to Mr. Frelinghuysen
Brussels, May 24, 1882. (Received June 6.)
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.,