No. 9.
Mr. Orth to Mr. Fish.

No. 93.]

Sir: A question of much internal interest to the empire has recently occupied the debates in the upper house of the Reichsrath, and its discussions have induced the coming to the capital of a large portion of the spiritual peers of the realm, with the view of taking part in the same, as well as of obtaining the rejection of the bill through their influence and votes. I refer to the draft of a law presented by the government and, with the exception of some immaterial amendments, adopted by the lower house, having for its object the investment in the state of the following rights, namely:

  • To regulate the formation of religious communities;
  • To subject the establishment of every monastery or convent hereafter to the approval of the temporal authorities, to be evidenced by a special law for that purpose;
  • To limit their correspondence with the superiors of the orders residing at Rome, or otherwise out of the empire;
  • To exercise control over the members and over the administration of the property of the respective institutions;
  • To allow a supervision by the police over such establishments; and finally,
  • To protect the individual rights of such members as might renounce those orders.

The prominent speaker against the proposed law was Cardinal Schwarzenberg, archbishop of Prague, who was supported by the Abbot of the Schotten monastery and several of the Bohemian landed aristocracy, while its chief advocates were the Baron Lichtenfels and Count Anthony Auersperg.

The minister of public instruction and worship, Dr. Stremayr, failed in his effort to amend that part of the bill requiring a special law in every case for the establishment of a new religious institution, desiring to substitute for this provision a simple authorization of such institutions by the executive power. Even the eloquence of Mr. v. Schmerling, formerly premier minister, proved unsuccessful in amending that provision of the bill restraining such institutions from acquiring landed property, irrespective of its value, without a special law being previously passed to authorize such acquisition. This amendment, if adopted, would have excepted from this provision all such orders as should devote themselves to the care of the sick, and all such convents of nuns as should be occupied in the instruction of youth. Had this amendment [Page 12] been adopted, it would have changed very materially the original purpose of the bill, by affording facilities for evading its spirit and intent, for it would have been an easy matter for the founders of such institutions hereafter to allege that they were to be established “for the care of the sick” or for “the instruction of youth.”

After a most animated and able debate, which lasted several days, the bill passed the upper house with slight amendments, which will doubtless be concurred in by the lower house.

I am of the opinion that such a law will prove both sound and salutary, being in consonance with the present constitutional principles and régime of the empire and demanded by the progressive spirit of the age. The large landed estates already owned by religious institutions, which enjoy a partial and in most cases total immunity from taxation, manifestly render it impolitic that the number and extent of these estates should be permitted to increase by new acquisitions.

I have, &c.,