No. 8.
Mr. Putnam to Mr. Frelinghuysen

No. 153.]

Sir: The Belgian Parliament adjourned last week. The election of the new Parliament, at which one-half the members of both the Senate and Chamber of Deputies are to be chosen, takes place on the 13th of June. The issue between the Liberal and Catholic parties, the only one that seriously enters into the canvass, is the school law of 1879, which entirely separates the church from the state, so far as its official relations with the state schools are concerned.

The public feeling over this question is as intense as was the feeling in the United States over the slavery issues in 1860. In my dispatch No. 51 I had the honor to present the attitude of parties toward the new school law and the methods adopted by the church authorities to compel its communion to send their children to the church schools, which have been established throughout the kingdom since the passage of the law of 1879.

I gave the following extract from a mandate of the bishops, indicating to their clergy the coercive measures to be adopted:

The holy communion, must he publicly refused—

To instructors who, without special license or dispensation, exercise their functions in an official school.
To active members who serve upon the school committees.
To school inspectors, principal or cantonal.
To all persons who publicly and actively favor the state schools and are their defenders and protectors.
All to be first forewarned.
When it is a question of administering the last sacraments, one rule must be observed. In extremes, extremes must be resorted to; so that if nothing else can be obtained it will suffice if the sick will promise to do everything which the church requires of him.

I also stated that a committee had been appointed to take testimony in the different districts in regard to the action of the clergy. That committee made its report at the recent session, stating it had taken the testimony of nearly five thousand witnesses in the different provinces.

The report clearly reveals the fact that the coercive programme of the bishops had been faithfully carried out. The Catholic minority of the committee declined to act upon it, and the Catholic members of Parliament declined to debate the report when presented.

The ministry interpreted their silence as confession of all its charges against the church authorities.

Both parties await the results of the election in June with intense interest. Should it restore the Catholic party to power the clergy will be reinstated to their former educational relations in the state schools. But it will not be an end of the conflict, which is here “irrepressible” and will end only when the victory of one of the parties shall be so decisive as to make hopeless a continuation of the struggle.

I inclose a translation of a leading article of one of the organs of the Catholic party, “The Brussels Courrier.” This hostility to the school law and to the present Liberal ministry is met by the other side with equal determination.

The Liberals of Belgium are in sympathy with the most advanced ideas on the subject of the disunion of church and state. I would say [Page 12] their hostility to any co-operation of the church with state administration has nothing to learn from the French school of liberals, while the Belgian clergy adhere to the Syllabus and its logical consequences with uncompromising spirit.

If the new school system shall be permanently established, the question suggests itself to an on-looker, how will religious education be supplied to the children of the peasantry when the clergy have no further relations with the state schools, as lay religious teaching, which, under our elastic system, has almost monopolized the religious education of our youth, is not admitted by the Catholic church? I apprehend the church of Belgium will find it difficult under the system of separation to maintain the education of its communion at its old standard, and increasingly so with each succeeding generation.

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure in No. 153.—Translation.]

why we shall triumph.

The purposes of God are impenetrable, and we cannot with certainty conjecture whether He has for Belgium pity or justice.

Nevertheless, in recalling to memory the sacrifices of Catholics and the iniquities of liberalism, we cherish a profound sentiment of hope. How can she be condemned to be always subjected to persecution and to the yoke of the lodges; that Catholic Belgium which has poured out its purest and most generous blood to defend the temporal power of the Pope at Catesfilfardo, at Mentana, and upon twenty battle-fields; that Catholic Belgium which for twenty years has given its gold to sustain its Pontiif-king, the chief of two hundred millions of Catholics?

Yes, that Belgium which the episcopate dedicated thirteen years ago to the Sacred Heart, and which honors as its patron, Saint Joseph, given in these last times to be a protector of the universal church, shall she be condemned to be the slave of the lodges and of liberalism?

The thousands of children withdrawn from an atheistic education by the devotion of Belgian Catholics, will they not daily address their prayers to Heaven for the salvation of the nation and the victory of their generous protectors? A nation so nobly devoted to Catholicism cannot be left to perish by demoralization and atheism.

The minister who has unworthily driven away the Papal nuncio will, in his turn, be expelled from power by the electoral verdict.

How can he rise from his discredit, he who has shocked the public conscience by removing so many public functionaries? The hour has come when the country will call him to exact account for his action. Why has he dishonored Belgium in the eyes of Europe by driving away the representative of the Pope? Why has he dishonored and made discontented our army by taking from it its chaplains? Why has he held always suspended his threats over the head of his employés, whom he has compelled to sacrifice their children to an education without God? Why has he profaned our cemeteries, spirited away our student funds, robbed our churches and sacred houses, despoiled of their property so many pious foundations, instituted by liberty and charity for the solace of the poor, the disinherited by fortune? Why has he ruined our agriculture and wasted millions of the public treasure to unchristianize Catholic Belgium? Why has he covered the soil of the country with fortresses and atheneums of atheism or indifferentism? Why has he tortured our consciences by his traveling committee all over the country to terrorize our people? Why does he make a crime in our priests that which for them is a sacred duty? Who has constrained our clergy to refuse absolution to the abettors of the law of education without God? He. Who abolished the law of 1842? He. Who desires education without God? He. Who, notwithstanding the supplication of three hundred thousand fathers of families, determined upon that disastrous law to roll Catholocism into the ditch? He.

Yes, for that cause families are divided, the communes are in two hostile camps, and Belgians arrayed in two armies; and he is responsible for the sad fruits, the enmities, and discords it has created.

The electors will call to account this minister for his unwise expenditures, for all [Page 13] the evils he has occasioned, for all the discords and disunions which he has sown, even in the smallest hamlets.

Like another Nero, this minister has, by his school law, lighted the fires of discord in 2,500 hamlets of Belgium, and to relieve himself of the load of hate with which he is menaced by the electors he calumniates the clergy and accuses them of having kindled the flames of dissension.

The clergy did not enter upon the struggle until the minister declared war. They created the free schools only after the suppression by the lodges [Masonic] of the schools founded under the law of 1842.

Now the fulfillment of their duty is made a crime, as is their resistance of an attack which it sought to avoid. Very well; honor to the clergy whom he would dishonor. If Belgium remains a free country, a Catholic country, it is to the clergy we shall be indebted. Without their resistance and devotion we should have perished through the public torpor.

The youth of Belgium had been irrecoverably devoted to indifferentism and atheism. Yes, you lodges, you Free Masons, you Liberals, we understand the reason of your fury against our priests; it is they who have united Catholic Belgium, to a man, to save their faith and their liberty. They have done their duty; we attest it to their honor. Had their resistance to the school law proved as serious an obstacle to the restoration of Catholics to power as it has proved an auxiliary, our fathers would still have besought the clergy to contend for their faith, perish what would.

Let us then pray as our fathers prayed and act as they acted. Let us triumph over the lodges and liberalism as they triumphed over the Josephism of the revolution and Orangeism. Let us act and pray as we think of the 13th of June and its consequences. It involves the salvation or the corruption of infancy and our youth. It involves the peace or spoliation of the clergy, repose, or expropriation of the religious communities; it involves public slavery or universal deliverance.