Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Origins of Radical Catholicism XX: La Vie du Pére Hecker and papal condemnation

There were other things happening at the same time as the Americanist crisis and the Apostolic Letter, Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae of Leo XIII condemning what he saw as “Americanism.”  Again, remember that what rang the alarm bell was the Book La Vie du Pére Hecker which was a translation of Walter Elliott CSP’s biography of the founder of the Paulists, Issac Hecker.  Some claim that if Vatican Officials had read the original work in English all would have been well—that the “heresy” existed only in the minds of those who had read the French translation which was biased towards certain issues current in the French Church. 
A French priest, the Abbé Charles Maignen who was an ardent opponent of French Republicanism even after Leo XIII had given his approval to the Third Republic, wrote a critique of La Vie du Pére Hecker, entitled:  Le Pére Hecker,est-il un saint? In order to appreciate what happened next one needs to refer to French Politics in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.  I had dealt with this in two earlier blogs (April 1 and 2, 2011).  While the majority of French voters wanted to restore the monarchy, they were divided on which branch of Bourbon family should be restored—one representing a restoration of pre-revolutionary Absolute Monarchy, the other of the Constitutionalist Monarchy of 1848.  Their inability to agree led to the formation of what was to be a temporary republic—it lasted seventy years.  The die-hard conservatives—to which party Maignen belonged—were absolutely opposed to the Republic and were appalled that Leo XIII had not only given his approval to it but had a policy of ralliement, calling the French to not only accept the republic but actively participate in it.  Maignen saw the influence of the United States and its republic behind this Vatican move away from monarchism.  Cardinal Richard of Paris, supporting the Republic and Leo’s stance towards it, refused to give Maignen’s book the imprimatur.  Richard was not supportive of Klein and his endorsement of Americanist principles in La Vie du Pére Hecker, but he was concerned that Maignen’s book had attacked not only papally approved Republicanism but liberal members of the American hierarchy, notably Gibbons, Ireland, and Keane. 
Maignen did not let the Cardinal’s refusal of the imprimatur stop him.  He managed to arrange to have Alberto Lepidi, OP, the Pope’s official theologian grant the imprimatur.  This created the impression that Leo had himself given permission for the book to be printed.  Cardinal Rampolla, the Secretary of State, denied that the Pope had even known of Lepidi’s imprimatur, much less authorized it.  Salvatore Brandi, SJ, editor of La Civilità Cattolica (a semi-official Vatican newspaper) and rabid foe of Gibbons and the liberals, claimed that the pope had explicitly authorized it.  It was the typical Vatican Curial Keystone Cops drill, then as now, when no one knows who is in charge and everyone is claiming authority while no one will take responsibility.  Part of the complexity was Maignen had the help of Georges Périès, a canon law professor who had been dismissed from the faculty at Catholic University and who had an implacable personal hatred for Gibbons and Ireland, in arranging for Lepidi to grant the imprimatur.  Ireland, never one to back down from a brawl, claimed that he, Gibbons, and the others whom Maignen had attacked were the loyalists and reminded Rampolla that  Maignen was the one who opposed Leo’s policies towards the French Republic.  Archbishop Messmer of Milwaukee—a foe of Ireland’s over the school and German language issues—arrived in Rome for his ad liminia and told the pope that Ireland and some other American bishops did indeed hold the heterodox positions Maignen had attributed to them.  There was so much personal animosity, both among the American bishops and between the Americans and the Europeans that the bottom-line truth is hard to discover.  But there was a lot at stake in this fight and in the end the liberals—that is to say, the Americanists—would lose the battle.  That battle. There would be more.  And speaking of battles, we still need to look at the Spanish American War and how that affected the Vatican and Testem Benevolentiae.  Also keep Maignen and the French Monarchists in mind as they will surface again with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the Restorationists after Vatican II.  The war never ends, the battles go on even today!
the image today are some of the French Crown Jewels

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