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Last revised:
23 August 2000

Siegfried: the Race Question

André Siegfried, The Race Question in Canada, London, Eveleigh Nash, 1907, 343p.





[Note from the editor: See the note at the beginning of Chapter 2 regarding the accuracy of the English translation.]

IN the eyes of the Catholic clergy of Canada modern France, viewed either from the standpoint of its administrative methods or of its free-thinking tendencies, is a source of danger not less great than Protestant England. It symbolises to them the secular theory of government, the triumph of modern ideas, the hated principles of the Revolution. France to them is an object lesson, a nation adrift to which a wide berth must be given. We may evoke the deep and sincere sympathy of the Canadian priests personally and individually, but the Catholic Church of Canada in its corporate capacity can regard the France of 1789 with no other feeling than alarm.

Despite their rapid and complete submission to English rule, the French priesthood cherished none the less for some time after the conquest of Canada a certain feeling for our ancien Wgime. But with the Revolution the divorce became complete. While the Church in France lost all its privileges the Church in Canada retained them, precisely because it had ceased to be French. From its distant stronghold upon the St. Lawrence it looked on in safety at the crisis of 1793. It was inevitable that it should congratulate itself on having ceased to belong to a country whose impiety and lawlessness it condemned.


The development of our democracy in the course of the nineteenth century has resulted but in the strengthening of this disapprobation. To 1789 and 1793 succeeded 1848 and 1871. The Third Republic, after some hesitations, decided to act in independence of, and, when necessary, in opposition to Rome. The secular school, the law against religious societies, the rupture with the Pope, the separation of Church and State, have marked the principal stage of this movement.

That the example of France is one to be avoided rather than imitated is the view not merely of the Catholic clergy but of all Catholic Canadians. Even the Liberals among them do not feel drawn towards our present social condition. They come to France and enjoy themselves among us and see things to admire, but they refuse to take us for a model.

The Catholic newspapers of the colony-none of which could live without the approval of the priestsnever cease to proclaim our decadence and ruin under the régime of the freemasons. Whether it be the Semaines Rdligiezeses, the organs of the bishops, or the independent journals like the Vérité of Quebec, or the great dailies like the Patric, the Presse, or the Journal, it is always the same refrain : Unfortunate France!

Not everyone in Catholic Canada sympathises with the following passage from the Journal (November 22, 1904), but there is no mistaking the accents of the Church : " We spoke yesterday of the unhappy condition of France. We give her our pity, because the evil from which she is suffering is a terrible one. We dread it for ourselves, for it is contagious : it is the evil of freemasonry.

The Vérité congratulates Canada on being no longer a colony of France. It goes on: " We have thus escaped, thanks be to God, the horrors of the French

Revolution and the still worse horrors, though different in kind, of modern France with its impiety . . . . Let us beware of official France! She is our greatest danger at the present moment. Too many people fail to realise this."

" Let us beware of official France! " That is the cry of the Canadian clergy.

The faithful can be kept away from English influences by being left in ignorance of the language. France is far away, but the community of speech constitutes a peril which has to be provided against. Our writings are calculated to set minds working in new ways and to provoke independence of thought, while even the little there is of personal intercourse between the French of Canada and us may prove rich in consequences.

The tactics of the clergy consist in supervising and controlling the perusal of books imported from Paris and in the exercise of a very careful .choice of those of our countrymen whom they get to come to them. They do all they can also to discourage the youth of Canada from coming to Paris in search of new ideas and new battlecries. Even our Catholic ecclesiastics are apt to be suspected by them of an excess of Liberalism.

The controlling of the reading of an entire people is a big enterprise, but one before which the Canadian clergy has never recoiled. To this end it possesses an " Index "-an effective weapon of which it avails itself daily. Our principal authors have come under its ban -Musset, Renan, and above all, Zola, " whose name should not be so much as mentioned even from the pulpit, and whose books should not be admitted, not merely into any Catholic, but into any decent, respectable household."1 Of course, the Index is not all

1 Letter from Mgr Bruchesi, Archbishop of Montreal, 1903, cited by M. G. Giluncy, L'Européen, October 31, 1903.



powerful: the interdicted books find their way into the colony in spite of it. They are not exposed for sale, however, in any of the respectable book-shops, and in the small towns no book-shop that is not respectable has a chance. The condemned authors are ruled out also from those libraries which are under the control of the clergy, and we shall see presently how little disposed the clergy are to allow any library to thrive in independence of them. There are reading rooms managed by intelligent, broad-minded people, who welcome presents of books from their friends in France, but they are not free to put in circulation whatever works they may think fit. If they were to try, they would very soon be crushed. All such gifts have to be approved by the bishop. Even so, there are extremists who are disturbed at the sight of official France taking note of the social condition of Canada. La Vérité goes so far as to condemn the reading of the Revue des deux Mondes. A pro pos of the presentation of thirty-three yearly volumes of the Revue to one of these reading rooms by a generous Rouen lady, the Quebec Journal remarks: " Is it to be supposed that there is nothing reprehensible in these thirty-three annual volumes? To imagine so is to know very little of the history and character of the Revue."

The clergy are not less cautious when there is question of nominating a Frenchman from France for any post in the Dominion. They require elaborate guarantees as to their soundness of views. The Laval University, for instance, has for some years past had French professors of literature. Candidates for these posts are examined very rigorously not only in regard to their special qualifications but also in regard to their tendencies of mind. Sometimes, the original French temperament asserting itself in them, they are held too advanced, too emancipated-in short, too French. Sometimes they are, so to speak, reined in. One of them who had begun to treat of the nineteenth century in the first year of his professorship was shunted to the seventeenth century in his next. And he was really a sober-minded, moderate man. A professor of advanced ideas must consider himself muzzled if by chance he has succeeded in being chosen.

The same may be said of any publicist anxious to spread radical doctrines in Canada. His propaganda will meet with effective opposition from the clergy, and if he accepts the support offered him by the English he will do for himself altogether. With the French he could only make way either with the support or at least the toleration of the Church. M. Brunetière's talents alone would not have sufficed to win him the triumphs that fell to his lot at Montreal and Quebec ; he needed also his reputation for Catholic sympathies, and even so there were some sections in Quebec who thought him somewhat too advanced.

It should be borne in mind that this opposition to the France of to-day, and all that she stands for, originates with the Church. Left to themselves, the majority of Canadians, especially in the towns, would be very glad to see and listen to even the boldest of our public men.

Even our French priests are not always welcome in Canada, as I have said already. In a curious article in La Revue du Clergé Français a French priest, Père Giquello, formerly editor of the Semaine Réligieuse [sic] of Tours, tells us of the great disillusionment he experienced in regard to this colony. " In the Canadian dioceses," he writes, " there is no room for priests from France . . . . The Canadian clergy have adopted the Munroe Doctrine, and their motto is `Canada for the Canadians.' Even when there is not a full complement of seminarists

.for a diocese, French priests will find themselves ruled out on principle. Try for yourself. Present yourself to one of these Canadian bishops to whom we give so cordial a welcome here in France. You will be very well received, he will say all kinds of nice things to you. Encouraged by his sympathetic and benevolent demeanour, you will offer him your zealous services; you will tell him of your ardent wish to undertake the duties of a priest; you will even put before him your qualifications and any talents you may possess. Now will come the change! The episcopal cnuntenance, a moment ago so radiant, is clouded over. The eyebrows are drawn together, a hard line is visible at the corners of the lips, you receive a downright refusal, and are discourteously bidden good-day. I guarantee that eight times out of ten the interview will take this course."'

The clergy, as I have said, are equally against the sending of Canadian youths to France for the completion of their studies. They look with disfavour, for instance, upon endowments in connection with the University of Paris. They prefer the universities of Friburg and Louvain as being more Catholic and not in France.

The question was raised very distinctly à propos of medical students. Our countrymen in Canada have always displayed brilliant aptitudes for the career of medicine. It is only natural, therefore, that the most distinguished among them should wish to complete their studies in Paris, where they have the double advantage of speaking their native tongue and finding a Faculty of the highest class. Many are the young Canadians who have come freely for this purpose. The Church could do nothing to prevent them.

But one fine day it was suggested that it would be

1 P. Giquello, " Choses Canadiennes," Revue du Clergé Français, December 15, 1904.


a desirable thing to institute scholarships for the medical students at the Laval University which should cover the expenses of their voyage to France. The idea was an excellent one and quite practicable, and the French Government welcomed it with the greatest favour. But nothing was done. Why? The Archbishop of Montreal did not conceal the reason from the people of his entourage : he was afraid of the evil influences that Paris life might have upon the winners of the scholarships. The V6-iM, that infant terrible of the Ultramontane Party, did not hesitate to blurt out what certain anxious Catholics were thinking to themselves. " The idea has been put forward of establishing a college in Paris for French Canadian medical students. This idea has given rise to serious disquiet. Fori if the capital of France is a centre of science, it is also, alas ! a centre of corruption and impiety. If the project can be carried out without peril to the faith of our future physicians, well and good. If not, let it be put aside, for it is of infinitely greater moment that we should have physicians a little less learned but sound in matters of religion, than a little more learned and without faith."

The Church is quite logical in taking up this attitude, and it is to be feared that any other such proposal would meet in the same way with determined if not open opposition. Should it be found necessary to supplement the higher education of Canada in any particular branch, it is to be feared that other centres of French culture, such as Switzerland or Belgium, where the progress of the secular modern spirit is less marked, will be chosen in preference to Paris. Is it not a matter for regret that in regard to this question of university education we should not be able to count the Church among the chief champions of a Franco-Canadian ; rapprochement ?

It is not only the lay students, however, who yearn to put the finishing touch to their studies in Europe. The clerical students experience the same desire, and it would seem to be essential in their case. Rome is naturally their ultimate destination; but France is on the way, and they love to stay with us en route.

Close relations used to result from this state of things. Charming and faithful friendships were formed between distinguished representatives of both branches of the Church, and many young Canadian priests learned to love France more than their Superiors would have wished. Their contact with the French clergy taught them that even in ecclesiastic society there is room for a kind of Liberalism unknown in Canada.

Perhaps for this reason the Canadian Church has seemed of late to discountenance such intercourse a little. Sojourns at St. Sulpice are no longer recommended. There existed until recently in Rome a Sulpician seminary resorted to by French and Canadians in common. Therein, under one roof, during many months of close companionship, they formed intimacies which were to brighten their whole lives. This mixed institution has recently disappeared, and from a French standpoint the fact is to be deplored. To-day there is a seminary apart for the Canadian students in the Eternal City. Many of the younger members of the Canadian clergy have openly expressed to me their regret at the change. One day perhaps these broadminded young clericals will be bishops. Then perhaps they will think differently

Thus it is that in its own defence the Canadian Church is endeavouring to relax rather than to draw closer the bonds uniting it to Republican, or even ecclesiastical France. Down to the present it has been more or less successful in its efforts. But it seems 3




HAVING done all in her power to keep her flock out of the range of pernicious influences, the Catholic Church in Canada proceeds to watch over it and guide it in small matters as well as great. Refusing absolutely to be bound down by the State to a line of non-interference with the liberty of the citizen, she maintains stoutly her right t! act as a natural leader. " Not only is the Church independent of the Commonwealth-she stands above it . . . . It is not the Church that is comprised in the State ; it is the State that is comprised in the Church."'

In every aspect of life, social or political, public or private, the clergy has its say and gives its orders. It permits no movement to come into activity without its sanction. It constitutes, in fact, a veritable theocracy in the province of Quebec.

But it is in regard to education that the power of the clergy is most in evidence. There are no secular schools, as I have said already, in the province of Quebec; the only choice is between the English school of Protestant tendency and the French school which is Catholic. It may be regarded as almost inevitable that every French-speaking Canadian child must come directly under the influence of the Church of Rome.

In respect to education the Church is disposed to make not the slightest concession. The English Protestants are free, if they be so inclined, to institute "godless colleges "-that is their own look-out. But at the least threat of subjecting the French denominational schools to anything in the shape of State control the entire Catholic clergy is up in arms as one man.

The Catholic public gives its legal adhesion to these tenets. The Church leaves no loophole in the matter, indeed. " Those who do not obey the Hierarchy," declared Monseigneur Langevin, " are no longer Catholics. When the Hierarchy has spoken, it it useless for a Catholic to attempt to resist, for if he does so he ceases to be a Catholic. Such a person may still claim the title, but I tell you clearly in my capacity as bishop and with all the authority attaching to the position that the Catholic who does not obey the Hierarchy ceases to be a Catholic." 1

We have seen something already of the Church's attitude towards the Press, of the severe control she exercises over the sale of books and the management of public libraries. It may be well here to give one of the most striking instances of her methods in dealing with a library whose managers showed signs of opposition to her rule-the case of the Institut Canadien.

The Institut Canadien is a literary and scientific Society founded at Montreal in 1844 by a group of young men of Liberal tendencies. They were all Catholics, but in a spirit of wide tolerance they admitted English Protestants into their ranks. The movement having made rapid progress, other kindred Institutes

1 At Montreal in 1896. Cited by J. S. Willison in his book, Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the Liberal Party.


became established under the same title in most of the towns of the province. By the year 1854 they numbered more than a hundred.

The Church began to get alarmed, and began to found rival Societies, known as Instituts Nalionaux, which she kept under her strict supervision. By 1858 this policy had brought about the disappearance of all the Instituts Canadiens with the one exception of that at Montreal, which was still to the good, and which while professing its respect for the Church refused to enter under its control. Soon it came to be a regular bête noire to the ecclesiastical authorities.

The first complaint addressed to the Society was in respect to the nature of its library and to the fact that two Protestant journals, the Montreal Wilness and the Semeur Canadien (?), were to be found in its reading-room. Then Monseigneur Bourget, Bishop of Montreal, accused them of having in their possession immoral books. The Committee replied that in their opinion this charge was without foundation, and that the matter was one for their own judgment entirely.

This meant war. In a pastoral letter, the bishop, having set forth the case clearly, declared openly that the Committee had been guilty of two grave offences

first in claiming to be the sole competent judges of the morality of certain works; secondly, in having declared that they were not in possession of immoral writings when books were to be found in their library which had been placed on the Index. He called upon the Committee to withdraw these statements. Unless they did so, Catholics would be forbidden to belong to the Society.

The situation became serious for the members of the Society. Catholics for the most part, they would incur very serious consequences by opposing the bishop. They suggested a compromise. Let the bishop indicate all the books which he considered immoral and they should be kept under lock and key! To this proposal the bishop made no definite reply. What he really desired was the disappearance of the Society, not merely its reform. The Committee soon realised this, and in despair appealed to Rome. After a delay of four years, this brought them a fresh condemnation from the Pope all those who continued to be members of the Society or to read its Annual would be deprived of the Sacraments. Resistance became impossible. In 1869 the fnslilul Canadien closed its doors.

The pretensions of the clergy have not been lessened since then, though they are .! formulated, perhaps, less aggressively than in this pronouncement by Monseigneur Bourget. They continue to set their face against the starting of public libraries of all kinds without their approval. In 1903 Mr. Carnegie offered a great library to Montreal on the lines of those which he had presented to a number of American cities. Such a boon would have been the more welcome in that Montreal possesses only two mediocre collections of French books. However, the Municipal Council refused the gift, and their action in the matter is attributed almost universally to clerical influence.

There is no law in Canada restricting the liberty of the Press. The English newspapers are printed and published in entire freedom from outside interference. To all appearances, that is also the case with the French newspapers, but this is not so in reality. The bishops, with their power of condemning it, are able to exercise almost complete control. Condemnation from the pulpit results in a decrease of sales at once. Should this not suffice, the confessional does the rest. Editors know they can resist for two or three months, but not more. The Church always wins in the end.

There are many anti-clericals and men of advanced views among the Canadian publicists who deplore this condition of affairs, but who must trim their sails like all the others so as not to run their journals upon the rocks. All, or almost all, come to an understanding with the clergy. At Montreal, the archbishop calls any editor severely to account who prints anything calculated to hurt the susceptibilities of the Church; a second offence of the same kind would entail very serious consequences. The newspaper directors, mindful of the interests of shareholders, are careful to avoid such conflicts. Sometimes a canon of the Cathedral, specially selected for this work, is enabled to read the proofs of articles and to delete whatever may seem to him harmful. In such conditions it will be easily understood that anything in the shape of an anti-clerical campaign is out of the question for the great French Canadian dailies. It would merely be jeopardising their existence.

Would it be possible for a more venturesome journal, carrying less sail, to embark upon such an enterprise ? In other words, could an anti-clerical paper of any kind exist in Canada? Experience so far has proved that it cannot. We may instance the case-now no longer recent-of Le Pays, twice condemned and at last crushed by Monseigneur Bourget. More interesting, however, are the experiences of the Débats and the Combat, quite lately condemned and done. for without any kind of trouble by the Archbishop of Montreal.

The Débats, now defunct, was run in opposition to the Church, and attacked it in very downright fashion. Many warnings were conveyed to it, but without result. Instead of falling into line with its prudent contemporaries, it persisted in its policy. At last Monseigneur Bruchesi condemned it in a letter read in all the churches in his diocese. " We may claim," he said, " to have shown all possible forbearance and consideration in our attitude towards the Débats. We regret that our efforts have had no result. Its harmful work has been persisted in, perhaps more audaciously than ever. The journal has been setting forth doctrines in regard to'evolution which are bordering on heresy, if not actually heretical. It has insulted disgracefully the venerated name of Monseigneur Ignace Bourget. It has spoken insultingly of Pius ix., and has held the Syllabus up to ridicule. We cannot refer here to all the other offences of which it has been guilty. Lately, when we had occasion to remind Catholics in one of our parishes of the necessity of keeping holy the Lord's Day, the Débats could find nothing better to do than to endeavour to make fun of our letter . . . . Fathers and mothers, are you going to leave in the hands of your children a poison that is calculated to cause their spiritual death? Bad books and bad newspapers are, as you know well, deadly poisons for the soul. It is our aim to preserve, especially among the youth of our community,-so dear to us and so exposed to peril,-the purity of our faith, the strength of our morals, the practice of our religious duties, as well as a love for the Church and respect for its authority . . . . These are our reasons for wishing to arrest the diffusion of these dangerous publications, capable of causing irreparable evil. By virtue of our episcopal powers and in accordance with the rules of the Index, we therefore forbid the faithful of our diocese to sell, buy, read, or keep this newspaper, the Débats. . . . . This charge shall be read from the pulpit of all churches in which Mass is publicly celebrated, and in the chapter-house of all religious communities, on the first Sunday after its receipt. Given at Montreal, under our hand and seal and the counter-signature of our Chancellor, this twenty-ninth day of September ninteen hundred and three.


Clearly the Débats could not withstand so definite an interdict. It disappeared-but to reappear under a new name, Le Combat ! The Combat took up the same line as its predecessor, only to experience just the same fate; it could scarcely flatter itself that it could hope for anything else. On the 20th of January 1904. the archbishop launched a second interdict, worded as follows: " On September 29, 1903, I was obliged to forbid the reading of the Débats. This newspaper has since then continued to appear under a new title though in the same tone. It claims to be in its fifth year of publication, and the numbering of its new issues corresponds with that of the old. Now you all must understand that it was a dangerous newspaper that I condemned, not merely a name. In consequence, the journal condemned on September 29 remains condemned throughout the diocese whatever title may be given to it, unless and until its directors make submission and promise of amendment. Until the interdict has been removed, it is forbidden to buy, sell, read, or keep this newspaper."

Thus Monseigneur Bruchesi officially condemned not merely the Débats and the Combat but any future successor of the same character, whatever its name it amounted to a general interdict, placed upon an entire order of ideas. As a matter of fact no successor appeared. There was no law to prevent the paper from being continued, but from the moment the archbishop launched his mandate it ceased to have readers.

The interesting point about this episode is that it shows the immense authority wielded by the Church, when there is nothing to brook its will. The doctrines of Monseigneur Bourget and Monseigneur Bruchesi are not personal to them-they are the doctrines of Rome, under Leo XIII. and Pius x. as under Pius ix. In the Libertas Encyclical of Leo xiii. they may be found clearly set forth. The Church claims to have the right of restricting freedom of every kind-of worship, of speech, of the Press, of education, and even of the conscience. The Catholic clergy succeed better in Canada than elsewhere in carrying this programme into effect, yet freedom in all these things is provided for in the Canadian Constitution. Liberty exists by law, but not in reality.'

1 Encyclical letter of His Holiness Leo XIII. to the patriarch, primates, archbishops, and bishops of the Catholic I world on the subject of human liberty, June 20, 1888 (generally known as the Libertas Encyclical).

Source: André Siegfried, The Race Question in Canada, London, Eveleigh Nash, 1907, 343p., pp. 11-25.

© 2000 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College