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Last revised:
23 August 2000

Les Québécois, le clergé catholique et l'affaire des écoles du Manitoba / Quebecers, the Catholic Clergy and the Manitoba School Question, 1890-1916

Encyclical Affari vos by Pope Leo XIII On the Manitoba School Question [December 8, 1897]





It is with a loving heart that We address Our message to you today. Our mind is naturally filled with warm thoughts for the mutually benevolent relations, the exchange of good offices that have always existed between the Apostolic See and the Canadian people. From the very beginning, the Church and its alms was present among you. The Church has never ceased to embrace you closely to Her bosom and to shower you with kindness. If François de Montmorency Laval, of immortal memory, was able to accomplish such virtuous deeds, and with such fruitful results for your country, as your ancestors can attest, it was assuredly thanks to the favours bestowed on him by the Roman Pontifs. Neither did the bishops that followed him, people of great merit themselves, find elsewhere the source for their great successes. Again, going back to the earliest period of your history, it was under the initiative and instigation of the Apostolic See that generous cohorts of missionaries were sent forth to your country to bring to it, with the Light of the Gospels, a more elevated culture and the beginnings of civilisation. These seeds they planted and fertilised for you, at the expense of long and arduous work, have brought the Canadian people to the highest level of urbanity and glory and have brought it, though a young nation, to seek to emulate them.

All of this constitutes many pleasant memories for Us, and that much more so since We have before Our eyes the fruits that remain; and these are great. Without a doubt, the greatest of these is that, among the multitudes of Catholics, your people who first came to this continent with the help of God mainly from France, then Ireland, and later from other places, has shown such love and zeal for our holy faith, which faith was passed down through the generations by your ancestors who transmitted it to you as an inviolable gift. But if their children have faithfully preserve this precious heritage, a great deal of the praise is attributable to your vigilance and labour, Vererable Brethren, and to the zeal of your clergy. All toghether, as one, you work constantly for the conservation and the progress of the catholic faith without, if truth be told, having met impediments in the laws of the British Empire. It was thus moved by considerations of your great merits, as a solemn hommage to the piety of your catholics, as well as testimony to his personal virtues, that some years ago We elevated to the rank of the princes of the Roman Church the Archbishop of Quebec

As regards the education of the young, upon whom rest the best hopes of religious and civil society, the Apostolic See has never ceased to work zealously in concert with you and your predecessors. Thus numerous institutions for the moral and scientific education of your children have been founded under the care and protection of the Church. Amongst these the great University of Quebec [Laval University], adorned and strengthened with all the dignity and rights which the Apostolic authority is accustomed to confer, occupies the place of honour, and demonstrates sufficiently that the Apostolic See has had no greater burning desire or preoccupation than the formation of citizens distinguished as much by their litterary culture as commendable by its virtues. Therefore, it is with the greatest solicitude, as you will easily understand, that We have followed the unfortunate events which have recently marked the history of Catholic education in Manitoba. For it is Our wish, and for Us it is a duty, to endeavor to obtain, and in fact to obtain, by every means and effort We are capable of, that no harm befall the faith of so many thousands of souls, the salvation of which has been particularly entrusted to Us, in a region which especially received the first rudiments of Christian teaching as well as of civilisation from the Catholic Church. And since very many expect a pronouncement from Us upon this question, and look to Us to point out what course they should pursue, We determined not to come to any decision upon the matter until Our Delegate Apostolic had examined locally the situation. Entrusted to make a careful survey of the situation and to report upon it to Us, he faithfully and with zeal has discharged of the mandate We placed in his care.

No doubt, the question at hand is one of the highest and most serious import: the decision arrived at seven years ago on the school question by the Legislature of the province of Manitoba. At the time of the union of their province with Canada, Catholics in Manitoba had secured the right to educate the youth in public schools that respected their beliefs; and yet this right the Legislature of Manitoba has now abolished by a most harmful law. For it cannot be permitted to our children to seek the benefits of education in schools that ignore the Catholic faith, or even openly combat it, and where their beliefs would be despised and its fundamental principles repudiated. That if the Church has ever allowed this to be done, it was always against its wishes, and with great sorrow, and only while surrounding her children with many safeguards which, nevertheless, have been recognized as insufficient to protect them from danger. Similarly it is necessary to avoid at all costs, as most dangerous, those schools in which all beliefs are welcomed and treated as equal, as if, in what regards God and divine matters, it makes no difference whether one believes in truth or error, in healthy doctrines or not. You know well, Venerable Brethren, that every school of this kind has been condemned by the Church, because nothing can be more harmful or more calculated to ruin the integrity of the faith and to turn aside the tender minds of the young from the path of truth.

There is another point upon which those will agree with Us who differ from Us in everything else: it is not by means of a purely scientific education and with vague and superficial notions of virtue that Catholic children can leave school trained as the country desires and expects. Other serious and important teaching must be given to them if they are to turn out good Christians as well as upright and honest citizens; it is necessary that they should be taught those principles which, deeply engraven on their consciences, they ought to follow and obey, because they naturally spring from their faith and religion. Without religion there can be no moral education deserving of the name, nor of any practical use, for the very nature and strength of all duty comes from those special duties which bind man to God, who commands, forbids, and determines what is good and evil. And so, to be desirous that minds should be imbued with good and at the same time to leave them without religion is as senseless as to invite people to virtue after having taken away the foundations on which it rests. For all Catholics there is only one true religion: the Catholic faith; and, therefore, on questions of beliefs, morality or religion, he can neither accept nor recognize any which does not derive from catholic doctrine.

Justice and reason then demand that the school shall supply our youths not only with scientific knowledge, but also with a body of moral teaching which, as we have said, must be in harmony with the principles of their religion, without which, far from being of use, education can be nothing but harmful. From this comes the necessity of having Catholic teachers and reading-books and textbooks approved by the bishops, of being free to organise the school in a manner which shall be in full accord with the teachings of the Catholic faith, as well as with all the duties which flow from it. In any case, it is the inherent right of a father's position to see in what institutions his children shall be educated, and what teachers shall tutor them moral precepts. When, therefore, Catholics request and demand, as it is their duty to demand, that the teaching given by school-masters shall be in harmony with the religion of their children, they merely assert a right. And nothing could be more unjust than to compel them to do otherwise, or to allow their children to grow up in ignorance, or to throw them amid an environment which constitutes a manifest danger for the supreme interests of their souls.

These principles of judgment and action, based upon truth and justice, and which form the safeguards of public, as well as private, interests, it is not permitted to call them into question nor in any way to abandon them. And so, when the new legislation came to strike Catholic education in the province of Manitoba, it was your duty, Venerable Brethren, publicly to protest against injustice and the blow that had been dealt, and the way in which you fulfilled this duty has furnished a striking proof of your individual vigilance and of your true episcopal zeal. Although upon this point each one of you will find sufficient approbation in the witness of his own conscience: know, nevertheless, that We also join with it Our assent and approval. For the things that you have sought and still seek to preserve and defend are most holy.

Moreover, the hardships of the law in question themselves plainly called that there was need of complete union if any opportune remedy of the evil was to be found. So good was the Catholic cause that all fair and honest citizens without distinction of party ought to have taken common counsel and acted in concert to defend it. Unfortunately, however, and to the great detriment of the cause, just the contrary was done. And what is still more deplorable, Catholic Canadians themselves were unable to act in concert in the defence of interests which so closely touch the common good, and the importance and moment of which ought to have silenced the interests of political parties, which are on quite a lower plane of importance.

We are not ignorant that something has been done to amend the law. The men who are at the head of the Federal Government and of the Government of the Province have already taken certain measures to diminish the grievances of which the Catholics of Manitoba rightly persist in complaining. We have no reason to doubt that these measures have been inspired by a love for equity and with good intentions. But we cannot conceal the truth. The law made to remedy the evil is defective, imperfect, insufficient. Catholics demand, and have the right to demand, much more. Besides, the arrangements made may fail of their effect, owing to the variations in local circumstances; to put the matter plainly, enough has not yet been done in Manitoba for the Catholic education of our children and to restore their rights. The claims of justice demand that this question should be disposed of fully, that those unchangeable and sacred principles which We have enunciated above should be protected and secured. This is what must be aimed at, and this the end which must be pursued with zeal and prudence, and to this end, nothing would be more detrimental than discord: union of minds and harmony of action is required. However, as the objective does not impose a specific and exclusive line of conduct, but, on the contrary, admits potentially of several, as is usual in such matters, it follows that there may be on the line to be followed a certain number of opinions equally good and acceptable. Let none, then, lose sight of the value of moderation, gentleness and brotherly love. Let none forget the respect due to others, but let all, weighing the circumstances, determine what is best to be done, and act together, in a cordial manner, after having taken counsel with you.

As to what regards particularly the Catholics of Manitoba, We have confidence that, with God's help, they will one day obtain full satisfaction. This confidence is founded, above all, on the goodness of their cause; next, on the justice and wisdom of those who govern; and, lastly, on the good-will of all upright Canadians. In the meantime, until they succeed in all of their claims, let them not refuse partial satisfaction. This is why, wherever the law or administration, or the good dispositions of the people, offer some means of lessening the evil, and of warding off some of the dangers, it is absolutely expedient and advantageous that they should make use of them, and derive all the benefit possible from them. Wherever, on the contrary, there is no other remedy, we exhort and conjure them to redouble in their generosity. They can do nothing better for themselves, or more calculated to conduce to the welfare of their country, than to contribute, as much as their means will allow, towards the maintenance of their own schools.

There is still another point which calls for your united attention. Under your authority, and with the help of those who direct your schools, a complete course of studies ought to be carefully devised. Special care should be taken that those who are employed as teachers should be abundantly provided with all the qualities, natural and acquired, which are requisite for their profession. It is only fitting that Catholic schools, both in their educational methods and in the standard of their teaching, should be able to compete with the best. From the standpoint of intellectual culture and progress the design conceived by the Canadian provinces for the development of public instruction, for the raising of the standard of education, and making it daily more and more refined and perfect, must assuredly be recognised as both noble and beautiful. And no type of study, no progress in human knowledge, cannot be fully harmonized with Catholic doctrine and teaching.

Towards the explanation and defence of all that we have written those Catholics can very largely contribute whose work is on the public - and especially on the daily - press. Let them then remember their duty. Let them religiously and courageously defend what is true and right, the interests of the Church and of society, and in such a way that they do not outstep the bounds of decorum, avoiding all personalities, and exceeding in nothing. Let them respect and religiously defer to the authority of the Bishops and all other legitimate authority. The more difficult the times, and the more threatening the danger of division, the more they ought to strive to show the necessity of that unity of thought and action, without which there is little or no chance of ever obtaining that which is the object of our common hopes.

As a pledge of heavenly grace and a token of Our paternal affection, receive the Apostolic Benediction, which We lovingly impart in the Lord to you all, Venerable Brothers, to your clergy, and to the flocks entrusted to your care.

Given at St. Peter's, Rome, on the 18th day of December, 1897, in the twentieth year of Our pontificate.

LEO XIII., Pope.

Source: We have used the English translation provided by The American Catholic Quarterly Review, Vol. 23, No 2, April 1898, pp. 189-195. However the text has been substantially reviewed by us, especially at the beginning, and in the most crucial sections, to such an extent as to have become, in major parts, unrecognisable from the original. Among other changes, we have restored the more formal style and forms that characterise all papal encyclicals; we have also eliminated the titles which did not appear in the original document. The translation provided above has been carefully checked against the Latin original and the French translation that was made of it at the time.


© 2000 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College