Fifty Years
in the
Church of Rome

by Charles Chiniquy

Charles Chiniquy

Charles Chiniquy


On the 15th of December, 1850, I received the following letter:

"Chicago, Ill., December 1st, 1850.

"Rev. Father Chiniquy:

"Apostle of Temperance of Canada.

"Dear Sir: When I was in Canada, last fall, I intended to confer with you on a very important subject, but you were then working in the diocese of Boston, and my limited time prevented me from going so far to meet you. You are aware that the lands of the State of Illinois and the whole valley of the Mississippi are among the richest and most fertile of the world. In a near future, those regions, which are now a comparative wilderness, will be the granary, not only of the United States, but of the whole world; and those who will possess them will not only possess the very heart and arteries of this young and already so great republic, but will become its rulers.

"It is our intention, without noise, to take possession of those vast and magnificent regions of the west in the name and for the benefit of our holy Church. Our plan to attain that object, is as sure as easy. There is, every year, an increasing tide of emigration from the Roman Catholic regions of Europe and Canada towards the United States. Unfortunately, till now, our emigrants have blindly scattered themselves among the Protestant populations, which too often absorb them and destroy their faith.

"Why should we not direct their steps to the same spot? Why should we not, for instance, induce them to come and take possession of these fertile states of Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, ect. They can get those lands now, at a nominal price. If we succeed, as I hope we will, our holy Church will soon count her children here by ten and twenty millions, and through their numbers, their wealth and unity, they will have such a weight in the balance of power that they will rule everything.

"The Protestants, always divided among themselves, will never form any strong party without the help of the united vote of our Catholic people; and that party alone, which will ask and get our help by yielding to our just demands, will rule the country. Then, in reality, though not in appearance, our holy Church will rule the United States, as she is called by our Saviour Himself to rule the whole world. There is, today, a wave of emigrants from Canada towards the United States, which, if not stopped or well directed, is threatening to throw the good French Canadian people into the mire of Protestantism. Your countrymen, when once mixed with the numberless sects which try to attract them, are soon shaken in their faith. Their children sent to Protestant schools, will be unable to defend themselves against the wily and united efforts made to pervert them.

"But put yourself at the head of the emigrants from Canada, France and Belgium; prevent them from settling any longer among the Protestants, by inducing them to follow you to Illinois, and with them, you will soon see here, a Roman Catholic people, whose number, wealth and influence will amaze the world. God Almighty has wonderfully blessed your labours in Canada in that holy cause of temperance. But now the work is done, the same Great God presents to your Christian ambition a not less great and noble work for the rest of your life. Make use of your great influence over your countrymen to prevent them from scattering any longer among Protestants, by inducing them to come here, in Illinois. You will then lay the foundation of a Roman Catholic French people, whose piety, unity, wealth and number will soon renew and revive, on this continent, the past and fading glories of the Church of France.

"We have already, at Bourbonnais, a fine colony of French Canadians. They long to see and hear you. Come and help me to make that comparatively small, though thriving people, grow with the immigrants from the French-speaking countries of Europe and America, till it covers the whole territory of Illinois with its sturdy sons and pious daughters. I will ask the Pope to make you my coadjutor, and you will soon become my successor, for I already feel too weak and unhealthy to bear alone the burden of my too large diocese.

"Please consider what I propose to you before God, and answer me. But be kind enough to consider this overture as strictly confidential between you and me, till we have brought our plans into execution.

"Truly yours, Olvi Vandeveld,
"Bishop of Chicago."

I answered him that the Bishops of Boston, Buffalo and Detroit, had already advised me to put myself at the head of the French Canadian immigration, in order to direct its tide towards the vast and rich regions of the west. I wrote him that I felt as he did, that it was the best way to prevent my countrymen from falling into the snares laid before them by Protestants, among whom they were scattering themselves. I told him that I would consider it a great honour and privilege to spend the last part of my life in extending the power and influence of our holy Church over the Untied States, and that I would, in June next, pay my respects to him in Chicago, when on my way towards the colony of my countrymen at Bourbonnais Grove. I added that after I should have seen those territories of Illinois and the Mississippi valley, with my own eyes, it would be more easy to give him a definite answer. I ended my letter by saying: "But I respectfully request your lordship to give up the idea of selecting me for your coadjutor, or successor. I have already twice refused to become a bishop. That high dignity is too much above my merits and capacities to be ever accepted by me. I am happy and proud to fight the battles of our holy Church; but let my superiors allow me to continue to remain in her ranks as a simple soldier, to defend her honour and extend her power. I may, then, with the help of God, do some good. But I feel, and know that I would spoil everything, if raised to an elevated position, for which I am not fit."

Without speaking to anybody of the proposition of the Bishop of Chicago, I was preparing to go and see the new field where he wanted me to work, when, in the beginning of May, 1851, I received a very pressing invitation from my Lord Lefebre, Bishop of Detroit, to lecture on temperance to the French Canadians who were, then, forming the majority of the Roman Catholics of that city.

That bishop had taken the place of Bishop Rese, whose public scandals and infamies had covered the whole Catholic Church of America with shame. During the last years he had spent in his diocese, very few weeks had past without his being picked up beastly drunk in the lowest taverns, and even in the streets of Detroit, and dragged, unconscious to his place.

After long and vain efforts to reform him, the Pope and bishops of America had happily succeeded in persuading him to go to Rome, and pay his respects to the so-called vicar of Jesus Christ. This was a snare too skillfully laid to be suspected by the drunken bishop. He had hardly set his feet in Rome when the inquisitors threw him into one of their dungeons, where he remained till the republicans set him at liberty, in 1848, after Pope Pius IX. had fled to Civita Vecchia. In order to blot out from the face of his Church the black spots with which his predecessor had covered it, Bishop Lefebre made the greatest display of zeal for the cause of temperance. As soon as he was inducted, he invited his people to follow his example and enroll themselves under its banners, in a very powerful address on the evils caused by the use of intoxicating drinks. At the end of his eloquent sermon, laying his right hand on the altar, he made a solemn promise never to drink any alcoholic liquors.

His telling sermon on temperance, with his solemn and public promise, were published through almost all the papers of that time, and I read it many times to the people with good effect. When, on my way to Illinois, I reached the city of Detroit to give the course of lectures demanded by the bishop, in the first week of June. Though the bishop was absent, I immediately began to preach to an immense audience in the Cathedral. I had agreed to give five lectures, and it was only during the third one that Bishop Lefebre arrived. After paying me great compliments for my zeal and success in the temperance cause, he took me by the hand to his dining-room, and said: "Let us go and refresh ourselves."

I shall never forget my surprise and dismay when I perceived the long dining table, covered with bottles of brandy, wine, beer, ect., prepared for himself and his six or seven priests, who were already around it, joyfully emptying their glasses. My first thought was to express my surprise and indignation, and leave the room in disgust, but by a second and better thought I waited a little to see more of that unexpected spectacle. I accepted the seat offered me by the bishop at his right hand.

"Father Chiniquy," he said, "this is the sweetest claret you ever drank." And before I could utter a word, he had filled my large glass with the wine, and drank his own to my health.

Looking at the bishop in amazement, I said, "What does this mean, my lord?"

"It means that I want to drink with you the best claret you ever tasted."

"Do you take me for a comedian?" I replied, with lips trembling with indignation.

"I did not invite you to play a comedy," he answered. "I invited you to lecture on temperance to my people, and you have done it in a most admirable way, these last three days. Though you did not see me, I was present at this evening's address. I never heard anything so eloquent on that subject as what you said. But now that you have fulfilled your duty, I must do mine, which is to treat you as a gentleman, and drink that bottle of wine with you."

"But, my lord, allow me to tell you that I would not deserve to be called or treated as a gentleman, were I vile enough to drink wine after the address I gave this evening."

"I beg your pardon for differing from you," answered the bishop. "Those drunken people to whom you spoke so well against the evils on intemperance, are in need of the stringent and bitter remedies you offer them in your teetotalism. But here we are sober men and gentlemen, we do not want such remedies. I never thought that the physicians were absolutely bound to take the pills they administered to their patients."

"I hope your lordship will not deny me the right you claim for yourself, to differ with me in this matter. I entirely differ from you, when you say that men who drink as you do with your priests, have a right to be called sober men."

"I fear, Mr. Chiniquy, that you forget where you are, and to whom you speak just now," replied the bishop.

"It may be that I have made a blunder, and that I am guilty of some grave error in coming here, and speaking to you as I am doing, my lord. In that case, I am ready to ask your pardon. But before I retract what I have said, please allow me to respectfully ask you a very simple question."

Then taking from my pocket-book his printed address, and his public and solemn promise never to drink, neither to offer any intoxicating drinks to others, I read it aloud, and said: "Are you the same Bishop of Detroit, called Lefebre, who has made this solemn promise? If you are not the same man, I will retract and beg your pardon, but if you are the same, I have nothing to retract."

My answer fell upon the poor bishop as a thunderbolt.

He lisped some unintelligible and insignificant explanation, which, however, he ended by a coup d'etat, in saying:

"My dear Mr. Chiniquy, I did not invite you to preach to the bishop, but only to the people of Detroit."

"You are right, my lord, I was not called to preach to the bishop, but allow me to tell you that if I had known sooner, that when the Bishop of Detroit, with his priests, solemnly, publicly, and with their right hand on the altar, promised that they would never drink any intoxicating drinks, it means that they will drink and fill themselves with those detestable liquors, till their brains shiver with their poisonous fumes, I would not have troubled you with my presence or my remarks here. However, allow me to tell your lordship to be kind enough to find another lecturer for your temperance meetings. For I am determined to take the train to-morrow morning for Chicago."

There is no need to say that, during that painful conversation, the priests (with only one exception) were as full of indignation against me as they were full of wine. I left the table and went to my sleeping apartment, overwhelmed with sadness and shame.

Half an hour later, the bishop was with me, conjuring me to continue my lectures, on account of the fearful scandals which would result from my sudden and unexpected exit from Detroit, when the whole people had the assurance from me, that very night, that I would continue to lecture the two following evenings. I acknowledged that there would be a great scandal, but I told him that he was the only one responsible for it by his want of faith and consistency.

He, at first, tried to persuade me that he was ordered to drink, by his own physicians, for his health; but I showed him that this was a miserable illusion. He then said that he regretted what had occurred, and confessed that it would be better if the priests practiced what they preached to the people. After which, he asked me, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to forget the errors of the bishops and priests of Detroit, in order to think only of the good which the conversion of the numberless drunkards of that city would do to the people.

He spoke to me with such earnestness of the souls saved, the tears dried, the happiness restored to hundreds of families, by temperance, that he touched the most sensitive chords of my heart, and got from me the promise that I would deliver the other two expected lectures. He was so glad, that he pressed me on his bosom, and gave me, what we call in France, Le baiser de paix (kiss of peace), to show me his esteem and gratitude.

When alone, I tried to drown in a sound sleep the sad emotions of that evening; but it was impossible. That night was to be again a sleepless one to me. The intemperance of that high dignitary and his priests filled me with an unspeakable horror and disgust. Many times, during the dark hours of that night, I head as if it were a voice saying to me, "Do you not see that the bishops and priests of your church do not believe a word of their religion? Their only object is to throw dust in the eyes of the people, and live a jolly life. Do you not see that you do not follow the Word of God, but only the vain and lying traditions of men in the Church of Rome? Come out of it. Break the heavy yoke which is upon you, and follow the simple, pure religion of Jesus Christ."

I tried to silence that voice by saying to myself: "These sins are not the sins of my holy church; they are the sins of individuals. It was not the fault of Christ if Judas was a thief! It is not more the fault of my holy church if this bishop and his priests are drunkards and worldly men. Where will I go if I leave my church? Will I not find drunkards and infidels everywhere I may go in search of a better religion?"

The dawn of the next day found me feverish, and unable to get any rest in my bed. Hoping that the first fresh air of the morning would do me good, I went to the beautiful garden, covered with fruit trees of all kinds, which was, then, around the episcopal residence. But what was my surprise to see the bishop leaning on a tree, with his handkerchief over his face, and bathed in tears. I approached him with the least noise possible. I saw that he did not perceive me. By the motion of his head and shoulders, it became evident to me that he was in anguish of soul. I said to him: "My dear bishop, what is the matter? Why do you weep and cry at such an earl hour?"

Pressing my hand convulsively in his, he answered:

"Dear Father Chiniquy, you do not yet know the awful calamity which has befallen me this night?"

"What calamity?" I asked.

"Do you not remember," he answered, "that young priest who was sitting at your right hand last evening? Well! he went away, during the night, with the wife of a young man, whom he had seduced, and stole four thousand dollars from me before he left."

"I am not at all surprised at that, when I remember how that priest emptied his glasses of beer and wine last night," I answered. "When the blood of a man is heated by those fiery liquors, it is sheer absurdity to think that he will keep his vow of chastity."

"You are right! You are right! God Almighty has punished me for breaking the public pledge I had taken never to drink any intoxicating drinks. We want a reform in our midst, and we will have it,'" he answered. "But what horrible scandal! One of my young priests gone with that young wife, after stealing four thousand dollars from me! Great God! Must we not hide our face now, in this city?"

I could say nothing to alleviate the sorrow of the poor bishop, but to mingle my tears of shame and sorrow with his. I went back to my room, where I wept a part of the day, to my heart's content, on the unspeakable degradations of that priesthood of which I had been so proud, and about which I had such exalted views when I entered its ranks, before I had an inside view of its dark mysteries.

Of course, the next two days that I was the guest of Bishop Lefebre, not a single drop of intoxicating drink was seen on the table. But I know that not long after, that representative of the Pope forgot again his solemn vows, and continued with his priests, drinking, till he died a most miserable death in 1875.

Continue to Chapter Forty-Eight

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