," I answered, "do it without losing a moment."
Two hours later, the carter was with me. I recognized him as one of those dear countrymen whom our society of temperance had transformed into a new man. I asked him if he remembered the name of the girl who, a few days before, had spoken to him in the church, after going out of my confessional.
"Yes sir! I know her well. She has a very bad name, though she belongs to a respectable family."
I added: "Do you think you can induce her to come here, by telling her that a priest, in the Jesuit College, wants to see her? But do not give her my name."
He answered: "Nothing is more easy. She will be here in a couple of hours, if I find her at home."
At three p.m., the carter was again knocking at my door, and said, with a low voice: "The girl you want is in the parlour; she has no idea you are here, for she told me that you were now preaching in St. Constant, she seems to be very angry against you, and bitterly complains against your want of courtesy, the very first time she went to confess to you."
"Is it possible that she told you that?" I replied.
"Yes sir! She told me that to explain her terrible excitement when coming out of your confessional, the other day; she then requested me to drive her home. She was really beside herself, and swore that she would make you pay for your harsh words and rude manners towards her. You will do well to be on your guard with her. She is one of the most depraved girls of Montreal, and has a most dangerous tongue, though to the shame of our holy religion, she is daily seen in the bishop's palace."
I immediately went to Father Schneider, and said: "My dear father, by the mercy of God, the girl we want to see is in the parlour. But what I have just heard from the carter who drove her, I have not the least doubt but that she is the one employed by the bishop to slander me, and get a pretext for what he has done. Please come with me to witness my innocence. But, take your Gospel, ink, paper and pen with you."
"All right," answered the wise Jesuit.
Two minutes later we were in her presence. It is impossible to describe her dismay when she saw me. She came near fainting. I feared she would not be able to utter a word. I spoke to her very kindly, and ran to get a glass of cold water, which did her good. When she recovered, I said to her, with a tone of mixed authority and kind firmness: "You are here in the presence of God and of two of His priests. That great God will hear every word which will fall from your lips. You must speak the truth. You have denounced me to the bishop as guilty of some great iniquity. You are the cause of my being interdicted. You, alone, can repair the iniquity you have done me. That injury is very great; but it can be easily repaired by you. In the presence of that venerable priest, say whether or not, I am guilty of the crime you have brought to my charge!"
At these words, the unfortunate girl burst into tears. She hid her face in her handkerchief, and with a voice half-suffocated with sighs, she said: "No sir! You are not guilty."
I added: "Confess another thing. Is it not a fact that you had come to my confessional more with the intention of tempting me to sin, than to reconcile yourself to God?"
"Yes sir!" she added, "this was my wicked intention."
"Continue to tell the truth, and our great and merciful God will forgive you. Is it not to revenge yourself for my rebuking you, that you have brought the false accusations to the bishop in order that he might interdict me?"
"Yes sir! that is the only reason I had for accusing you."
After Father Schneider had made four copies of those declarations, signed by him as witness, and after she had sworn on the Gospel, I forgave her the injury she had done me, I gave her some good advice and dismissed her.
"Is it not evident," I said to Father Schneider, "that our merciful God never forsakes those who trust in Him?"
"Yes, I never saw the interposition of God so marvelously manifested as in this perfect deliverance from the hands of your enemies. But, please, tell me why you requested me to make four copies of her sworn declaration of your innocence; was not one sufficient?" asked Mr. Schneider.
I answered: "One of those copies was for the bishop; another will remain in your hands, Mr. Brassard will have one, and I need one for myself. For the dishonesty of the bishop is so evident to me, now, that I think him able to destroy the copy I will send him, with the hope, after its destruction, of keeping me at his feet. If he does that new act of iniquity, I will confound him with the three other authentic copies which will remain. Besides, this unfortunate girl may die sooner than we expect. In that case, I would find myself again with the bishop's knife on my throat, if I had no other retractation to the perjured declaration which he has persuaded her to give him."
"You are right," replied Father Schneider; "now the only thing for you to do is to send that retractation to the bishop, with a firm and polite request to retract his unjust sentence against you. Let me do the rest with him. The battle is over. It has been fierce, but short. However, thanks be to God, you have a most complete victory over your unjust aggressors. The bishop will do all in his power, no doubt, to make you forget the darkest page of his life."
The shrewd Jesuit was correct in his previsions. Never did any bishop receive me with so many marks, not only of kindness, but I dare say of respect, than Bishop Bourget, when, after my retreat, I went to take leave of him, before my departure from Canada for the United States.
"I trust, my lord," I said, "that, today, I can hope to possess the confidence and friendly feelings of your lordship?"
"Certainly, my dear Mr. Chiniquy, certainly; you possess my full confidence and friendship. I dare say more; you possess my most sincere gratitude, for what you have done in my diocese."
I answered: "I am much obliged to your lordship for this expression of your kind feelings. But, now, I have two new favours to ask from your lordship. The first, is a written document expressive of those kind feelings. The second, is a chalice from your hands to offer the holy sacrifice of mass the rest of my life."
"I will grant you your request with the utmost pleasure," answered the bishop; and without losing a moment, he wrote the following letter, which I reproduce here, on account of its importance:
Montreal, Oct. 13th. 1851.
Sir, You request me to give you permission to leave my diocese, in order to go and offer your service to the Bishop of Chicago. As you still belong to the diocese of Quebec, I think you ought to address yourself to my lord of Quebec, to get the extract you want. As for me, I cannot but thank you for what you have done in our midst; and in my gratitude towards you, I wish you the most abundant blessing from heaven. Every day of my life I will remember you. You will always be in my heart, and I hope that on some future day the providence of God will give me some opportunity of showing you all the feelings of gratitude I feel towards you.
I remain, your most obedient servant, Ignace,
Rev. C. Chiniquy.
Bishop of Montreal.
Though that letter was a most perfect
recantation of all he had said and done against me, and was of immense value
to me in such circumstances, the bishop added to its importance by the exceedingly
kind manner in which he handed it to me.
As he was going into another room he said: "I will give you the silver chalice you want, to offer the holy sacrifice of mass the rest of your days." But he came back and said: "My secretary is absent, and has the key of the trunk which contains those vases."
"It makes no difference, my lord," I replied, "please order your secretary to put that chalice in the hands of Rev. Mr. Brassard, who will forward it, with a box of books which he has to send me to Chicago next week."
The bishop very kindly promised to do so; and he fulfilled his promise. The next day, that precious gift was put in the hands of Mr. Brassard, in presence of several priests. It was sent, the following week, to Chicago, where I got it, and that fine silver chalice is still in my possession.
I then fell on my knees, and said: "My lord, I am just leaving Canada for the Far West, please give me your benediction." He blessed me and pressed me to his heart with the tenderness of a father, saying, "May God Almighty bless you, wherever you go and in everything you do, till the end of your life."