25 JANUARY 1896, Page 25

FRANCE AND THE PAPACY. T HE news that the French Ambassador

at the Vatican has been recalled has excited more interest than commonly attaches to diplomatic changes. This was due in part to the apparent irrelevance of the reason first assigned for this step. M. Lefebvre de Behaine had, it was said, displeased his Government by doing the very work that an Ambassador is maintained to do. One chief object of diplomacy is to keep the Government a Minister represents informed of what is going on in the Court to which he is accredited. This is precisely what M. Lefebvre de Behaine has done. He has had a long con- versation with the Pope on the proposed Law of Associa- tions, and the position in which the Church in France will be placed supposing that the Law is passed. This in itself is enough to convict him, in the eyes of a French Radical, of a, grave violation of duty. The Pope has no business to talk about French legislation ; consequently the French Ambassador has no business to listen to what the Pope says about it. The proper thing for M. Lefebvre de Behaine to have done would have been to walk out of the room as soon as the Pope entered upon the subject. Had he taken this course, the Radicals might almost have tolerated his presence at the Vatican. It is true, indeed, that an Ambassador who will not listen to what the Sovereign at whose Court he is placed wishes to say, can be of no possible use to his employers. If the French Government do not want to know the Pope's opinion of their ecclesiastical legislation, they may just as well not be represented at his Court. This, however, is not the Radical view of the matter. Though they would prefer that France should not be represented at the Vatican, the next best thing is that she should be represented there for the sole and express purpose of slighting and insulting the Pope.

But that this view of M. Lefebvre de Behaine's action should be taken by the Radical Government as well as by the Radical rank and file seems almost past belief. It is not long since this very Ministry defended the vote for the Vatican Embassy in the Chamber, and what can be the object of spending money in this way except to be kept informed of the Pope's mind in matters in which France is concerned? Consequently it seems out of the question that this should be the explanation of what they have done. On the other hand, it is equally impossible to suggeat any better explanation, supposing, that is, that the change is one of persons, not of policy. All the reasons that point to maintaining an Ambassador at the Vatican point equally to making no change in the person of the Ambassador. M. Lefebvre de Behaine has been there more than thirteen years, he is liked by the Pope, and as Leo XIII. is a very old man, there is an obvious propriety in not giving him the annoyance of seeing a new face about him, unless M. Lefebvre de Behaine has either exceeded or fallen short of his duty. It is not pretended, however, that on the ordinary theory of a diplomatist's function he has done either. If he has erred it has been by making the Pope too friendly to the Republic. But annoying as this has been to the Radicals, there is no ground for supposing that the Pope would have acted differently had M. Lefebvre de Maine been recalled years ago. His recognition of the Republic and the consequent creation of the " Rallied " as a distinct party, are part of a large scheme of policy which would have been very little influenced by anything that the French Ambassador had done or not done. The mystery becomes all the greater when, as M. Charmes points out iu the Journal des Debate, M. Lefebvre de Behaine is recalled at a time when the Pope's age makes a vacancy in the Holy See a far from improbable occurrence. In that case French interests in the Conclave would be repre- sented by a stranger instead of by a Minister who has an intimate knowledge of men and things at the Vatican, and might render valuable services to his Government in the election of a Pope. To replace him by any other Minister when affairs at the Vatican may at any moment become critical, would be a folly of the first order.

When there is so much to be said against a change of persons at the Vatican, and absolutely nothing to be said for it, it is not wonderful that some observers should feel a conviction that what is impending is is change of policy. That is always on the cards, and' though it would come strangely so soon after the Budget debate, it would still fit in with M. Bourgeois" antecedents, and with some of his recent utterances. If a French Minister is determined not to accept the Rallied ea in any sense Republicans; if the advances of the Pope towards the Republic seem to him nothing but so much• veiled treachery ; if Leo XIII. is to be treated as an enemy whom nothing can reconcile,—why should he go through the forms of diplomatic courtesy or continue to pay Bishops and clergy who are nothing better than the Pope's advanced guard ? Whatever grounds the Govern- ment may have had in times past for concealing the- opinion they have of the Pope, they may have satisfied, themselves that those grounds no longer exist ; and if so, they may be secretly preparing to make a sweeping change. in French ecclesiastical policy, and may have recalled M. Lefebvre de Maine as the first step in a new course of action. The Paris correspondent of the Times thinks that the final conflict between the Freemasons and the Church may soon begin. The Paris correspondent of the Daily Chronicle believes that it has already begun. " The ecclesiastical policy of the French Government," he says-, "evidently points to a separation between Church an State The sudden withdrawal of Count Lefebvre de Behaine from Rome is the inauguration of a new re- ligious policy," which, "if successful, will undoubtedly bring about a semi-confiscation of the property of religious houses and the suppression of the Budget of Worship."

If the correspondent of the Daily Chronicle is a true • prophet, we are about to assist at the resolution of a problem of remarkable interest. It is generally supposed that while the French peasantry cherish a genuine dislike of the cure, they are not yet reconciled to the thought of doing without him. They still wish to be buried with the old rites, they still wish their children to be taken to church for baptism and first Communion, and they do not want to see their wives and daughters deprived of the opportunity of going to Mass on Sundays if they like it. If this is an accurate description of the peasant's attitude, what will he say to the separation of Church and State ? Will he put up with a closed church and a priest who comes over occasionally from some neigh- bouring town ? Or will he put his hand in his pocket, and, with the help of his neighbours, raise the pittance which is all that the country clergy ordinarily get now ? It is almost certain that he will not take the latter course, except in a few districts where the religious spirit is still strong, and if he is not prepared to pay the curd himself, it may seem inevitable that he should learn to do with- out him. But there is a third course which he may take, though we do not at all say that he will. He may resent the closing of the church and the virtual banishment of the- priest. He will probably find himself not at all the richer for the suppression of the Budget of Worship. The money saved will go to feed the constantly growing expenditure which seems inseparable from our complicated civilisation. Therefore, to him the change will be wholly for the worse. There will be no one always at hand to shrive his wife, to marry his daughter, or to bury himself, and the loss of these advantages will be the work of the Republican Government. What is there in such a discovery as this to make the Republican Government popular ? The assumption is that the peasant will be so well pleased at the downfall of religion generally, that he will cheer- fully put up with these slight personal inconveniences. It be so. But then it may not. The induction on which this estimate of the things which give him pleasure is founded may turn out to be wholly misleading. The peasant may be found in the end to have nothing in common with the artisan and the town Radical. He may simply resent the ecclesiastical changes which have followed upon the disappearance of the Budget of Worship, and may determine to make his wrath felt whenever an occasion shall offer. If the separation of Church and State had preceded the recent approach of the Church to the Republic, it might have been possible to make the peasant believe that the safety of the Republic demanded the sacrifice. The action of Leo XIII. has made it un- likely that he will believe this any longer. He will know that the separation of Church and State is the price asked not for the safety of the Republic, but for the pre- dominance of the Radical party in the Republic. He may think that, to secure this latter object, the price asked is not too high. But it is at least equally possible that he may think nothing of the kind.