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The Signs of the Times, vol. 13

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    December 1, 1887

    “‘A Singular Case’” The Signs of the Times 13, 46, p. 729.

    THE following dispatch we insert entire, as it shows what the wicked arrogance of Rome still attempts to do:—SITI December 1, 1887, page 729.1

    “A special to the Chicago Times, dated Ottawa (Ontario), November 3, says: One of the most extraordinary cases that has ever come up before the Supreme Court of the Dominion has just been argued here, and is likely to be carried to the Imperial Privy Counsel of Great Britain, the highest tribunal in the realm, before it is finally disposed of. It involves the question of the right of the Roman Catholic Church to exact or collect fines from members of the congregation who have failed to conform to the rules of the church. The case at issue is that of Poitras against Lebeau. The suit arose out of the refusal of Poitras to kneel on both knees during high mass in the Church of Ste. Anne du Rout de Sile, near Montreal.SITI December 1, 1887, page 729.2

    “Action for $2,000 was brought against Lebeau for having instituted proceedings charging Poitras with having committed, in said church, an irreverent act, for which he, Poitras, had to pay an $820 penalty. The case was tried by a jury, and a verdict was rendered in favor of Lebeau. This verdict was moved against before the Court of Review, when a new trial was granted on the ground that the evidence was contradictory, and that Poitras had suffered damage. The Court of Appeal reversed this judgment, and confirmed the verdict. Appeal was then made to the Supreme Court here.SITI December 1, 1887, page 729.3

    “In laying the case before the Judge of the Supreme Court, Poitras stated that on Sunday, August 9, 1885, he was rowed across the river to St. Ann’s to church, being too weak after a recent illness to drive. Finding no vacant seat when he entered the church, he remained near the door, and when kneeling-time came attempted to fall on both knees, but on account of the pain which the effort caused him, could only kneel on one knee. Lebeau was constable of the church, and ordered him to kneel on both knees, to which Poitras replied that he was too ill.SITI December 1, 1887, page 729.4

    “After service Lebeau called him a blackguard, and said he would fix him. During the afternoon of the same day, Poitras was arrested on a warrant charging him with committing in the church of St. Ann’s an act of irreverence, in kneeling on one knee only, the other being slightly bent. At the solicitation of his friends, to avoid scandal, he paid the amount—$820—under protest.SITI December 1, 1887, page 729.5

    “In his defense, Lebeau argues that a by-law which is explained from the pulpit every year exists in the church, ordering people to kneel on both knees, and notifying sick persons to attend mass in the sacristy. The case is being made a test of the right of the church to exact the penalty imposed, and there is no lack of money on both sides, to carry it to the highest tribunal. The judges of the Supreme Court, two of whom are Roman Catholic and four Protestant, have reserved their judgment, which is awaited with great interest.”SITI December 1, 1887, page 729.6

    This is called “a singular case,” but it is not so very singular after all. It might be thought singular that any court under British rule should decide in favor of the enforcement of a fine imposed by the authorities of the Roman Church. But it is certain that such a fine imposed by the authority of the British Church would be enforced by the British Courts, and it is altogether likely that the courts here referred to considered it as much within their province to confirm a fine for “irreverence” in one place as in another.SITI December 1, 1887, page 729.7

    This case serves perfectly to illustrate the essential wickedness of all legal establishment of religion, and of any interconnection whatever between religion and the civil law. What more unseemly confusion of ideas and interests can be conceived of than the infliction of a civil penalty for an offense wholly spiritual, and inflicted too by spiritual authorities? And then to realize that among any civilized people on earth there could be found, in this age, civil courts that would confirm such an iniquitous imposition, and that would lend the machinery of the civil law to the sanction and enforcement of civil penalties imposed by ecclesiastical authority, for the violation of an ecclesiastical by-law, is almost enough to cause thinking men to lose all faith in human progress.SITI December 1, 1887, page 729.8

    Nor is this the worst feature of the matter. This case occurred in Canada. Such a case could find no sanction in the United States. But, alas! even in this free and enlightened nation there is danger, even now, that such an order of things shall be established. The aim of the National Reform Association is to secure a constitutional establishment of religion, so that ecclesiastical offenses shall be punished by civil penalties. And this association proposes to bring this about by the recognition and the help of the Roman Church. In other words, the National Reform Association proposes by amendment of the national Constitution to establish an order of procedure here by which the Papal church may do all over this nation what she is now allowed to do in Canada, in Spain, in France, and other such benighted countries.SITI December 1, 1887, page 729.9

    The Scripture says of Rome that “the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” And all any person has to do to behold the proof of it is only to turn his eyes in any direction.SITI December 1, 1887, page 729.10