By Charles Chiniquy
The Holy Scriptures say that an abyss* (Psalm xlii. 7, "Deep calleth unto deep." - A.V) calls for another abyss (abyssus abyussum invocat). That axiom had its accomplishment in the conduct of Bishop O'Regan. When once on the declivity of iniquity, he descended to its lowest depths with more rapidity than a stone thrown into the sea. Not satisfied with the shameful theft of the rich vestments of the French Canadian Church of Chicago, he planned iniquity which was to bring upon him, more than ever, the execration of the Roman Catholics of Illinois. It was nothing less than the complete destruction of the thriving congregations of my French Canadian countrymen of Chicago from his people, as well as my removal from my colony, were determined.
Our churches were at first to be closed, and after some time sold to the Irish people, or to the highest bidder, for their own use. It was in Chicago that this great iniquity was to begin. Not long after Easter, 1856, the Rev. Mons. Lemaire was turned out, interdicted, and ignominiously driven from the diocese of Chicago, without even giving the shadow of a reason, and the French Canadians suddenly found themselves without a pastor. A few days after, the parsonage they had built for their priest in Clark Street was sold for 1,200 dollars to an American. The beautiful little church which they had built on the lot next to the parsonage, at the cost of so many sacrifices, was removed five or six blocks south-west, and rented by the bishop to the Irish Catholics for about 2,000 dollars per annum, and the whole money was pocketed, without even a notice to my countrymen.
Though accustomed to his acts of perfidy, I could not believe at first the rumours which reached me of those transactions! They seemed to be beyond the limits of infamy, and to be impossible. I went to Chicago, hoping to find that the public rumour had exaggerated the evil. But alas! nothing had been exaggerated!
The wolf had dispersed the sheep and destroyed the flock. The once thriving French congregation of Chicago was no more! Wherever I went, I saw tears of distress among my dear countrymen, and heard cries of indignation against the destroyer. Young and old, rich and poor among them, with one voice, denounced and cursed the heartless mitred brigand, who had dared to commit publicly such a series of iniquities, to satisfy his thirst for gold and his hatred of the French Canadians.
They asked me what they should do: but what could I answer! They requested me to go again to him and remonstrate. But I showed them that after my complete failure which I had tried to get back the sacerdotal vestments, there was no hope that he would disgorge the house and the church. The only thing I could advise them was to select five or six of the most influential members of their congregation to go and respectfully ask him by what right he had taken away, not only their priest, but the parsonage and the church they had built, and transferred them to another people. They followed my advice. Messrs. Franchere and Roffinot (who are still living) and six other respectable French Canadians, were sent by the whole people to put those questions to their bishop. He answered them:
"French Canadians! you do not know your religion! Were you a little better acquainted with it, you would know that I have the right to sell your churches and church properties, pocket the money, and go, eat and drink it where I please." After that answer they were ignominiously turned out from his presence into the street. Posterity will scarcely believe those things, though they are true.
The very next day, Aug. 19th, 1856, the bishop having heard that I was in Chicago, sent for me. I met him after his dinner. Though not absolutely drunk, I found him full of wine, and terribly excited. "Mr. Chiniquy," he said, "you had promised me to make use of your influence to put an end to the rebellious conduct of your countrymen against me. But I find that they are more insolent and unmanageable than ever; and my firm belief is that it is your fault. You, and that handful of French Canadians of Chicago, give me more trouble than all the rest of my priests and my people in Illinois. You are too near Chicago, sir, your influence is too much felt on your people here. I must remove you to a distant place, where you will have enough to do without meddling in my administration. I want your service to Kahokia, in my diocese of Quincy; and if you are not there by the 15th of Sept. next, I will interdict and excommunicate you, and for ever put an end to your intrigues."
These words fell upon me as a thunderbolt. The tyranny of the bishop of my church, and the absolute degradation of the priest whose honour, position and life are entirely in his hands, had never been revealed to me so vividly as in that hour. What could I say or do to appease that mitred despot? After some moments of silence, I tried to make some respectful remonstrances by telling him that my position was an exceptional one; that I had not come to Illinois as his other priests, to be at the head of any existing congregation, but that I had been invited by his predecessor to direct the tide of the emigration of the French-speaking people of Europe and America. That I had come to a wilderness which, by the blessing of God, I had changed into a thriving country, covered with an industrious and religious people. I further told him, that I had left the most honourable position which a priest had ever held in Canada, with the promise from his predecessor that, as long as I lived the life of a good priest, I should not be disturbed in my work. As I soon perceived that he was too much under the influence of liquor to understand me, and speak with intelligence, I only added:
"My lord, you speak of interdict and excommunication! Allow me to respectfully tell you that if you can show me that I have done anything to deserve to be interdicted or excommunicated, I will submit in silence to your sentence. But before you pass that sentence, I ask you, in the name of God, to make a public inquest about me, and have my accusers confront me. I warn your lordship, that if you interdict or excommunicate me without holding an inquest, I will make use of all the means which our holy church puts in the hands of her priests to defend my honour and prove my innocence; I will also appeal to the laws of our great Republic, which protects the character of all her citizens against any one who slanders them. It will, then, be at your risk and peril that you will pass such a sentence against me."
My calm answer greatly excited his rage. He violently struck the table with his fist, and said: "I do not care a straw about your threats. I repeat it, Mr. Chiniquy, if you are not at Kahokia by the 15th of next month, I will interdict and excommunicate you."
Feeling that it was a folly on my part to argue with a man who was beside himself by passion and excess of wine, I replied "With the help of God, I will never bear the infamy of an interdict or excommunication. I will do all that religion and honour will allow me to prevent such a dark spot from defiling my name, and the man who does try it, will learn at his own expense that I am not only a priest of Christ, but also an American citizen. I respectfully tell your lordship that I neither smoke nor use intoxicating drinks. The time which your other priests give to those habits, I spend in the study of books, and especially of my Bible. I found in them, not only my duties, but my rights; and just as I am determined, with the help of God, to perform my duties, I will stand by my rights." I then immediately left the room to take the train to St. Anne.
Having spent a part of the night praying God to change the heart of my bishop, and keep me in the midst of my people, which were becoming dearer and dearer to me, in proportion to the efforts of the enemy to drive me away from them, I addressed the following letter to the bishop: - To the Rt. Rev. O'Regan, Bishop of Chicago.
My Lord.—The more I consider your design to turn me out of the colony which I have founded, and of which I am the pastor, the more I believe it a duty which I owe to myself, my friends, and to my countrymen, to protest before God and man against what you intend to do.
Not a single one of your priests stands higher than I do in the public mind, neither is more loved and respected by his people than I am. I defy my bitterest enemies to prove the contrary. And that character which is my most precious treasure, you intend to despoil me of by ignominiously sending me away from among my people! Certainly, I have enemies, and I am proud of it. The chief ones are well known in this country as the most depraved of men. The cordial reception they say they have received from you, has not taken away the stains they have on their foreheads.
By this letter, I again request you to make a public and most minute inquest into my conduct. My conscience tells me that nothing can be found against me. Such a public and fair dealing with me would confound my accusers. But I speak of accusers, when I do not really know if I have any. Where are they? What are their names? Of what sin do they accuse me? All these questions which I put to you, last Tuesday, were left unanswered! and would to God that you would answer them to-day, by giving me their names. I am ready to meet them before any tribunal. Before you strike the last blow on the victim of this most hellish plot, I request you, in the name of God, to give a moment's attention to the following consequences of my removal from this place at present.
You know I have a suit with Mr. Spink at the Urbana Court, for the beginning of October. My lawyers and witnesses are all in Kankakee and Iroquois counties; and in the very time I want most to be here to prove my innocence and guard my honour, you order me to go to a place more than three hundred miles distant! Did you ever realize that by that strange conduct, you help Spink against your own priest? When at Kahokia, I will have to bear the heavy expenses of traveling more than three hundred miles, many times, to consult my friends, or be deprived of their valuable help! Is it possible that you thus try to tie my hands and feet, and deliver me into the hands of my remorseless enemies? Since the beginning of that suit, Mr. Spink proclaims that you help him, and that, with the perjured priests, you have promised to do all in your power to crush me down! For the sake of the scared character you bear, do not show so publicly that Mr. Spinks' boastings are true. For the sake of your high position in the church, do not so publicly lend a helping hand to the heartless land speculator of L'Erable. He has already betrayed his Protestant friends to get a wife; he will, ere long, betray you for less. Let me then live in peace here, till that suit is over.
By turning me away from my settlement, you destroy it. More than nine-tenths of the emigrants come here to live near me; by striking me you strike them all.
Where will you find a priest who will love that people so much as to give them, every year, from one to two thousand dollars, as I have invariably done? It is at the price of those sacrifices that, with the poorest class of emigrants from Canada, I have founded, here, in four years, a settlement which cannot be surpassed, or even equaled, in the United States, for its progress. And now that I have spent my last cent to form this colony, you turn me out of it. Our college, where one hundred and fifty boys are receiving such a good education, will be closed the very day I leave. For, you know very well the teachers I got from Montreal will leave as soon as I will.
Ah! if you are merciless towards the priest of St. Anne, have pity on these poor children. I would rather be condemned to death than to see them destroy their intelligence by running in the streets. Let me then finish my work here, and give me time to strengthen these young institutions which would fall to the ground with me. If you turn me out or interdict me, as you say you will do, if I disobey your orders, my enemies will proclaim that you treat me with that rigour because you have found me guilty of some great iniquity; and this necessarily will prejudice my judges against me. They will consider me as a vile criminal. For who will suppose, in this free country, that there is a class of men who can judge a man and condemn him as our Bishop of Chicago is doing to-day, without giving him the names of his accusers, or telling him of what crimes he is accused?
In the name of God, I again ask you not to force me to leave my colony before I prove my innocence, and the iniquity of Spink, to the honest people of Urbana.
But, if you are deaf to my prayers, and if nothing can deter you from your resolution, I do not wish to be in the unenviable position of an interdicted priest among my countrymen; send me, by return mail, my letters of mission for the new places you intend trusting to my care. The sooner I get there the better for me and my people. I am ready! When on the road of exile, I will pray the God of Abraham to give me the fortitude and the faith He gave to Isaac, when laying his head on the altar, he willingly presented his throat to the sword. I will pray my Saviour, bearing His heavy cross to the top of Calvary, to direct and help my steps towards the land of exile you have prepared for your
Devoted Priest, C. Chiniquy.
This letter was not yet mailed when we heard that the drunkard priests around us were publishing that the bishop had interdicted me, and they had received orders from him to take charge of the colony of St. Anne. I immediately called a meeting of the whole people and told them: "The bishop has not interdicted me as the neighbouring priests publish; he has only threatened to do so, if I do not leave this place for Kahokia, by the 15th of next month. But though he has not interdicted me, it may be that he does to-day, falsely publish that he has done it. We can expect anything from the destroyer of the fine congregation of the French Canadians of Chicago. He wants to destroy me and you as he has destroyed them. But before he immolates us, I hope that, with the help of God, we will fight as Christian soldiers, for our life, and we will use all the means which the laws of our church, the Holy word of God, and the glorious Constitution of the Untied States allow us to employ against our merciless tyrant.
"I ask of you, as a favour, to send a deputation of four members of our colony, in whom you place the most implicit confidence, to carry this letter to the bishop. But before delivering it, they will put to him the following questions, the answers of which they will write down with great care in his presence, and deliver them to us faithfully. It is evident that we are now entering into a momentous struggle. We must act with prudence and firmness." Messrs. J. B. Lemoine, Leon Mailloux, Francis Bechard, and B. Allaire, having been unanimously chosen for that important mission, we gave them the following questions to put to the bishop:-
1st. "Have you interdicted Mr. Chiniquy?
2nd. "Why are you interdicted him? Is Mr. Chiniquy guilty of any crime to deserve to be interdicted? Have those crimes been proved against him in a canonical way?
3rd. "Why do you take Mr. Chiniquy away from us?
[Our deputies came back from Chicago with the following report and answers, which they swore to, some time after before the Kankakee court.]
1st. "I have suspended Mr. Chiniquy on the 19th inst. on account of his stubbornness and want of submission to my orders, when I ordered him to Kaholia.
2nd. "If Mr. Chiniquy has said mass since, as you say, he is irregular, and the Pope alone can restore him in his ecclesiastical and sacerdotal functions.
3rd. "I take him away from St. Anne. despite his prayers and yours, because he has not been willing to live in peace and friendship with the Rev. Messrs. Lebel and Carthuval.
[The bishop, being asked if those two priests had not been interdicted by him for public scandals, was forced to say: "Yes!"]
4th. "My second reason for taking Mr. Chiniquy from St. Anne, and sending him to his new mission, is to stop the law-suit Mr. Spink has instituted against him.
[The bishop being asked if he would promise that the suit would be stopped by the removal of Mr. Chiniquy, answered: "I cannot promise that."]
5th. "Mr. Chiniquy is one of the best priests in my diocese, and I do not want to deprive myself of his services, no accusation against his morality has been proved before me.
6th. "Mr. Chiniquy has demanded an inquest to prove his innocence against certain accusations made against him; he asked me the names of his accusers, to confound them; I have refused to grant his request.
[After the bishop had made those declarations, the deputation presented him the letter of Mr. Chiniquy; it evidently made a deep impression upon him. As soon as he read it, he said:]
7th. "Tell Mr. Chiniquy to come and meet me to prepare for his new mission, and I will give him the letters he wants, to go and labour there.
Francis Bechard, (Signed) J. B. Lemoine, Basilique Allaire, Leon Mailloux." (Those gentlemen, with the exception of Mr. Allaire, are still living, 1885).
After the above had been read and delivered to the people, I showed them the evident falsehood and contradictions of the bishop when he said in his second answer: "If Mr. Chiniquy said mass since I Interdicted him, he is irregular, and the Pope alone can restore him in his ecclesiastical functions," and then in the seventh, "tell Mr. Chiniquy to come and meet me to prepare for his new mission, and I will give him the letters he wants to go and labour there."
The last sentence, I said, proves that he knew he had not interdicted me as he said at first. For, had he done so, he could not give me letters to administer the sacraments and preach at Kahokia before my going before the Pope, who, alone, as he said himself, could give me such powers, after he (the bishop) knew that I had said mass since my return from Chicago. Now, my friends, here is the law of our holy church, not the saying, or the law of a publicly degraded man, as the Bishop of Chicago: "If a man had been unjustly condemned, let him pay no attention to the unjust sentence: let him even do nothing to have that unjust sentence removed." (Canon of the Church, by Pope Gelasius).
"If the bishop had interdicted me on the 19th, his sentence would be unjust, for, from his own lips, we have the confession, 'that no accusation has ever been proved before him; that I am one of his best priests; that he does not want to be deprived of my services.' Yes, such a sentence, if passed, would have been unjust, and our business, to-day, would be to treat it with the contempt it would deserve. But that unjust sentence has not even been pronounced, since, after saying mass every day since the 19th, the bishop himself wants to give me letters to go to Kahokia and work as one of his best priests! It strikes me, to-day, for the first time, that it is more your destruction, as a people, than mine, which the bishop wants to accomplish. It is my desire to remain in your midst to defend your rights as Catholics. If you are true to me, as I will be to you, in the impending struggle, we have nothing to fear; for our holy Catholic Church is for us; all her laws and canons are in our favour; the Gospel of Christ is for us. The God of the Gospel is for us. Even the Pope, to whom we will appeal, will be for us. For, I must tell you a thing, which, till to day I kept secret; viz.: The Archbishop of St. Louis, to whom I brought my complaint, in April last, advised me to write to the Pope and tell him, not all, for it would make too large a volume, but something of the criminal deeds of the roaring lion who wants to devour us. He is, to-day, selling the bones of the dead which are resting in the Roman Catholic cemetery of Chicago! But if you are true to yourselves as Catholics and Americans, that mitred tyrant will not sell the bones of our friends and relatives which rest here on our burying ground. He has sold the parsonage and the church which our dear countrymen had built in Chicago. Those properties are, to-day, in the hands of the Irish: but if you promise to stand by your rights as Christian men and American citizens, I will tell that avaricious bishop: "Come and sell our parsonage and our church here, if you dare!' As I told you before, we have a glorious battle to fight. It is the battle of freedom against the most cruel tyranny the world has ever seen: it is the battle of truth against falsehood: It is the battle of the old Gospel of Christ against the new gospel of Bishop O'Regan. Let us be true to ourselves to the end, and our holy church, which that bishop dishonours, will bless us. Our Saviour Jesus Christ, whose Gospel is despised by that adventurer, will be for us, and give us a glorious victory. Have you not read in your Bibles that Jesus wanted His disciples to be free, when He said: 'If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed' (John viii. 36). Does that mean that the Son of God wants us to be the slaves of Bishop O'Regan? 'No!' cried out the whole people. May God bless you for your understanding of your Christian rights. Let all those who want to be free, with me, raise their hands.
"Oh! blessed by the Lord," I said, "there are more than 3,000 hands raised towards heaven to say that you want to be free! Now, let those who do not want to defend their rights as Christians, and as American citizens, raise their hands. Thanks be to God," I again exclaimed, "there is not a traitor among us! You are all the true, brave and noble soldiers of liberty, truth and righteousness! May the Lord bless you all!"
It is impossible to describe the enthusiasm of the people. Before dismissing them, I said: "We will, no doubt, very soon, witness one of the most ludicrous comedies ever played on this continent: that comedy is generally called excommunication. Some drunkard priests, sent by the drunkard Bishop of Chicago, will come to excommunicate us. I expect their visit in a few days. That performance will be worth seeing; and I hope that you will see and hear the most amusing thing in your life."
I was not mistaken. The very next day, we heard that the 3rd of September had been chosen by the bishop to excommunicate us.
I said to the people: "When you see the flag of the free and the brave floating from the top of our steeple, come and rally around that emblem of liberty."
There were more than 3,000 people on our beautiful hill, when the priests made their appearance. A few moments before, I had said to that immense gathering:
"I bless God that you are so many to witness the last tyrannical act of Bishop O'Regan. But I have a favour to ask of you, it is, that no insult or opposition whatever will be made to the priests who come to play that comedy. Please do not say an angry word; do not move a finger against the performers. They are not responsible for what they will do, for two reasons. 1. They will probably be drunk. 2. They are bound to do that work, by their master and Lord Bishop O'Regan.
The priests arrived at about two o'clock p.m., and never such shouting and clapping of hands had been heard in our colony as on their appearance. Never had I seen my dear people so cheerful and good-humoured, as when one of the priests, trembling from head to foot with terror and drunkenness, tried to read the following sham act of excommunication; which he nailed on the door of the chapel:
The Reverend Monsieur Chiniquy, heretofore curate of St. Anne, Colonie of Beaver, in the Diocese of Chicago, has formally been interdicted by me for canonical causes.
The said Mr. Chiniquy, notwithstanding that interdict, has maliciously performed the functions of the holy ministry, in administering the holy sacraments and saying mass. This has caused him to be irregular, and in direct opposition to the authority of the church, consequently, he is a schismatic.
The said Mr. Chiniquy, thus named by my letters and verbal injunction, has absolutely persisted in violating the laws of the church, and disobeyed her authority, is by this present letter excommunicated.
I forbid any Catholic having any communication with him, in spiritual matters, under pain of excommunication. Every Catholic who goes against this suspense, is excommunicated.
(Signed) Anthony, Bishop of Chicago, and administrator of Quincy. Sept. 3rd., 1856.
As soon as the priests, who had nailed this document to the door of our chapel, had gone away at full speed, I went to see it, and found, what I had expected, that it was not signed by the bishop, neither by his grand vicar, nor any known person, and, consequently it was a complete nullity, according to the laws of the church. Fearing I would prosecute him, as I threatened, he shrank from the responsibility of his own act, and had not signed it. He was probably ignorant of the fact that he was himself excommunicated, ipso facto, for not having signed the document himself, or by his known deputies. I learned afterwards, that he got a boy twelve years old to write and sign it. In this way, it was impossible for me to bring that document before any court, on account of its want of legal and necessary forms. That act was also a nullity, for being brought by three priests who were not compos mentis, from their actual state of drunkenness. And again, it was a nullity from the evident falsehood which was its base.
It alleged that the bishop had interdicted and suspended me on the 19th of August, for canonical causes. But he had declared to the four deputies we had sent him: "That Mr. Chiniquy was one of my best priests, that nothing had been proved against him," consequently, no canonical cause could exist for the allegation. The people understood very well that the whole affair was a miserable farce, designed to separate them from their pastor. It had just, by the good providence of God, the contrary effect. They had never shown me such sincere respect and devotedness as since that never-to-be-forgotten day.
The three priests, after leaving, entered the house of one of our farmers, called Bellanger, a short distance from the chapel, and asked permission to rest awhile. But after sitting and smoking a few minutes they all went out to the stables. The farmer thinking this very strange, went after them to see what they would do in his stables; to his great surprise and disgust, he found them drinking the last of their whiskey. He exclaimed, "Is it not a shame to see three priests in a stable drinking spirits?"
They made no answer, but went immediately to their carriage and drove away as quickly as possible, singing with all their might, a bacchanalian song! Such was the last act of that excommunication, which has done more than anything else to prepare my people and myself to understand that the Church of Rome is a den of thieves, a school of infidelity and the very antipodes of the Church of Christ.
The Sabbath afternoon after the three drunken priests nailed their signed, unsealed, untestified, and consequently null sentence of excommunication, to the door of our chapel, the people had gathered from every part of our colony into the large hall of the court-house of Kankakee City to hear several addresses of their duties of the day, and they unanimously passed the following resolutions:
"Resolved,—That we, French Canadians of the County of Kankakee, do hereby decide to give our moral support to Rev. C. Chiniquy, in the persecution now exerted against him by the Bishop of Chicago, in violation of the laws of the church, expressed and sanctioned by the Councils."
After this resolution had been voted, Mr. Bechard, who is now one of the principal members of the Parliament of Canada, and who was then a merchant of Kankakee City, presented to me the following address, which had also been unanimously voted by the people:
"Dear and Beloved Pastor:—For several years we have been witnesses of the persecution of which you are the subject, on the part of the bad priests, your neighbours, and on the part of the unworthy Bishop of Chicago; but we also have been the witnesses of your sacerdotal virtues—of your forbearance of their calumnies—and our respect and affection for your person has but increased at the sight of all those trials.
"We know that you are persecuted, not only because you are a Canadian priest, and that you like us, but also because you do us good in making a sacrifice of your own private fortune to build school-houses, and to feed our teachers at your own table. We know that the Bishop of Chicago, who resembles more an angry wolf than a pastor of the church, having destroyed the prosperous congregation of Chicago by taking away from them their splendid church, which they had built at the cost of many sacrifices, and giving it to the Irish population, and having discouraged the worthy population of Bourbonnais Grove in forcing on them drunken and scandalous priests, wants to take you away from among us, to please Spink, the greatest enemy of the French population. They even say that the bishop, carrying iniquity to its extreme bounds, wanted to interdict you. But as our church cannot, and is not willing to sanction evil and calumny, we know that all those interdicts, based on falsehoods and spite, are null and void.
"We, therefore, solicit you not to give way in presence of the perfidious plots of your enemies, and not to leave us. Stay among us as our pastor and our father, and we solemnly promise to sustain you in all your hardships to the end, and to defend you against our enemies. Stay among us, to instruct us in our duties by your eloquent speeches, and to enlighten us by your pious examples. Stay among us, to guard us against the perfidious designs of the Bishop of Chicago, who wants to discourage and destroy our prosperous colony, as he has already discouraged and destroyed other congregations of the French Canadians, by leaving them without a pastor, or by forcing on them unworthy priests."
The stern and unanimous determination of my countrymen to stand by me in the impending struggle is one of the greatest blessings which God has ever given me. It filled me with a courage which nothing could hereafter shake. But the people of St. Anne did not think that it was enough to show to the bishop that nothing could ever shake the resolution they had taken to live and die free men. They gathered in a public and immense meeting on the Sabbath after the sham excommunication, to adopt the following address to the Bishop of Chicago, a copy of which was sent to every bishop of the United States and Canada, and to Pope Pius IX.:
"To His Lordship, Anthony O'Regan of Chicago:- We, the undersigned, inhabitants of the parish of St. Anne, Beaver settlement, seeing with sorrow that you have discarded our humble request, which we have sent you by the four delegates, and have persisted in trying to drive away our honest and worthy priest, who has edified us in all circumstances by his public and religious conduct, and having, contrary to the rules of our holy church and common sense, struck our worthy pastor, Mr. Chiniquy, with excommunication, having caused him to be announced as a schismatic priest, and having forbidden us to communicate with him in religious matters, are hereby protesting against the unjust and iniquitous manner in which you have struck him, refusing him the privilege of justifying himself and proving his innocence.
"Consequently, we declare that we are ready at all times as good Catholics, to obey all your orders and ordinances that are in accordance with the laws of the Gospel and the Church, but that we are not willing to follow you in all your errors of judgments, in your injustices and covetous caprices. Telling you, as St. Jerome wrote to his bishop, that as long as you will treat us as your children, we will obey you as a father; but as soon as you will treat us as our master, we shall cease to consider you as our father. Considering Mr. Chiniquy as a good and virtuous priest, worthy of the place he occupies, and possessing as yet all his sacerdotal powers, in spite of your null and ridiculous sentence, we have unanimously decided to keep him among us as our pastor; therefore praying your lordship not to put yourself to the trouble of seeking another priest for us. More yet; we have unanimously decided to sustain him and furnish him the means to go as far as Rome, if he cannot have justice in America.
"We further declare that it has been dishonourable and shameful for our bishop and for our holy religion to have seen, coming under the walls of our chapel, bringing the orders of the prince of the church, a representative of Christ, three men covered with their sacerdotal garments, having their tongues half paralyzed by the effects of whiskey, and who, turning their backs to the church, went to the house and barn of one of our settlers and thee emptied their bottles. And from there, taking their seats in the buggies, went toward the settlement of L'Erable, singing drunken songs and hallooing like wild Indians. Will your lordship be influenced by such a set of men, who seem to have for their mission to degrade the sacerdos and Catholicism?
"We conclude, in hoping that your lordship will not persist in your decision given in a moment of madness and spite; that you will reconsider your acts, and that you will retract your unjust, null and ridiculous excommunication, and by these means avoid the scandal of which your precipitation is the cause. We then hope that, changing your determination, you will work to the welfare of our holy religion, and not to its degradation, into which your intolerant conduct would lead us, and that you will not persist in trying to drive our worthy pastor, Rev. Charles Chiniquy, from the flourishing colony that he has founded at the cost of the abandonment of his native land, of the sacrifice of the high position he had in Canada; that you will bring peace between you and us, that we shall have in the Bishop of Chicago not a tyrant, but a father, and that you will have in us not rebels, but faithful children, by our virtues and our good example. Subscribing ourselves the obedient children of the church.
"Theopile Dorien, J.B. Lemoine, N.P., "Det. Vanier, Oliver Senechall, "J.B. Belanger, Basilique Allair, "Camile Betourney, Michel Allair, "Stan'las Gagne, Joseph Grisi, "Antoine Allain, Joseph Allard, "And five hundred others."
This address, signed by more than five hundred men, all heads of families, and reproduced by almost the whole press in the United States, fell as a thunderclap on the head of the heartless destroyer of our people. But it did not change his destructive plans. It had just the contrary effect. As a tiger, mortally wounded by the sure shots of the hunters, he filled the country with his roaring, hoping to frighten us by his new denunciations. He published the most lying stories to explain his conduct, and to show the world that he had good reasons for destroying the French congregation of Chicago, and trying the same experiment on St. Anne.
In order to refute his false statements, and show more clearly to the whole world the reasons I had, as a Catholic priest, to resist him, I addressed the following letter to his lordship:
"St. Anne, Kankakee County, Ill., "Sept. 25, 1856.
"Rt. Rev'd O'Regan:- You seen to be surprised that I have offered the holy sacrifice of mass since our last interview. Here are some of my reasons for so doing.
"1st. You have not suspended me; far from it, you have given me fifteen days to consider what I should do, threatening only to interdict me after that time, if I would not obey your orders.
"2nd. If you have been so ill-advised as to suspend me, for the crime of telling you that my intention was to live the life of a retired priest in my little colony, sooner than to be exiled at my age, your sentence is ridiculous and null; and if you were an expert in the jure Canonico as in the art of pocketing our money, you would know that you are yourself suspended ipso facto for a year, and that I have nothing to fear or expect from you now.
"3rd. When I bowed down before the altar of Jesus Christ, twenty-four years ago, to receive the priesthood, my intention was to be the minister of the Catholic Church, but not a slave of a lawless tyrant.
"4th. Remember the famous words of Tertullian, 'Nimia potestas, nulla potestas.' For the sake of peace, I have, with many others, tolerated your despotism till now; but my patience is at an end, and for the sake of our holy church, which you are destroying, I am determined with many to oppose an insurmountable wall to your tyranny.
"5th. I did not come here, you know well, as an ordinary missionary; but I got from your predecessor the permission to form a colony of my emigrating countrymen. I was not sent here in 1851 to take care of any congregation. It was a complete wilderness. In a great part, with my own money, I have built a chapel, a college and a female academy. I have called from everywhere my countrymen—nine-tenths of them came here only to live with me, and because I had the pledged word of my bishop to do that work. And as long as I live the life of a good priest I deny you the right to forbid me to remain in my colony which wants my help and my presence.
"6th. You have never shown me your authority (but once) except in the most tyrannical way. But now, seeing that the more humble I am before you the more insolent you grow, I have taken the resolution to stand by my rights as a Catholic priest and as an American citizen.
"7th. You remember, that in our second interview you forbade me to have the good preceptors we have now for our children, and you turned into ridicule the idea I had to call them from Canada. Was that the act of a bishop or of a mean despot?
"8th. A few days after your ordered me to live on good terms with R. R. Lebel and Carthuval, though you were well acquainted with their scandalous lives, and twice you threatened me with suspension for refusing to become a friend of those two rogues! And you have so much made a fool of yourself before the four gentlemen I sent to you to be witnesses of your iniquity and my innocence, that you have acknowledged before them that one of your principal reasons for turning me out of my colony was, that I had not been able to keep peace with two priests whom you acknowledge to be depraved and unworthy priests! Is not that surpassing wickedness and tyranny of anything recorded in the blackest pages of the most daring tyrants? You want to punish by exile a gentleman and a good priest, because he cannot agree to become the friend of two public rogues! I thank you, Bishop O'Regan, to have made that public confession in the presence of unimpeachable witnesses. I do not want to advise you to be hereafter very prudent in what you intend to do against the reputation and character of the priest of St. Anne. If you continue to denounce me as you have done since a few weeks, and to tell the people what you think fit against me, I have awful things to publish of your injustice and tyranny.
"As Judas sold our Saviour to His enemies, so you have sold me to my enemy of L'Erable. But be certain that you shall not deliver up your victim as you like.
"For withdrawing a suit which you have instituted against my honour, and which you shall certainly lose, you drag me out from my home and order me to the land of exile, and you cover that iniquity with the appearance of zeal for the public peace, just as Pilate delivered his victim into the hands their enemies to make peace with them.
"Shame on you, Bishop O'Regan! For the sake of God, do not oblige me to reveal to the world what I know against you. Do not oblige me, in self-defence, to strike you, my merciless persecutor. If you have no pity on me, have pity on yourself, and on the church which that coming struggle will so much injure.
"It is not enough for you to have so badly treated my poor countrymen of Chicago—you hatred against the French Canadians cannot be satisfied except when you have taken away from them the only consolation they have in this land of exile—to possess in their midst a priest of their own nation whom they love and respect as a father! My poor countrymen of Chicago, with many hard sacrifices, had built a fine church for themselves and a house for their priest. You have taken their church from their hands and given it to the Irish; you have sold the house of their priest, after turning him out; and what have you done with the one thousand five hundred dollars you got as its price? Public rumour says that you are employing that money to support the most unjust and infamous suit against one of their priests. Continue a little longer, and you may be sure that the cursing of my poor countrymen against you will be heard in heaven, and that the God of Justice will give them an avenger.
"You have, at three different times, threatened to interdict and excommunicate me if I would not give you my little personal properties; and as many times you have said in my teeth, that I was a bad priest, because I refused to act according to your rapacious tyranny!
"The impious Ahab, murdering Naboth to get his fields, is risen from the dead in your person. You cannot kill my body, since I am protected by the glorious flag of the United States; but you do worse, you try to destroy my honour and my character, which are dearer to me than my life. In a moral way you give my blood to be licked by your dogs. But remember the words of the prophet Ahab, 'In this place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine' (1 Kings xxi. 19). For every false witness you shall bring against me, I shall have a hundred unimpeachable ones against you. Thousands and thousands of religious Irish, and generous Germans, and liberty and fair-play-loving French Canadians, will help me in that struggle. I do not address you these words as a threat, but as a friendly warning.
"Keep quiet, my lord; do not let yourself be guided by your quick temper; do not be so free in the use of suspense and interdicts. These terrible arms are two-edged swords, which very often hurt more the imprudent who make use of them than those whom they intend to strike."
"I wish to live in peace with you. I take my God to witness, that to this day, I have done everything to keep peace with you. But the peace I want is the peace which St. Jerome speaks of when, writing to his bishop, he tells him:
"'It is no use to speak of peace with the lips, if we destroy it with our works. It is a very different way to work for peace, from trying to submit every one to an abject slavery. We also want peace. Not only we desire it, but we implore you instantly to give it. However, the peace we want is the peace of Christ—a true peace, a peace without hatred, a peach which is not masked war, a peace which is not to crush enemies, but a peace which unites friends. How can we call that peach which is nothing but tyranny? Why should we not call everything by its proper name? Let us call hatred—what is hatred; and let us say that peace reigns only when a true love exists. We are not the authors of the troubles and divisions which exist in the church. A father must love his children. A bishop, as well as a father, must wish to be loved, but not feared. The old proverb says, One hates whom he fears, and we naturally wish for the death of one we hate. If you do not try to crush the religious men under your power they will submit themselves to your authority. Offer them the kiss of love and peace and they will obey you. But liberty refuses to yield as soon as you try to crush it down. The best way to be obeyed by a free man is not to deal with him as with a slave. We know the laws of the church, and we do not ignore the rights which belong to every man. We have learned many things, not only from experience, but also from the study of books. The king who strikes his subjects with an iron rod, or who thinks that his fingers must be heavier than his father's hand, has soon destroyed the kingdom even of the peaceful and mild David. The people of Rome refused to bear the yoke of their proud king. We have left our country in order to live in peace. In this solitude our intention was to respect the authority of the pontiffs of Christ (we mean those who teach the true faith). We want to respect them not as our masters, but as our fathers. Our intention was to respect them as bishops, not as usurpers and tyrants who want to reduce us to slavery by the abuse of their power. We are not so vain as to ignore what is due to the priests of Christ, for to receive them is to receive the very one whose bishops they are. But let them be satisfied with the respect which is due to them. Let them remember that they are fathers, not masters of those who have given up everything in order to enjoy the privileges of a peaceful solitude. May Christ who is our mighty God grant that we should be united, not by a false peace, but by a true and loyal love, lest that by biting each other we destroy each other."
[Letter of St. Jerome to his bishop.]
"You have a great opinion of the episcopal power, and so have I. But St. Paul and all the Holy Fathers that I have read, have also told us many things of the dignity of the priest (alter Christus Sacerdos). I am your brother and equal in many things; do not forget it. I know my dignity as a man and a priest, and I shall sooner lose my life than to surrender them to any man, even a bishop. If you think you can deal with me as a carter with his horse, drawing him where he likes, you will very soon see your error.
"I neither drink strong wines nor smoke, and the many hours that others spent in emptying their bottles and smoking their pipes, I read my dear books—I study the admirable laws of the church and the Gospel of Christ. I love my books and the holy laws of our church, because they teach me my rights as well as my duties. They tell me that many years ago a general council, which is something above you, has annulled your unjust sentence, and brought upon your head the very penalty you intended to impose upon me. They tell me that any sentence from you, coming (from your own profession) from bad and criminal motives, is null, and will fall powerless at my feet. "But I tell you again, that I desire to live in peace with you. The false reports of Lebel and Carthuval have disturbed that peace; but it is still in your power to have it for yourself and give it to me. I am sure that the sentence you say you have preferred against me comes from a misunderstanding, and your wisdom and charity, if you can hear their voice, can very easily set everything as it was two months ago. It is still in your power to have a warm friend, or an immovable adversary in Kankakee County. It would both be equitable and honourable in you to extinguish the fires of discord which you have so unfortunately enkindled, by drawing back a sentence which you would never have preferred if you had not been deceived. You would be blessed by the Church of Illinois, and particularly by the 10,000 French Canadians who surround me, and are ready to support me at all hazards.
"Do not be angry from the seeming harsh words which you find in this letter. Nobody, but I, could tell you these sad truths, though every one of your priests, and particularly those who flatter you the most, repeat them every day. By kind and honest proceedings you can get everything from me, even the last drop of my blood; but you will find me an immovable rock if you approach me as you have always done (but once) with insult and tyrannical threats.
"You have not been ordained a bishop to rule over us according to your fancy, but you have the eternal laws of justice and equity to guide you. You have the laws of the church to obey as well as her humblest child, and as soon as you do anything against these imperishable laws you are powerless to obtain your object. It is not only lawful, but a duty to resist you. When you strike without a legitimate or a canonical cause; when you try to take away my character to please some of your friends; when you order me to exile to stop a suit which you are inciting against me; when you punish me for the crime of refusing to obey the orders you gave me to be the friend of two public rouges; when you threatened me with excommunication, because I do not give you my little personal properties, I have nothing to fear from your interdicts and excommunication.
"What a sad lot for me, and what a shame for you, if by your continual attacks at the doors of our churches or in the public press, you oblige me to expose your injustice. It is yet time for you to avoid that. Instead of striking me like an outcast, come and give me the paternal hand of charity, instead of continuing that fratricidal combat, come and heal the wounds you have made and already received. Instead of insulting me by driving me away from my colony to the land of exile, come and bless the great work I have begun here for the glory of God and the good of my people. Instead of destroying the college and the female academy, for the erection of which I have expended my last cent, and whose teachers are fed at my table, come and bless the three hundred little children who are daily attending our schools. Instead of sacrificing me to the hatred of my enemies, come and strengthen my heart against their fury.
"I tell you again, that no consideration whatever will induce me to surrender my right as a Catholic priest and as an American citizen. By the first title you cannot interdict me, as long as I am a good priest, for the crime of wishing to live in my colony and among my people. By the second title, you cannot turn me out from my home.
It was the first time that a Roman Catholic priest, with his whole people, had dared to speak such language to a bishop of Rome on this continent. Never yet had the unbearable tyranny of those haughty men received such a public rebuke. Our fearless words fell as a bombshell in the camp of the Roman Catholic hierarchy of America.
With very few exceptions, the press of the State of Illinois, whose columns had so often echoed the cries of indignation raised everywhere against the tyranny of Bishop O'Regan, took sides with me. Hundreds of priests, not only from Illinois, but from every corner of the United States, addressed their warmest thanks to me for the stand I had taken, and asked me, in the name of God and for the honour of the church, not to yield an inch of my rights. Many promised to support us at the court of Rome, by writing themselves to the Pope, to denounce not only the Bishop of Illinois, but several others, who though not so openly bad, were yet trampling under their feet the most sacred rights of the priests and the people. Unfortunately those priests gave me a saddening knowledge of their cowardice by putting in their letters "absolutely confidential." They all promised to help me when I was storming the strong fortress of the enemy, provided I would go alone in the gap, and that they would keep themselves behind thick walls, far from shot and shell.
However, this did not disturb me, for my God knows it, my trust was not in my own strength, but in His protection. I was sure that I was in the right, that the Gospel of Christ was on my side, that all the canons and laws of the councils were in my favour.
My library was filled with the best books on the canons and laws passed in the great councils of my church. It was written in big letters in the celebrated work, "Histoire du Droit Canonique." There is no arbitrary power in the Church of Christ. (Vol. iii., page 139).
The Council of Augsburg, held in 1548 (Can. 24), had declared that, "no sentence of excommunication will be passed, except for great crimes."
The Pope St. Gregory had said: "That censures are null when not inflicted for great sins or for faults which have not been clearly proved."
"An unjust excommunication does not bind before God those against whom it has been hurled. But it injures only the one who has proffered it." (Eccl. Laws, by Hericourt, c. xxii., No. 50)
"If an unjust sentence is pronounced against any one, he must not pay any attention to it; for, before God and His Church, an unjust sentence cannot injure anybody. Let, then, that person do nothing to get such an unjust sentence repealed, for it cannot injure him." (Pope Gelasius).
The canonists conclude, from all the laws of the church on that matter, "That if a priest is unjustly interdicted or excommunicated he may continue to officiate without any fear of becoming irregular." (Eccl. Laws, by Hericourt, c.xxii., No. 51).
Protected by these laws, and hundreds of others too long to enumerate, which my church had passed in every age, strengthened by the voice of my conscience, which assured me that I had done nothing to deserve to be interdicted or excommunicated; sure, besides, of the testimony brought by our four delegates that the bishop himself had declared that I was one of his best priests, that he wanted to give me my letters to go and perform the functions of my ministry in Kahokia: above all, knowing the unanimous will of my people that I should remain with them and continue the great and good work so providentially entrusted to me in my colony, and regarding this as an indication of the Divine will, I determined to remain, in spite of the Bishop of Chicago. All the councils of my church were telling me that he had no power to injure me, and that all his official acts were null.
But if he were spiritually powerless against me, it was not so in temporal matters. His power and his desire to injure us had increased with his hatred, since he had read our letters and seen them in all the papers of Chicago. The first thing he did was to reconcile himself to the priest Lebel, whom he had turned out ignominiously from his diocese some time before. The priest had since that obtained a fine situation in the diocese of Michigan. He invited him to his palace, and petted him several days. I felt that the reconciliation of those two men meant nothing good for me. But my hope was, more than ever, that the merciful God who had protected me so many times against them, would save me again from their machinations. The air was, however, filled with the strangest rumours against me. It was said everywhere that Mr. Lebel was to bring such charges against my character that I would be sent to the penitentiary. What were the new iniquities to be laid to my charge? No one could tell. But the few partisans and friends of the bishop, Messrs. Label and Spink, were jubilant and sure that I was to be for ever destroyed.
At last the time arrived when the sheriff of Kankakee had to drag me again as a criminal and a prisoner to Urbana, and deliver me into the hands of the sheriff of that city. I arrived there on the 20th of October, with my lawyers, Messrs. Osgood and Paddock, and a dozen witnesses. Mr. Abraham Lincoln had preceded me only by a few minutes from Springfield. He was in the company of Judge David Davis, since Vice-President of the United States, when I met him.
The jury having been selected and sworn, the Rev. Mr. Lebel was the first witness called to testify and say what he knew against my character.
Mr. Lincoln objected to that kind of testimony, and tried to prove that Mr. Spink had no right to bring his new suit against me by attacking my character. But Judge Davis ruled that prosecution had the right in the case that was before him. Mr. Lebel had, then, full liberty to say anything he wanted, and he availed himself of his privilege. His testimony lasted nearly an hour, and was too long to be given here. I will only say that he began by declaring that "Chiniquy was one of the bilest men of the day—that every kind of bad rumours were constantly circulating against him." He gave a good number of those rumours, though he could not positively swear if they were founded on truth or not, for he had not investigated them. But he said there was one of which he was sure, for he had authenticated it thoroughly. He expressed a great deal of apparent regret that he was forced to reveal to the world such things which were not only against the honour of Chiniquy, but, to some extent, involved the good name of a dear sister, Madame Bossey. But as he was to speak the truth before God, he could not help it—the sad truth was to be told. "Mr. Chiniquy," he said, "had attempted to do the most infamous things with my own sister, Madame Bossey. She herself has told me the whole story under oath, and she would be here to unmask the wicked man to-day before the world, if she were not forced to silence at home from a severe illness."
Though every word of that story was a perjury, there was such a colour of truth and sincerity in my accuser, that his testimony fell upon me and my lawyers and all my friends as a thunderbolt. A man who has never heard such a calumny brought against him before a jury in a court-house packed with people, composed of friends and foes, will never understand what I felt in this the darkest hour of my life. My God only knows the weight and bitterness of the waves of desolation which then passed over my soul.
After that testimony was given, there was a lull, and a most profound silence in the court-room. All the eyes were turned upon me, and I heard many voices speaking of me, whispering, "The villain!" Those voices passed through my soul as poisoned arrows. Though innocent, I wished that the ground would open under my feet and bring me down to the darkest abysses, to conceal me from the eyes of my friends and the whole world.
However, Mr. Lincoln soon interrupted the silence by addressing to Lebel such cross-questions that his testimony, in the minds of many, soon lost much of its power. And he did still more destroy the effect of his (Lebel's) false oath, when he brought my twelve witnesses, who were among the most respectable citizens of Bourbonnais, formerly the parishioners of Mr. Lebel. Those twelve gentlemen swore that Mr. Lebel was such a drunkard and vicious man, that he was so publicly my enemy on account of the many rebukes I had given to his private and public vices, that they would not believe a word of what he said, even upon his oath.
At ten p.m. the court was adjourned, to meet again the next morning, and I went to the room of Mr. Lincoln, with my two other lawyers, to confer about the morning's work. My mind was unspeakable sad. Life had never been such a burden to me as in that hour. I was tempted, like Job, to curse the hour when I was born. I could see in the face of my lawyers, though they tried to conceal it, that they were also full of anxiety.
"My dear Mr. Chiniquy," said Mr. Lincoln, "though I hope, tomorrow, to destroy the testimony of Mr. Lebel against you, I must concede that I see great dangers ahead. There is not the least doubt in my mind that every word he has said is a sworn lie; by my fear is that the jury thinks differently. I am a pretty good judge in these matters. I feel that our jurymen think that you are guilty. There is only one way to perfectly destroy the power of a false witness—it is by another direct testimony against what he has said, or by showing from his very lips that he has perjured himself. I failed to do that last night, though I have diminished, to a great extent, the force of his testimony. Can you not prove an alibi, or can you not bring witnesses who were there in the same house that day, who would flatly and directly contradict what your remorseless enemy has said against you?"
I answered him: "How can I try to do such a thing when they have been shrewd enough not to fix the very date of the alleged crime against me?"
"You are correct, you are perfectly correct, Mr. Chiniquy," answered Mr. Lincoln, "as they have refused to precise the date, we cannot try that. I have never seen two such skillful rogues as those two priests. There is really a diabolical skill in the plan they have concocted for your destruction. It is evident that the bishop is at the bottom of the plot. You remember how I have forced Lebel to confess that he was now on the most friendly terms with the Bishop of Chicago, since he has become the chief of your accusers. Though I do not give up the hope of rescuing you from the hands of your enemies, I do not like to conceal from you that I have several reasons to fear that you will be declared guilty, and condemned to a heavy penalty, or to the penitentiary, though I am sure you are perfectly innocent. It is very probable that we will have to confront that sister of Lebel to-morrow. Her sickness is probably a feint, in order not to appear here except after the brother will have prepared the public mind in her favour. At all events, if she does not come, they will send some justice of the peace to get her sworn testimony, which will be more difficult to rebut than her own verbal declarations. That woman is evidently in the hands of the bishop and her brother priest, ready to swear anything they order her, and I know nothing so difficult as to refute such female testimonies, particularly when they are absent from the court. The only way to be sure of a favourable verdict to-morrow is, that God Almighty would take our part and show your innocence! Go to Him and pray, for He alone can save you." Mr. Lincoln was exceedingly solemn when he addressed those words to me, and they went very deep into my soul.
I have often been asked if Abraham Lincoln had any religion? But I never had any doubt about his profound confidence in God, since I heard those words falling from his lips in that hour of anxiety. I had not been able to conceal my deep distress. Burning tears were rolling on my cheeks when he was speaking, and there was on his face the expression of friendly sympathy which I shall never forget. Without being able to say a word, I left him to go to my little room. It was nearly eleven o'clock. I locked the door and fell on my knees to pray, but I was unable to say a single word. The horrible sworn calumnies thrown at my face by a priest of my own church were ringing in my ears! my honour and my good name so cruelly and for ever destroyed! all my friends and my dear people covered with an eternal confusion! and more than that, the sentence of condemnation which was probably to be hurled against me the next day in the presence of the whole country, whose eyes were upon me! All those things were before me, not only as horrible phantoms, but as heavy mountains, under the burdens of which I could not breathe. At last the fountains of tears were opened, and it relieved me to weep; I could then speak and cry: "Oh, my God! have mercy upon me! Thou knowest my innocence! hast Thou not promised that those who trust in Thee cannot perish! Oh! do not let me perish, when Thou art the only One in whom I trust! Come to my help! Save me!"
From eleven p.m. to three in the morning I cried to God, and raised my supplicating hands to His throne of mercy. But I confess, to my confusion, it seemed to me in certain moments, that it was useless to pray and cry, for though innocent, I was doomed to perish. I was in the hands of my enemies. My God had forsaken me!
What an awful night I spent! I hope none of my readers will ever know by their own experience the agony of spirit I endured. I had no other expectation than to be for ever dishonoured, and sent to the penitentiary next morning! But God had not forsaken me! He had again heard my cries, and was once more to show me His infinite mercy!
At three o'clock a.m. I heard three knocks at my door, and I quickly went to open it. "Who was there?" Abraham Lincoln, with a face beaming with joy! I could hardly believe my eyes. But I was not mistaken. It was my noble-hearted friend, the most honest lawyer of Illinois!—one of the noblest men Heaven had ever given to earth!—it was Abraham Lincoln. On seeing me bathed in tears, he exclaimed, "Cheer up, Mr. Chiniquy, I have the perjured priests in my hands. Their diabolical plot is all known, and if they do not fly away before dawn of day, they will surely be lynched. Bless the Lord, you are saved!"
The sudden passage of extreme desolation to an extreme joy came near killing me. I felt as if suffocated, and unable to utter a single word. I took his hand, pressed it to my lips, and bathed it with tears of joy. I said: "May God for ever bless you, dear Mr. Lincoln. But please tell me how you can bring me such glorious news!"
Here is the simple but marvelous story, as told me by that great and good man, whom God had made the messenger of His mercies towards me: "As soon as Lebel had given his perjured testimony against you yesterday," said Mr. Lincoln, "one of the agents of the Chicago press telegraphed to some of the principal papers of Chicago: 'It is probable that Mr. Chiniquy will be condemned; for the testimony of the Rev. Mr Lebel seems to leave no doubt that he is guilty.' And the little Irish boys, to sell their papers, filled the streets with cries: 'Chiniquy will be hung! Chiniquy will be hung!' The Roman Catholics were so glad to hear that, that ten thousand extra copies have been sold. Among those who bought those papers was a friend of yours, called Terrien, who went to his wife and told her that you were to be condemned, and when the woman heard that, she said, 'It is too bad, for I know Mr. Chiniquy is not guilty.'
"'How do you know that?' said the husband. She answered: 'I was there when the priest Lebel made the plot, and promised to give his sister two eighties of good land if she would swear a false oath—and accuse him of a crime which that woman said he had not even thought of with her.'
"'If it be so,' said Terrien, 'we cannot allow Mr. Chiniquy to be condemned. Come with me to Urbana.'
"But that woman being quite unwell, said to her husband, 'You know well I cannot go; but Miss Philomene Moffat was with me then. She knows every particular of that wicked plot as well as I do. She is well: go and take her to Urbana. There is no doubt that her testimony will prevent the condemnation of Mr. Chiniquy. Narcisse Terrien started immediately: and when you were praying God to come to your help, He was sending your deliverer at the full speed of the railroad cars. Miss Moffat has just given me the details of that diabolical plot. I have advised her not to show herself before the Court is opened. I will, then, send for her, and when she will have given, under oath, before the Court, the details she has just given me, I pity Spink with his perjured priests. As I told you, I would not be surprised if they were lynched: for there is a terrible excitement in town among many people, who from the beginning suspect that the priests have perjured themselves to destroy you. Now your suit is gained, and, to-morrow, you will have the greatest triumph a man ever got over his confounded foes. But you are in need of rest as well as myself. Good bye." After thanking God for that marvelous deliverance, I went to bed and took the needed rest.
But what was the priest Lebel doing in that very moment? Unable to sleep after the awful perjury he had just made, he had watched the arrival of the trains from Chicago with an anxious mind; for he was aware, through the confessions he had heard, that there were two persons in that city who knew his plot and his false oath; and though he had the promises from them that they would never reveal it to anybody, he was not without some fearful apprehension that I might, by some way or other, become acquainted with his abominable conspiracy. Not long after the arrival of the trains from Chicago, he came down from his room to see in the book where travelers register their names, if there were any new comers from Chicago, and what was his dismay when he saw the first name entered was "Philomene Moffat!" That very name, Philomene Moffat, who some time before, had gone to confess to him that she had heard the whole plot from his own lips, when he had promised 160 acres of land to persuade his sister to perjure herself in order to destroy me. A deadly presentiment chilled the blood in his veins! "Would it be possible that this girl is here to reveal and prove my perjury before the world?"
He immediately sent for her, when she was just coming from meeting Mr. Lincoln.
"Miss Philomene Moffat here!" he exclaimed, when he saw her. "What are you coming here for this night?" he said.
"You will know it, sir, to-morrow morning," she answered.
"Ah! wretched girl! you come to destroy me?" he exclaimed.
She replied: "I do not come to destroy you, for you are already destroyed. Mr. Lincoln knows everything."
"Oh! my God! my God!" he exclaimed, striking his forehead with his hands. Then taking a big bundle of bank-notes from his pocket-book, he said: "Here are one hundred dollars for you if you take the morning train and go back to Chicago."
"If you would offer me as much gold as this house could contain, I would not go," she replied.
He then left her abruptly, ran to the sleeping-room of Spink, and told him: "Withdraw your suit against Chiniquy; we are lost; he knows all." Without losing a moment, he went to the sleeping-room of his co-priest, and told him: "Make haste—dress yourself and let us take the train; we have no business here: Chiniquy knows all our secrets."
When the hour of opening the court came, there was an immense crowd, not only inside, but outside its walls. Mr. Spink, pale as a man condemned to death, rose before the Judge and said: "Please the court, allow me to withdraw my prosecution against Mr. Chiniquy. I am now persuaded that he is not guilty of the faults brought against him before this tribunal."
Abraham Lincoln, having accepted that reparation in my name, made a short, but one of the most admirable speeches I have ever heard, on the cruel injustices I had suffered from my merciless persecutors, and denounced the rascality of the priests who had perjured themselves with such terrible colours, that it had been very wise on their part to fly away and disappear before the opening of the court, for the whole city was ransacked for them by hundreds, who blamed me for forgiving them and refusing to have my revenge for the wrong they had done me. But I really thought that my enemies were sufficiently punished by the awful public disclosures of their infernal plot. It seemed that the dear Saviour, who had so visibly protected me, was to be obeyed, when He was whispering in my soul, "Forgive them and love them as thyself."
Was not Spink sufficiently punished by the complete ruin which was brought upon him by the loss of the suit? For having gone to Bishop O'Regan to be indemnified for the enormous expenses of such a long prosecution, at such a distance, the bishop coldly answered him: "I had promised to indemnify if you would put Chiniquy down, as you promised me. But as it is Chiniquy who has put you down, I have not a cent to give you."
Abraham Lincoln had not only defended me with the zeal and talent of the ablest lawyer I have ever known, but as the most devoted and noblest friend I ever had. After giving more than a year of his precious time to my defense, when he had pleaded, during two long sessions of the Court of Urbana, without receiving a cent form me, I considered that I was owing him a great sum of money. My two other lawyers, who had not done the half of his work, asked me a thousand dollars each, and I had not thought that too much. After thanking him for the inappreciable services he had rendered me, I requested him to show me his bill, assuring him that, thought I would not be able to pay the whole cash, I would pay him to the last cent, if he had the kindness to wait a little for the balance.
He answered me with a smile and an air of inimitable kindness, which was peculiar to him: "My dear Mr. Chiniquy, I feel proud and honoured to have been called to defend you. But I have done it less as a lawyer than as a friend. The money I should receive from you would take away the pleasure I feel at having fought your battle. Your case is unique in my whole practice. I have never met a man so cruelly persecuted as you have been, and who deserves it so little. Your enemies are devils incarnate. The plot they had concocted against you is the most hellish one I ever knew. But the way you have been saved from their hands, the appearance of that young and intelligent Miss Moffat, who was really sent by God in the very hour of need, when, I confess it again, I thought everything was nearly lost, is one of the most extraordinary occurrences I ever saw. It makes me remember what I have too often forgotten, and what my mother often told me when young—that our God is a prayer-hearing God. This good thought, sown into my young heart by that dear mother's hand, was just in my mind when I told you, 'Go and pray, God alone can save you.' But I confess to you that I had not faith enough to believe that your prayer would be so quickly and so marvelously answered by the sudden appearance of that interesting young lady, last night. Now let us speak of what you owe me. Well!—Well!—how much do you owe me? You owe me nothing! for I suppose you are quite ruined. The expenses of such a suit, I know, must be enormous. Your enemies want to ruin you. Will I help them to finish your ruin, when I hope I have the right to be put among the most sincere and devoted of your friends?"
"You are right," I answered him; "you are the most devoted and noblest friend God ever gave me, and I am nearly ruined by my enemies. But you are the father of a pretty large family; you must support them. Your traveling expenses in coming twice here for me from Springfield; your hotel bills during the two terms you have defended me, must be very considerable. It is not just that you should receive nothing in return for such work and expenses."
"Well! well!" he answered, "I will give you a promissory note which you will sign." Taking then a small piece of paper, he wrote:
Urbana, May 23, 1853
Due A. Lincoln fifty dollars, for value received.
[Above shown in handwriting]
He handed me the note, saying, "Can you sign that?"
After reading it, I said, "Dear Mr. Lincoln, this is a joke. It is not possible that you ask only fifty dollars for services which are worth at least two thousand dollars."
He then tapped me with the right hand on the shoulders and said: "Sign that, it is enough. I will pinch some rich men for that, and make them pay the rest of the bill," and he laughed outright.
When Abraham Lincoln was writing the due-bill, the relaxation of the great strain upon my mind, and the great kindness of my benefactor and defender in charging me so little for such a service, and the terrible presentiment that he would pay with his life what he had done for me caused me to break into sobs and tears.
As Mr. Lincoln had finished writing the due-bill, he turned round to me, and said, "Father Chiniquy, what are you crying for? Ought you not to be the most happy man alive? you have beaten your enemies and gained the most glorious victory, and you will come out of all your troubles in triumph."
"Dear Mr. Lincoln," I answered, "allow me to tell you that the joy I should naturally feel for such a victory is destroyed in my mind by the fear of what it may cost you. There were then in the crowd not less than ten or twelve Jesuits from Chicago and St. Louis, who came to hear my sentence of condemnation to the penitentiary. But it was on their heads that you have brought the thunders of heaven and earth! nothing can be compared to the expression of their rage against you, when you not only wrenched me from their cruel hands, but you were making the walls of the court-house tremble under the awful and superhumanly eloquent denunciation of their infamy, diabolical malice, and total want of Christian and human principle, in the plot they had formed for my destruction. What troubles my soul just now and draws my tears, is that it seems to me that I have read your sentence of death in their fiendish eyes. How many other noble victims have already fallen at their feet!
He tried to divert my mind, at first, with a joke, "Sign this," said he, "it will be my warrant of death."
But after I had signed, he became more solemn, and said, "I know that Jesuits never forget nor forsake. But man must not care how and where he dies, provided he dies at the post of honour and duty," and he left me.
Here is the sworn declaration of Miss Philomene Moffat, now Mrs. Philomene Schwartz.
"State of Illinois, Cook County, ss.
"Philomene Schwartz, being first duly sworn, deposes and says: That she is of the age of forty-three years, and resides at 484, Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago; that her maiden name was Philomene Moffat; that she knew Father Lebel, the Roman Catholic priest of the French Catholics of Chicago during his lifetime, and knows Rev. Father Chiniquy; that about the month of May, A.D. 1854, in company with Miss Eugenia Bossey, the housekeeper of her uncle, the Rev. Mr. Lebel, who was then living at the parsonage on Clark Street, Chicago, while we were sitting in the room of Miss Bossey, the Rev. Mr. Lebel was talking with his sister, Mrs. Bossey, in the adjoining room, not suspecting that we were there hearing his conversation, through the door, which was partly opened; though we could neither see him nor his sister, we heard every word of what they said together, the substance of which is as follows—Rev. Mr. Lebel said in substance, to Mr. Bossey, his sister: "'You know that Mr. Chiniquy is a dangerous man, and he is my enemy, having already persuaded several of my congregation to settle in his colony. You must help me to put him down, by accusing him of having tried to do a criminal action with you.'
"Madame Bossey answered: 'I cannot say such a thing against Mr. Chiniquy, when I know it is absolutely false.'
"Rev. Mr. Lebel replied: 'If you refuse to comply with my request, I will not give you the one hundred and sixty acres of land I intended to give you; you will live and die poor.'
"Madame Bossey answered: 'I prefer never to have that land, and I like better to live and die poor, than to perjure myself to please you.'
"The Rev. Mr Lebel, several times, urged his sister, Mrs. Bossey, to comply with his desires, but she refused. At last, weeping and crying, she said: 'I prefer never to have an inch of land than to damn my soul for swearing to a falsehood.'
"The Rev. Mr. Lebel then said:
"'Mr. Chiniquy will destroy our holy religion and our people if we do not destroy him. If you think the swearing I ask you to do is a sin, you will come to confess to me, and I will pardon it in the absolution I will give you.'
"'Have you the power to forgive a false oath?' replied Mrs. Bossey to her brother, the priest.
"'Yes,' he answered, 'I have that power; for Christ has said to all His priests, "What you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and what you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."'
Mrs. Bossey then said: 'If you promise that you will forgive that false oath, and if you give me the one hundred and sixty acres of land you promised, I will do what you want.'
"The Rev. Mr. Lebel then said: 'All right!' I could not hear any more of that conversation, for in that instant Miss Eugenia Bossey, who had kept still and silent with us, made some noise and shut the door.
"Affiant further states: That, some time later, I went to confess to Rev. Mr. Lebel, and I told him that I had lost confidence in him. He asked me why? I answered: 'I lost my confidence in you since I heard your conversation with your sister, when you tried to persuade her to perjure herself in order to destroy Father Chiniquy.
"Affiant further says: That in the month of October, A.D. 1856, the Rev. Mr. Chiniquy had to defend himself, before the civil and criminal court of Urbana, Illinois, in an action brought against him by Peter Spink; some one wrote from Urbana to a paper of Chicago, that Father Chiniquy was probably to be condemned. The paper which published that letter was much read by the Roman Catholics, who were glad to hear that that priest was to be punished. Among those who read that paper was Narcisse Terrien. He had lately been married to Miss Sara Chaussey, who told him that Father Chiniquy was innocent; that she was present with me when Rev. Lebel prepared the plot with his sister, Mrs. Bossey, had promised her a large piece of land if she would swear falsely against Father Chiniquy. Mr. Narcisse Terrien wanted to go with his wife to the help of Father Chiniquy, but she was unwell and could not go. He came to ask me if I remembered well the conversation of Rev. Mr. Lebel, and if I would consent to go to Urbana to expose the whole plot before the court, and I consented.
"We started that same evening for Urbana, where we arrived late at night. I immediately met Mr. Abraham Lincoln, one of the lawyers of Father Chiniquy, and told him all that I knew about the plot.
"That very same night the Rev. Mr. Lebel, having seen my name on the hotel register, came to me much excited and troubled, and said, 'Philomene, what are you here for?'
"I answered him: 'I cannot exactly tell you that; but you will probably know it to-morrow at the court-house?'
"'Oh, wretched girl!' he exclaimed, 'you have come to destroy me.'
"'I do not come to destroy you,' I replied 'for you are already destroyed!'
"Then drawing from his porte-mnnaie-book a big bundle of bank-notes, which he said was worth one hundred dollars, he said: 'I will give you all this money if you will leave by the morning train and go back to Chicago.'
"I answered him; 'Though you would offer me as much gold as this room can contain, I cannot do what you ask.'
"He then seemed exceedingly distressed, and he disappeared. The next morning Peter Spink requested the court to allow him to withdraw his accusations against Father Chiniquy, and stop his prosecutions, having, he said, found out that he, Father Chiniquy, was innocent of the things brought against him, and his request was granted. Then the innocence and honesty of Father Chiniquy was acknowledged by the court after it had been proclaimed by Abraham Lincoln, who was afterwards elected President of the United States. "(Signed) Philomene Schwartz.
"I, Stephen R. Moore, a Notary Public in the County of Kankakee, in the State of Illinois, and duly authorized by law to administer oaths, do hereby certify that, on this 21st day of October, AD1881, Philomene Schwartz personally appeared before me, and made oath that the above affidavit by her subscribed is true, as therein stated. In witness whereto, I have hereunto set my hand and notarial seal. 50year24.htm