MONTREAL, July 3. - A most extraordinary scene took place in a little chapel in the parish of Maskinonge, about 40 miles from Montreal, on Monday last, which with Roman Catholics is the day of St. Peter and St. Paul. It was the cursing of a church by order of Bishop Lafleche, of Three Rivers, and has caused indescribable excitement in Roman Catholic circles. In the country districts the inhabitants are talking of nothing else, and those immediately concerned are simply terror-stricken at what they consider a fearful manifestation of the power of the Church.
The cursing of the church was done by a Redemptorist Father, acting evidently under orders of Rev. Mr. Lafleche, cure of Maskinonge, and nephew of Mgr. Lafleche, Bishop of Three Rivers. The action of the ecclesiastics is the result of a schism in the parish, brought about by dissensions as to the location of the new parish church at Maskinonge.
A Division in the Church.
Some months since it was decided to erect a new and larger church two miles away from the old building, so as to give greater accommodation to the population. Mgr. Lafleche visited the parish and selected a site on the east side of the Maskinonge river. The spot was indicated by the erection of a cross. A short time after the inhabitants on the west side of the river, who are said to from the majority, succeeded in inducing the Bishop to alter his previous decision, and two months ago the erection of the Church was commenced on the west side of the river. This gave such offense to the larger portion of the east side that they declared they would not attend church on the west side, alleging that they were the victims of an injustice and that the change had been made for motives which they did not approve.
While the erection of the church was proceeding they met and decided to erect a wooden chapel. At the time strong clerical influence was brought to bear upon the rebellious parishioners in order to induce them to give up the project, and the punishment of the church was then threatened, but they were stubborn and the work commenced.
Struck by a Bolt From Heaven.
The erection of the opposition chapel was proceeding rapidly, when, one night, a thunderbolt struck the new church, and it was burned to the ground. In the country round the ignorant inhabitants thought this to be a visitation of God, and those who were building the church were looked upon with horror, as having been placed outside the pale of religion for their blasphemous opposition to the will of the clergy. Such an effect had the event that several of the dissentors went to the confessional, acknowledged their sin and were received back into the Church. The clergy around, too, used the incident as showing the punishment that would be meted out to those who disobeyed the commands of the Church.
Others of the malcontents, however, still persisted in their stubborn determination to erect the chapel on their own side of the river, and eventually it was finished, although the priest in the district refused to consecrate it.
Met There for Worship.
Since that time some 200 men, women and children, having at their head some of the leading citizens of the place, have been in the habit of meeting there for worship. The schoolmaster of the locality read the prayers and recited the beads and a choir sang hymns, a favorite one being "Chretiens qui Combattons."
Monday, the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, the dissentients had met in the chapel at the same time as the rest of the parish were at the old church, when they were greatly surprised to see Rev. Father Savard, of the Redemptorist order, enter the place in his robes of office and holding in his hand a crucifix. His arrival produced a great sensation. It was known that he had been called by Rev. Mr. Lafleche to preach a retreat in the parish church, and when he first entered many thought he was coming to bless the chapel. The priest walked down the aisle, and, standing in front of the altar, solemnly addressed the people, warning them to renounce their schism and return to the church.
One of the congregation said, "Father, bless our chapel and we will be happy to listen to you."
God's Wrath Called Down.
"What, I bless your chapel," replied the Redemptorist. "I should rather curse it," and with his crucifix uplifted to heaven he called down the awful wrath of God upon the sacred edifice. When the father had concluded his anathema he abruptly pulled his hood over his head, so that the congregation could not see his face, and left the chapel.
Before he could reach the door the congregation called out "Father, father, do not curse us and our families."
"I curse the place in which you have met," replied Father Savard. The scene that followed is said to have been frightful. Next to excommunication the cursing of their house of worship was deemed the most awful punishment the Church could inflict. Many of the women fainted, others shrieked and ran around wringing their hands, while others stood rooted to the spot with terror. Some of the little children, who could not understand what was going on, ran crying to their mothers, who were in many cases too helpless with terror to notice them.
Even the men were stricken with the effects of the priest's curse and stood for a time stupefied. Others of the men, however, were almost wild with rage and could with difficulty be restrained from pursuing Father Savard and mobbing him. In a short time, however, the congregation had dispersed, all going silently to their homes.
People Struck With Terror.
The news of the action of Father Savard spread through the country, and the inhabitants are awe stricken at the punishment accorded the rebellious parishoners. The latter are looked upon as being under the ban of the Church, and while they remain so are ostracised by all their neighbors. No one will have any business transactions with them, and the people are afraid to be seen speaking to those whom they consider the Church has condemned to doom.
The action of Father Savard will have the effect of breaking up the congregation. In ecclesiastical circles here Father Savard's action has come in for a good deal of discussion, as there are many who hold that there is no rule in the Roman Catholic Church permitting a priest to anathemize a church, although it is admitted that a priest has a right to warn his flock not to attend any particular church. There can be found in the history of the Catholic Church, at least in Canada, no precedent for Father Savard's action.
Some think that Father Savard has exceeded Bishop Lafleche's instruction, but those who know the latter say he will go to any length rather than have his wishes defied. In lay circles the affair has created a bad impression, and it is unfortunate that it comes at a time when His Grace, Archbishop Fabre, has issued a pastoral calling upon the Catholic community to raise $100,000 for the completion of a magnificent cathedral in Dominion square, the work being placed under the protection of the Virgin.
July 4, 1891