After the decree, all persons holding Church property and benefices were obliged to draw up a detailed account of it for the authorities. Father Francois showed his buildings of Saint Firmin’s to be heavily mortgaged, with his expenses exceeding his income by far, The law now put these properties into the hands of the directors of the districts, and the clergy were to receive a fixed salary from them.
Attack was next directed against weaker parties who would make no resistance. There were about eighteen thousand religious men and thirty thousand religious women devoted to various works and missions in France. These were suppressed as organised bodies by the State in 1790, and their vows declared annulled. By July of the same year a Constitution for a new Church was voted, supplanting the divine constitution. It recognised the Holy See with primacy of honour, but Bishops and priests were in future to be elected, Papal jurisdiction was denied, and the Church would. be a State department. During July, King Louis XVI had been warned by Pope Pius VI against approving such a measure, but he ordered its promulgation nevertheless.
To stop the mounting reaction in the National Assembly, an oath of fidelity to this Civil Constitution of the Clergy was imposed upon all its members. About one third took this oath and the rest were excluded from office. Sunday, the 9th January, 1791, was fixed as the day for this oath to be taken in the Cathedral of Notre Dame by the clergy of Paris; government lists showed that about three fifths of these twelve hundred clerics conformed to the regulation, being styled “jurors.” Many reasons could be alleged for this defection and many bogus clerics were added to the lists; but Father Frangois, whose life had been devoted to the instruction and formation of the clergy, many probably . in the ranks of the Metropolis, thought he should make an effort to sustain and encourage the firm and to strengthen and recall the weak.
He wrote a forty eight page booklet in January with the title: ” My Defence,” dealing with the oath and the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. He indicated that he had not taken it himself and wished to give his justification for not doing so; he examined in detail its dispositions, and in a clear and scholarly way showed their opposition to Faith, to the history and practice of the Church, and to reason. Then he met the possible objections from the pamphlets already issued to justify it — the example of good priests who had taken the oath, the danger of schism if some took it and others refused, the disturbance of the peace, and the need ar-gued for clerical reform. It was a brief and masterly defence, and was published in at least seven editions, being widely read by the people and especially by the clergy.
This “Defence” caused anxiety tc the National Assembly because of its effect among the people; and it caused an Instruction to be drawn up by a deputy, Chassey, to counteract it, protesting attachment to the Church and the Pope and respect for the spiritual authority, and trying to justify the Constitution by discrediting the clergy. This was to be read as a sort of pastoral letter in all churches without delay, after the Sunday Mass by the Pastor or Curate or by a municipal officer.
Father Francois rejoined with an “Examination of the Instruction of the National Assembly on the Civil Constitution of the Clergy” — another booklet of thirty eight pages, in which he fully answered all the allegations, concluding with the closing words of the Instruction itself: “Frenchmen., now you know the sentiments and principles of your representatives; do not let yourselves be led astray any longer by lying statements.”
A few days later, he published another brochure: “Reflections on the Fear of Schism, by which Justification is being sought for the taking of the Civil Oath” in which he turns the blame of any schism on to those who recognise or elect or consecrate or occupy the post of new Bishops; and he outlined the tactics for the priests and people in regard to such pastors who would be forced upon them.
Within a fortnight, in mid February, Father Francois had his fourth pamphlet published. Seeing that so many Bishops and priests stood firm, the Assembly offered to how them to resign on a pension without taking the oath; this would then leave the parishes and dioceses open for the Constitutional clergy. Father Francois’ booklet: “No Resignation; a further Word about the Oath” showed strongly and clearly that the clergy could not resign to the Assembly as to their superior, and that they should not, because their ministry is from God; the people are still with them, they can continue to do good; their punishment will be suffered for duty’s sake, and their fidelity will not cause schism. He praised the courage of the non—jurors who had refused the oath, and the retraction of others who had failed momentarily.
Again, in March, he directed an essay: “There is yet Time,” to those clerics who had taken the oath, in order to show them how they had been deceived., and urging their duty to retract. His high esteem of the priesthood as the Ministry of God made him repudiate vigorously the notion of their being State functionaries on State salaries.
Nevertheless, the Civil Constitution was being implemented. Bishops and parish priests were elected and substituted for the non-jurors. The first consecration of Bishops by Tallyran.d, former Bishop of Autun, took place in the church of the Oratory in Paris on February 25th, 1791. Some lead was still awaited from Rome. In march, Pius VI sent the Brief : “Quod aliquantum,” to the Bishops, and in April, the Brief: “Caritas,” to the clergy and people, wherein he expressly condemned the Civil Constitution of the Clergy as “heretical in several articles, and in others, sacrilegious, schismatical, overthrowing the rights of the Holy See, and opposed to the ancient discipline as well as to the new.”
It was a time for pamphleteers. These Briefs were attacked, and Father Francois published an answer. This was followed by another with the title: “The People informed at Last, or Short Clear Answers to the Common Objections of the Partisans of the Constitution-al Religion,” where he answers thirty two popular objections in simple, clear, homely language for the benefit of the laity.
On October 1st, 1791, the Legislative Assembly replaced the Constituent Assembly, and it was more hostile to the Church and the King. On November 29th, it decreed the imposition of a new oath on the clergy with new penalties for the refractory who refused it. The oath was to be taken within a week in the form: “I swear to be faithful to the nation, to the law and to the King, and to maintain with all, ray power the Constitution of the Kingdom decreed by the National Assembly in the years 1789, 1790 and 1791.” Those clergy who refused it would be deprived of their pension and salary, and be suspected of treason; moreover, they could be removed from their domicile and imprisoned.
The King refused to sanction this decree, demanding time to consider it. This brought great opposition to him. Father Francois brought out another booklet of sixty six pages: ” Deffence of the King’s Veto on the Decree,” energetically and lucidly showing this Civil Oath to be an act of apostasy, and its enforcement a persecution, to refuse which was a confession of the Faith. To encourage the victims of injustice, he reminds them of their privilege to suffer and the glory of bearing the wounds of Christ in their flesh and of giving testimony to their religion by their lives; “the glory of confessors surrounds them, the crown of martyrs is on their heads.”
His last, the tenth booklet, on Episcopal Juris-diction, was the final written act in 1792 of this virile defender of the Faith. He was now brought closer to the turmoil of Paris and to sealing his pure Faith with his life’s blood.
For their refusal to take the Civil Oath about two thirds of the clergy of France were reduced to utter destitution and declared suspect of disloyalty; in many places they were arbitrarily arrested and subjected to vexatious treatment and indignities.