Mr. Rublee to Mr. Fish.
Berne , November 30, 1872. (Received Dec. 30.)
Sir: The Catholic question continues largely to occupy public attention in Switzerland.
In my No. 107, of October 5, I gave some account of the conflict which had arisen between the government of the canton of Geneva and the [Page 1072] hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Since that time the situation has remained substantially unchanged. The government adheres to its refusal to recognize M. Mermillod either as bishop or curé of Geneva. M. Mermillod continues, in fact, to exercise the functions of bishop, and is recognized as such by the Church. The moderate salary which he formerly received from the public treasury as cure is withheld, but generous contributions and offers of aid from devoted admirers in France relieve him from all solicitude in regard to financial support. Some 20,000 francs were promptly collected at the bureau of the principal Catholic journal in Paris, and forwarded to him with the assurance that further sums would be forthcoming when required.
One of the first results of the conflict was the introduction in the grand council of the canton of a bill providing for the complete separation of church and state. This, however, after a protracted discussion, was rejected by a decided majority. The conseil d’état thereupon announced that it would shortly propose a measure providing for the election of cures by the congregations of the several parishes, to hold their offices for a specific term. Such laws have already existed for many years in a number of the cantons, including some of the Catholic cantons.
On the 10th instant elections were held for members of the grand council of Geneva. This body appoints the members of the conseil d’état and upon the result of these elections depended the character of the cantonal government for the ensuing three years. The struggle turned altogether upon the question of sustaining the government in the attitude it had taken in the Mermillod affair. The party favorable to the government achieved a signal triumph. Its candidates received nearly four-fifths of the votes cast. It may be fairly presumed, however, that many of the opposite party, seeing no prospect of success, abstained from voting. The vote, however, was one of the largest ever cast in the canton; nevertheless, the number of votes polled was only about two-thirds of the number of voters inscribed on the registry list.
A controversy of greater significance, in some respects, has since occurred between the government of the canton of Soleure and the functionaries of the Church. It is not, as in Geneva, a controversy between the civil authorities of a Protestant canton and the Catholic Church. In Soleure a difference has arisen between the functionaries of the Church themselves, and the government of a distinctively Catholic canton gives an energetic support to the opponents of the dogma of infallibility with the apparent approval of a large majority of the people.
The canton of Soleure is comprised within the bishopric of Basle, the residence of the bishop being in the city of Soleure. Toward the close of the month of October last the bishop, Monseigneur Lachat, suspended one M. Geschwind, the curé of the commune of Starrkirch, from the exercise of ecclesiastical functions, upon the ground that the said curé had refused to accept the dogma of infallibility, and in the press as well as from the pulpit had taught doctrines inconsistent with those of the Church; at the same time the bishop proclaimed the excommunication pronounced by the council of the Vatican against those who deny the infallibility of the Pope in force against M. Geschwind in foro externo ecclesiastico, as it had been long since in foro conscientiœ. The congregation of Starrkirch at once indicated the purpose of sustaining their pastor against the bishop. The conseil d’état of the canton, apprised of the action of the bishop, addressed him a note on the 1st instant, informing him that his attempt to remove the cure without consulting and without the concurrence of the civil authorities was regarded as illegal and an abuse, and that they should sustain the cure under [Page 1073] the circumstances by all the means at their command. They reminded the bishop that if there was good ground for proceeding against M. Geschwind his proper course was to present specific charges against him. At the same time the conseil d’état notified the commune of Starrkirch that it was expected that the curé would remain at his post and perform his duties. A Capuchin monk, who had been sent by the bishop to officiate in the church of Starrkirch on Sunday, the 3d instant, was dismissed by the president of the commune, and M. Gescbwind continued to act as curé. On the same day the people manifested their satisfaction with the course of events by erecting a tree of liberty before the church, while the parochial council held a meeting, and, by an unanimous vote, adopted resolutions approving of the manner in which the curé had discharged his duties both within and without the church, declaring that they absolutely declined to receive another curé, and that if he were in any manner disquieted in the exercise of his office they would invoke the protection of the government.
The bishop replied to the note of the conseil d’état, denying the right of the government to interfere in his relations with the clergy of his diocese. The following day the conseil d’état adopted, with unanimity, a resolution that the revocation of M. Geschwind was illegal and based solely upon the circumstance that he held and had taught the Catholic faith as it was recognized and professed up, to the year 1870; that it was the duty of the state to protect its citizens against injustice; and that the commune and the curé of Starrkirch should be notified that the said cure was recognized by the government as the only legitimate curé of the parish, and would continue to be so recognized as long as neither the parish nor the collator presented any formal complaint against him, and until he had been removed with the participation of the government itself. Subsequently this action of the conseil d’état was approved by the grand council of the canton, after a full discussion, by a vote of 79 to 21.
In the mean time public sentiment found expression through various municipal and other meetings. The communal council of the city of Soleure on the 16th of November, after three and a half hours of discussion, adopted by a vote of 18 to 4 resolutions affirming that the doctrine of papal infallibility is in contravention to the authority of the democratic state; that it jeopardizes religious peace, which is a social necessity for Switzerland; that it is without binding force upon the members of the church, and that it shall not be permitted to be taught either in the schools or churches of the city of Soleure. Copies of these resolutions were directed to be forwarded to the cantonal government, to each of the communes of the canton, and to the bishop; and an official meeting of the electors of the school district comprising the city of Soleure was called for the 24th instant to pass upon the resolutions thus adopted. At the latter meeting a large majority of the voters approved the resolutions, the minority abstaining from participating in the proceedings.
On the 17th instant a meeting of the commune of the city of Olten was held, Olten being the second town of the canton in importance, and resolutions submitted to the voters by the communal council of the city were unanimously adopted to the following effect:
- Public and solemn protest against the dogma of papal infallibility.
- Communication of this protest to the bishop of Basle and to the government, with an earnest request to the latter for the adoption of [Page 1074] energetic measures to prevent the teaching of said dogma in the churches and the schools.
- Declaration of earnest sympathy with the commune of Starrkirch in its firm attitude respecting the conflict between the bishop and its pastor.
On the 19th instant the diocesan conference of the bishopric was held at Soleure. Of the seven cantons composing the diocese, Soleure, Berne, Basle, Argovie, and Thurgovie were represented. Lucerne and Zug withheld from the meeting. The conference adopted an elaborate preamble and resolutions in condemnation of the course pursued by the bishop. It declared that in promulgating the dogma of infallibility contrary to the decision of the diocesan conference of August 18, 1870, and in illegally attempting to remove the curé of Starrkirch, the bishop had placed himself in flagrant contradiction with the oath he had taken when he swore obedience and fidelity to the governments composing the diocese of Basle, and to conclude no arrangements and to take no part either within or without Switzerland in any affair of a nature to menace the public tranquillity. The conference further pronounced that the dogma of infallibility is not recognized and has no legal force; that the bishop is prohibited from inflicting censures upon priests whose only offense is in opposition to that dogma; that the bishop can only remove cures with the participation of the cantonal authorities, and finally that the bishop is summoned to withdraw unconditionally, within fourteen days after his reception of the proceedings of the diocesan conference, the excommunication promulgated by him against the Curés Egli and Geschwind. The Curé Egli is a curé of the canton of Lucerne, who was excommunicated a year or more since for refusing to accept the dogma of infallibility.
The conference adjourned to meet at the expiration of the period given the bishop for withdrawing the excommunications launched against the curés, in order to take further action at that time if it should be deemed necessary. In the mean time all the states of the diocese will be urged to participate in the adjourned meeting.
The action of the conference has been approved by the governments of the five cantons that were represented in it. During the past week the nuncio of the Pope accredited to the Swiss Confederation has had an interview with the President, and is reported to have entered an earnest protest against the position taken by the government of Soleure and the action of the diocesan conference.
One of the immediate results of the agitation is the enactment of a law by the canton of Soleure providing that the office of curé shall henceforth be elective for a fixed term, and that the curés shall be chosen by a vote of the electors of their respective parishes.
On to-morrow a meeting of delegates representing the several old Catholic societies of Switzerland will be held at Olten to form a more effective organization. At the same time a popular meeting is called, in which all sympathizing with the movement are invited to participate, and addresses are to be given by prominent old Catholics, both from Germany and Switzerland.
At a time when the Catholic question holds so prominent a place in European politics, I have thought this brief narration of the recent occurrences in the canton of Soleure might not be without interest. In general, where dissent has been manifested in the Church with the new; dogma, that sentiment has hardly assumed the dimension of a popular movement. It has been confined to the few, to persons of a certain degree of intellectual culture and training, or to those who, if nominally classed as [Page 1075] Catholics, are without very definite religions convictions, while the great majority have accepted the proclamation of infallibility with prompt and unquestioning faith. In the canton of Soleure there is clearly disclosed, however, the existence of a serious and widely prevailing dissent among the masses of a Catholic population.
I am, &c.,