No. 438.
Mr. Rublee to Mr. Fish.

No. 122.]

Sir: The agitation produced by the dissensions in the Catholic Church in Switzerland and by the jealousy which is felt on the part of the Protestant and a portion of the Catholic population respecting the designs of the ultramontane party goes on increasing, and is assuming such dimensions as seriously to threaten the public peace.

The infallibilist clergy resolutely maintain their pretensions, and their opponents as resolutely resist them. The solution of the controversy offered by a separation of church and state meets with but little favor in any quarter. It is rather losing than gaining ground. Both parties prefer to fight out the battle as at present engaged, neither caring to forfeit, in case of victory, the advantages which it expects to reap from continuing the connection.

In a former dispatch, No. 111, November 30, 1872, I have given an account of the differences which had arisen between the government of the canton of Soleure and the bishop of Basle, growing out of the promulgation by the latter of the dogma of papal infallibility, contrary to the resolutions adopted at a meeting of the diocesan conference in August, 1870, and of his action in deposing and excommunicating the cure of a certain parish who refused to accept and to teach the dogma in question without consulting and without the concurrence of the civil authorities. I also related the action of the diocesan conference which was held on the 19th of November last, in which five of the seven cantons composing the diocese of Basle were represented. The conference summoned the bishop to withdraw unconditionally, within fourteen days after his reception of the proceedings of the conference, the excommunication he had promulgated, and adjourned to meet at the expiration of that period. The bishop refused to obey the summons of the conference. The conference, however, did not assemble again until the 28th ultimo. On that occasion all the cantons of the diocese were represented. After a session of two days, by a vote of five of the cantons—Soleure, Berne, Basle, Campague, Argovie and Thurgovie—against two, Lucerne and Zug, the conference adopted resolutions to the following effect:

That the authorization given on the 30th of October, 1863, to the Bishop Eugene Lachat de Mervelier to occupy the episcopal seat of the diocese of Basle is withdrawn and the bishopric declared vacant; that M. Lachat is prohibited from exercising ecclesiastical functions, and that the cantons are invited to withhold the episcopal revenues until further notice, and to sequester those revenues where the diocesan funds [Page 1076] are not confounded with those of the state; that the government of the canton of Soleure be invited to fix a time within which M. Lachat shall quit the official residence in the episcopal palace, and to make an inventory of all property belonging to the bishopric; that the chapter, in accordance with the convention of 1828, establishing the diocese, be invited to name, within fourteen days, an administrator ad interim of the diocese who is acceptable to the government of the cantons. That the five diocesan governments joining in these resolutions invite the cantons of Zurich, Basle-ville, Schaffhausen, Tessin, and Geneva to take part in behalf of their Catholic population in the negotiations which will be immediately opened for the revision of the diocesan convention; that these resolutions be communicated to the Federal Council for its information, and for diplomatic transmission to the Holy See; and that the conference will again assemble on the 14th of February, to take cognizance of the action of the chapter and to adopt ulterior measures. The majority of the conference at the same time prepared and have since caused to be published an address to the public, setting forth in detail the reasons by which they were governed in adopting these resolutions. In this address they charge the bishop with disregarding the interests and institutions of the cantons which assented to his election, and with disturbing the public tranquillity in order to promote the triumph of a dogma which is directed against the organization of the modern state, which is at war with the principles of the constitution of Switzerland, and which threatens to involve the people in religious strife. They allege that he has sought to suppress all independence of thought and of character on the part of the clergy, and quote from a letter addressed by the bishop to the government of Soleure, in which he declares that the clergy are responsible only to God and himself; that he has violated the diocesan convention by establishing a special seminary without the consent of the cantonal governments; by neglecting upon the most important questions to consult with his constituted spiritual advisers; by refusing to recognize the right of placet of the diocesan states; and, finally, by disregarding the oath of fidelity and obedience toward the cantonal governments which he took upon the Holy Scriptures. It further accuses the bishop of “manifesting a lack of that dignity which should characterize his position, by interfering in the political affairs of the cantons by means of pastoral letters and other official writings, going even so far as to take under his protection the press of a political party, furnishing inspiration to certain journals, while designating others, in a not very Christian fashion, as ‘detestable.’”

In this last charge I suppose allusion is made to a rather extraordinary circular letter, signed by all the Catholic bishops of Switzerland, and published some weeks ago, wherein the members of the Church were earnestly warned against all newspapers except such as are devoted to the interests of the Church and the views of the Holy See, and urgently admonished, with comminatoiy references to the future, against extending any aid or countenance to the unorthodox press, either by subscription or advertising, and not to allow unorthodox journals to be received gratis in their homes.

The representatives of Lucerne and Zug cantons, with an almost exclusively Catholic population, not only refused to support but warmly protested against the resolutions adopted by the conference. They declared that, whatever might be the action of the other cantons of the diocese, the cantons of Lucerne and Zug will continue to recognize M. Lachat as their bishop. It is also reported that the latter will persist in maintaining his title and functions as bishop of the diocese, and [Page 1077] that he has already secured a commodious villa near Soleure, which he proposes to occupy when dispossessed of the episcopal palace.

The following table, which I compile from the census of 1870, shows the number of the different confessions in the diocese:

Cantons. Catholics. Protestants. Jews.
Berne 66,015 436,304 2,746
Lucerne 128,338 3,823 79
Zug 20,082 878 17
Soleure 62,072 12,448 101
Basle Campagne 10,248 43,523 228
Argovie 89,180 107,703 440
Thurgovie 23,454 69,231 531
Total 399,389 673,910 4,151

Thus in the diocese only a little more than one-third of the people are Catholic, while in the live cantons which unite in deposing the bishop the Catholic element comprises but a little more than one-fourth of the population. Soleure is the only Catholic canton that pronounces against the bishop.

It is probable that the chapter will refuse to appoint an administrator ad interim of the bishopric, and that the diocesan conference, on the reassembling upon the 14th instant, will have next to proceed against the chapter.

In the mean while the grand council of Geneva is engaged in discussing a proposed law, prepared by the council of state, regulating the organization of the Catholic Church in that canton, and providing for the election for a definite term of office of the cures by the people of their respective parishes. A minority of the committee to which this bill was referred has reported a substitute providing for the entire separation of church and state as the easiest solution of existing difficulties.

While these propositions are pending it is suddenly announced that the Pope, by a pontifical letter dated 16th of January last, has appointed M. Mermillod, bishop of Hebron, in partibus infidelium to the functions of apostolic vicar of Geneva. On the 2d instant (Sunday) M. Agnozzi, the papal chargé d’affaires, waited upon the president of the confederation and notified him of this appointment. On the same day, M. Mermillod caused to be read in all the Catholic churches of Geneva a circular letter in which he had embodied the papal brief. No previous notice had been given to the government of the canton of this appointment, nor was any regard paid to the existing law which forbids the publication or putting in execution within the canton of any bull, letter, rescript, or decree of the court of Rome without the previous authorization of the government.

This action of the Holy See has added new fuel to the existing excitement. As soon as the appointment of M. Mermillod became known the council of state held a meeting, at which it is reported that it was decided, before taking any definite action, to consult with the federal authorities, since, in the judgment of the council, the dismemberment of the diocese of Lausanne, of which Geneva constitutes a part, by a papal brief, without a previous understanding with the civil authorities, involves international questions which call for the action of the federal government.

Nor are the manifestations of resistance to actual or apprehended encroachments of the Roman clergy confined to the German and French cantons. On the other side of the Alps, in the Italian canton of Tessin, which is still attached to the bishopric of Milan, and which, according [Page 1078] to the last census, has a population of 119,349 Catholics to 234 of all other denominations, the grand council has recently enacted a new criminal code which goes into effect on the 1st of May next. Among the articles of this code is one adopted by a vote of 51 to 23, providing that violations of the governmental right of placet, relative to the acceptance and exercise of ecclesiastical functions, as well as for the publication and putting into execution prescriptions in regard to worship, will be punished by fine and the suspension of the offending functionary from all public ecclesiastical functions. The new code further provides for the punishment of encroachments by the clergy upon the civil and administrative jurisdiction effected by the menace of ecclesiastical penalties, and for the punishment of priests who disturb the peace of families or the public tranquillity, or who employ in the churches language calculated to excite contempt for the legal institutions of the country, hostility to those institutions, ententes, and rebellion. Such enactments of course indicate the existence, whether well founded or not, in an almost exclusively Catholic community of wide spread and serious distrust of the policy and aims of those who at present exercise a controlling influence over the Catholic priesthood.

In the German cantons meetings have been held in many Catholic parishes during the present winter, at which the congregations have discussed and formally adopted resolutions declaring their non-adhesion to the dogma of infallibility and their determination to adhere to the Catholic faith as it was received from their fathers.

It is difficult to forecast any satisfactory issue for the controversies engaged in at Geneva and in the diocese of Basle. Although a large number of Catholics are in sympathy with the civil authorities, there is little reason to doubt that MM. Mermillod and Lachat will have the support of a majority of their denomination. They are assured of the countenance of the Holy See and of the aid and sympathy of the great body of Catholics outside of Switzerland. The state will hardly venture upon more radical measures than the refusal to recognize them and the subordinate clergy who adhere to them, and the suspension of the salaries hitherto paid by the state. They will not, however, suffer from want. The cry of persecution will be raised, the imperiled interests of the Church will be portrayed, and private zeal will promptly supply, doubly and trebly if need be, the pecuniary stipend withheld by the civil authorities. The bishops, though not recognized by the government, will be recognized by their flocks. They and the priests who act under their orders may be excluded in some instances from the churches and liberal Catholic ecclesiastics officiate in their places, but such exclusion is likely to produce no other effect than to increase their influence by consecrating them in the eyes of the Catholic masses as sufferers for the faith. With them are the elements of enthusiasm and unquestioning belief, the best material for religious warfare; expecting miracles, obedient, confiding, long-suffering, accepting calamity as a wholesome discipline divinely provided for the just. The Liberals, on the other hand, are more intellectual, critical, but less earnest; their leaders, in fact, being, for the most part, rather Catholics by birth and classification than through serious religious conviction.

One circumstance tends strongly, however, to aid the Liberal Catholic movement in Switzerland and to give it a success which it would not otherwise attain. This is, in addition to the general diffusion of education and the habit, as republicans, of thinking and discussing for themselves upon public affairs, the fact that the war of the Sonderbund in 1847 grew out of an attempt of the Catholic cantons to divide the [Page 1079] country and establish a separate confederation. The animosities of that struggle still survive in the politics of the country. Many of the men now in public life bore arms upon one or the other side, and the impression is widely diffused that the Catholic Church, as an organization, is hostile to the confederation. Thus it happens that the sentiment of patriotism, proverbially strong in the Swiss, comes in to color and influence, to some extent, the controversies with the Church, and that the latter, whether justly or not, suffers under the disadvantage of being associated in many minds with an attack upon the integrity of the republic.

I am, &c.,