Thursday, June 09, 2022

History of troublesome priests

Fallon: Obey!
The weekly new-biography mailing from the Dictionary of Canadian Biography has featured in the last two weeks two really horrifying clerical lives, at least for any reader from a background of secularism, moderation, tolerance, and the separation of church and state: Michel-Thomas Labreque (d.1940, biography by Gaston Gagnon) and  Michael Fallon (d.1931, by Pasquale Fiorino).

"Throughout his life Labrecque suffered from an immense and obsessive fear of freemasonry and liberalism, which promoted secular public schools and the separation of church and state." As bishop of Chicoutimi, he called the possible arrival of some non-francophone labourers “a national and religious danger” for his diocese. He forebade his parishioners from even attending Liberal party rallies, since Laurier "was a traitor to his religion and his nationality." Of him Gagnon writes, with nice understatement: "Certain personality traits – such as irascibility, impulsiveness, and authoritarianism – revealed themselves to be quite the opposite of those of St Fran├žois de Sales, whom Labrecque looked to as his guide."

Michael Fallon was an Irish Catholic from Ottawa who managed to be both a British imperialist and an Irish nationalist. Also, "he felt strongly that French Canadians ought to place loyalty to the Church above loyalty to their language and culture." He was at once a supporter of separate schools for Ontario Catholics and a fierce opponent of French-language instruction for Franco-Ontarian Catholics. In 1912 he helped bring about Ontario's anti-French Regulation 17, in the process earning "the lasting enmity of French Canadians across the country." Upon his death a colleague acknowledged, “Bishop Fallon failed at times in patience and meekness."  

I mean, one knew people like this existed and prospered, but reading these two lengthy biographies in sequence really rubs your nose in it.

Update, June 12:  I thought of my title above as a clever allusion to the complaint by Henry II that led his knights to go murder Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury.  But apparently the original version of the phrase was "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" (sometimes revised as "meddlesome" or "troublesome," according to Wikipedia).  "Turbulent" would work for these guys, too. And this update allows me to add that the DCB entry does mention that some of Fallon's francophone parisioners actually discussed assassinating him.

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