- Father Eugene de Mazenod was appointed Bishop of Icosia in 1832
- Problems with the French Government
- Reconciliation (1835-1836)
Father Eugene de Mazenod was appointed Bishop of Icosia in 1832
Immediately after the Revolution of July 1830, many municipal councils were made up of individuals who were not sympathetic towards the clergy or towards the Catholic religion in general. They requested the suppression of the Episcopal sees in their localities. The city of Marseilles was noted for its anti-clerical zeal. In fact, on December 23, 1830 the commanding officer of the military garrison requested that the see be suppressed for economic reasons. The departmental general council made that request official by giving its approval on May 16, 1831.
The clergy and the faithful signed a petition to have the see retained and on July 10, 1831, Bishop Fortune de Mazenod informed the Holy Father of the situation. The bishop’s fears increased when, on February 15, 1832, the question of the suppression of a number of dioceses was raised in parliament. Bishop Fortune again wrote to Gregory XVI on March 11. In his letter he describes the critical situation of the Church in France and expresses his desire to ensure the spiritual welfare of the faithful. Feeling that he himself is close to death, he wishes in some way to ensure the succession. He knew that the Government would not accept that a coadjutor bishop be appointed and instead he suggests that he be given an auxiliary, a bishop in partibus, and proposes the name of Father Eugene de Mazenod.
In order to avoid the bureau of postal censorship, Bishop Fortuné sent Father Tempier to Rome to deliver the letter. The messenger was received by the Pope on May 20 and again on June 19, 1832. During the second audience, the Pope told Father Tempier that he had entrusted the matter to Archbishop Frezza, secretary of the Congregation for Ecclesiastical affairs whom he advised him to contact. Three days later Father Tempier was received by Archbishop Frezza who gave him to understand that many difficulties could be overcome if Father de Mazenod would come to Rome to be ordained bishop. On June 24 Father Tempier wrote to Archbishop Frezza to say that he could see no reason why the candidate could not come to Rome. On July 10 a reply was prepared for Bishop Fortuné de Mazenod stating that the Holy Father would take whatever means necessary and opportune to ensure the success of the plan.
On being informed of the necessity to go to Rome, Father de Mazenod decided to pass through Switzerland in order not to arouse the suspicions of the Government and he arrived in the Eternal City shortly after August 15, 1832. In the meantime, during a third audience granted to Father Tempier by Gregory XVI an obstacle from the Constitutions was removed, which said that, an Oblate could not become bishop unless he was expressly ordered to do so by the Pope. The necessary informative process began in the presence of Archbishop Frezza with Father Tempier as the only witness.
Gregory XVI received Father de Mazenod on August 27 and told him how he saw the matter. He wished to proceed with the appointment. In an audience granted to the secretary of Propaganda on September 30, the Pope approved the plan to appoint Father de Mazenod as visitor to Tunisia and Tripoli. By making this appointment and by passing through Propaganda, Gregory XVI considered that he had chosen the best way and one least likely to cause trouble with the French Government. On the following day, October 1, which was unusually hastily, the Pope signed two decrees: one raising Father de Mazenod to the episcopacy with the title of Icosia in partibus, and the other appointing him apostolic visitor in Tunisia and Tripoli. That was followed on the same day by the decree of Propaganda. The motive given for the appointment as apostolic visitor mentioned the fact that, since he was resident in Marseilles, the new bishop would easily find occasion to travel to Africa.
The new bishop thus became the titular bishop of Icosia (today Algeria, in North Africa), and Apostolic Visitor to Tunisia and Tripoli, while remaining at the same time Vicar General of Marseilles. On October 14, 1832 his episcopal ordination took place in the church of San Silvestro, near the Quirinal palace. The ordaining prelate was Cardinal Odescalchi, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and Regulars, and the co-consecrators were Archbishop Falconieri of Ravenna and Archbishop Frezza, secretary of the Congregation for ecclesiastical affairs. On October 24, Gregory XVI received the new bishop and told him explicitly that his office as Apostolic Visitor did not imply an obligation to reside in Africa.
Problems with the French Government
Bishop de Mazenod returned to Marseilles at the beginning of November. Both the faithful and the civil authorities received him warmly. Thomas, the prefect, embraced him and congratulated him. However, no sooner had the Government been informed than they lodged a complaint with the Vatican Secretariat of State and with Bishop Fortune, referring to the imperial decree of 1808, which forbade any Frenchman to accept an appointment as a titular bishop (in partibus) without the permission of the Government. The Secretariat of State replied, protesting that the application of the aforementioned decree was seen by the Holy Father as “a restriction of the spiritual powers of the Holy See.” It was also added that for the time being the bishop of Icosia was prevented from going to Tunisia and Tripoli. The Government then resorted to using calumnious information provided by the prefect Thomas and continued to refer to the imperial decree of 1808. They accused Bishop de Mazenod of anti-government politics. They even applied the decree, at least in part, by forbidding the Bishop of Icosia to exercise his functions as Vicar general and pressurizing the Holy See to have Bishop de Mazenod removed from Marseilles and called to Rome. He set out for Rome not knowing why he had been called there. On his arrival, on August 16, 1833, he immediately went to visit Archbishop Frezza who told him to see Cardinal Bernetti, the Secretary of State, who would explain all that had happened. The Cardinal’s reply, on August 24, was that he had nothing to say. Bishop de Mazenod succeeded in seeing the Pope on August 28 and once again he went to see Cardinal Bernetti and Archbishop Frezza. From them he learned that the French Government accused him of being the ringleader of opposition to Louis-Philippe in Marseilles. He proceeded to prepare a memoir in which he refuted the accusations and stated that it would be easy to prove that the calumnies were without foundation. He had no difficulty convincing the Pope and the cardinals of his innocence.
The main problem still remained: that of his appointment to the episcopacy without the approval of the Government. On this question the Pope did not given in. He did not even mention it during the visit of Bishop de Mazenod to Rome, and contrary to the Government’s expectations, he allowed Bishop de Mazenod to return to France so that he could justify his conduct with the Government. The Government was upset and threatened to apply immediately the 1808 decree of Napoleon. Faced with the declarations of the Holy See, the Government tried to convince the Bishop of Icosia to retire to Aix and continued to issue threats. They persisted in their decision to suppress the diocese as well as in other anti-religious activities. Finally, in September 1834, they deprived Bishop de Mazenod of his French citizenship and consequently of all the rights associated with it.
Constrained by the limitations imposed by the law, Bishop de Mazenod, since he could not wait for a reply from Rome, decided to bring the matter before the courts. Competent lawyers assured him that he would win his case. However, the Secretariat of State and the Pope were influenced by the then chargé d’affaires in Paris, Bishop Garibaldi. After some months of indecision, they declared that they did not approve of his recourse to the courts nor of the initiative taken by Bishop Fortuné to obtain the support of the bishops of France. They nevertheless continued to defend the Bishop against the Government. The moment he was informed of the Holy Father’s wishes, Bishop de Mazenod hastened to inform the Ministry for worship, that out of respect for the Pope’s wishes and in the interests of peace, he would abandon his appeal and submit to the consequences of the imperial decree. He retired to the novitiate in Notre-Dame de l’Osier while awaiting his expulsion from France at any moment. On November 19 he wrote to Cardinal Bernetti to say that neither the advantages to be gained from his appeal to the courts nor the inconvenience for which he was now preparing would allow him to hesitate for one moment when faced with what was the will of the Holy Father or even with a simple desire expressed by the head of the Church.
Reconciliation with the Government is explained by the circumstances which obliged Louis-Philippe to make advances to the Church and more especially by the intervention of Father Guibert and his consummate diplomacy in dealing with all concerned: the king, the queen, the ministers, the military, the prefect etc. He was Superior of the seminary in Ajaccio, Corsica, and made frequent visits to Paris to obtain subsidies for that institution. On August 11, 1835, he obtained an audience with the king and requested that, in the interests of religious peace in France, he would regularize the situation of the Bishop of Icosia. The king was agreeable. Father Guibert also approached the Minister for Worship and won him over, convincing him of the bad faith of the prefect Thomas who denounced the Bishop of Icosia in Paris while professing his friendship with him in Marseilles. The minister wanted certain guarantees on the part of the Bishop of Icosia. Father Guibert suggested that he be appointed bishop of some diocese or coadjutor of Marseilles, in which case he would be obliged to swear loyalty to the king.
Father Guibert had no trouble convincing Bishop Fortune but the obstacle to reconciliation with the Government was the Bishop of Icosia himself. He refused to consider anything that would be an admission that he had done something illegal. He rejected absolutely the idea that he would be bishop of a diocese or a coadjutor. He only gave in when faced with the chastisements of Father Guibert, Father Tempier and Bishop Fortune. Finally, on August 24, 1835, he wrote to the king and then, on September 15, to the Minister for Worship. The Minister requested the king to reinstate Eugene de Mazenod in his rights as a citizen, and so, on December 25, 1835, a Government brief declared Eugene de Mazenod titular Bishop of Icosia. He then set out for Paris where he was cordially received on January 25, 1836. He took his oath in the presence of the king as titular bishop. The Icosia question, which had caused so much suffering to Bishop de Mazenod, was now concluded.
Angelo Mitri, o.m.i.