No. 439.
Mr. Rublee to Mr. Fish.

No. 123.]

Sir: The conflict between the government of the canton of Geneva and the recently appointed apostolic vicar, M. Mermillod, has entered upon a new phase.

The Federal Council, after consultation with a deputation from the council of state of Geneva, decided to intervene in the controversy, and on yesterday M. Mermillod was expelled from the territory of Switzerland.

I subjoin a résumé of the action of the government in the affair.

On the 11th instant the Federal Council addressed a note to Mgr. Agnozzi, the papal chargé d’affaires, stating that the papal brief of the 16th of January, appointing M. Mermillod apostolic vicar of Geneva, which Mgr. Agnozzi had communicated to the President on the 3d instant, had been laid before them. The note proceeds to state that the government authorities of Switzerland have always asserted the principle that questions relating to diocesan organization can only be settled with their assent. This principle is asserted by the public law of Switzerland, both ancient and modern, and is supported by numerous precedents.

The Congress of Vienna in 1815 expressly recognized the right of the Helvetian Diet to decide respecting the continuance or the abolition of Swiss dioceses. The Holy See itself has recognized this principle by recently entering into negotiations with the Federal Council relative to the organization of the Catholic Church in the canton of Tessin. The negotiations which took place during the latter part of the year 1872 between the federal political department and Mgr. Agnozzi on the subject of the organization of Catholic worship in the canton of Geneva, proceeded upon the same principle. These negotiations were not broken off, so far as the Federal Council was concerned, until the Holy See issued the brief of the 16th ultimo. That document has changed the condition which the Catholic Church in Geneva had maintained for more than fifty years, and this without any consultation with the government. It now becomes the duty of the Federal Council to assert with energy the rights of the state. All modifications in the organization of a Swiss diocese, attempted by the mere volition of the Holy See, are and will be treated as null and void. The Federal Council deny the right of the ecclesiastical [Page 1080] power to separate the Catholics of Geneva from the diocese to which they legally belong, and request Mgr. Agnozzi to inform the Holy See that the confederation will only recognize, in the future, as in the past, the diocese of Lausanne and Geneva; that it denies all official character to the apostolic vicar appointed by the brief of January 16; and that it will oppose the exercise by him of the functions which have been conferred upon him by the Holy See, illegally, without the previous assent of the political authorities.

On the same day the Federal Council transmitted a copy of this note to the government of Geneva, accompanying it with a letter stating that they had seen with satisfaction that the purpose of the government of Geneva, like their own, was to oppose energetically the encroachments of the Holy See, and requesting the Genevese authorities to give official notice to the titulary nominated by the Holy See to the apostolic vicarate of the note addressed by the Federal Council to the papal chargé d’affaires, and to invite him, within a specified period, to signify to the government of Geneva whether, in the face of the opposition raised by the federal and cantonal authorities against the dismemberment of the diocese of Lausanne and Geneva, he intended to continue to exercise the functions of apostolic vicar. In case of an affirmative response, or of his failing to give a categorical answer, the letter declared that the Federal Council, acting in virtue of the authority given it by clauses 8 and 10 of article 90 of the federal constitution, would take, in union with the council of state of Geneva, suitable measures to prevent a representative of the Holy See from carrying out a mission which was contrary to the will of the authorities of the country and to the state of things legally established.

The notice was promptly served upon M. Mermillod. He was allowed until noon on Saturday, the 15th instant, to prepare his answer. At the appointed time he forwarded a long letter to the council of state, which was at once transmitted to the Federal Council. In it he asserts that the Holy See adopted the course of appointing him to fill the office of apostolic vicar at Geneva, because the Church has no longer any spiritual head there, (a situation, I should here mention, which was prepared by the resignation, a few months since, by the bishop of Lausanne and Geneva, of his functions, so far as the canton of Geneva is concerned;) that the creation of an apostolic vicariate is in nowise identical with the erection of an episcopal see; that the measure is provisional and temporary in its nature; that by it nothing is attempted against the rights of the state; that the authority of the apostolic vicar is purely spiritual, he is only a missionary of the Church, asking neither favor, privilege, nor compensation from the state; that the only practical solution of the problem presented by the relations between the Church and the state lies in a sincere and complete liberty assured to the Church, a pacific agreement in the nature of a concordat or oppression. In conclusion, he declares that he cannot abandon his purely spiritual functions without betraying the evangelical mission and the holy apostolate with which he had been invested by the head of the Church.

Upon the receipt of this response, the Federal Council, on the 17th instant, issued a decree which, after reciting the circumstances, prohibits the sojourn of M. Mermillod within the territory of Switzerland until he shall “expressly renounce the functions conferred upon him by the Holy See contrary to the decisions of the federal and cantonal authorities,” this prohibition to cease from the day that he may renounce the aforesaid functions.

The council of state of Geneva was charged with the execution of [Page 1081] this decree. By its direction a commissary of the police, on yesterday, waited upon M. Mermillod and conveyed him in a carriage to the French frontier. No popular demonstration of any kind occurred, the city remaining perfectly tranquil. For the present the exiled ecclesiastic has taken up his abode with the curé of Fern ex.

It is reported that M. Mermillod declared that he would only yield to force, and requested the commissary of police to lay his hands upon him in token that force was employed. The commissary, however, insisted that it was sufficient to exhibit his official mandate, and M. Mermillod consented to this compromise. He declined to intimate the point of the frontier to which he preferred to be conveyed, but at once accepted the proposition to be taken in the direction of Fernex, asking only to make some slight preparations for his journey and to write a protest addressed to the council of state. This was conceded. The protest is already published. In it M. Mermillod, after recounting his several titles of bishop and apostolic vicar, protests, in the name of the rights of the Catholic Church and the liberty of Catholic consciences, violated in his person, and in the name of his rights as a free citizen of the Helvetian, Republic, against the decree of banishment issued against him, without his being heard in person, without any judgment, and without any violation of the laws on his part. He further declares that he remains the apostolic vicar of Geneva and spiritual chief of the Catholic Church of the canton. He gives his blessing to the clergy and to those who persecute him, and closes by asseverating that he yields only to force.

There has not as yet been time for any general expression by the press of the country upon the action of the government in this affair. It will probably be approved by the great majority of the Protestant population and by the Liberal Catholics. I hear, however, in private circles, from persons who have no affiliation or sympathy with the Catholic Church, expressions of doubt as to its wisdom, and regret that the republic of Switzerland, distinguished for its tolerance in most regards, should, in this instance, have adopted a procedure so analogous to the methods of arbitrary government.

The discussions upon the bill regulating the organization of the Catholic Church in the canton of Geneva, and providing for the election of cures by the congregations, have not yet closed. The proposition for a complete separation of church and state was rejected, receiving only fifteen votes in a body consisting of one hundred and ten members.

I have, &c.,