The Vatican Quashes Bishop Dupanloup’s Vendetta Against L’Univers

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The Vatican Quashes Bishop Dupanloup’s Vendetta Against L’Univers
The Vatican Quashes Bishop Dupanloup’s Vendetta Against L’Univers

After l’Univers published Bishop Pierre-Louis Parisis’s letter praising the newspaper, other prelates expressed support and sympathy for the journal and its editor, Louis Veuillot. That made it impossible for Bishop Felix Dupanloup of Orléans to publish the declaration condemning L’Univers that he had so carefully prepared.

After all, his pretext for posting it was an attempt to avoid friction among the bishops. However, he had already gone too far to turn back. All the newspapers in Paris had announced the forthcoming condemnation of l’Univers. Pained to have lost a work that had seemed so promising, Bishop Dupanloup decided to seal the matter by demonstrating his hostility toward Veuillot with a visit by his vicar general.

On July 24, 1852, Veuillot received a visit at his home from Father Place, Vicar General of Orléans. Bishop Dupanloup sent him to inform Veuillot of a declaration many bishops had signed but which several signatories did not want to be published. The matter was so confidential, Fr. Place added, that he could not even leave a copy of the document. Veuillot replied he had not seen the text but knew what it was circulating. His informants were several bishops who refused to support the declaration and even some who had signed it. Father Place read the statement and the names of its signatories. He then left without allowing Veuillot to glance at the document. Thus ended this sadly ridiculous episode and the possible publication of the letter. This meant that l’Univers had escaped the gravest threat to its existence.

Earlier, Thomas-Marie-Joseph Cardinal Gousset of Reims had requested Rome’s intervention. The Vatican, therefore, followed these events attentively. Shortly after Bishop Dupanloup’s retreat, Giacomo Cardinal Antonelli, Papal Secretary of State, replied to Cardinal Gousset in the name of the Holy See.

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“Without criticizing anyone, one must observe, in the interest of truth, that Your Eminence has rightly indicated one point of the gravest importance for the bishops: the need to conform the nature and form of acts emanating from the episcopal body to the rules and customs established by the Church. Failure to do so poses an eminent risk of breaking the much-needed unity of spirit and action, even with measures ardently seeking to develop it.

“The strength of this fundamental observation, and others which Your Eminence has applied so well to the present case, makes one sense how it must have helped to halt the progress of a matter so serious for the parties concerned and so full of deplorable consequences, given the way it was handled.

“Thanks to the prudent resolution made by the personage who had the leading role in this ‘discussion,’ it seems we can consider it closed. Therefore, the supreme intervention of which Your Eminence spoke at the end of your letter is no longer necessary.

“Warmly applauding the interest Your Eminence has shown in this matter, which you sought to close with admirable zeal and wisdom under the Holy See, I remain, etc.”

This ‘declaration affair’ had severe consequences. It poisoned the discussion about classical teaching. It diverted that question from its proper terms. Catholics of all persuasions now agreed on the need to close the debates raised by Monsignor John-Joseph Gaume’s 1851 book The Gnawing Worm of Modern Societies: or Paganism in Education. Under Veuillot’s leadership, l’Univers remained perfectly aligned. It only discussed the doctrinal aspects of the classical teaching issue. However, several bishops advised him to let the matter die, which he did. His letter below to the Vicar General of the Diocese of Limoges elaborates on his position and state of mind.

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“I was absent from Paris when you honored me with your letter and only learned of it today. As you have seen, my opinions were similar to yours, and I followed your advice without knowing you had given it. It is not my fault if the classics’ question is not closed. The venom that involved it did not come from us. Led by a deep feeling of justice, I proclaim that l’Univers has constantly observed the laws of moderation and equity. We were not the ones who sustained heated polemics against Catholics; in my opinion, very poorly inspired Catholics began and ardently maintained the polemics against us—showing evident passion and a very suspect lack of good faith.

“What have we done? We supported not the entire thesis but only the main thought of a book published by a wise and venerable ecclesiastic. It was endorsed by Cardinal Gousset, encouraged by Montalembert and Donoso Cortés, who are undoubtedly Catholic and encouraged by the Bishop of Arras. The Bishop of Orléans joined the quarrel with unparalleled rapidity unsuitable to his strength and character. I answered him as I thought I had the right to do. I am sure that, except for a phrase that did not deserve to be so strongly emphasized, I did not exceed the limits of respect. Had he not been a bishop, I would have said much that I kept quiet, for never has a man opened his flank so wide. His communique came from above. It treated me without charity, dignity, or justice. I did not defend myself and only took up the matter again when letters from two cardinals and manifestations of several bishops declared it was acceptable to do so. Except for Father Cahours, which of our opponents has shown moderation? And who can point to a sentence in which I was not moderate?

“Beaten on the declaration issue, the Bishop of Orléans sought to attack using the classics question. He had books written and encouraged Cardinal Donnet, Cardinal Mathieu, etc. If ‘I dare to answer, they treat me as an enemy of the Church, compare me to Mr. de Lamennais, insult me and threaten me unjustly to use their sacred power.’

“Is it me they should complain about? After twelve years of combat and devotion, I have the unique advantage of being the French writer most abused by the French bishops. I receive blows that the worst enemies of the Church have not received. There are statements against me but none against [novelist] Eugene Sue, [anarchist Pierre-Joseph] Proudhon, [anti-Catholic historian Jules] Michelet, and so many others. Yet, the bishops have not found a single error against the Faith to reprove me. I still have not said everything. This iniquity has details that make it more bitter but which I will shroud in religious silence.

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“Allow me to find it a little painful that, after all that, you still come to me recommending moderation. Besides, it is not hard for me to have this moderation, which I believe I possess, and for which I thank God. I have always made sacrifices for peace and will always make them. But the intervention of a Catholic—even one whom I revere—is not sufficient for me to renounce a sound, legitimate and authoritative thesis. If I had brought the love of peace to this point, l’Univers would have collapsed on the most critical issues of these times or made a sad spectacle of itself.

“What I can do, have done, and will do, is keep everything impersonal and draw the bitter poison of offended self-love from my personal wounds. I express to you confidentially what is in my heart to correspond to the confidence you have expressed to me. I will say nothing to the public, nor will these resentments, which will soon be forgotten, ever guide my pen, which has never obeyed them.

“I ask you, Msgr. Vicar General, to communicate this letter to the Bishop of Limoges, whom I humbly thank for his interest. Your very grateful and devoted servant.”

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