Despite Looming Threats from the Government, Louis Veuillot and L’Univers Carry the Catholic Banner!

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Despite Looming Threats from the Government, Louis Veuillot and L’Univers Carry the Catholic Banner!
Despite Looming Threats from the Government, Louis Veuillot and L’Univers Carry the Catholic Banner!

When the Franco-Austrian War of 1859 was over, the French bishops abandoned the prudent attitude that circumstances had imposed on them. By acts and statements, they began defending the rights of the Holy See, which were threatened by the Emperor’s Italian policy.

Napoleon III faced an unexpected difficulty. Initially, he felt encouraged by the dubious attitude of some Catholic groups. However, as he took more decisive steps in his new policy, he saw almost the whole episcopate rise against him.

Eternal and Natural Law: The Foundation of Morals and Law

This shift placed the Catholics who supported the Emperor in a challenging position. With rare exceptions, various groups of the laity demonstrated against the planned takeover of the Holy See’s papal states. This unanimous pro-papal movement effectively placed l’Univers as leader of the fight against the Emperor’s revolutionary inclinations. In the eyes of Catholic opinion, the Emperor could no longer justify his alliance with Piedmont-Sardinia.

From then on, the newspaper’s days were numbered. Catholic opposition to Louis Napoleon led to a government effort to quickly suppress l’Univers to prevent resistance from spreading.

Louis Veuillot was in a complicated situation. His family’s subsistence depended on the newspaper, which he did not own. It belonged to Eugène Taconet, who had invested all his savings in it. The editors lived on what l’Univers paid them. Suppression would mean unemployment and, potentially, destitution. To deflect the government’s wrath, Veuillot proposed his own retirement, but the editorial staff unanimously declared they would go with him. L’Univers was no ordinary paper. Its editors preferred to go under with it rather than change its editorial policy.

In 1877, after the newspaper’s demise, Montalembert unjustly attacked its staff in the preface to The Monks of the West from St. Benedict to St. Bernard, his famous book on the monks of the West. Veuillot, then finishing a collection of articles he published over twenty years of journalism, took up the defense of his former staff by portraying the inner life of l’Univers admirably:

“I could not conclude this last farewell to a work I loved and respected so much without publicly expressing my affection for the people I had the honor and happiness to work with for such a long time. My heartfelt tribute goes to my brother Eugène Veuillot and my brethren [Melchoir] Du Lac, [Léon] Aubineau, and Coquille, who formed the editorial core of l’Univers. I include the most recent ones, who were just as faithful and devoted. But those I have named stuck with me through thick and thin. Together we bore the weight of embarrassment and the impact of hostility and slander. We stood united like fingers on a hand. There was never any division or the slightest clash between us. Such was the perfect conformity of our ideas that we could write the same article about the same event without consulting each other, whatever the distance that separated us. Expressions might vary, but the thinking would be identical.

“On some severe occasions that came up and threatened the paper’s existence and the personal situation of its staff, they all spontaneously and disinterestedly embraced the side that the honor of the cause demanded. No one ever thought of himself, making a career, or acquiring a name. Their supreme ambition was to defend Catholic truth in l’Univers to the last breath and nothing else.

“At the head of this elite corps, I took advantage of everyone’s merit and, surrounded by congratulations and insults, received some notoriety due to them. Our staff, and not just I, were the ones who made the strength of l’Univers.

“I will never be grateful enough to Providence for giving me such help and a happy and glorious job. I have lived in an atmosphere of faith, honor, and friendship for twenty years, whose sweetness I can only compare to the charm of the cloistered life of which Montalembert has given us such a perfect and admirable picture. I have known happiness and enjoyed it; had I died in the bosom of that now-vanished joy, I would have feared that God was giving my reward here on earth.”

Resolved to resist, l’Univers’ staff placed themselves on a war footing. Two editors stayed at headquarters all day in anticipation of government interference. They held meetings frequently and discussed each article’s timeliness lest some imprudence would serve as a pretext to close the paper.

Eternal and Natural Law: The Foundation of Morals and Law

Indeed, the government intervened quickly. “L’Univers was no longer allowed to call government orders into question. The government further issued a general prohibition forbidding the press to publish any statement by a bishop. L’Univers could not suddenly suspend the publication of bishops’ views, as it would give the impression that Catholic leaders had abandoned the Holy Father when union with him was most needed. This was, of course, precisely the reaction that the government desired. On the other hand, disobedience would mean suppression. The editorial staff unanimously decided to publish this note:

“Two days ago, l’Univers ceased publishing bishops’ circulars or statements on the situation of the Sovereign Pontiff. While Catholic hearts and opinions remain stalwart, we have received a government injunction to no longer publish any. This injunction is all the more severe because the paper was just served with a first warning. [Note: As explained in a previous article in this series, the government allowed two warnings before suppressing a publication.]

“The injunction seems essentially temporary. We are told it is intended to protect the bishops’ actions and dignity from the violence of newspapers. On the other hand, the word of bishops has always been the strength of Catholics in all the grave circumstances the Church and society have found themselves in the last thirty years. The Church never rose without provoking a storm of insults as today, nor did she die because of it. She prevailed because she was inspired by the noblest sentiments and also inspired them.

“The Napoleon III government has always vividly proclaimed its respect for the rights of the Church. It would be incomprehensible if it tried to take from bishops the ability to publish, which everyone has, thus depriving Catholics of their shepherds’ collective voice that so vividly recommends the love of order, justice, and liberty.

“If this prohibition stands, we believe it would take away from us the most precious part of civil and religious liberty. We would find ourselves without rules, light, or guidance and could see how the Church soon would no longer have a place in this vast field of opinions where we wish to fulfill our duty honorably to the end.”

At this time, Napoleon III did not dare to punish l’Univers. However, that day would soon arrive.

Photo Credit:  © Rubende Antonio –

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