Berne , September 18, 1873. (Rec’d October 17.)
Sir: The extent to which public attention in Switzerland is occupied by the controversies that have arisen between the civil authorities and the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as their political and social importance, warrants me in continuing to report to you their progress and development.
In a former dispatch, No. 128, of the 26th of March last, I mentioned the provisional suspension from the exercise of ecclesiastical functions, by the executive council of Berne, of a large number of curés in the district known as the Bernese Jura. The curés in question had published a protest against the action of the cantonal government in sustaining the declaration of the diocesan conference, which pronounced the episcopal seat of the bishopric of Basle vacant, giving notice therein that they still recognized Mgr. Lachat as the bishop of the diocese, and that they should disregard the order of the cantonal government, which forbade them to hold further official relations with him.
The case of the recusant curés was subsequently brought before the Bernese court of cassation, which pronounced upon it on the 15th instant. Sixty-nine of the curés were deposed, sentenced to pay the costs of the judicial proceedings, and each declared ineligible to be chosen as the curé of any parish of the canton until he shall have withdrawn the protest above mentioned.
The general situation in the diocese of Basle has not materially changed since last spring. Mgr. Lachat, expelled from the episcopal residence in Soleure, in April last, has established himself at Lucerne, and is recognized as bishop by the great body of the Catholics of that canton and of the canton of Zug. No definite action has yet been taken in relation to filling the vacancy in the bishop’s chair, which is held to exist by the other five cantons of the diocese. The matter has been delayed in order to give time for the further development of the Liberal Catholic movement, which contemplates a complete severance from Rome, and the establishment of a Swiss national church.
An important conference of delegates of the Liberal Catholic societies or sections was held at Olten on the 31st of August. Eighty-eight delegates were present, representing thirty-eight sections. The reports indicated a satisfactory progress of the reform movement, and the central committee was authorized to appoint a commission to prepare and report, to a subsequent conference, a plan for the organization of a national church. A series of resolutions was adopted embodying the general views of the Liberal Catholics of Switzerland. These call for the establishment of a church conformable to that of the apostolic age, and in harmony with republican institutions, based, in its general organization, upon the parish, and developed upon a representative system, with the superior authority vested in a synod, composed of ecclesiastic and lay delegates from the parishes, which shall choose a bishop. The resolutions further demand the adoption of the vernacular in the services of the church; the suppression of perquisites paid for masses and other spiritual services, the salaries of the clergy to be increased in return therefor; the prohibition of the collection of Peter’s-pence, of the traffic in indulgences, dispensations, &c.; the reduction, as far as possible, of religious fraternities, pilgrimages, penances, and the adoration of images; a modification of the conditions required by the clergy for the celebration of mixed marriages; the secularization of cemeteries; that [Page 1097] the clergy perform religious ceremonies at interments in all cases when desired by the family of the deceased; the establishment of non-confessional schools, &c. A deputation was also appointed to attend the congress of German Old Catholics, held at Constance the 12th, 13th, and 14th days of the present month.
It will be seen that, in Switzerland, this movement is a radical one. Its nature is more political than that of the corresponding movement in Germany. The Swiss prefer to call themselves Liberal Catholics, not caring to keep up the assumption that they remain stationary upon the ancient paths. A writer in a leading Swiss journal, in treating of the recent Old Catholic congress at Constance, thus refers to the distinction between the Old Catholics of Germany and the Liberal Catholics of Switzerland: “Is the character of the Old Catholic movement in Germany such that the Swiss can identify themselves unconditionally with it? I answer, without hesitation, no. We have grown up in an atmosphere wholly different from that of our German confederates. While they think to have settled everything by the election of a bishop, many among us consider that a bishop may be dispensed with, as a Pope has been dispensed with. While the Germans seem to idolize their bishop as much as ever the ultramontanes have done; while they leave him to preside over synods and synodal commissions, we Swiss would honor our bishop as we honor every worthy man, but would not idolize him, and would essentially limit his authority. Finally, while the German Old Catholics shun ridding themselves of such nonsense as holy water, &c., and only timidly display the device of ‘Separation from Rome,’ that has been our watchword from the beginning, and we have already abolished a variety of abuses. The sum total is, each country takes its peculiar way; the goal attained, however, we shall meet like-minded.”
I am, &c.,