to Mr. Fish.
Berne, March 22, 1875. (Received April 16.)
Sir: The Federal Assembly, after a session of two weeks, adjourned on the 20th instant, until its next regular meeting in June. Action upon a, considerable number of the pending measures was postponed until that time.
The principal measure of the sesson, the bill providing for a law regulating the transmission of freights by railways and other public conveyances, after considerable discussion and various amendments, was passed.
The appeal by delegates of the Roman Catholic population of the diocese of Basle against the action of the diocesan conference in declaring the bishopric vacant gave rise to a long debate. The party favoring the appellants in the National Council no longer demanding, as at first, the unconditional restoration of the deposed bishop, and the recognition under and by virtue of the guarantees extended to the Catholic Church in the constitutions of the cantons of the canon law as a part of the public law, so far modified their position as to ask only the friendly interposition of the federal authority with a view to effecting some compromise between the governments of the cantons comprised in the diocese and the church by which the existing differences might be removed or modified.
The majority, however, contended that the federal authority did not extend to the questions at issue; that the organization of the diocese was effected by an arrangement between the cantonal governments and the church, and that the existing differences were wholly outside of the federal jurisdiction. The appeal was therefore rejected by a vote of 80 to 25. Subsequently similar action was taken in the other house, the vote standing 20 to 15.
A more interesting question was raised by the appeal of the Catholics of the Jura district of the canton of Berne. On the 30th of January, 1874, the executive council of the canton of Berne issued a decree expelling ninety-seven ecclesiastics from the territory of the district, for refusing to obey the laws.
An appeal for the abrogation of this decree was addressed to the Federal Council, and was rejected by that body on the 26th of March, 1874. The Catholics now appeal from the decision of the Federal Council to the Federal Assembly, and, in so doing, invoke the provision of the new constitution, adopted since that decision, which declares that no canton shall expel a citizen from its territory.
In the discussion that followed it was stated that another appeal, raising this question of the applicability of the new constitution to the case, had been addressed to the Federal Council, and a delegate from Berne moved that, in view of this fact, no action should be taken by the assembly until the decision of the Federal Council had been given upon this new point.
The general tone of the discussion indicated an expectation that the decision would be adverse to the cantonal government, and that the expelled curés would be allowed to return. A member of the majority in the National Council, and a Protestant, M. Joly, of the canton of Vaud, criticised in strong language what he regarded as the severe and arbitrary policy adopted by the Bernese government toward the Catholics [Page 1283] of the Jura. Without asserting that the cantonal government had exceeded the limits of its constitutional power, he nevertheless regarded as an extreme exercise of that power its employment against a population numbering 65,000 souls in such a manner as to deprive them of their churches, compelling them to give way to a new form of worship, whose adherents were but a paltry minority, and to betake themselves to barns and sheds for the observance of their religious rites. Such a state of things could not long continue without serious prejudice to the honor and prosperity of the country, and some means ought to be found without delay to put an end to it.
Quite a sensation was produced by the declaration of a delegate from Berne, in reply to M. Joly, that if the federal authorities, by a retroactive application of the constitution of 1874, should attempt to annul the decree of expulsion, the government of Berne would have to consider whether or not it would submit. The menace was promptly rebuked by the President of the Confederation, who reminded the delegate that the canton of Berne was not sovereign in this affair, and that the pretension that it would not submit to the decisions of the federal authority was one that could not be tolerated. The motion to defer action on the pending appeal until the decision of the Federal Council is announced prevailed by a strong majority, though opposed by some of the leading members hostile to what is known as the ultramontane party.
This action was concurred in by the Council of States.
A meeting of about fifty of the members of the Assembly was held on the evening prior to the final adjournment, at which it was resolved to call an extraordinary session of the Assembly in case the Federal Council sustains the new appeal. An extraordinary session may be convoked upon the demand of one-fourth of the members of the National Council, and it is understood that the requisite number has been obtained. An early decision by the Federal Council is expected. The government of Berne will probably take an appeal, in case the decision authorizes the return of the expelled ecclesiastics to the Assembly, where the whole subject will be rediscussed and the questions at issue finally settled.
I have, &c.,