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"Please accompany me to Bourbonnais;
I have to confer with you and the Rev. Mr. Courjeault, on important matters,"
said the bishop, half an hour before leaving St. Anne, after having blessed
"I intended, my lord, to ask your lordship to grant me that honour, before you offered it," I answered.
Two hours of good driving took us to the parsonage of the Rev. Mr. Courjeault, who had prepared a sumptuous dinner, to which several of the principal citizens of Bourbonnais had been invited.
When all the guests had departed, and the bishop, Mr. Courjeault, and I, were alone, he drew from his trunk a bundle of weekly papers of Montreal, Canada, in which several letters, very insulting and compromising for the bishop, were published, signed R. L. C. Showing them to me, he said:
"Mr. Chiniquy, can I know the reasons you had for writing such insulting things against your bishop?"
"My lord," I answered, "I have no words to express my surprise and indignation, when I read those letters. But, thanks be to God, I am not the author of those infamous writings. I would rather have my right hand cut off, than allow it to pen such false and perfidious things against you or any one else."
"Do you assure me that you are not the writer of those letters? Are you positive in that denial; and do you know the contents of these lying communications?" replied the bishop.
"Yes, my lord, I know the contents of these communications. I have read them, several times, with supreme disgust and indignation; and I positively assert that I never wrote a single line of them."
"Then, can you tell me who did write them?" said the bishop.
I answered: "Please, my lord, put that question to the Rev. Mr. Courjeault; he is more able than anyone to satisfy your lordship on that matter."
I looked at Mr. Courjeault with an indignant air, which told him that he could not any longer wear the mask behind which he had concealed himself for the last three or four months. The eyes of the bishop were also turned, and firmly fixed on the wretched priest.
No! Never had I seen anything so strange as the countenance of that guilty man. His face, though usually ugly, suddenly took a cadaverous appearance; his eyes were fixed on the floor, as if unable to move.
The only signs of life left in him were given by his knees, which were shaking convulsively; and by the big drops of sweat rolling down his unwashed face; for, I must say here, en passant, that, with very few exceptions, that priest was the dirtiest man I ever saw.
The bishop, with unutterable expressions of indignation, exclaimed: "Mr. Courjeault; you are the writer of those infamous and slanderous letters! Three times you have written, and twice, you told me, verbally, that there were coming from Mr. Chiniquy! I do not ask you if you are the author of these slanders against me, I see it written in your face. Your malice against Mr. Chiniquy is really diabolical. You wanted to ruin him in my estimation, as well as in that of his countrymen. And to succeed the better in that plot, you publish the most egregious falsehoods against me in the Canadian press, to induce me to denounce Mr. Chiniquy as an impostor. How is it possible that a priest can so completely give himself to the Devil?"
Addressing me, the bishop said: "Mr. Chiniquy, I beg your pardon for having believed and repeated, that you were depraved enough to write those calumnies against your bishop: I was deceived by that deceitful man. I will immediately retract what I have written and said against you."
Then, addressing Mr. Courjeault he again said: "The least punishment I can give you is to turn you out of my diocese, and write to all the Bishops of America, that you are the vilest priest I ever saw, that they never give you any position on this Continent."
These last words had hardly fallen from the lips of the bishop, when Mr. Courjeault fell on his knees before me, and bathing with his tears my hands, which he was convulsively pressing in his, said: "Dear Mr. Chiniquy, I see the greatness of my iniquity against you and against our common bishop. For the dear Saviour, Jesus' sake, forgive me. I take God to witness that you will never have a more devoted friend than I will be. And you, my lord, allow me to tell you, that I thank God that my malice and my great sin against both you and Mr. Chiniquy is known and punished at once. However, in the name of our crucified Saviour, I ask you to forgive me. God knows that, hereafter, you will not have a more obedient and devoted priest than I."
It was a most touching spectacle to see the tears, and hear the sobs of that repentant sinner. I could not contain myself, nor refrain my tears. They were mingled with those of the returning penitent. I answered: "Yes, Mr. Courjeault, I forgive you with all my heart, as I wish my merciful God to forgive me my sins. May the God who sees your repentance forgive you also!"
Bishop Vandeveld, who was gifted with a most sensitive and kind nature, was also shedding tears, when I lifted up Mr. Courjeault to press him to my heart, and to tell him again, with my voice choked by sobs, "I forgive you most sincerely, as I want to be forgiven."
He asked me: "What do you advise me to do? Must I forgive also? and can I continue to keep him at the head of this important mission?"
"Yes, my lord. Please forgive and forget the errors of that dear brother, he has already done so much good to my countrymen of Bourbonnais. I pledge myself that he will hereafter be one of your best priests."
And the bishop forgave him, after some very appropriate and paternal advice, admirably mixed with mercy and firmness.
It was then about three o'clock in the afternoon. We separated to say our vespers and matins (prayers which took nearly an hour). I had just finished reciting them in the garden, when I saw the Rev. Mr. Courjeault walking from the church towards me, but his steps were uncertain as one distracted or half-drunk. I was puzzled at the sight, for he was a strong teetotaler, and I knew he had no strong drink in the church. He advanced three or four steps, then retreated. At last he came very near, but his face had such an expression of terror and sadness, that he was hardly recognizable. He muttered something that I could not understand. "Please repeat your sentence," I said to him, "I did not understand you." He, then, put his hands on his face, and again muttered something; his voice was drowned in his tears and sobs. Supposing that he was coming to ask me, again, to pardon his past malice and calumnies against me, I felt an unspeakable compassion for him. As there were a couple of seats near by, I said to him: "My dear Mr. Courjeault, come and sit here with me; and do not think any more of the past. I will never think any more of your momentary errors, you may look upon me as your most devoted friend."
"Dear Mr. Chiniquy," he answered, "I have to reveal to you another dark mystery of my miserable life. Since more than a year, I have lived with the beadle's daughter as if she were my wife!
"She has just told me, that she is to become a mother in a few days, and that I have to see to that, and give her five hundred dollars. She threatens to denounce me publicly to the bishop and people, if I do not support her and her offspring. Would it not be better for me to flee away, this night, and go back to France to live in my own family, and conceal my shame? Sometimes, I am even tempted to throw myself in the river, to put an end to my miserable and dishonoured existence. Do you think that the bishop would forgive this new crime, if I threw myself at his feet and asked pardon? Would he give me some other place in his vast diocese, where my misfortunes and my sins are not known? Please tell me what to do?"
I remained absolutely stupefied, and did not know what to answer. Though I had compassion for the unfortunate man, I must confess that this new development of his hypocrisy and rascality, filled me with an unspeakable horror and disgust. He had, till then, wrapped himself in such a thick mantle of deception, that many of his people looked upon him as an angel of purity. His infamies were so well concealed under an exterior of extreme moral rigidity, that several of his parishioners looked upon him as a saint, whose relics could perform miracles. Not long before, two young couples, of the best families of Bourbonnais, having danced in a respectable social gathering, had been condemned by him, and compelled to ask pardon, publicly in the church. This pharisaical rigidity caused the secret vices of that priest to be still more conspicuous and scandalous. I felt that the scandal which would follow the publication of this mystery of iniquity would be awful; that it would even cause many for ever to lose faith in our church. So many sad thoughts filled my mind, that I was confused and unable to give him any advice. I answered:
"Your misfortune is really great. If the bishop were not here, I might, perhaps, tell you my mind about the best thing to do, just now. But the bishop is here; he is the only man to whom you have to go to know how to come out of the bottomless abyss into which you have fallen. He is your proper counselor; go and tell him, frankly, everything, and follow his advice."
With staggering step, and in such deep emotions that his sobs and cries could be heard for quite a distance, he went to the bishop. I remained alone, half-petrified at what I had heard.
Half an hour later, the bishop came to me. He was pale and his eyes reddened with his tears: he said to me:
"Mr. Chiniquy, what an awful scandal! What a new disgrace for our holy church! That Mr. Courjeault, whom I thought, till today, to be one of my best priests, is an incarnate devil; what shall I do with him? Please help me by your advice; tell me what you consider the best way of preventing the scandal, and protecting the faith of the good people against the destructive storm which is coming upon them."
"My dear bishop," I answered, "the more I consider these scandals here, the less I see how we can save the church from becoming a dreadful wreck. I feel too much the responsibility of my advice to give it. Let your lordship, guided by the Spirit of God, do what you consider best for the honour of the church and the salvation of so many souls, which are in danger of perishing when this scandal becomes known. For me, the only thing I can do, is to conceal my face with shame, go back to my young colony, to pray, and weep and work."
The bishop replied: "Here is what I intend to do: Mr. Courjeault tells me that there is not the least suspicion, among the people, of his sin, and that it is an easy thing to send that girl to the house provided in Canada for priests' offenses, without awakening any suspicion. He seems so penitent, that I hope, hereafter, we have nothing to fear from him. He will now live the life of a good priest here, without giving any scandal. But if I remove him, then there will be some suspicious of his fall, and the awful scandal we want to avoid will come. Please lend me on hundred dollars, which will give to Mr. Courjeault, to send that girl to Canada as soon as possible; and he will continue here, to work with wisdom, after this terrible trial. What do you think of that plan?"
"If our lordship is sure of the conversion of Mr. Courjeault, and that there is no danger of his great iniquity being known by the people, evidently, the wisest thing you can do is to send that girl to Canada, and keep Mr. Courjeault here. Though I see great dangers even in that way of dealing in this sad affair. But, unfortunately, I have not a cent in hand today, and I cannot lend you the one hundred dollars you want."
"Then," said the bishop, "I will give a draft on a bank of Chicago, but you must endorse it."
"I have no objection, my lord, to endorse any draft signed by your lordship," I replied.
Though it was late in the day, and that I had, at first, proposed to spend the night, I came back to my dear colony of St. Anne. Bourbonnais appeared to me like a burning house, in the cellar of which there was a barrel of powder, from which one could not keep himself too far away.
Five days later, four of the principal citizens of that interesting, but sorely tried place, knocked at my door. They were sent as a deputation from the whole village, to ask me what to do about their curate, Mr. Courjeault. They told me that several of them had, long since, suspected what was going on between that priest and the beadle's daughter, but they had kept that secret. However, yesterday, they said the eyes of the parish had been opened to the awful scandal.
The disgusting demonstrations and attention of the curate, when the victim of his lust took the diligence, left no doubt in the minds of any one, that she is to have a child in Montreal.
"Now, Mr. Chiniquy, we are sent here to ask your advice. Please tell us what to do?"
"My dear friends," I answered, "it is not from me, but from our common bishop, that you must ask what is to be done, in such deplorable affairs."
But they replied, "Would you not be kind enough to come to Bourbonnais with us, and go to our unfortunate priest to tell him that his criminal conduct is known by the whole people, and that we cannot decently keep him a day longer as our Christian teacher. He has rendered us great services in the past, which we will never forget. We do not want to abuse or insult him in any way. Though guilty, he is still a priest. The only favour we ask from him now, is, that he quits the place without noise and scandal, in the night, to avoid any disagreeable demonstrations which might come from his personal enemies, whom his pharisaical rigidity has made pretty numerous and bitter."
"I do not see any reason to refuse you that favour," I answered.
Three hours later, in the presence of those four gentlemen, I was delivering my sad message to the unfortunate curate. He received it as his death warrant. But he was humble and submitted to his fate.
After spending four hours with us in setting his affairs, he fell on his knees, with torrents of tears, he asked pardon for the scandal he had given, and requested us to ask pardon from the whole parish, and at twelve o'clock at night he left for Chicago. That hour was a sad one, indeed, for us all. But my God had a still sadder hour in store for me. The people of Bourbonnais had requested me to give them some religious evening services the next week, and I was just at the end of one of them, the 7th of May, when, suddenly, the Rev. Mr. Courjeault entered the church, walked through the crowd, saluting this one, smiling on that one, and pressing the hands of many. His face bore the marks of impudence and debauchery.
From one end of the church to the other, a whisper of amazement and indignation was heard.
"Mr. Courjeault! Mr. Courjeault!! Great God! what does this mean?"
I observed that he was advancing towards me, probably with the intention of shaking hands, before the people, but I did not give him time to do it, I left by the back door, and went to the parsonage, which was only a few steps distant. He then went back to the door to have a talk with the people, but very few gave him that chance. Though he affected to be exceedingly gay, jocose, and talkative, he could not get many people to stop and hear him. Every one, particularly the women, were filled with disgust at his impudence. Seeing himself nearly deserted at the church door, he turned his steps towards the parsonage, which he entered, whistling. When he beheld me, he laughed, and said:
"Oh oh! our dear little Father Chiniquy here? How do you do?"
"I am quite unwell," I answered, "since I see that you are so miserably destroying yourself."
"I do not want to destroy myself," he answered; "but it is you who want to turn me out of my beautiful parish of Bourbonnais, to take my place. With the four blockheads who accompanied you, the other day, you have frightened and persuaded me that my misfortune with Mary was known by all the people: but our good bishop has understood that this was a trick of yours, and that it was one of your lying stories; I came back to take possession of my parish, and turn you out."
"If the bishop has sent you back here to turn me out, that I may go back to my dear colony, he has just done what I asked him to do; for he knows better than any man, for what great purpose I came to this country, and that I cannot do my work as long as he asks me to take care of Bourbonnais. I go, at once, and leave you in full possession of your parsonage. But I pity you, when I see the dark cloud which is on your horizon. Good-bye!"
"You are the only dark cloud on my horizon," he answered. "When you are begone, I will be in as perfect peace as I was before you set your feet in Illinois. Good-bye; and, please, never come back here, except I invite you."
I left, and ordered my servant man to drive me back to St. Anne. But when crossing the village, I saw that there was a terrible excitement among the people. Several times they stopped me, and requested me to remain in their midst to advise them what to do. But I refused, saying to them: "It would be an insult on my part to advise you anything, in a matter where your duty as men and Catholics is so clear. Consult the respect you owe to yourselves, to your families, and to your church, and you will know what to do."
It took me all night, which was very dark, to come back to St. Anne, where I arrived at dawn, the 9th of May, 1852. The next Sabbath day, I held a public service in my chapel, which was crowded, without making any allusion to that deplorable affair. On the Monday following, four citizens of Bourbonnais were deputed to tell me what they had done, and asked me not to desert them in that hour of trial, but to remember that I was their countryman, and that they had nobody else to whom they could look, to help to fulfill their religious duties. Here is the substance of their message:
"As soon as we saw that you had left our village, without telling us what to do, we called a public meeting, where we passed the following resolutions:
"1st. No personal insult shall be given to Mr. Courjeault.
"2d. We cannot consent to keep him a single hour as our pastor.
"3d. When, next Sabbath, he will begin his sermon, we will instantly leave the church, and go to the door, that he may remain absolutely alone, and understand our stern determination not to have him any more for our spiritual teacher.
"4th. We will send these resolutions to the bishop, and ask him to allow Mr. Chiniquy to divide his time and attention between his new colony and us, till we have a pastor able to instruct and edify us."
Strange to say, poor Mr. Courjeault shut up in his parsonage, during that night, knew nothing of that meeting. He had not found a single friend to warn him of what was to happen the next Sunday. That Sunday the weather was magnificent, and there never had been such a multitude of people at the church. The miserable priest, thinking by that unusual crowd, that everything was to be right with him that day, began his mass, and went to the pulpit to deliver his sermon. But he had hardly pronounced the first words, when, at a signal given by some one, the whole people, without a single exception, ran out of the church as if it had been on fire, and he remained alone. Of course, this fell upon him as a thunderbolt, and he came very near fainting. However, recovering himself, he went to the door, and having, with his tears and sobs, as with his words, persuaded the people to listen to what he had to tell them, he said: "I see that the hand of God is upon me, and I deserve it. I have sinned, and made a mistake by coming back. You do not want me any more to be your pastor. I cannot complain of that; this is your right, you will be satisfied. I will leave the place for ever to-night. I only ask you to forgive my past errors and pray for me."
This short address was followed by the most deadly silence; not a voice was heard to insult him. Many, on the contrary, were so much impressed with the sad solemnity of this occurrence that they could not refrain their tears. The whole people went back to their homes with broken hearts. Mr. Courjeault left Bourbonnais that very night, never to return again. But the awful scandal he had given did not disappear with him.
Our Great and Merciful God, who, many times, has made the very sins and errors of His people to work for good, caused that public iniquity of the priest to remove the scales from many eyes, and prepare them to receive the light, which was already dawning at the horizon. A voice from heaven was as if heard by many of us. "Do you not see that in your Church of Rome, you do not follow the Word of God, but the lying traditions of men? Is it not evident that your priests' celibacy is a snare and an institution of Satan?"
Many asked me to show them in the Gospel where Christ had established the law of celibacy. "I will do better," I added, "I will put the Gospel in your hands, and you will look for yourselves in that holy book, what is said on that matter." The very same day I ordered a merchant, from Montreal, to send me a large box filled with New Testaments, printed by the order of the Archbishop of Quebec; and on the 25th as many from New York. Very soon it was known by every one of my immigrants that not only had Jesus never forbidden His apostles and priests to marry, but he had left them free to have their wives, and live with them, according to the very testimony of Paul. "Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? (1 Cor. ix. 5); they saw, by their Gospel, that the doctrine of celibacy of the priests was not brought from heaven by Christ, but had been forged in darkness, to add to the miseries of man. They read and read over again these words of Christ: "If ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed. And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.... If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." (John viii. 31, 32, 36).
And those promises of liberty, which Christ gave to those who read and followed His Word, made their hearts leap with joy. They fell upon their minds as music from heaven. They also soon found, by themselves, that every time the disciples of Christ had asked Him who would be the first ruler, or the Pope, in His church, He had always solemnly and positively said that, in His church, no body would ever become the first, the ruler or the Pope. And they began, seriously, to suspect that the great powers of the Pope and his bishops were nothing but a sacrilegious usurpation. I was not long without seeing that the reading of the Holy Scriptures by my dear countrymen was changing them into other men. Their minds were evidently enlarged and raised to higher spheres of thought. They were beginning to suspect that the heavy chains which were woulding their shoulders were preventing them from making progress in wealth, intelligence, and liberty, as their more fortunate fellow-men, called Protestants.
This was not yet the bright light of the day, but it was the blessed dawn.