To Rt. Rev. Pedro Cirilo Uriz y Labayru:
Bishop of Lérida
Barcelona April 7, 1852
Your Excellency Monsignor:
I have just received a copy of your official communication addressed to His Excellency the Governor of this province of Lérida. I was astonished to read its contents. On the part that I and my family are involved (I have two nieces, daughters of my two sisters among those women your Excellency denounced or condemned) I am obliged to justify my conduct and the relationship that I had and still have with them. I will do later as soon as my occupations would allow me.
Your Excellency knew very well that this family went on and acted according to my advice in what depended on me. I have not dared to visit you for fear of offending you with my presence. In spite of that, Your Lordship in response to what I have written in March (if I am not mistaken) of last year, you do not want to accept me in your diocese; being my birthplace I dared to go to embrace my parents and to greet my mother in July of the same year. The Vicar General showed me displeasure. He hardly granted me permission to celebrate Mass and this for fifteen days. Now Your Excellency speaks openly. I was not mistaken in my judgment. What have I done against Your Excellency? In what am I deficient? You knew that these ladies were under the direction of their parish priests, you could have reminded them, admonished them amicably and declared your desire. What did I write to Your Excellency? I solemnly promised obedience, respect, submission to your authority. What need is there of further formalities?
I have enemies, is it not true? These attacked me and I defended myself. This is the life of a priest. Do you want to know where my attackers went? To the La Actualidad. It is a newspaper of the city that my enemies use as instrument and agency. We have unfurled the banner of our Religion with the clearly written caption on the canvas: School of Virtue and suspended it. I resisted as an iron wall against vice and error, it is not strange that l had enemies. La Actualidad and its colleagues attack our teachings, the jurisdiction of the Church and of its prelates; I defended myself. I am sending you by this same post some of the issues of this newspaper, and you will see how it thinks. Not all that thinks like La Actualidad are seculars. The Bishop of Barcelona received a letter from the Bishop of Montauban two months ago. This man said viler things, shameful, detestable against me than what La Actualidad broke out into abusive language against the Society of Jesus and the School of Virtue. The prelate knows very well that being attacked is not tantamount to being a criminal and has a special satisfaction to see me in the arena opposing error and vice. I hope that Your Excellency will be of the same sentiments and perceptions. I commit myself with all that is more corrupt in this city, our enemies spare neither effort nor diligence to tear and throw down our banner. These have its ramifications; La Actualidad followed their pursuit. They knew that these women were under my counsel. The official communication that Your Excellency addressed to the Civil Governor will fall into their hands, they will give publicity, and what will be the opinion of the public on the Law and action? The official and Vicar General summoned Miss Juana Gratias and the parish priests of Lérida and Aytona and demanded them to swear to keep silent about the interrogation (a strange thing in the tribunals), ensued and sent the Police Commissioner to drive them out from their house and even from their country. The official, said the calumniator, found these ladies sinful, he saw misdemeanor of the kind that is not licit to publish, a sinful dealing among them and we do not know on whom the calumny will fall or has already fallen on the reasons alleged written in the official communication of Your Excellency; this is why by law the authorities drove them out from their houses as houses of prostitution, etc., etc.
Your Excellency, please be informed that the Bishop of Montauban dared to say that a companion of Juana Gratias, who is Teresa Christiá, has gone to Lérida to forsake the fruit of lewdness. The Bishop of Barcelona has been told of so many things against the honor of these ladies that Your Excellency expelled, he made sure to me that one day the government would send them to prison. All of these reflect on me, on the respectable parish priest of Saint Andrew (not the parish priest of Aytona whom we consider our enemy), on the worthy parish priest of Solsona, and on all the honest families of these ladies. I have told you that two of them are my nieces and other relatives and this hurt reached my soul. I could not continue writing because I get hot. Let us see the outcome and the end of this public notice. I expect that La Actualidad will speak about this and will lay beneath its banner like a trophy, the dispersion of these ladies, and at the same time vindicate social justice against the demands of Your Excellency, and lo and behold, the Director of the School of Virtue will be caught in the crossfire. Your Excellency attacks from behind and they do it in front. A dangerous temptation could overcome me: I am human and weak; I could turn my back and run away. Ah, my heart trembles at the thought of it.
If your Excellency would have given me an opportunity, there would have been no need to take legal steps regarding the four ladies whose actions and lives could well be left in oblivion. Why did you not use first your pastoral admonitions to these ladies, Your Excellency? And admonish them with love and gentleness what needed reproof before wielding your authority? Pastoral charity has its own laws and is as sacred as those of justice.
What need was there to let the civil Governor know matters that could be well arranged peacefully and amicably among ourselves? When the authority takes its crosier, raises the arm to strike, a fatal blow brings disgrace. Ah, how he must be aware of the attacking monster! A father striking such a blow to his own daughters! A pastor, a mortal blow to the moral life of his sheep! It seems to me that before taking legal step, all amicable means should have been exhausted that love, charity and of the same nature inspire. What confidence would these ladies have in Your Excellency after seeing themselves treated so harshly that they do not deserve the admonitions of a father! How could I inspire them on submission, obedience and respect to orders and dispositions that discredit and humiliate them? Your Excellency is responsible before public law, before the tribunals of the Church and of the State and before the religious press for the orders and dispositions contained in that letter against honest and virtuous ladies who did not deserve the indignation of a pastor. Your Excellency has shouldered this responsibility; we will see how you will answer.
Let this clash be blotted out before it gets to the press. Ah, I am afraid it is already late and the harm has been done. Notwithstanding, here goes my thought: call them, listen to them, save their honor, authorize them and once their honor has been saved, Your Excellency may disperse the group as you please. I yield to everything save my conscience, social law and my honor.
Your obedient son kisses the hand of Your Excellency.
Francisco Palau, Priest
WHAT WAS HAPPENING?
The bishop of Lerida had been praised by the Nuncio for his report on the Religious Institutes of his diocese in November 1851. He was exemplary in his observance of the norms contained in the new Concordat and the guidelines of the Justice Ministry for reducing the number of religious Institutes and gearing them to social welfare activities. The formalities had to be done through the Civil Governor of the Province. The bishop did just that. On 28 March 1853, he informed the Governor of the existence of two groups of women in Lerida and Aytona “under the name of Sisters of the Cross”. The civil authority gave immediate order to dissolve these groups. Fr. Palau was surprised to receive a copy of the bishop’s letter to the Governor. He was concerned about the repercussions that this measure would have on the School of Virtue.
THEME OF LETTER
This letter is yet another defence of Fr. Palau against those who attack him and his spiritual daughters. This time, attacks came from where he less expected: the Bishop, who was already taking formal and official steps to dissolve the two groups of ladies gathered in Aytona and Lerida. The line of defense taken by Palau aims to remind Bishop of his fatherly obligations towards his people. Not everything needs to be arrange by strength and authority. The first step is to listen, to correct, to admonish. Later, if these previous were not enough, is the time to call on authority and command under the precept of obedience.
Reading this letter, we can be reminded of the words of Jesus Christ who offers to the community of disciples a “procedure” for the times of conflicts (Mt 18:15-20): 1) correct a person personally; 2) call on a witness; 3) call on whole community; 4) took another necessary steps involving others from outside. Unfortunately, many times we do things starting from the last step. We put everything in public, posting our conflict, dramas, hurt feelings on facebook and other media. As a last resource, we finally decide to confront a person personally to settle the issue. But it shouldn’t be like this among the disciples of Jesus. Humiliating others publicly is never a good idea for solving conflicts. Maybe this “new normal” could be a good opportunity to become more evangelical in our relationships and in solving our conflicts.