Remonstrance by the Parlement against the Denial of Sacraments in Orléans

In 1713, the Pope had issued a bull entitled Unigenitus, condemning as heretical 101 beliefs held by some French Catholic priests who were known as "Jansenists." To Jansenists, this bull, or "constitution," was the religious equivalent of absolutism—an order from on high that quashed all opposition. By contrast, the bishops of the Catholic Church in France, mostly from the Jesuit order, received the bull as an encouragement to attack the Jansenists on doctrinal matters and to diminish Jansenist influence in France. To this end, in 1730, the archbishop of the city of Orléans ordered that all clergy in his diocese should adhere to the bull, which many took to mean denying sacraments to Jansenists. When the priest of the parish of Saint–Catherine refused to read last rites to a parishioner, Madame Dupleix, the magistrates of the Parlement of Paris weighed in with the following "remonstrance," or protest, to the King (technically known as an "appeal against abuse" of power). In this remonstrance, the magistrates insist that the King fulfill his responsibility of defending all His Majesty’s subjects, including protecting Jansenists from Rome’s persecution. Despite this reliance on the monarchy, some no–so–subtle criticisms appear here.


How many times, whenever a public outcry echoed from all corners, has your parlement been ready to bring to the Sovereign its justifiable complaints against such obvious abuses as the Unigenitus Constitution? Touched by these public ills, only the justifiable fear of precipitously venturing facts of such importance when they have not yet been sufficiently proven in the judicial system could stop these dramatic steps.

Living in the city of Orléans, in the parish of Saint-Catherine, a woman by the name of Dupleix saw that she was falling dangerously ill from a disease and would soon die from it. She had asked the parish priest to administer the last rites. The priest went to her, but before doing anything else he asked her to state that she had submitted to the decisions of the Church. Not satisfied with the answer of this dying woman, who wanted to live and die within the Catholic, apostolic and Roman faith, the priest persisted. He asked her if she had submitted to the Unigenitus Constitution and told her that he would not administer the last rites until she accepted the Constitution. Then he left.

The illness became more threatening, and the priest was again summoned. The same questions, the same answers, the same refusal.

There are two important questionings here . . . the direct questions and preconditions requiring the dying woman to declare that she had submitted to the Constitution, as well as the priest's refusals to administer the last rites until she had satisfied him. . . .

The Church is necessarily a part of the body of the State. Any new danger from clerics, any enterprise that could lead to trouble for the State or shake the solid foundations of public tranquility, ties and commits ecclesiastics as members of the State and as subjects of Your Majesty.

Whatever they may say, two combined issues equally involve the rights of the Church and of the State. Also, the execution of these rights and the state police power belong to Your Majesty, both as the protector of the Church or as Sovereign responsible for maintaining the peace of the kingdom.

Such are the issues of marriage and vows. Such are the public scandals that Your Majesty always has an interest in suppressing and that the regulations accomplish for a number of royal cases. Such would be the abuse that the clerics could achieve with the power that is confided to them for administering the sacraments. From that point, there would be intervention and competition between the two powers in certain cases to conduct the clerics' trial in accordance with the laws of the kingdom. From that point, there would begin a means of recourse to the sovereign's authority or appeals as abuses, almost as old as the monarchy and that has been so useful to preceding kings, conserving the rights of your throne and our freedoms which always provide it the greatest support.

To contest the sovereign's rights in these important matters under the pretext that they deal directly or indirectly with the spirituality or administration of the sacraments, would be to attack the most permanent maxims and open a sure and easy way for clerics to increase their power and ruin royal authority. And in all of these cases your parlement, tasked by you and under your authority with watching over the public peace in the kingdom, has the right and obligation to propose legitimate solutions to this task as circumstances warrant and as soon as necessary.

If a confessor, unworthy of the sanctity of his ministry, got carried away to the point of profaning the sacraments in order to seduce the person confessing, whether it be on a spiritual or administrative matter, who could doubt that this abuse of the holy mysteries did not constitute an external and public crime which would immediately subject him to temporal law and the legitimate authority of the magistrates who exercise this justice in Your name? . . .

Sire, we know that the love of your People and the zeal and fidelity of your parlement is sufficient to prevent and ward off these extreme ills which we can only remember with sorrow. But the enslavement of the principles that strengthen royal authority and the tranquility of the State are the same in all of these cases mentioned above.

The sovereign to whom providence has confided the government of this great kingdom is, by the sole title of king and the right of his crown, also the defender of the Church. To defend the Church is to defend its legitimate rights and its ancient canons, and to have them executed by the clerics themselves in the entire expanse of his realm. From this defense comes the title of external bishop that is accorded to emperors and sovereigns. From this defense comes many examples of trials against clerics who, while teaching the truth of the Gospel, by their spurious enthusiasm slandered and personally attacked those where listening to them. This defense is often reiterated in the decrees and laws against causing public scandals by the indiscreet refusal of those who work in front of the altar. The strict observance of these ancient canons, which make up the fundamental basis of our freedoms, also make up the laws of the State. This observance is still in the hands of Your Majesty, and as soon as the clerics infringe on it, He is in his rights and has the obligation to provide it with his authority. . . .

These immutable principles have always been the solid foundation of the monarchy, and your parlement is tasked by you with watching over the public order. It has learned however that under the direction of a few bishops the priests of their dioceses are trying to establish the Constitution as a rule of faith, or at least all of the characteristics of such. They are attempting to remove the communion of the faithful from the heart of the Church, as well as all participation in the sacraments by those of your subjects who do not state above all else that they accept the Constitution purely and simply. Your parlement has the proof, acquired through judicial inquiry and by similar depositions given by honest witnesses, that under this pretext the parish priest of Saint-Catherine persists in repeatedly refusing to allow a sick woman to die without the sacraments. This woman states that she wants to die in the communion of the Catholic, apostolic and roman Church.

The threat of her imminent death increases every second. Based on new complaints, your parlement again sends back a request to the bishop of the diocese to provide the sacrament. At the same time, it is forced to again remind him of the need to warn us of anything that he deals with that could tend to disrupt the peace of the Church and State. . . . What will the consequences be when clerics can use fear to wring declarations that they have no right to require from people who would never declare as much if they were fully conscious and with their full faculties? With such suspect and dangerous ways as these to spread the rights of the Constitution, would it not be more proper to destroy them than to strengthen them? . . .

Respectfully,

Parlement, 24 July 1731

Signed: Portail.

Source: Jules Flammermont, Remonstrances du Parlement de Paris au XVIIIe siècle, vol. 1 (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1888–98), 243–80.