Charles George Deuther.

The life and times of the Rt. Rev. John Timon, D. D. : first Roman Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo online

. (page 16 of 30)
Online LibraryCharles George DeutherThe life and times of the Rt. Rev. John Timon, D. D. : first Roman Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo → online text (page 16 of 30)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Near them the young men danced their ancient Indian dances,
to their old Indian music. The worthy pastor and I enjoyed the
simple, innocent gaiety which sweetly terminated a day, the
greater part of which had been given to God's worship.

" The author lately quoted charges the Mexican Indians with
gross superstition; others have charged them with a tendency to
idolatry. The latter charge is unfounded; a close examination
of acts supposed to have been idolatrous, would prove them to
have been merely superstitious; and superstition is found in all
nations, and in every religion and sect. Read Robert Burns for
a graphic description of superstition in Scotland. Superstition is
defined by Webster to be, ' excessive exactness or rigor in reli-
gious opinions or practice,' and ' excess or extravagance in
religion.' Superstition, then, when it does not imply fanaticism,
is better than infidelity or cold indifference to religion. I^either
are good, but of two evils, I prefer that which is foolish excess oi
extravagance of good, in the order of eternity, to that which is
its total negation,

" The Indian, late an idolater, and still, alas ! too ignorant, is no
doubt inclined to superstition; but the clergy make great efforts
to correct this inclination. Unhappily, there are not enough of


priests to instruct them; though the Bishops have seminaries in
which the Indian languages are taught to the young clergy, still
the supply is not sufficient; many priests cannot yet speak the
language of the tribe to which they minister; and the Spanish,
though understood, generally, by the Indians, in all that relates
to visible things, is a very imperfect medium for conveying to
them spiritual ideas of the invisible world. As to this, the sepa-
ration from Old Spain was also a loss to the aboriginal race;
many of their kindest instructors and Rev. fathers were forced,
under the law which expelled all Spaniards, to leave their Indian
missions. Spain, too, in granting lands, has considered the Indians
as minors; they had the free and full use of their lands, but could
not sell them; when independent, they were free to sell. To specu-
lators then, for a trifle, they did sell, and soon were forced from
the sweet home of happy days, to wild and almost inaccessible
mountain tracts. Notwithstanding all this, I found the Mexican
Indians, generally, far better, and far more happy, than I had
been led to expect; far above our Indians, and still farther
elevated above their idolatrous forefathers. Thus the blessed
influence of the Catholic religion, triumphing in Mexico and in
the South over conquest, continued civil wars, and some indivi-
dual acts of cruelty, has preserved the Indian race. At this day,
in the America which was settled by Catholics, about eighteen
millions of Indians in unmixed blood, are found; they are chris-
tians, and take part in government, whilst on our part of the
continent the Indian race is almost extinct.

"In the mixed race and among the Creoles, instruction is
widely diffused; many are truly learned. It would take too long
to give' the names of gentlemen of the highest standing and of
great wealth amongst the Mexicans, the Creoles, or pure Span-
iards, whose extensive learning is only surpassed by a munificent
charity, by a deep spirit of religion, and by devout attention to
religious duties. A fervent and touching piety is indeed very
common, in the highest ranks as well as among the poor. Few
nations, in proportion to population, have more numerous or
better filled libraries. Thus the cathedral library contains thirty


thousand volumes, that of the College of St, John Lateran twelve
thousand. A great proportion of the population approach to the
holy sacraments; among them,' consequently, great faults must be
rare. Among those who do not aj^proach the sacraments, certain
faults must be common. Some of these are inherent in the Indian
nature; some others that characterize men of a warm clime, who
do not serve God, may be found more frequent in Mexico than
in lands where the same natural causes do not exist; whilst faults
and sins that are common with us, are almost unknown in
Mexico. I traveled tbere some thousands of miles, over roads
nearly impassable, yet, even in the rainy season, when the drivers
and servants were working knee-deep in water, the most vexa-
tious accidents often occurring, I never heard either driver or
servant utter an oath or a blasphemy. I might enumerate other
sins of a horrid type, alas, too common amidst the pride, wants
and passions of overstrained refinement, and which are very rare
in Mexico. I visited many prisons in the republic, spoke to the
culprits, administered confirmation to them, aided to prepare
some for execution, yet not on a single visage did I trace that
deep and dark impress of crime, which I have noticed searing
the countenance of many a culprit in prisons of other lands.

" Again I repeat it, I do not say that all are good, or that the
good have not their faults. Why should we expect there perfec-
tion, which we might seek in vain here or in any spot on earth?
But I do record my deep conviction that, before Him who reads
the heart, the balance of virtue and vice probably stands as fair
in Mexico as in any other land; and that I would sooner cast my
lot for a blessed eternity with many a meek, humble Mexican
Indian, than W'ith the proud Pharisee, who thanks his God, ' tliat
he is not like other men.'

" The most erroneous ideas exist as to the clergy of Mexico.
They are represented as excessively numerous, immensely rich,
ignorant and vicious, ruling the country and thwarting the on-
ward march of government. So often and in so many ways have
those charges been made or insinuated, that I went to Mexico
prepared to mourn over evils, most of which, I soon found, existed


but in the imagination of enemies of our religion, or in the
facility of weak minds to readily believe and echo what enemies
have said.

" The Archbishop of Mexico, Don Lazaro de Garcia, is a pro-
found canonist, a learned and truly pious man. His revenues
amount, it is said, to twenty-four thousand dollars per annum.
He spends almost all in works of mercy and zeal, and in encour-
aaincp learnino;. He needs but little for himself, since his mode
of life is simple, retiring and austere. In his xVrch episcopal
palace, his own rooms are very plain and poorly furnished. The
poor cot in which he sleeps is the same which he used at college,
when yet a student; he rises before day, visits but little, and
labors till late at night. His meals are very plain and frugal.
The president of St. Anna's Council, Bishop Mungiua, possesses
extensive learning, great talents, and unblemished reputation, and,
like his predecessor. Bishop Portugal, is revered by his flock, and
by the poor beloved as a father. The many valuable works he
has published would do honor to a prelate in any country. The
Bishop elect of Guadalajara has written some works which prove
his learning and talents; in the sacred ministry he displays vir-
tues which make him dear to his people. The Bishop elect of
Monterey has talents of the first order, and those talents are well
cultivated. He speaks several languages; but his humility and
his many christian virtues grace him still more than his acquire-
ments. I might speak truly in the same strain of many eminent
clergymen, with whom I had the honor of becoming acquainted.
I might declare that generally among the canons and the higher
clergy, I met with men who would be worthy of their post in any
country. Yet, I do not say that there are no unworthy men in
the sacred ministry. Alas, there was a Judas among the twelve!
and one bad priest will attract more notice than twenty good.
The good are unobtrusive, they are often hid fi-om the public eye
in their holy labor for the poor sick, and for God; the bad are
ever abroad, and seem to have an ubiquity which magnifies their
numbers. There are evils in the clergy, but a merciftil protec-
tion of God has prevented still greater, which political events


must otherwise have caused. On the clergy, in some measure,
as on the laity, the convulsions and revolutions of forty-three
years have had a deleterious effect; but also, in consequence of
these convulsions, for several years not a single Bishop was to be
found in the whole republic; young clergymen had then to be
sent to various dioceses of the United States for ordination. I need
not say how discipline would naturaUy relax, and studies lan-
guish under the total privation of the chief pastors.

"Another evil now, as formerly, exists in Mexico, and might
account for much relaxation of discipline. Bishops are too few;
it is morally and physically impossible for them to fulfill the
duties of their office. France has seventy-seven Bishops and
fourteen Archbishops ; Ireland, with seven milKons of Catholics,
and a territory not more extensive than a single diocese of
Mexico, has four Archbishops and twenty- four Bishops ; and
Mexico, with seven or eight millions of Catholics, and a territory
so vast, has only one Archbishop, and nine Bishojjrics, with
actually only six Bishops, the former incumbents being dead.
Of the four last Bishops of Guadalajara, but one, during a very
long administration, was able once, and only once, to visit all his
diocese ; the other three visited but a small part ; the whole four
died on the visit, one as he completed it, the others as they
labored along it. "Were there, in an army, but one captain for
a thousand men, one colonel for ten thousand, and one general
for a million, what would become of military discipline? The
Church of God is an army 'in battle array.' In Mexico there
are rank and file enough, but officers are wanting. Thanks to
God, the Bishops, the clergy and the people are aw^akeniug to a
sense of this truth, and two new Bishoprics are already erected.
God grant that many others be soon created !

"It has been stated here that the Church controls the govern-
ment. On the contrary, in Catholic Mexico, the government has
but too often oppressed the Church. Unequal and ruinous
burdens were imposed on the clergy ; much of the parish lands
was seized ; monasteries and religious houses were and are
occupied by force as barracks, leaving but a part of their own


house to the reh'gious. Bishops were often thwarted and checked
in their efforts to correct abuses. Still, the very legislature which
refused to recoo-nize Sr. Clenientiui, the learned and estimable
Nuncio of the Pope, expressed their general and high esteem of
the secular clergy. And strange to say, whilst censuring the
lives of the monks, they refuse to permit the Pope's delegate to
correct the very abuses of which they complain. Oh, that the
Church in Mexico were perfectly free! Oh, that the successor
of St. Peter had full permission 'to confirm his brethren;' then
whatever relaxation may affect the clergy would soon disappear.
" Much has been said about the riches of the Mexican Church
and clergy. As to the mere edifice, some twenty or thirty
churches may be called rich ; several others, decent and well
furnished ; but a very great many are poor, and some are very
poor. As to the clergy, those who know the use to which they
have generally applied any surplus revenues, would wish that
they were richer. Many, not only of the churches, convents,
hospitals, asylums and colleges, but also of the bridges, aqueducts,
public roads, and public squares or walks, are due to the clergy,
who projected them and paid for them. The learned and pious
Bishop elect of Guadalajara, furnished me with an account of
the works of public utility which, in his own days, the Bishops
of Guadalajara had began and perfected at their own expense.
The mere enumeration forms a small volume. In every part of
the republic I found works of this kind, constructed wholly or in
great part at the expense of Bishops, canons, or other clergymen.
Alas ! few would now be able to do so much ! Long since a law
was passed which virtually abolished tithes ; the glebe lands have
been sequestered, the churches despoiled. The liberals have
endeavored to swell the revenues of the Church, by taking into
the count hospitals, asylums, colleges, convents of nmis, and even
the amount paid them for tuition. Let us apply the same rule to
our own country. One who appeared to know, declared some
time ago that the corporation of Holy Trinity church, in New
York, was worth eighty millions of dollars, and was richer than
the whole Church of Mexico. I can scarcely believe it, but I


well believe that if, to the riches of that one corj3oration we add
the possessions and revenues of all the other Protestant clmrches
in the city of ISTew York, and the property and revenues of all
their hospitals, asylums, colleges, Bible societies, tract societies,
charities, etc., we would find a total exceeding all the riches
possessed by all the churches and church establishments of seven
millions of Catholics in Mexico.

" By statistical tables published in Mexico in 1852, the number
of secular priests in the republic was estimated at three thousand
two hundred and twenty-three. The Bishops have since been
making great efforts to obtain a number more adequate to the
wants of the country. Some of the seminaries count ujDward of
five hundred seminarians ; then we may now estimate the secular
clergy at about four thousand five hundred ; the regular clergy
may be estimated at about three thousand ; making an aggregate
of between seven and eight thousand, or an average of one priest
for every thousand souls. How different from idolatrous times,
three hundred years ago, when, in the city of Mexico alone, five
thousand priests were attached to the service of the temples. It
is true that the clergy in Mexico are not fairly distributed ; some
places abounding and others very deficient. Still the number,
compared to duties, is not great ; and when we know that many
are employed in colleges in teaching, and in other functions,
ajDart from the sacred ministry, we feel that the clergy must
often be unable to meet the demands on their time and labor.

" The writer I have just quoted fixes the entire revenue of the
Mexican clergy, derived from every source, even from ofiferings
at baptisms and marriages, burials, devout practices, etc., at
eight or ten millions, and, in a note, he says he thinks he has
exceeded the true amount. But then, even according to his
account, the average of the Mexican clergy's revenue, from the
Archbishop of Mexico to a poor curate or vicar, would be about
one thousand dollars per annum, or about two hundred pounds
sterling yearly for each minister of the altar. Contrast this with
the revenue of clergymen in England, or indeed with the reve-
nues of many clergymen in our own country. I found many


priests in Mexico who were poor, yet who still were generous
benefactors of those who were poorer than themselves ; I found
some who were rich, and who made most noble use of their
riches. I found some monks who did not appear edifying ; but
I also found many of exemplary life. Among the Carmelites
and the Reformed Franciscans, among those of St. Ferdinand in
Mexico, or near Guadalajara, at Zoppapan, I could not but see
worthy successors of the holy men of whom a Protestant writer,
Prescott, thus speaks :

"'Twelve Franciscan friars embarked for New Spain, which
they reached early in 1524. They were men of unblemished
purity of life, nourished with the learning of the cloister, and like
many others whom the Romish Church has sent forth on such
apostolic missions, counted all personal sacrifices as little in the
sacred cause to which they were devoted. The missionaries lost
no time in the good work of conversion. They began their
preaching through interpreters, until they themselves had ac-
quired a competent knowledge of the language. They opened
schools and Ibunded colleges, in which the native youth were
instructed in profane as well as christian learning. In a few
years, every vestige of the primitive teocallis, or pagan temples,
was effaced from the land. The uncouth idols of the country
shared the same fate. In about twenty years from the first
advent of the missionaries, one of their body could make the
pious vaunt, that nine millions of converts had been admitted
within the christian fold.' — Prescott, C. of M.

" Mr. Prescott, generally, when he speaks of what he knows or
has closely studied, speaks in praise of the Catholic Church. It
is only when he speaks from second hand knowledge, that he
utters a word of insult. Thus, his notice of the Dominican friars
is as favorable as that which I have quoted of the Franciscans.
I could add to his list an enumeration of most regular and edify-
ing convents of Carmelites, Augustinians, and Franciscans, in
which I lodged, and in M'hich I marked evidences of holy life.
I could speak of the few Jesuits fathers in the same style of


praise in which a most amiable, learned and distinguished Pro-
testant spoke some few years past. It is true, Madame Calderon
de la Barca is now a Catholic, but when she wrote her ' Life in
Mexico,' she was not a Catliolic. But I fear to trespass too much
on your time, and I sum up by declaring that during my stay in
Mexico I found the evil much less than I expected, and the good
immeasurably greater than I could have expected.

" More than forty years ago, om- General Pike, ascending Bed
Biver, and unknowingly tresjjassing on the Mexican territory, was
taken prisoner, and brought to the City of Mexico. In his work,
(though a Protestant,) he gives a flattering description of the
Mexican people and clergy. Were he again permitted to visit
that land, he probably could not now, after long years of civil
wars, give equal praise. Tet he would see enough to join with
me in the judgment I have pronounced, and also to join with me
in adoring and blessing that special Providence of God, which
has prevented forty-three years of revolutions from working the
full sadly deteriorating effects so usually and so fatally produced."

In the Spring of the year 1853, Monsignore Bedini, Archbishop
of Thebes, was sent by the Papal government at Bome, as Apos-
tolic l^uncio to the court of Brazil, and, in the course of his
journey, was authorized to hand a complimentary autograph let-
ter from the Pope to the President of the United States. In
addition to this, he w^as charged to look after the interests of the
Church in America, and report to the Holy Father the wants,
condition and the prospects of religion in this country. Power
was delegated to him to adjust local differences between congre-
gations and their spiritual heads, and among many other things,
he was empowered to settle the long and uninterrupted spirit of
rebellion in St. Louis church, in Buffalo. On the preceding pages
we have given a very detailed explanation of the trouble with
this congregation, from originally printed documents, found
among the posthumous writings of Bishop Timon. It will be


necessary here only to sketch briefly the visit of the l^nncio, and
alhide to his importance, in any further consideration of this
memorable trouble.

The eflforts of Bishop Timon to settle the difiiculty of Church
discipline, affecting his authority as Bishop, had been in vain.
As has already been seen, the condition of the church had been
in a very unsettled state. Correspondence, containing resolu-
tions for better behavior, or defiant resistance ; communications
to the public papers of the day unfriendly to the Bishop; a petition
to the Common Council of the city, and also to the Legislature
of the State, to notice and adjiLst their claims; all these and other
forms of insubordination, gave the Bishop much trouble. The
arrival of the Kuncio, therefore, seemed an auspicious event.

As soon as was practicable, a time was appointed for an inter-
view between the trustees of St. Louis church, and His Eminence
the Nuncio. The following correspondence will sufficiently
explain the result :



" The trustees of St. Louis church visited the Apostolic ISTuncio
on the 22d inst., and presented a memorial containing the details
of their alleged grievances,

" The Nuncio delivered the following answer in the course of
Tuesday, the 25th instant :

'■'•'• To the Trustees of St. Louis Churchy Buffalo^

" ' Gentlemen: I have read, with great attention, the memorial
which you handed to me, relative to the unhappy difficulties
existing, or which did exist, between some members of St. Louis
congregation and their Bishop. Deplorable, indeed, is the
condition of that congregation. Instead of enjoying in peace the
comforts of refigion — practicing it, and honoring it in love and
charity — discord and bitterness are found ; and even in the


temple a sad desolation reigns. A truly christian heart cannot
remain longer in such a state. Indeed, the Catholic who would
not seek to be delivered from it, by a reasonable submission to
authority, would excite just doubts of his faith, and of his sincere
will to follow the Divine teaching of that faith. But the appeal
which you have made to the Holy Father, and which you again
make to me as his representative, proves, I hope, that you wish
to terminate those unhappy dissensions, and that you, as is just,
expect that result from his authority and counsels.

" ' I see no necessity for passing in review all the details or all
the assertions ol your memorial. The root of the evil and its
remedies are very evident. My whole attention shall be directed
to point them out.

" ' I thought it my duty, first of all, to examine carefully the
original deed of the church lot. I find that in the year 1829, it
was given by Mr. L. Lecouteulx '■for the sole a/nd only use of a
Roman Catholic Church and Cemetery f consequently its whole
administration, whether in the measures taken to provide for its
wants, or to remedy any abuses that may arise, should be founded
on the principles and laws which regulate the discipline of the
Catholic Church;

" ' Furthermore, I find that the original deed was made by
Mr. Lecouteulx to Bishop Dubois, with the condition that the
property should remain in his hands, and in those of his suc-
cessors, for the purpose above mentioned. ISTow, such a donation
having been accepted by Bishop Dubois, and the church having
been built on a lot thus acquired, the principles which regulate
its administration admit of no doubt.

'"In your statement you speak of a 'Charter' obtained after-
wards, and of your duty to observe the laws of your country. I
will ever be among the first in exhorting you to observe the laws
of your country, and to be invariably faithful to your duties as
citizens of this vast and illustrious Jle])ublic. You know well, as
Catholics, that not only nothing prevents your fulfilling such
duties, but that for you, as such, they become even more sacred.
I must remark, however, that to observe the laws of your country


is one thing ; to avail yourselves of your privileges for the pur-
pose of arraying yourselves in opposition to your Church, and to
the authority of your Bishop and clergy, in the free discharge of
their duty, is another cmd a quite different thing. I sought in
vain for some proof of Bishop Dubois' consent to the Act of
Incorporation, procured on the 2d of December, 1838, nearly ten
years after the original grant. But even supposing that he gave
it, certain it is tliat he neither could nor ought to have consented
to any thing incompatible with the basis of that grant. No one
could, by subsequent rights, no matter how obtained, justly destroy
rights enjoyed previously by the ministers of the Church, accord-
ing to the rules and discipline thereof.

" ' The question, then, always remains the same : AVhat were
the essential rights of the Bishop in the church of St. Louis,
according to the original deed, and the laws of the church which
should govern it? Evidently rights obtained later should aim at
preserving the original ones, not at destroying them.

" ' But in this (piestion it is not necessary to advance beyond
its strict limits. If there were questions of revenues accruing from
property or capital given or acquired for the use of the church,

Online LibraryCharles George DeutherThe life and times of the Rt. Rev. John Timon, D. D. : first Roman Catholic bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo → online text (page 16 of 30)