The Liberal Attack on L’Univers Backfires to the Disadvantage of French Catholic Liberals

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The Liberal Attack on L’Univers Backfires to the Disadvantage of French Catholic Liberals
Jules Armand Dufaure

In the continuing nineteenth-century battle between liberals and Ultramontanes, Abbé André Sisson’s article in L’Ami de la réligion attempted to shift the burden of proving the errors in the pamphlet, L’Univers Jugé Par Lui-Mème to Louis Veuillot’s shoulders. To deflect the article’s effects, Veuillot sent Abbé Joseph Cognat, the editor of L’Ami de la réligion, the following letter through Melchior du Lac and Eugène Veuillot.

“I was astonished to read an article in L’Ami de la réligion. I need to know positively by this afternoon if it has your consent. Therefore, please tell me if L’Ami’s interpretation is the one you gave the notes published last Friday in L’Univers. I need a written answer because I intend to publish it.”

Father Cognat did not respond in writing. He told du Lac and Eugène Veuillot that he agreed with the article in L’Ami de la réligion.

At that point, Louis Veuillot decided it was no longer possible to suspend the lawsuit against the pamphlet’s authors. At court, l’Univers was represented by its manager, Jean Barrie, and a young attorney named Josseau, who was just starting his profession. Archbishop Sibour of Paris and Bishop Dupanloup of Orléans hired Jules Armand Dufaure, a former minister of Louis Philippe and the Prince-President’s future prime minister. A crowd filled the courtroom. General de Cotte, the Emperor’s aide-de-camp, was notable among the attendees. He was most likely there as an observer for Napoleon III.

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Despite Dufaure’s renown, intelligence, and skill, everything pointed to the condemnation of Father Cognat. L’Univers’s case was so just that the pamphlet’s authors had no effective defense.

Meanwhile, on January 3, 1857, Archbishop Marie-Dominique Auguste Sibour of Paris was assassinated during a Pontifical Mass in the Church of Saint-Etienne du Mont. The assassin was an interdicted priest, Jean-Louis Verger. Verger opposed priestly celibacy and the newly defined doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Verger admitted his crime and was executed.

Faced with that enormous scandal, the Apostolic Nuncio, Carlo Cardinal Sacconi and many bishops friendly to l’Univers asked Veuillot not to proceed with the lawsuit. They feared that it would bring to light new reasons for dismay and consternation among the faithful.

Veuillot had always known that Father Cognat would invoke Archbishop Sibour’s protection as a last resort. The Archbishop’s approval of L’Univers jugé par lui-même was well known. Thus, at least morally, Father Cognat’s condemnation would also be the condemnation of the murdered archbishop.

On the other hand, an official dismissal of the case could be interpreted as Veuillot’s retreat and a tacit confession that the pamphlet’s “overwhelming argumentation” was, in fact, accurate. After all, L’Ami de la réligion had argued that position throughout the negotiations. Hence, Veuillot hesitated to follow his friends’ advice.

That indecision ceased when the vicar capitulars of Paris, Fathers Buquet, Surat, and Darboy, sent a letter to the editor-in-chief of l’Univers.

“Father Cognat pledges not to reprint his brochure and not to respond to the documents you intend to publish. But this commitment will not be published because we are your guarantors.”

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This largely satisfied Veuillot’s two basic demands for any agreement that Father Cognat did not reprint the book and that l’Univers could publish a booklet documenting the pamphlet’s errors.

Given the letter from the vicars capitular and interventions by friendly prelates, Veuillot gave in on everything. He even agreed not to publish the documentation. At the first hearing of the court, the lawyer of l’Univers would read a previously agreed note, and Dufaure would not speak. This would effectively end the lawsuit.

On January 13, the two parties appeared before the judge, and Attorney Josseau read a statement signed by Father Cognat and the manager of l’Univers, Jean Barrier.

“Father Cognat and the editors of L’Univers, taking into consideration the benevolent advice given to them and yielding to the feelings inspired by the horrible catastrophe which has dismayed all Christian souls, renounce: Father Cognat, to reprint the brochure titled L’Univers jugé par lui-même; and the editors of the Univers, to pursue the defamation lawsuit they have started against the brochure’s author, as well as to printing the documents prepared for the litigation.”

To general astonishment, including the judge’s, Attorney Dufaure then asked for the floor and read a statement of his own.

“Father, the painful circumstance in which we find ourselves and superior reasons impose upon us the duty of positively asking you and your ecclesiastical leaders to accept this [above-transcribed] agreement, which will end the lawsuit between you and the editors of the Univers.

“Please accept, Reverend Father, the expression of my devoted sentiments on behalf of my colleagues. Buquet, Vicar General Capitular.”

Dufaure added: “Given this letter, Father Cognat feels he must accept the Univers’s withdrawal.”

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The Vicar General Capitular’s letter gave Father Cognat the upper hand despite its flagrant violation of the agreement. Nevertheless, when the judge, aware of the negotiations, asked the manager of l’Univers: “Mr. Barrier, do you maintain your withdrawal?” Veuillot signaled him to consent.

All this disloyalty cast shame upon L’Ami de la réligion and its supporters. Indeed, the matter, which should have been closed at that court session, was keenly commented on for a long time. Father Cognat was utterly demoralized. Soon thereafter, Father Sisson replaced him at L’Ami de la réligion.

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