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Shortly after the trial of auricular
confession, my young friend, Louis Cazeault, accosted me on a beautiful morning
and said, "Do you know what happened last night?"
"No," I answered. "What was the wonder?"
"You know that our priest spends almost all his evenings at Mr. Richard's house. Everybody thinks that he goes there for the sake of the two daughters. Well, in order to cure him of that disease, my uncle, Dr. Tache, and six others, masked, whipped him without mercy and he was coming back at eleven o'clock at night. It is already known by everyone in the village, and they split their sides with laughing."
My first feeling on hearing that news was one of joy. Ever since my first confession I felt angry every time I thought of that priest. His questions had so wounded me that I could not forgive him. I had enough self-control, however, to conceal my pleasure, and I answered my friend:
"You are telling me a wicked story; I can't believe a word of it."
"Well," said young Cazeault, "come at eight o'clock this evening to my uncle's. A secret meeting is to take place then. No doubt they will speak of the pill given to the priest last night. We shall place ourselves in our little room as usual and shall hear everything, our presence not being suspected. You may be sure that it will be interesting."
"I will go," I answered, "but I do not believe a word of that story."
I went to school at the usual hour. Most of the pupils had preceded me. Divided into groups of eight or ten, they were engaged in a most lively conversation. Bursts of convulsive laughter were heard from every corner. I could very well see that something uncommon had taken place in the village.
I approached several of these groups, and all received me with the question:
"Do you know that the priest was whipped last night as he was coming from the Misses Richards'?"
"That is a story invented for fun," said I. "You were not there to see him, were you? You therefore know nothing about it; for it anybody had whipped the priest he would not surely boast of it."
"But we heard his screams," answered many voices.
"What! was he then screaming out?" I asked.
"He shouted out at the top of his voice, `Help, help! Murder!'"
"But you were surely mistaken about the voice," said I. "It was not the priest who shouted, it was somebody else. I could never believe that anybody would whip a priest in such a crowded village."
"But," said several, "we ran to his help and we recognized the priest's voice. He is the only one who lisps in the village."
"And we saw him with our own eyes," said several.
The school bell put an end to this conversation. As soon as school was out I returned to the house of my relatives, not wishing to learn any more about this matter. Although I did not like this priest, yet I was much mortified by some remarks which the older pupils made about him.
But it was difficult not to hear any more. On my arrival home I found my uncle and aunt engaged in a very warm debate on the subject. My uncle wished to conceal the fact that he was among those who had whipped him. But he gave the details so precisely, he was so merry over the adventure, that it was easy to see that he had a hand in the plot. My aunt was indignant, and used the most energetic expressions to show her disapprobation.
That bitter debate annoyed me so that I did not stay long to hear it all. I withdrew to my study.
During the remainder of the day I changed my resolution many times about my going to the secret meeting in the evening. At one moment I would decide firmly not to go. My conscience told me that, as usual, things would be uttered which it was not good for me to her. I had refused to go to the two last meetings, and a silent voice, as it were, told me I had done well. Then a moment after I was tormented by the desire to know precisely what had taken place the evening before. The flagellation of a priest in the midst of a large village was a fact too worthy of note to fail to excite the curiosity of a child. Besides, my aversion to the priest, though I concealed it as well as I could, made me wish to know whether everything was true on the subject of the chastisement. But in the struggle between good and evil which took place in my mind during that day, the evil was finally to triumph. A quarter of an hour before the meeting my friend came to me and said:
"Make haste, the members of the association are coming."
At this call all my good resolutions vanished. I hushed the voice of my conscience, and a few minutes later I was placed in an angle of that little room, where for more than two hours I learned so many strange and scandalous things about the lives of the priests of Canada.
Dr. Tache presided. He opened the meeting in a low tone of voice. At the beginning of his discourse I had some difficulty to understand what he said. He spoke as one who feared to be overheard when disclosing a secret to a friend. But after a few preliminary sentences he forgot the rule of prudence which he had imposed upon himself, and spoke with energy and power.
Mr. Etienne Tache was naturally eloquent. He seemed to speak on no question except under the influence of the deepest conviction of its truth. His speech was passionate, and the tone of his voice clear and agreeable. His short and cutting sentences did not reach the ear only: they penetrated even the secret folds of the soul. He spoke in substance as follows:
"Gentlemen, I am happy to see you here more numerously than ever. The grave events of last night have, no doubt, decided many of you to attend debates which some began to forsake, but the importance of which, it seems to me, increases day by day.
"The question debated in our last meeting `The Priests' is one of life and death, not only for our young and beautiful Canada, but in a moral point of view it is a question of life and death for our families, and for every one of us in particular.
"There is, I know, only one opinion among us on the subject of priests; and I am glad that this opinion is not only that of all educated men in Canada, but also of learned France nay, of the whole world. The reign of the priest is the reign of ignorance, of corruption, and of the most barefaced immorality, under the mask of the most refined hypocrisy. The reign of the priest is the death of our schools; it is the degradation of our wives, the prostitution of our daughters; it is the reign of tyranny the loss of liberty.
"We have only one good school, I will not say in St. Thomas, but in all our county. This school in our midst is a great honour to our village. Now see the energy with which all the priests who come here work for the closing of that school. They use every means to destroy that focus of light which we have started with so much difficulty, and which we support by so many sacrifices.
"With the priest of Rome our children do not belong to us: he is their master. Let me explain. The priest honours us with the belief that the bodies, the flesh and bones of our children, are ours, and that our duty in consequence is to clothe and feed them. But the nobler and more sacred part, namely, the intellect, the heart, the soul, the priest claims as his own patrimony, his own property. The priest has the audacity to tell us that to him alone it belongs to enlighten those intelligences, to form those hearts, to fashion those souls as it may best suit him. He has the impudence to tell us that we are too silly or perverse to know our duties in this respect. We have not the right of choosing our school teachers. We have not the right to send a single ray of light into those intellects, or to give to those souls who hunger and thirst after truth a single crumb of that food prepared with so much wisdom and success by enlightened men of all ages.
"By the confessional the priests poison the springs of life in our children. They initiate them into such mysteries of iniquity as would terrify old galley slaves. By their questions they reveal to them secrets of a corruption such as carries its germs of death into the very marrow of their bones, and that from the earliest years of their infancy. Before I was fifteen years old I had learned more real blackguardism from the mouth of my confessor than I have learned ever since, in my studies and in my life as a physician for twenty years.
"A few days ago I questioned my little nephew, Louis Cazeault, upon what he had learned in his confession. He answered me ingenuously, and repeated things to me which I would be ashamed to utter in your presence, and which you, fathers of families, could not listen to without blushing. And just think, that not only of little boys are those questions asked, but also of our dear little girls. Are we not the most degraded of men if we do not set ourselves to work in order to break the iron yoke under which the priest keeps our dear country, and by means of which he keeps us, with our wives and children, at his feet like vile slaves.
"While speaking to you of the deleterious effects of the confessional upon our children, shall I forget its effects upon our wives and upon ourselves? Need I tell you that, for most women, the confessional is a rendezvous of coquetry and of love? Do you not feel as I do myself, that by means of the confessional the priest is more the master of the hearts of our wives than ourselves? Is not the priest the private and public confidant of our wives? Do not our wives go invariably to the feet of the priest, opening to him what is most sacred and intimate in the secrets of our lives as husbands and as fathers? The husband belongs no more to his wife as her guide through the dark and difficult paths of life: it is the priest! We are no more their friends and natural advisers. Their anxieties and their cares they do not confide to us. They do not expect from us the remedies for the miseries of this life. Towards the priest they turn their thoughts and desires. He has their entire and exclusive confidence. In a word, it is the priest who is the real husband of our wives! It is he who has the possession of their respect and of their hearts to a degree to which no one of us need ever aspire!
"Were the priest an angel, were he not made of flesh and bones just as we are, were not his organization absolutely the same as our own, then might we be indifferent to what might take place between him and our wives, whom he has at his feet, in his hands even more, in his heart. But what does my experience tell me, not only as a physician, but also as a citizen of St. Thomas? What does yours tell you? Our experience tells us that the priest, instead of being stronger, is weaker than we generally are with respect to women.
His sham vows of perfect chastity, far from rendering him more invulnerable to the arrows of Cupid, expose him to be made more easily the victim of that god, so small in form, but so dreadful a giant by the irresistible power of his weapons and the extent of his conquests.
"As a matter of fact, of the last four priest who came to St. Thomas, have not three seduced many of the wives and daughters of our most respectable families? And what security have we that the priest who is now with us does not walk in the same path? Is not the whole parish filled with indignation at the long nightly visits made by him to two girls whose dissolute morals are a secret to nobody? And when the priest does not respect himself, would we not be silly in continuing to give him that respect of which he himself knows he is unworthy?
"At out last meeting the opinions were divided at the beginning of the discussion. Many thought it would be well to speak to the bishop about the scandal caused by those nightly visits. But the majority judged that such steps would be useless, since the bishop would do one of two things, namely, he would either pay no attention to our just complaints, as has often been the case, or he would remove this priest, filling his place with one who would do no better. That majority, which became a unanimity, acceded to my thought of taking justice into our own hands. The priest is our servant. We pay him a large tithe. We have therefore claims upon him. He has abused us, and does so every day by his public neglect of the most elementary laws of morality. In visiting every night that house whose degradation is known to everybody, he gives to youth an example of perversity the effects of which no one can estimate.
"It had been unanimously decided that he should be whipped. Without my telling you by whom it was done, you may be assured that Mr. Beaubien's flagellation of last night will never be forgotten by him!
"Heaven grant that this brotherly correction be a lesson to teach all the priests of Canada that their golden reign is over, that the eyes of the people are opened, and that their domination is drawing to an end!"
This discourse was listened to with deep silence, and Dr. Tache saw by the applause that followed that his speech had been the expression of every one.
Next followed a gentleman named Dubord, who in substance spoke as follows:
"Mr. President, I was not among those who gave the priest the expression of public feeling with the energetic tongue of the whip. I wish I had been, however; I would heartily have co-operated in giving that lesson to the priest of Canada. Let me give my reason.
"My daughter who is twelve years old, went to confession as did the others a few weeks ago. It was against my will. I know by my own experience that of all actions confession is the most degrading in a person's life. I can imagine nothing so well calculated to destroy for every one's self-respect as the modern invention of the confessional. Now, what is a person without self-respect especially a woman? Without this all is lost to her for ever.
"In the confessional everything is corruption of the lowest grade.
"In the confessional, a girl's thoughts are polluted, her tongue is polluted, her heart is polluted yes, and forever polluted! Do I need to tell you this? You know it as well as I do. Though you are now all too intelligent to degrade yourselves at the feet of a priest, though it is long since you have been guilty of that meanness, not one of you have forgotten the lessons of corruption received, when young, in the confessional. Those lessons were engraved on your memory, your thoughts, your heart, and your souls like the scar left by the red-hot iron upon the brow of the slave, to remain a perpetual witness of his shame and servitude. The confessional is a place where one gets accustomed to hear, and repeat without a scruple, things which would cause even a prostitute to blush!
"Why are Roman Catholic nations inferior to nations belonging to Protestantism? Only in the confessional can the solution of that problem be found. And why are Roman Catholic nations degraded in proportion to their submission to the priest? It is because the oftener the individuals composing those nations go to confession, the more rapidly they sink in the scale of intelligence and morality. A terrible example of this I had in my own house.
"As I said a moment ago, I was against my daughter going to confession; but her poor mother, who is under the control of the priest, earnestly wanted her to go. Not to have a disagreeable scene in my house, I had to yield to the tears of my wife.
"On the day following that of her confession they believed I was absent; but I was in my office, with the door sufficiently open to allow me to hear what was said. My wife and daughter had the following conversation:
"`What makes you so thoughtful and sad, my dear Lucy, since you went to confession? It seems to me you should feel happier since you had the privilege of confession your sins.'
"Lucy made no answer.
"After a silence of two or three minutes her mother said:
"`Why do you weep, dear child? Are you ill?'
"Still no answer from the child.
"You may well suppose that I was all attention. I had my suspicions about the dreadful ordeal which had taken place. My heart throbbed with uneasiness and anger.
"After a short time my wife spoke to her child with sufficient firmness to force her to answer. In a trembling voice and half suppressed with sobs my dear little daughter answered:
"`Ah! mamma, if you knew what the priest asked me, and what he said to me in the confessional, you would be as sad as I am.'
"`But what did he say to you? He is a holy man. You surely did not understand him if you think he said anything to pain you.'
"`Dear mother,' as she threw herself into her mother's arms, `do not ask me to confess what the priest said! He told to me things so shameful that I cannot repeat them. But that which pains me most is the impossibility of banishing from my thoughts the hateful things which he has taught me. His impure words are like the leeches put upon the chest of my friend Louise they could not be removed without tearing the flesh. What must have been his opinion of me to ask such questions!'
"My child said no more, and began to sob again.
"After a short silence my wife rejoined:
"`I'll go to the priest. I'll tell him to beware how he speaks in the confessional. I have noticed myself that he goes too far with his questions. I, however thought that he was more prudent with children. After the lesson that I'll give him, be sure that you will have only to tell your sins, and that you will be no more troubled by his endless questions. I ask of you, however, never to speak of this to anybody, especially never let your poor father know anything about it; for he has little enough religion already, and this would leave him without any at all.'
"I could contain myself no longer. I rose and abruptly entered the parlour. My daughter threw herself, weeping, into my arms. My wife screamed with terror, and almost fell into a swoon. I said to my child:
"If you love me, put your hand on my heart and promise me that you'll never go to confession again. Fear God, my child; walk in His presence, for His eye seeth you everywhere. Remember that day and night He is ready to forgive us. Never place yourself again at the feet of a priest to be defiled and degraded by him!
"This my daughter promised me.
"When my wife had recovered from her surprise I said to her:
"Madam, for a long time the priest has been everything, and your husband nothing to you. There is a hidden and terrible power that governs your thoughts and affections as it governs your deeds-- it is the power of the priest. This you have often denied; but providence has decided to-day that this power should be for ever broken for you and for me. I want to be the ruler in my own house; and from this moment the power of the priest over you must cease, unless you prefer to leave my house for ever. The priest has reigned here too long! But now that I know he has stained and defiled the soul of my daughter, his empire must fall! Whenever you go and take your heart and secrets to the feet of the priest, be so kind as not to come back to the same house with me."
Three other discourses followed that of Mr. Dubord, all of which were pregnant with details and facts going to prove that the confessional was the principal cause of the deplorable demoralisation of St. Thomas.
If, in addition to all that, I could have mentioned before that association what I already know of the corrupting influences of that institution given to the world by centuries of darkness, certainly the determination of its members to make use of every means to abolish the usage would have been strengthened.