Thursday, February 10, 2011

Catholics in the American Civil War: The South

Well, we looked at the contribution of the Yankee bishops to the War. While the Catholics in the Confederacy didn’t have any bishops like Leonidas Polk, the Episcopalian Bishop of Louisiana, who traded his pastoral staff for a rifle and took up arms—accepting commission as a General in the Confederate Army (he died at the 1864 battle of Pine Mountain, Georgia—killed by a Union Shell), they did have their share of loyal prelates.
Patrick Neeson Lynch (1817-1882) was bishop of Charleston South Carolina from 1857 until his death. In 1864 he was named ambassador of the Confederate States of America to the Papal States. The relationship of the Confederacy and the Papacy is somewhat confusing due in part to the difference of the Papal States as a political unit and the Holy See which has Diplomatic but not political status. As far as I can ascertain the Papal States gave diplomatic recognition to the Confederacy but the Papacy itself, the Holy See, did not. The Holy See may have felt some impossibility of recognizing the Confederacy—especially at this point of the war when slavery was a clearly identified issue—given the univocal condemnation of slavery by Gregory XVI in 1836 which punished with interdict anyone who supported slavery or the slave trade in any way or form. While this punishment seems never to have been invoked, and the Holy See certainly turned a blind eye to the problem of Catholics owning slaves and prelates condoning the practice, Lincoln by the Emancipation Proclamation, had maneuvered European nations into a very delicate position whereby support for the Confederacy implied a support of the slavery system. In the event, Pius only received Bishop Lynch in his capacity of a bishop and not as an ambassador. I will need to do considerable more research to fully appreciate the fine line that the Pope seemed to be drawing, but for the purposes of this blog about support for the Confederacy, we can simply say that Bishop Lynch accepted the position of ambassador from President Davis for the Confederate States.
The French born Jean-Marie Odin, Archbishop of New Orleans, was also a supporter of the Southern Cause in the War. Pius IX wrote Odin, as he had written Hughes in New York, to try to mediate a peace but neither Government was interested in papal mediation. Odin supported the Southern cause while, as so many, he protested that he abhorred slavery. To be fair to him not everyone who supported the Southern Cause supported Slavery any more than everyone who stood for the Union opposed it. There are Constitutional Questions, namely can a State secede from the Union into which it had freely entered? Another way of looking at it is are we “The United States” or “These United States”—in other words do the States surrender their sovereignty when they come into the Union. It was the Civil War that answered effectively a question Constitutional scholars had been debating without resolution. Archbishop Odin, like other supporters of the Confederacy, recognized sovereignty as lying with the States and saw the Union as a foreign aggressor. A “radical” priest in his Archdiocese, Father Claude Paschal Maistre, saw things very differently. Father Maistre, like the Archbishop, was French born. Unlike the Archbishop he had been to seminary in France and ordained there before coming to work in Louisiana. Arriving in 1857 in the Archdiocese of New Orleans he worked among the Afro-Creole population for whom he developed a great sympathy and an outrage at slavery. Maistre served as volunteer chaplain to three regiments of Black Native Guards. New Orleans, while a Confederate city, had fallen to Captain David G. Farragut’s Squadron and was occupied by Federal Troops from the end of April 1862. The Federal occupation force encouraged the formation of African-American Militia both to balance any organized rebel attempts at resistance and to humiliate the white citizenry by giving Black militia responsibility to keep order over them. Maistre’s relationship to this Militia did not endear him to the white community and put Odin under pressure to deal with this priest who was sympathetic to the cause of the Blacks.
Slavery was simply a social and economic fact of life in Louisiana at the outbreak of the Civil War. While the Archbishop may not have liked it, the vast majority of his clergy and laity not only accepted it as a fact of life, but depended on it in one way or another for their lifestyles and for their livelihood.

In 1862 Félix-Antoine-Philibert Dupanloup, Archbishop of Orleans in France, wrote a strong pastoral letter condemning slavery. In September 1863 President Lincoln published his preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation and Maistre, whose views had been formed in part by Dupanloup’s letter, decided to “celebrate” Lincoln’s proclamation. He announced that as of January 1, 1863—the day the Emancipation Proclamation became effective—he would no longer maintain three separate sets of sacramental registers—the books that record baptisms, first-communions, confirmations, and weddings—as diocesan policy required separating whites, mixed-race, and blacks into separate archives, but would have one set of books for all and would enter names into the sacramental books regardless of race. In April he presided at a mass celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation and declaring in his sermon that the Proclamation was the first step towards equality of the races. This sent the white citizenry over the brink and Odin ordered Maistre out of his parish and to a monastery for penance. The Union Military Occupational Force, however, ordered Maistre to continue his pastoral work among the Blacks.
Now before we go further, Maistre—like most of us—was not a man of unquestionable integrity. There had been some financial improprieties while he was still in France. Moreover when he had first come to the United States he worked in the dioceses of Detroit and Chicago where there were rumors of some moral irregularities as well as doctrinal laxity and financial improprieties. Maistre was a financial wizard and while he was able to raise considerable funds for building a church for his parish and providing for a wide host of charities and benevolent societies it is not unreasonable to suspect that he may have profited personally as well. Moreover, Archbishop Odin and he had clashed over finances previously and the Archbishop ended up having to pay him several thousand dollars, Odin suspecting that Maistre had swindled him. In other words, Odin had a personal grudge against Maistre—and not without reason—and Maistre’s own soul seems to have been a bit of a checkerboard of sin and grace.
When Maistre did not leave the parish, Odin suspended him from priestly duties and put the parish under interdict. While the white parishioners fled, the Blacks did not. When the body of Andre Cailloux, a captain in the Native Guard who had died heroically in the battle of Port Hudson, was returned for burial in New Orleans, Maistre preached a moving eulogy to a crowd of ten thousand mourners—almost all African-American. We will treat more of Father Maistre in the future, but suffice it to note here that his identification with the Black community of New Orleans led to an irreconcilable breach with Odin, despite Maistre’s efforts to seek a reconciliation and restoration of his good standing. That came only after Odin’s death when the new Archbishop was able to regularize his situation. The episode gives a strong impression, and not unfounded, that Odin was anti-black rights and anti-Union.
The third, and final, prelate to mention is William Henry Elder, bishop of Natchez. Natchez was a Confederate stronghold and in some ways the heart of the “Gone with the Wind Society” of large antebellum plantations with hundreds of slaves, genteel southern ladies and gentlemen, and that life that was so refined on the surface and cruel beneath. The city surrendered to Captain David G. Farragut in May 1862, shortly after the Fall of New Orleans, but was not occupied by Union Troops until eleven months later. It was still later, in 1864, that the Union Military Commander ordered prayers in all the churches for the President of the United States. Bishop Elder refused. He actually wrote to Lincoln whose Secretary of War assured him he would have the order rescinded. Elder wrote a letter to Secretary Stanton thanking him and asking him to make sure the military commanders were notified. Apparently they were not, for the next two commanders both noted the order for prayers for the President were not being obeyed and the second of these, a General Mason Brayman—no friend of Catholics—had Bishop Elder jailed. He was released several weeks later under orders from the Department of War. Elder went on eventually become Archbishop of Cincinnati in 1880. As Elder was a native of Baltimore, it can be surmised that he was pro-South. His refusal to have prayers said for the President of the United States has been variously interpreted as being a question of Religious Freedom and as an act of resistance against the Union. It served to make many Northern Protestants suspicious of Catholic loyalties to the United States.
I think we are going to shift to a new—and somewhat current—topic: What has happened to Vatican II, or as I titled a lecture I gave a few weeks ago “Is Vatican II in danger.” However, we will keep this strand alive, returning to it in a few days to talk about the role of nuns in the Civil War and the role of Catholics in the Lincoln Assassination. And then too we have to get back eventually to some of our European topics and I particularly want to talk about the building of Saint Peter’s basilica.
The image today is a portrait of Bishop William Henry Elder, Bishop of Natchez Mississippi, who refused a military order to have prayers offered for the President of the United States during the city's occupation by federal troops

No comments:

Post a Comment