No. 441.
Mr. Rublee to Mr. Fish.

No. 125.]

Sir: The conflict between church and state, at Geneva, and in the cantons composing the diocese of Basle, continues to form the principal subject of public interest in Switzerland.

The expulsion of Mgr. Mermillod is generally approved by the press of the country not avowedly Catholic. The exceptions are certain journals devoted to the interests of the party opposed to a revision of the federal constitution. By the Catholic journals, the expulsion is denounced as a despotic and unconstitutional exercise of power, and Mgr. Mermillod is represented as an unoffending victim of persecution, in whose person the rights of the Church and the rights of a Swiss citizen have alike been ruthlessly violated. He remains at Fernex, within three miles of his late episcopal residence, the recipient of continued attentions and ovations from his admirers and followers, and, without doubt, wielding a wider and more effective influence over the Catholic population of Geneva than when actually officiating as apostolic vicar within the canton. The Pope has sent him a letter of encouragement and benediction, and the clergy of France, Belgium, and Switzerland are showering upon him the expressions of their sympathy and regard as a sufferer for the cause of truth and righteousness.

The bill proposing a modification of the constitution of the canton of Geneva in relation to the Catholic Church finally passed the grand council last week by a vote of 76 to 8. Among its supporters were a considerable number of Catholic members. It will be submitted for ratification by a popular vote on the 23d of March. The bill provides that the curés and vicars, whose salaries are paid by the Church, shall be elected by the Catholic citizens inscribed on the list of cantonal electors. Their appointments will be revocable. Only the diocesan bishop recognized by the state shall have episcopal jurisdiction; he may appoint a substitute with the assent of the council of state; the latter, however, may at any time withdraw its consent. The Catholic parishes of the canton must form part of a Swiss diocese, but the seat of the bishop shall not be established in the canton of Geneva. The number and limits of parishes, the election of curés and vicars, the oath required of them on entering office, the circumstances compelling revocation, &c., will be regulated by law.

Prior to the passage of this bill a remonstrance, signed by the mayors of the Catholic communes of the canton, was read in the grand council. These functionaries alleged that the measure proposing to re-organize the Catholic Church, without the consent of the Catholics, was highly unpopular, and that, instead of allaying, it would only serve to increase the unfortunate dissensions already existing, and would never be accepted by their communes.

In the diocese of Basle the difference between Mgr. Lachat and the governments of five of the seven cantons comprised in it are becoming more and more pronounced and irreconcilable. I have detailed in my dispatch No. 122, of February 4, the action of the diocesan conference declaring the bishop’s seat vacant and inviting a chapter to name a substitute ad interim. In compliance with this invitation the chapter held a meeting, but decided that the action of the conference was inadmissible, that no vacancy existed, and that Mgr. Lachat remained [Page 1084] the rightful bishop. At the same time Mgr. Lachat issued an elaborate protest again the action of the conference, in which he denied that he had in any manner transcended the proper limits of his authority or violated the civil or canon laws. Another meeting of the conference was held on the 14th and 15th of the present month, at which it was resolved, in view of the refusal of the chapter, that the conference itself would appoint a substitute for the temporary administration of the diocese. At this meeting the cantons of Zug and Lucerne were not represented in the conference. The appointment of a substitute by the conference has not yet been announced. In the meantime the live cantonal governments have caused notice to be served upon the Catholic clergy forbidding them to recognize Mgr. Lachat as bishop or to hold any official relation with him. In the canton of Soleure the clergy have formally replied that they will continue to recognize Mgr. Lachat as their rightful bishop, and that, while loving their fatherland and respecting its authorities and laws, their veneration and esteem are equally due to the authorities and laws of the Holy Catholic Church; that the deposition of a bishop by the secular power is a thing unheard of hitherto, and that whoever recognizes such a decision excommunicates himself. In Thurgovie the clergy have taken a similar attitude, and out of 4,759 Catholic voters 4,339 have signed an address remonstrating against the action of the diocesan conference, declaring that they still recognize Mgr. Lachat the rightful bishop, and protesting against the order forbidding the clergy to continue relations with him.

Much irritation and excitement is reported to exist among the people, especially in the canton of Soleure, and the cantonal government, on yesterday, ordered two battalions of infantry and a company of sharpshooters to hold themselves in readiness in case their services should be required for the maintenance of order.

The Federal Council have been engaged in considering measures for the adjustment of the conflict, but have not as yet arrived at a definite decision. Their intervention in the affair will, however, in all probability, occur within a few days,

There is little doubt in my judgment that the futility of measures like the expulsion of Mgr. Mermillod for the accomplishment of any good and desirable results will be sufficiently apparent before the present dissensions have terminated. They inflame, instead of allaying, sectarian animosities. Instead of diminishing, they increase and fortify the influence of the clergy. Among the Protestant population there is an under-current of doubt and distrust as to the wisdom and good policy of measures which, although they may be within the limits of legality, have so much the aspect of intolerance and oppression. These sentiments will increase and manifest themselves more openly as the consequences of such procedure develop and their inefficacy to correct the evils against which they are directed is demonstrated.

I am, &c.,