Thursday, September 22, 2011

Evils Of Trusteeism

By Fr. Gerald C. Treacy, S.J.
Archbishop John Carroll of Maryland
On opening the very first pages of the history of any of the older parishes in this country, we find mention made of the Board of Trustees. They were a body of laymen (in later times one or two clergymen might be found to enjoy membership), elected by the congregation to administer Church property and to look after the temporalities of the parish. They formed a corporation with a legal existence, created and acknowledged by the laws of the several States. Their duties were manifold, their rights extensive. The upkeep of the property of the Church devolved upon them. They hired the sexton, the organist, and choir-master, and what strikes us as strange nowadays, even the pastor. The bishop would give his priests faculties and they would go before the Board of Trustees and arrange with this body all the details of parish duties as well as other important incidentals, namely, salary, lodging, variety of Church services, and ministrations. If the pastor proved distasteful to the congregation or unsatisfactory to their elected representatives, the Board of Trustees, the bishop was notified that the services of a new priest were in requisition.
It may not be amiss to mention here parenthetically that in the Maryland mission all Church possessions were in the hands of the Society of Jesus, and when the Suppression came, the Fathers very wisely incorporated under the title of "The Gentlemen of Maryland," and handed down the property by will, till the Restoration, when, with the approval of Bishop Carroll, they came into their own again. Hence Jesuit parishes were free from the vexations and troubles of trusteeism, that afflicted the American Church in the first fifty years of our country's history.
The beginning of the system is traceable to two causes. The Catholics, a negligible minority in the different States, were influenced by the vestry system of the various Protestant sects, controlling Church affairs, administering Church property, appointing clergymen by the votes of a lay committee. Again, the civil law acknowledged the right of a congregation to hold property, insisting, however, that the trustees should be elected by all the members of the said congregation.
So Bishop Carroll tolerated the system, and his successors and fellow-members of the episcopate did likewise. Again it must be remembered that the great majority of American Catholics came from Europe, where the Committee of Control, or Fabriques, administered Church property. But while the European governments of the day recognized the peculiar constitution of the Catholic Church, in America it was by no means certain how the different States would deal with the legal conflicts that might arise between the bishop and the lay trustees. 
That the system was dangerous and liable to grave abuses, is patent to the most casual observer of the Church's development in the United States. Scandals and schisms were the outgrowth of the system, that darkened the early days of the American Church, and forced its first bishop to go before the civil power, and prove his right to govern American Catholics, and to appoint the priests whom he chose to labor in the field. Fortunately in these early times, by a decision of the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas, the bishops' supreme control over clergy and laity alike was acknowledged by the State. However, the trouble was not settled by this decision. Bishop Carroll suffered the humiliation of having his appointment of priests vetoed by the trustees of different churches, who insisted on keeping the pastors of their own choice, stubbornly maintaining that the right of appointing the clergy belonged to those who supplied the revenue.
They took it upon themselves to raise or lower the priests' salary according to a standard of sacerdotal merit fixed by themselves. And the lamentable fact is that there were those among the clergy who, to escape the burden of episcopal jurisdiction, readily fell in with the wild notions of the lay trustees, and left their names as scandal marks on the history of the early American Church.
A case in point is that of Father Nepomocene Goetz, who applied to Father Leonard Neale, vicar-general of Philadelphia, for admission into the diocese of Baltimore, of which Philadelphia was then a nourishing division. He was appointed as a curate to Rev. Peter Heilbron of Holy Trinity Church, Philadelphia. Though solemnly promising his ecclesiastical superiors that he would diligently acquit himself of the sacerdotal duties committed to him, on learning that he was to be curate and not pastor, he protested to the trustees, declaring ''that he did not wish to be an assistant but co-pastor with equal rights." Certain disaffected members of the parish sided with the rebellious priest. This was in 1796. Toward the end of September of that year, the trustees of the parish passed twentysix resolutions, formulating a platform that embraced their "power, rights, and authority," and sustaining the unworthy priest in the strange attitude he had assumed. The question now involved the sacred constitution of Holy Church, touching the authority of the episcopate. Father Heilbron could not agree to the appointment of a co-pastor, as no one but the bishop could make such an appointment. The trustees, however, thought otherwise, and in October, 1796, sent the following communication to the pastor: "We hereby inform you that in consequence of your refusal to sign the twenty-six resolutions, you are hereby dismissed and deprived of your office in this church. Furthermore, your salary is withdrawn. In case you refuse to give up the property of the Church, we will prosecute you with the law."
To avoid public scandal, Father Heilbron retired to St. Joseph's Church, and there held service for the faithful members of his congregation. In November the trustees appointed Father Goetz as pastor. Bishop Carroll threatened the usurping priest with suspension. The threat was of no avail, and in the same month the usurper held divine service, and preached to his rebel congregation on "The Sanctity of Christian Temples." His faculties were immediately withdrawn.
During this scandal Father Leonard T Teale, vicar-general and coadjutor of the diocese, tried to bring about peace. But the trustees would brook no interference, and sad to say they were encouraged in their unrighteous cause by another priest, Father William Elling, of Reading, Pa. He supplied the refractory congregation with ritual, missal, holy oils, etc., and finally offered his services to the schismatics. Bishop Carroll with fatherly tenderness addressed a pastoral to the "Beloved Brethren of Holy Trinity Church," urging all to return to unity, and stating clearly the doctrine and discipline of the Church, and the duties of the faithful in obeying lawful authority. Nevertheless, his appeal fell upon deaf ears. 
Extreme measures were then resorted to, and through the vicar-general, Father Neale, Bishop Carroll excommunicated the recalcitrant priests in February, 1797. In the hope of ending the schism Bishop Carroll journeyed to Philadelphia at the end of the year. On his arrival he was served with a writ and hailed before a civil magistrate. In open court the trustees based their case on the contention that the only power possessed by a bishop was the laying of hands on the person whom the people desired as their minister. 
When the Pope's brief was produced in evidence, clearly stating that all the faithful in the United States were subject to the Bishop of Baltimore, the trustees were not daunted. They attacked the brief as a violation of American law. Nor did they cease here in their open breach with Bishop Carroll. They even dared to delegate Father Keuter, the head of a schismatical congregation of Baltimore, as their special emissary to the Holy See to obtain Papal sanction for their rebellious conduct. So the eighteenth century closed with the plague of schism afflicting our infant Church. It was not until 1802 that priest and people were brought to a realization of their duties as Catholics and peace once more prevailed where peace should ever be.
In 1808 Philadelphia became a separate diocese, and Right Rev. Michael Egan was named its first bishop. Trustee troubles began again, and the two priests who figured conspicuously in the fray were Father James Harold and his nephew, Father William Harold. The former was made pastor of St. Mary's, the latter, vicar-general. These appointments were the signal for trouble, and financial embarrassment strained the situation to the breaking point. The Harolds, it was said, made exorbitant demands for money. In February, 1813, a dramatic climax was reached, when from the pulpit of St. Mary's, Father James Harold announced that both he and Father William would no longer serve that church. Bishop Egan accepted their resignation, much to their surprise, and they forthwith appealed to Bishop Carroll for reinstatement in the diocese; and the answer of the metropolitan was "Exeant!" Then the battle was on. Factions followed, known as the Haroldites and Bishopites. At the next election of trustees the Haroldites swept the field, employing tactics that foreshadowed the days of the steam roller. Feeling ran high, and pamphlets appeared attacking the bishop in language that smacked of the style of modern campaign oratory, and the last public utterance of the first bishop of Philadelphia was a protest against those who were a scandal to the Church he loved. A few days later he was dead, "the first victim of episcopal rights, for his end was premature," are the words we find closing the letter that announced his death to Archbishop Carroll.
Under the next bishop, Dr. Conwell, trusteeism came into prominence again, and a brilliant priest, Rev. William Hogan, played the disgraceful role of the leader of an unruly party, standing for the false contention that in the United States laymen have the right to appoint bishops and priests, and legislate in ecclesiastical questions as well as temporalities. Probably the greatest of all the trustee scandals that besmirch the records of our early Church, it emphasizes the old truth, old as the Church is old, that might of intellect in a priest who is not well seasoned in the ground principles of true virtue is more of a curse than a blessing. Father William Hogan was endowed with rare intellectual gifts and possessed a manner that won its way quickly into all hearts. In the civic as well as religious life of the Quaker city he was a prominent figure. Then the day came when his bishop called him to task for some indiscretion, and wounded pride conquered. He got the ears of the self-important trustees, and together they plotted a campaign of disunion that was startling in its boldness. Their first move was to have the charter of St. Mary's amended, so as to exclude the clergy from membership in the Board of Trustees. The case was carried before the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, where an adverse decision defeated their scheme. Now the trustee election of 1822 was approaching. Fourteen pews were added to the body of the Church, and twelve placed in the galleries. 
As each pew seated five persons, and each person was entitled to a vote at the coming election, by renting the pews to sympathizers of Father Hogan and the trustees, one hundred and thirty votes were secured. 
On the morning of the election, April 9, 1822, an excited crowd thronged Fourth Street, Philadelphia. Both parties in the congregation had been inflamed by a series of pamphlets that had been scattered broadcast for months before. The bishop's party held the churchyard long before the opening of the polls. The trustee party fought madly to obtain possession of the church. A riot followed, the iron railing was pulled down, and bricks were used as weapons— furor arma ministrat. The wounded numbered some two hundred parishioners. Peace was finally restored by the arrival of the mayor, the sheriff, and the city police. When the polls closed both sides claimed the victory. A referee was agreed upon to receive the signatures of all the pewholders, the majority of such signatures to determine who were to be the trustees for the following year. The decision was favorable to the trustees. Then the members of the congregation still loyal to the bishop appealed to the religious sense of the victors. The result of the appeal is evident from the yearly report of Bishop Conwell on the state of the diocese—"The non-Catholics still retain possession of St. Mary's by violence." In August of that year Pius VII addressed a brief to Archbishop Marechal and his suffragans and to all the faithful of the United States confirming the sentence of excommunication pronounced against Father Hogan. "Trustees should bear in mind," continues the brief,  
"that the properties secured for divine worship, for the support of the Church, and the maintenance of its ministers fall under the power of the Church, and since the bishops, byivine appointment, preside over their respective churches, they can not by any means be excluded from the care, superintendence, and administration of these properties. But that trustees and laymen should arrogate to themselves the right of naming for pastors priests destitute of faculties, and even bound by censure, is a practice new and unheard of in the Church."
The above instances, to some extent at least, illustrate the awful ravages wrought by the plague of trusteeism in one section of the American Church. It must be remembered that the trustee trouble was not peculiar to this diocese. Philadelphia furnishes us with typical cases of a disease that was general. It afflicted every section of America in a greater or less degree. We find the same strife breaking out in New York, in Baltimore, in Charleston, and in New Orleans. And everywhere the story is the same—the strange notion of the pre-eminence of lay control seizing hold upon a certain congregation, one or two disaffected priests giving their secret support or their open leadership— then schism and scandal inevitably following.
It is to the first Archbishop of New York that the honor is due of gaining the strangle-hold on the trustee adversary, and crushing with relentless force the foe that had continually disturbed the peace of the American Church from the days of Bishop Carroll. Right Rev. John Hughes had come from Philadelphia, where the trustee troubles we have been considering happened before his eyes. On assuming control of the New York diocese, he was face to face with a new aspect of trusteeism. All the Catholic churches in the city of New York were heavily in debt. The number of churches was eight—five were bankrupt and carried on their portals a bill of sale. The young bishop acted quickly. He went around the city, raised enough money to purchase the property of the five bankrupt churches, and secured all the titles in his own name. Then he consolidated all the church debts of the diocese, and as the legal owner of church properties, he removed every layman from the trustee boards. Needless to say, a storm of opposition greeted his vigorous course of action. In the city itself little could be done, as the law acknowledged as proprietor the holder of the title to the property. But far up the State, in Buffalo, the trustees of St. Louis' Church, a body of men that had fought episcopal authority relentlessly realized that the strong churchman who was guiding the destinies of the largest city of the State had to be brought under the power of the law. Their plan was a clever one and boded ill to episcopal authority. They petitioned the Legislature to pass the following bill: 
"Any deed, lease, or devise of any Catholic bishop shall be made null and void on the death of the said bishop, and the property shall be vested in any incorporated congregation happening to use the same, and if the congregation be not incorporated, the property shall revert to the State." 
The trustees were not children in politics, and despite a good deal of opposition the bill became a law. The fighting archbishop, nothing daunted, took up his pen and in the public press of the day exposed the manifest injustice of the law that was a disgrace to the statute books of the Empire State. Senator Brooks attempted to defend it, but Archbishop Hughes worsted him so completely in the long controversy that followed, that the law remained a dead letter as long as it existed. And that was for a number of years, in fact till the days of the Civil War, when Catholic soldiers were needed in the field, and the New York Legislature thought it well to repeal an act that would have been in keeping with the legislation of the worst days of the French Revolution.
Propaganda had made it clear to the American Church that trustees were to administer church property under the guidance of the bishop and not in opposition to his will. Pius VII had vindicated episcopal rights in his brief to Archbishop Marechal, showing the attitude of the few malcontents under the leadership of Father Hogan to be inconsistent with the very elements of Canon Law on the question of church property and episcopal jurisdiction. But Eome was far away and her voice would be nought but an empty echo, unless in the bishop's palace was found a man of action. Such a man was Archbishop Hughes. He knew not only his Canon Law, but the law of the State as well. And when the State encroached upon the rights of the Church, he went before the bar of public opinion, and, despite prejudice and bigotry, forced the guardians of justice either to repeal the unjust law or made them shrink from enforcing it. By securing control of the title to all church property in his then bankrupt diocese, he gave a practical key for the solution of the trustee difficulty to his brethren in the American Episcopate. Where his example was followed all went well, where it passed by unheeded trouble was not slow in brewing. And when the pastoral of Archbishop Hughes was published to the New York diocese in 1842, the last word on trusteeism was spoken. "We have directed and ordained by the statutes of the diocese," reads the pastoral, 
"that henceforward no body of lay trustees shall be permitted to appoint, retain, or dismiss any person connected with the Church against the will of the pastor, subject to the ultimate decision of the Ordinary. We have ordained likewise that the expenses necessary for the maintenance of the pastor, and the support of the Church and religion shall in no case be withheld or denied if the congregation are able to afford them. It shall not be lawful for any board of trustees to make use of the church, chapel, basement, or other portions of the ground or edifice consecrated to religion for any meeting without the consent of the pastor, who shall be accountable to the bishop for his decision. One of the first and most explicit decrees of the Provincial Council in Baltimore directed and enjoined on the bishops of this province that they should not consecrate any church therein unless the deed had been previously made in trust to the bishop. This rule has hitherto been followed strictly by the great majority of the episcopal body, and wherever it has been followed the faithful have been exempted from the many evils to which we have already referred."
Of these evils and the havoc they wrought in our American Church we have had some little glimpse. How they might have multiplied and impeded the marvelous growth of Catholicity in this country, had not trusteeism received its deathblow from the hands of New York's first archbishop, we can only imagine.
It would be wrong to imagine that trustee troubles were confined to any particular section of the country or that only a single bishop was called upon to solve the problems they presented. The fact is that they were limited by the boundaries of no diocese; their blighting influence was felt in all. Early in the nineteenth century the German Catholics of Baltimore were anxious to have a pastor of their own nationality, and their choice fell on Father Reuter. After a year he returned to Germany, as the congregation was unable to support him, and on his way to the Fatherland he stopped at Rome, where he accused Bishop Carroll of forbidding German Catholics instruction in their native tongue and of excommunicating those who preached in German. Now the fact was the bishop had refused a separate church to the Germans of the city, as there were only thirty who did not speak English, and the younger generation were all more familiar with English than with German. In a short time Father Reuter returned to the States, and was in Baltimore, pretending to have powers from Rome to erect a church which was to be independent of the bishop. He even sent a petition to the Pope for the erection of a German diocese in the United States. Although Bishop Carroll refused him faculties, he was elected by the trustees of St. John's Church, which had just been built, as their pastor. The bishop summoned Father Reuter to appear before him and make amends for his disobedience. This was in January, 1804.
Father Brosius, a learned and saintly German priest, was appointed pastor, and the bishop secured a writ of mandamus to force his acceptance on the trustees.
In reply to the writ, Father Reuter and the trustees claimed that by the fundamental laws, usages, and canons of the German Catholic Church the members of the church "had the sole and exclusive right of nominating and appointing their pastor, and that no other person, whether bishop or Pope, has the right to appoint a pastor without the assent and approbation of the congregation or a majority of the same." 
They also pleaded that they had put the Church under the control of "Minorites Conventuals of the Order of St. Francis," and that "Father Reuter and the church owed obedience to the civil magistrate and to that Order, and to no other ecclesiastical person or body whatever." As they could furnish no proof of their contention, the general court handed down an adverse decision to their plea, in May, 1805.
Though very early in the history of the Church in America, this was not the first instance of the civil courts upholding the authority of a Catholic bishop. Probably one of the first decisions rendered was in the case of Bishop Carroll against Father Fromm, who had taken possession of a church in Westmoreland County, Pa., without any permission from his bishop. The Court of Common Pleas of the 5th district (Circuit), Pennsylvania, declared in 1798  
"The bishop of Baltimore has, and before and at the time of Fromm's taking possession of this estate, had the sole episcopal authority over the Catholic Church of the United States. Every Catholic congregation within the United States is subject to his inspection; and without authority from him no Catholic priest can exercise any pastoral function over any congregation in the United States. Without his appointment or permission to exercise pastoral function over this congregation, no priest can be entitled, under the will of Brower, to claim the enjoyment of this estate. Fromm had no such appointment or permission, and is therefore incompetent to discharge the duties or enjoy the benefits which are the objects of the will of Brower." 
Father Brower, the first pastor, had by will left the property to his successor. The verdict of the jury was against Father Fromm.
In 1803 Louisiana became United States territory. Father Walsh was vicar-general and administrator of the diocese. In 1805 Father Antonio Sedella was removed from his parish on account of his scandalous conduct. This foolish priest then called a meeting of the committee of wardens, who elected him their pastor. At this point Father Walsh interdicted the church. When Father Walsh died in 1808, Bishop Carroll assumed charge of the diocese, and Cantillion, the head of the wardens, tried to get the Government of France to use its influence in having Sedella appointed Bishop of New Orleans Rev. John Olivier was appointed by Bishop Carroll vicar-general, and Sedella openly refused to recognize him as his superior.
Bishop Cabboll's Successor And The Teustees.
On the archbishop's death, in 1815, his successor, Most Rev. Leonard Neale, appointed as pastor of Norfolk Rev. James Lucas. The trustees of the church did not approve of the appointment, maintaining the right of patronage and the power of naming their own pastor. The archbishop's words on the occasion are worth recording.  
"The pretended right of choosing their priest or missionary pastor is perfectly unfounded, for they are not patrons of the Church according to the language of the Council of Trent, who alone have the right of choosing their pastor. In the diocese of Baltimore none but the archbishop can place or remove a priest; and that he can do at will, as there are no parishes established here, no benefices conferred, and no collations made, and no powers granted but what are merely missionary, revocable at will. Hence the trustees can claim no jurisdiction over their priest nor prevent his missionary functions."
A party was formed among the parishioners strong enough to exclude Father Lucas from the church, and he was obliged to rent a private house, where he held divine service for the faithful members of the congregation. Archbishop Neale immediately placed the church under an interdict; apparently without effect, as the trustee party remained obdurate. They vindicated their conduct in the press, claiming a jus patronatus and attacking the ignorance and superstition of the Roman Curia, at the same time denouncing Catholic doctrines, confession in particular. They sent a memorial to the Pope, stating that they were without a priest, and claiming that the distance between Maryland and Virginia was so great that Norfolk needed a bishop of its own. They named Rev. Father Carbry, O.P., as a suitable choice. Bishop Connolly was deceived by the party at Norfolk, and so gave his support to their cause. Carbry set out for Home and Propaganda notified Archbishop Marechal. On Carbry's return, bearing a letter from Cardinal Litta commending him to the Ordinary of Baltimore, he was not received by that prelate. Then the archbishop went to Norfolk in person, in the hope of settling the trouble. His journey proved fruitless. The malcontents applied to Father Hayes, asking him to go to Utrecht, prevail upon the schismatical archbishop of that place to consecrate him and then return as Bishop of Norfolk. Father Hayes reported the whole matter to Rome. Meanwhile, the archbishop, to win over the disaffected trustees, made Father Kerney pastor of Norfolk. The trustees would not receive him and clung to Carbry, who soon appeared on the scene. The church and cemetery were in the possession of the trustees, and Father Carbry displayed the letter of Cardinal Litta as a Papal Act freeing him from the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Baltimore. He obtained a license in court to officiate as pastor of Norfolk and Portsmouth, and said Mass for the trustees and their following.
In Charleston the trustees had refused to receive the priest sent to them, Rev. J. P. Cloriviere. They defied the command of their archbishop and sent a petition to Rome, asking, in the name of the Catholics of four States, for the erection of a diocese embracing the territory of Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Virginia. They suggested the name of Father Carbry. As Father Cloriviere was unable to gain possession of the church property which was held by the trustees, he rented a hall, where he held divine service for the faithful members of the congregation.
The archbishop sent two Jesuits to the scene of trouble, Father Benedict Fenwick and Father James Wallace. Father Fenwick, on his arrival, called a meeting of the trustees, and at this meeting O'Driscoll, one of the leading spirits of the opposition, spoke in defense of the right of presentation. Father Fenwick denied it absolutely, insisting that the pastor of the church must be recognized as a member of the Board of Trustees, that he was entitled to compensation for his services as long as he held the position of pastor from the Archbishop of Baltimore. Father Gallagher, one of the leaders of the disaffected party, was informed by Father Fenwick that his powers were null and void. A flag of truce was soon struck by the trustees and the unfortunate priests identified with them, and Fathers Fenwick and Wallace set to work reviving the religious spirit of the people.
Norfolk and Charleston at this time showed the strange turn affairs had taken. A small group of unworthy Catholics by some unknown means gained the influence of the Irish Hierarchy, and through a certain Rev. Robert Browne urged Propaganda to a course of action that was by no means calculated to benefit the Church in the United States. To please these malcontents, a scheme was formed to make Virginia a diocese, with Richmond as the see, but giving the new bishop the privilege of residing at Norfolk. Everything was done with great secrecy, and the Bulls were sent to Ireland to the candidates appointed, ordering them to obtain consecration and start at once for America. The Pope in 1820 dismembered the diocese of Baltimore, made Virginia a separate diocese, with Richmond as its see, and named Charleston as the see of another diocese, embracing the States of Georgia and the Carolinas. Rev. John England was made Bishop of Charleston and Rev. Patrick Kelly Bishop of Richmond. It was the severing of the diocese of Baltimore into two far-distant sections, Maryland and the District of Columbia forming the upper northern part, while Alabama and Mississippi made the southern boundary. Archbishop Marechal entered his protest against this division of his diocese to the newly appointed Bishop of Richmond, 
"although it would be entirely lawful for us to oppose the erection of the said see, whether we consider the wicked means by which it was obtained or the scandals and calamities of every kind, which will undoubtedly be the result; yet fearing that the said enemies of the Church of Christ will take occasion even from our most justly founded opposition to inflict the most serious injury on the Catholic religion, Your Lordship may, as you judge best, proceed or not to take possession of the diocese of Virginia, according to the tenor of the Bulls transmitted to you. But to assure the tranquillity of our conscience, we hereby distinctly declare to Your Lordship that we in no wise give or yield our assent positively to this most unfortunate action of the Congregation de Propaganda Fide. If you carry it out, we are to be held free before God and the Church now and hereafter from all the evils and scandals which the Catholic religion suffers or may suffer from it in these United States." 
He wrote to the Cardinal Prefect, "Therefore, Most Eminent Cardinal, two vagabond friars, Browne and Carbry, concocting their schemes with other Irish friars living in Rome, have prevailed; and the Sacred Congregation, deceived by the absurd calumnies of such men, has made itself the instrument to carry out their impious schemes."
Bishop Kelly on taking charge of the diocese immediately gave faculties to Carbry and refused them to Father Lucas, who had labored so faithfully for the good of the Church. It was not long, however, before his eyes were opened. Carbry fomented rebellion again, and with the malcontents behind him, closed the door of the church on the bishop. Again the people took sides. There were followers of the bishop and trustee sympathizers, each striving to secure the church property. At this point the law stepped in and twenty-one were arrested. It did not take long to make it evident that Virginia could not support a bishop. In July, 1822, Bishop Kelly was transferred to the united sees of Waterford and Lismore, and Archbishop Marechal was made administrator of the diocese of Richmond.
Bishop England was not slow to recognize the harm wrought by the trustee system in different sections of the country. In an endeavor to bring to the knowledge of the laity the proper idea of church discipline he published his "Constitutions of the Roman Catholic Churches of the Diocese of Charleston." It began with a statement of doctrine, formulated in the creed of Pius IV. It set down the right of bishops to form parishes and appoint pastors, and without his consent the congregation could neither sell property nor build. All diocesan property was placed in the hands of the general trustees, which consisted of the bishop, the vicar-general, five priests, and twelve laymen. Members lost their rights by rejecting any doctrine of the Church, by opposing its discipline, by lending support to any priest not approved by the Ordinary, by falling under censure and by not paying the required dues. By the end of the year 1824 the different churches of the diocese were incorporated by the Legislature of the State.
New Orleans.
In 1828, when New Orleans was under the Bishop of St. Louis, the trustees of the cathedral of that city (New Orleans) tried to have a law passed giving them power to appoint and remove priests. Now, the ground on which the cathedral was built had been given to the Church by the King of Spain and the building erected by a Spanish gentleman, so the trustees had not the vestige of a civil claim. They did not succeed in this, and when the word reached Rome Leo XII sent over his brief Quo Longius. "What shall we say," said the Holy Father, "of the trustees of the Church of New Orleans who endeavor to renew the misconduct of Philadelphia and oppose our apostolic decision, of which they are surely not ignorant? Did Christ give His Church to trustees or to bishops to be ruled by them? Shall sheep lead the shepherd and not the shepherd the sheep V About a year after this Father Sedella, who had been prominent in trustee troubles, died in New Orleans, apparently reconciled to the Church. The freemasons of the city, by an order of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, attended his funeral in a body.
It was in 1842, when Bishop Blanc was in charge of New Orleans, that the trustees of the cathedral refused to accept the priest sent to them. They claimed the right of patronage formerly enjoyed by the King of Spain, and even carried their claim into court. The inferior court denied the claim, but nothing daunted they carried the case to the Supreme Court of the State, where the lower court's decision was sustained. Judge Maurian's decision read as follows:
"The jus patronatus of the Spanish law is abrogated in this State. The wardens can not compel the bishop to institute a curate of their appointment, nor is he in any sense subordinate to the wardens of any of the churches within his diocese." 
Nevertheless, the trustees continued their opposition, and the clergy retired from the cathedral. An ordinance was passed by trustee influence which compelled all priests to conduct funeral services at a mortuary chapel under trustee control. Father Permoli was prosecuted under this statute in 1842. Judge Preval, who heard the case, declared the ordinance illegal, and an appeal was carried to the United States Supreme Court.
As the courts had defeated the schemes of the cathedral trustees they determined to annoy the bishop at all hazards. The president of the board was Grand Master of the Foyer Lodge of Freemasons of the city. He empowered the lodge to build a monument in the Catholic cemetery, and against the wish of the bishop he officiated at the dedication ceremony. Then the trustees applied to the Legislature for confirmation in their pretended rights, and succeeded in having a bill passed in their favor by the Upper House of the legislative Assembly. It was defeated, however, in the Lower House and in the courts. So while the bishop was patiently waiting for the election of true Catholics to the Board of Trustees, the old trustees were wasting the Church's money in spiteful litigation. As only one Mass was said in the cathedral on Sunday, to make the Catholics of the city independent of the usurping trustees, the bishop had built other little churches, and they were placed under episcopal control. In April, 1844, the second diocesan synod was held, and its decrees forbade the clergy admitting the trustees' claims, and thereafter no church was to be built unless the deed was made out in the bishop's name. In churches still held by trustees the pastor was to see that the books were kept and the property was not wasted. Before the end of the year the trustees surrendered unconditionally, and the bishop went in procession to take over the cathedral. A Te Deum was sung at the High Mass and Father Maenhaut was placed in charge.
In the neighboring diocese of Mobile, trusteeism showed itself in 1830. Father Hayne had been appointed to St. Augustine, Fla. The trustees expelled him from the church, and when the case came up in court a decision was handed down in their favor. 
The gist of the court's opinion was that the right formerly enjoyed by the King of Spain was transferred to the United States Government, and thence to the congregation of St. Augustine. The absurdity of the decision was apparent to all. If the United States Government inherited any of the privileges of the King of Spain it inherited all. But our Government never pretended such a claim. It did not nominate the bishop in Florida nor did it tax the people for the support of the clergy. The judge did not realize that the case before him was one neither of collation nor presentation, but a question of right in a body of laymen to expel a priest from an office given him by his lawful superior. 
In the following year Bishop Portier went to St. Augustine to bring about peace, but unpleasant relations prevailed for some time.
Bishop Dubois And The Trustees Of The Cathedral. New York.
The year 1834 saw a manifestation of the so-called rights of trustees in the diocese of New York. Rev. Thomas Levins, who was attached to the cathedral for some years, had not been on cordial terms with Bishop Dubois. Father Levins, for replying to an order of the bishop's in a disrespectful manner, was suspended. The cathedral trustees sided with the priest and named him as rector of the parochial school, while they sent a committee to Bishop Dubois declaring they would deprive him of his salary. He quietly replied,  
"Gentlemen, I have seen the horrors of the French Revolution, and I could meet them again. I am an old man. I can live in a cellar or a garret; but, gentlemen, whether I come up from my cellar or down from my garret, you must remember that I am still your bishop."
While Bishop Hughes was managing the affairs of the diocese as coadjutor to Bishop Dubois, a civil officer, at the request of the trustees, entered the cathedral and expelled a Sunday-school teacher who had been appointed by the bishop. No word of apology or explanation came to Bishop Dubois or his coadjutor. A pastoral was issued to the congregation in the name of Bishop Dubois, drawn up by Bishop Hughes. "It is possible that the civil law gives them power," says the pastoral,  
"to send the constable to the Sunday-school and eject even the bishop himself. But if it does, it gives them, we have no doubt, the same right to send him into the sanctuary and remove any of these gentlemen from before the altar. And is it your intention that such powers may be exercised by your trustees? If so, then it is about time for the ministers of the Lord to forsake your temple, and erect an altar to their God, around which religion shall be free, the Council of Trent fully recognized, and the laws of the Church applied to the government and regulation of the Church." From the pulpit Bishop Hughes urged the people not to put a penny on the plate unless their offerings were applied as they wished them applied. After the sermon the trustees tried to take up the usual collection, but the plates came back empty. A meeting of the pewholders was called by the bishop that very afternoon. At this meeting the bishop urged his people not to yield to the trustees, who were using a power that did not belong to them. The congregation supported the bishop's views, and the clergy of the diocese were unanimous in subscribing to them as he set them forth in a pastoral. Before the next election of trustees, the bishop gave a course of lectures on the trustee system as it existed in the different States. He proved that it was merely tolerated in the beginning by Bishop Carroll. and he showed how it had only fettered the Church it was designed to serve. The result of the next trustee election was that the three members elected were in accord with the bishop and the people, while the surviving member of the old board resigned. In 1842, when Bishop Hughes had succeeded to the government of the diocese, the first synod was held in the cathedral. In the decrees of that body we can see that Bishop Hughes was determined to keep the trustees from exercising powers that did not belong to them. They were forbidden to spend money contributed by the people without the permission of the pastor, and there was to be no outlay exceeding $100 unless the bishop gave special permission. Under pain of suspension priests were to report violations of this rule. Titles of the churches were to be in the name of the bishop, and he was to receive a financial statement of every church at his visitation. All persons engaged in church services were to be appointed by the pastor. No meetings were to be held without his leave. The auctioning of pews was discountenanced. At the close of the synod the bishop issued his pastoral. Regarding church property he said,  
"One of the most perplexing questions connected with the well-being of religion is the tenure and administration of church property. A system, growing perhaps out of the circumstances of the times, has prevailed in this country, which is without a parallel in any other nation or in the whole history of the Catholic Church. That system is the leaving ecclesiastical property under the management of laymen, who are commonly designated trustees. We do not disguise that our conviction of this system is that it is altogether injurious to religion, and not less injurious to the piety and religious character of those who from time to time are called upon to execute its offices." 
The clergy were urged to preserve the property of the Church with great care, as it was the property of God. As the trustee boards changed each year, it was important to secure a yearly financial statement, so as to place financial responsibility where it belonged. To accomplish this the pastor was to be given the right to inspect the accounts of the church at his pleasure. The pastoral added, 
"Should it happen that any board of trustees, or other lay persons managing the temporal affairs of any church, should refuse to let the pastor see the treasurer's books and the minutes of the official proceedings, immediate notice of such refusal should be given us. We shall then adopt such measures as the circumstances of each case may require; but in no case shall we tolerate the presence of a clergyman in any church or congregation in which such refusal shall be persevered in."
On receiving the pastoral the trustees of St. Louis' Church in Buffalo wrote to Archbishop Hughes that they could not conform to the pastoral. The bishop's reply was, "Should you determine that your church shall not be governed by the general law of the diocese, then we shall claim the privilege of retiring from its walls in peace, and leave you also in peace to govern it as you will. Indeed, we must keep our peace at all events, and charity also." The pastor was directed to enforce the regulations, and if the trustees objected, he was to withdraw from the church. The pastor resigned, and the trustees asked for a new pastor.
"You shall not govern your bishop, but your bishop shall govern you in all ecclesiastical matters," said Bishop Hughes.  
"When you are willing to walk in the way of your holy Faith, as your forefathers did, and be numbered among the Catholic flock of the diocese, precisely as all other trustees and congregations are, then I shall send you a priest if I have one." Two priests were sent to Buffalo to found other churches, and the trustees of St. Louis' Church appealed to Bome, only to be condemned. In 1844 the rebellious lay-trustees admitted their false position, and then only did the bishop allow services to be held in their church.
"History of the Catholic Church in the United States," Shea.
"History of the Catholic Church in the Nineteenth Century," McCaffrey.
"Catholicity in Philadelphia," Kirlin.
"Woodstock Letters," vol. ii, iii, iv, v.


Vapir No2 Vaporizer said...

The Catholic faith was suffering in Rochester against the evils of trusteeism, which had infected almost all U.S. Church.

Anonymous said...

While the "trusteeism" referenced in the article is historic and pertains to parish life - surely someone sees the parallel to the current system of lay boards of directors adopted by most of the major Catholic universities in the United States, including Jesuit universities, supposedly in response to an IRS finding in the late 1960s.

The interposing of a lay body, between a Bishop and a parish in his diocese, or between a religious superior and a university supposedly under the control of his or her order, is the same dangerous principle.

One wonders if when true discipline is restored in the Church that the lay boards of directors at our "Catholic" universities won't provide fodder for future Church historians akin to this excellent article about the travails of Bishop Carroll.