No. 448.
Mr. Rublee to Mr. Fish.

No. 139.]

Sir: The Federal Chambers of Switzerland adjourned on the 2d instant to re-assemble again on the 16th of September, when a short session will be held for the purpose of agreeing upon the form of railway concessions under the law of last winter, which vests the right of legislation on the subject of railways exclusively in the Federal Assembly, and to act upon sundry applications for such concessions recently made.

A considerable part of the session which has just terminated has been occupied with questions growing out of the religious controversies which exist in the cantons of Soleure and Geneva.

An appeal was taken by the pastoral conference of the Catholic Church of the canton of Soleure from the decision of the Federal Council sustaining the validity of the law adopted by the popular vote of the canton in December last, relating to the election of curés. The principal objection taken against the validity of the law by the conference is, that it violates the article of the cantonal constitution which places the exercise of the Christian religion, according to the Roman Catholic or Reformed Evangelical confession, under the protection of the state. This protection, according to the conference, applies to the entire ecclesiastical constitution, and since the new law limits the duration of a curé’s functions to six years, it violates a fundamental rule of the Catholic organization by which ecclesiastical functions and benefices are conferred for life.

This view of the subject was rejected by large majorities in both houses of the assembly. It was there contended that by placing a religious sect under the protection of the state the legislative power did not intend to deprive itself of all liberty of action, and by accepting any principle laid down by a church to forfeit the supremacy of the state. The appeal could not be maintained unless it were shown that the new law was inimical to the essence of Catholicism, and it could not be demonstrated that the election of ecclesiastics for a specific term of office conflicts with an essential part of the creed which the state has promised to protect.

Petitions were also addressed to the assembly by the Catholic clergy of Geneva, asking that the federal sanction might be withheld from the law adopted by the canton in March last regulating the election of cures of the several Catholic parishes. The petitioners alleged that the law is inconsistent with the guarantee of the free exercise of worship [Page 1091] contained in the federal constitution and with the stipulations of the treaties of Vienna of 1815, and of Turin in 1816, by which the canton of Geneva agreed to maintain and protect the Catholic religion in the communes detached from Savoy as it had existed under their former sovereigns. In the discussion upon these petitions similar arguments were employed to those in response to the appeal from the canton of Soleure. As to the treaties, it was remarked that they had no force except between the contracting parties, and hence a Swiss citizen could not invoke them; nor, since by its annexation to France Savoy had passed from the religious régime of Sardinia, could the King of Italy very consistently demand of Geneva the maintenance of the Sardinian régime.

The federal sanction was accordingly given to the law.

The expulsion of M. Mermillod from Swiss territory, by order of the Federal Council, was the subject of a long discussion in each of the chambers. Remonstrances by the Catholic clergy and by M. Mermillod himself had been addressed to the assembly characterizing the expulsion as an arbitrary, an illegal act, and calling upon the assembly to intervene and restore M. Mermillod to his rights as a Swiss citizen.

I subjoin a résumé of the majority and minority reports of the committee appointed by the national council to consider these remonstrances or memorials, and of the more important parts of the discussion which followed.

The majority report opened with a brief historical statement respecting the past relations between Geneva and the Catholic Church. In the year 1535, at the breaking out of the reformation in Geneva, the bishop of Geneva fled to Annecy, and the bishopric of Geneva existed at Annecy until 1801. It was then formally annulled by a concordat, and the district which it comprised was annexed to the archbishopric of Chamberg. At the downfall of the first empire, when the question arose of rounding off the boundaries of Geneva and uniting it as a canton with the Swiss confederation, an attempt was made to detach from the foreign spiritual jurisdiction and to annex to a Swiss bishopric the Catholic parts of the new canton. This was accomplished notwithstanding the opposing efforts of the Catholic curé Vuasin of St. Germain, by the papal bull “intermultiplices,” of September 30, 1819, which united the Catholic parishes of Geneva in perpetuity with the Swiss bishopric of Lausanne-Fribourg. But Vuarin did not accept his defeat. In 1824 he proceeded to Rome and proposed to the Pope to separate Geneva from the diocese of Lausanne-Fribourg and to set up anew the ancient Episcopal chair of St. Francis of Sales. The then bishop of Lausanne, Jenny, was to be induced by the Holy See to renounce his jurisdiction over the Catholics of Geneva; but this scheme, though favorably received at Rome, failed in consequence of the firmness of Bishop Jenny, who would not abandon his episcopal rights. Nevertheless, the project of the re-establishment of the bishopric of Geneva was not relinquished, but was merely postponed.

After the death of Vuarin, Mermillod took up the scheme with new zeal. He succeeded the Abbé Cunoyer in 1864, as curé of Geneva, and General Vicar of the diocese of Lausanne-Fribourg. Directly he was made Bishop of Hebron in partibus and auxiliary bishop of Geneva by the Pope. The government of Geneva protested against the latter quality of the curé. Soon after another step followed; in 1865 Mermillod was invested by the bishop of Lausanne-Fribourg with plenary powers for the canton of Geneva. Unfortunately the council of state of Geneva neglected to act with proper energy in opposition to this new [Page 1092] extension of the pretensions of the vicar general. The affairs stood thus when, in 1870, the bishop of Lausanne-Fribourg was induced to announce that he had relinquished his episcopal rights of administration in the canton of Geneva to the vicar-general and auxiliary, Mermillod. By this time the government of Geneva saw this situation clearly and protested against the change. The result of long negotiations was, that in the autumn of 1872 the bishop of Lausanne explicitly renounced the canton of Geneva as a part of his diocese, and dropped the honorary title of bishop of Geneva. The authorities of Geneva of course refused to recognize this one-sided renunciation. Thereupon followed the papal brief of the 16th of January last, declaring the canton of Geneva missionary-ground and appointing Mermillod apostolic vicar. The patience of the cantonal authorities was finally exhausted. When Mermillod refused to divest himself of the office which he had assumed without regard to the laws of his country, his expulsion from the canton and the confederation followed by order of the Federal Council.

With reference to the legal questions involved in the affair, the kind or quality of the union existing between Geneva and the diocese of Lausanne must be first of all considered. According to the views of the petitioners, this union resulted from an authoritative act of the Pope, and could therefore be dissolved again by him. This opinion, however, was entirely erroneous. It was in contradiction with the principle of public law always maintained in Switzerland, that no circumscription or alteration of dioceses can take place without the concurrence of the political authorities. The annexation in 1819 of Geneva to the diocese of Lausanne rested upon a concordat in which not only Geneva but the diet of the confederation participated. The right of the confederation to a voice respecting the formation or modification of dioceses had recently been recognized by the Church in connection with negotiations relative to the cantons of Tessin and Berne. The attempt to establish a bishopric of Geneva without consultation with the civil authorities, was, therefore, an attack upon the general law and upon the legal status of the diocese of Lausanne.

The petitioners complain of the oppression of the Catholic Church in Geneva. In sharp inconsistency with this complaint was the circumstance that between 1822 and 1870 the Catholic population of the canton had increased 142 per centum, and of the city 164 per centum, while the increase of the whole population had been but 82 per centum. In 1822 the Catholics were 38 per centum of the population; in 1870 they constituted 51 per centum. Further, in regard to the financial support of the Catholic Church and clergy, the government of Geneva had constantly shown itself liberal and impartial.

The petitioners especially denounced the expulsion of Mermillod, a Swiss citizen, as a violation of the constitution. The majority of the committee did not regard this point as well taken. The controversy with Mermillod had assumed the form of a political contest between the authorities of the country and a foreign ecclesiastical power. Mermillod stood forth as the agent of this ecclesiastical power, and declared that his duties as a citizen were subordinate to his duties as a functionary of the Church. He was therefore debarred from appealing to his rights as a citizen. The political authorities must have the right to expel from the country the agents of foreign powers, regardless of their citizenship. The expulsion of a Swiss citizen was not expressly provided for in the constitution, neither was it expressly prohibited, and if a provision had been suggested for the revised constitution regulating [Page 1093] the subject, it was in no wise to be regarded as a confession that Mermillod’s expulsion was unconstitutional; it was merely to give formal and definite expression to political right which existed in the nature of things. The order expelling Mermillod was directed not against the Swiss citizen, but against the papal agent, whose machinations could not be shielded by his Swiss citizenship.

It had been said that Mermillod should have been arraigned before a judicial tribunal, but such a tribunal was not competent to sit in judgment upon an international political conflict between the authorities of the country and the Holy See. International political relations could not be submitted to the rules of a civil or criminal process. Besides, in consequence of the purely political nature of the affair, it would have been difficult to have found any provision of the criminal code applicable to it. The expulsion was not for punishment, but for defense against the attempted encroachments of a foreign power upon the public law of the country.

In view of these considerations, the majority of the committee moved that the house, regarding the complaints of the petitioners as unfounded, pass to the order of the day.

The minority of the committee reported that, according to ancient and modern ecclesiastical law, the Pope has the right of establishing bishoprics. This right had been frequently exercised by the present Pope in England, the Netherlands, and America, without remonstrance on the part of the state. A modification of this right exists only in virtue of special agreements or concordats. In Switzerland also, from ancient time, the old legal maxim had been held good that the Pope establishes the bishoprics. The question in the present case of establishment or modification was not of serious importance. It related not to a bishop of Geneva, but simply to an apostolic vicar, who chanced to bear the title of bishop of Hebron. During more than seven years the Genevese authorities allowed Mermillod, without interference, to act as general vicar of the bishopric of Lausanne. After that, when the bishop of Lausanne had resigned his jurisdiction over Geneva, it could not be a crime to place there provisionally a spiritual authority to exercise the vacated functions. In his intercourse with the council of state of Geneva Mermillod designated himself, not as bishop or the bearer of any papal dignity, but merely as a provisional functionary.

For this harmless procedure the Federal Council expelled the Swiss citizen, Mermillod, from his fatherland. If he had been guilty of any crime he should have been brought before a legal tribunal. The summary administrative justice of which Mermillod was the victim ought to cause others besides ultramontane citizens to reflect. It had but one precedent in the course pursued by the Schaller government of Fribourg against Bishop Murilley, after the war of the Sonderbund. It was especially deplorable that such a proceeding should have occurred at Geneva, hitherto the proverbial refuge of the persecuted. But Geneva sheltered itself under the command of the confederation. Nothing had occurred to justify the allegation of the Federal Council that the continuance of Mermillod at Geneva endangered the public peace, and punishment should not precede the fact. Article 58 of the constitution provides that foreigners may be expelled from Switzerland when they endanger the internal or external peace. The fact that this article expressly referred only to foreigners warranted the conclusion, in the judgment of the minority, that Swiss citizens could not be expelled. Even a bishop was entitled to the constitutionally guaranteed liberty of establishment, (niederlassungsfreiheit,) in so far as he is a Swiss citizen. [Page 1094] The report closed by demanding that the recognized Catholic Church should be treated equitably and justly, and moved that the complaint of the petitioners should be declared well founded.

In the discussion which followed, M. Cérésole, the President of the Confederation, said that on the 23d of December last the Federal Council informed the papal chargé d’affaires that it would not consent to the establishment of a bishopric of Geneva, and that negotiations for the establishment of a vicariat-apostolic in Geneva could only be pursued on condition that the government of Geneva should be first consulted, and that the vicariat should not be conferred upon M. Mermillod. The Pope replied by the brief of the 16th of January, instituting M. Mermillod vicar-apostolic of Geneva, and this document was only officially communicated to the federal government on the 3d of February, after it had been read in all the Catholic churches of Geneva. The papal brief asserted pretensions that it was impossible to tolerate, and with the insolent manner with which it was smuggled in behind the backs of the proper authorities would have justified the Federal Council in at once severing all intercourse with the papal chargé d’affaires; but the council desired to avoid this, out of regard for the Catholics of Switzerland and the position of the chief of the Church. The speaker said, in reply to the point that Mermillod should have had a trial, that there was no law making it a misdemeanor for a Swiss citizen to accept the functions of a representative of a foreign power; hence the Federal Council had not held that there was a misdemeanor in the strict sense of the word, but there was a manifest purpose on the part of Mermillod, as the representative of a foreign power, to oppose the national authorities, and the dignity of the political power was interested in seeing that such opposition should be without effect.

In the course of his remarks M. Cérésole took occasion to characterize as false and slanderous certain charges made in Swiss and French newspapers that the Federal Council, in the Mermillod affair, acted in complicity with Prince Bismarck, and in a spirit of servility toward the German Empire. If there had been any improper international intrigues in connection with the Mermillod affair, they had proceeded, not from the Federal Council, but from those who had contested its action. The utmost had been done to move France to intervene, though in vain, for the great majority of French statesmen were disinclined to it, and the French government had repeatedly declared that it would take no part in our religious controversies. The source of these machinations against Switzerland was easy to find. It was only to divert attention from themselves that the conspirators sought to attribute their own crimes to others.

Among others who took part in the discussion, M. Dubs, for many years a member of the Federal Council, and repeatedly President of the Confederation, said that he fully approved of the action of the Federal Council respecting the controversy with Mermillod in all save the expulsion. The constitution granted no power to expel a Swiss citizen, according it exceptionally in the case of foreigners only. The expulsion offended the Catholics, created a martyr, and, in a political point of view, accomplished nothing. The difficulty should have been settled either in a diplomatic way, or by a judicial proceeding; yet as Mermillod had certainly been the aggressor, the speaker would not vote with the minority of the committee, neither could he sustain the majority, and consequently he should abstain from voting on the question.

At the close of the discussion the majority report was sustained by a vote of 79 to 23. Four members declined to vote. A similar discussion [Page 1095] occurred in the council of states, resulting in the rejection of the appeal of the petitioners by a vote of 26 against 13.

At a session of the National Council some days after the discussion upon the expulsion of Mermillod, the statements made by President Cérésole respecting the attempts of Mermillod’s supporters to secure the intervention of France were the subject of an interpellation by M. Segesser, of Lucerne, a prominent and influential Catholic leader. He said that since the defeat of the revision last year the party to which he belonged had been charged with receiving its orders from Rome; with having no political will of its own, and with attempting to secure foreign intervention at the time of the Sonderbund war, the latter, an old accusation, long ago sufficiently refuted. Because his party was thus suspected, it could not allow suspicions to rest upon it, and he now called for further explanations from the President. He regarded the talk about Prussian influence in the Mermillod affair as absurd, and disapproved the charges made in that respect against the Federal Council. Bismarck might have felt an interest in it; and recent events in Germany might have had a certain influence upon the Federal Council in determining its policy; but this did not constitute diplomatic intermeddling.

M. Cérésole in response thanked M. Segesser for his interpellation, and said that had there not been a question of the influence which events beyond the frontiers of Switzerland had exercised upon the federal authorities, he would not have noticed the charges brought against them of connivance with the German government, which had been systematically circulated for months back, both in Switzerland and elsewhere, by men who seem to have taken upon themselves the task of defaming the country and speculating upon the national hatred between France and Germany. French prelates had accused the Federal Council of treason, and Mermillod himself had dared to affirm that his expulsion was agreed upon between Bismarck and the federal authorities. Others had asserted that they had received money from Berlin to subsidize the Liberal press. After properly characterizing these charges and disclaiming any intention of charging men like M. Segesser with participating in foreign intrigues, M. Cérésole proceeded to say that he had information from a perfectly trustworthy and official source that reiterated attempts had been made to induce diplomatic action on the part of France relative to the religious controversies in Switzerland. Several mémoires had been presented to the French government to demonstrate that it ought to interfere to protect the Catholic interests in Geneva. One of these documents was presented by Mgr. Dupanloup, and supported by several influential Catholic deputies in the National Assembly. This information being of a diplomatic character, M. Cérésole said that he was obliged to speak of it with some reserve; but he might add that all these efforts proceeded from the party of which M. Mermillod was the center. In conclusion, the speaker stated that, in April last, M. Thiers, who was often accused of having but little sympathy for Switzerland, said to the Swiss minister at Paris, “I see very well what these ecclesiastics would be at, but they will not, succeed; I will have nothing to do with anything of the kind; you may be assured of it, and I authorize you to write so to your government.”

With the remarks of M. Cérésole, the incident of the interpellation closed.

I have, &c.,