The Geneva Kulturkampf (Projections of 19th century religious discrimination)

Kulturkampf is a term in the history of Prussia and Germany, denoting a period of political and ideological clashes in the most general sense between German Protestantism and German Catholicism, and in a narrower sense between the rising German statehood represented by Otto von Bismarck and the perceived from it as hindering the national rise (in terms of secular education, civil marriages, etc.), subordinate to the Pope Catholic clergy. It all began in Berlin in 1870 with the annexation by Prussia of the other German states, which gave rise to the second (and later the third) German Reich. In 1872, the influential Jesuit order was banned. A number of other laws and administrative measures limit the influence of the Catholic Church in Germany. After a period of more or less intense struggle, in 1887 the new Pope Leo XIII declared the conflict over, which he said “harmed the church and did not benefit the state.”

This struggle also affected the French-speaking cantons of the Swiss Confederation. In the 19th century, the canton of Vaud and the city of Lausanne adopted discriminatory measures on religious grounds. Additional political decrees restrict certain civil rights of members of the Salvation Army. Today, this historical period is a black hole in the collective memory of even the Swiss themselves. This phase in Geneva’s collective memory is called the Kulturkampf (German: Kulturkampf – “cultural struggle”) or the struggle for civilization and secularism. This delicate and trivial technical term disguises the serious crimes of the State against religious communities.

In November 1871, under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898), German nationalism intensified. His ideal of the Reich could not tolerate the religious authority of the pope. In fact, one third of the German people – German Catholics – are threatened with isolation, excluded from German nationalism. A multifaceted and relentless repression hit the churches for five years: priests were expelled from public schools; the constitution has been modified in its part concerning the freedoms of the Church; certain congregations were dissolved and their members expatriated. The Catholic Church has never been subjected to such all-encompassing attacks and blows. This European climate in political and spiritual aspect also warms the spirits in the Republic of Geneva.

The Lake State Council passed a law imposing a registration regime for religious congregations. The text of the law, which is still in force today, provides for the disbandment of those who oppose state regulation, as well as numerous fines for violators. In reality, however, the Geneva Council of State does not want a Roman Catholic episcopate in the city. And without much worry, on February 17th. A Swiss citizen was expelled, namely: Monsignor Mermillod, vicar bishop. In an equally authoritarian way, the political clique plans to reorganize the Catholic Church according to its views. By a large majority in the Grand Council on 19 February. In 1873 a restrictive law was passed. Catholic representatives make the mistake of abstaining, which, in effect, makes it easier to vote and pass the law without hindrance. Thus in the Geneva Republic – “Protestant Rome” began the nightmare known as the “Religious Question”.

The legislature provides for Catholic citizens to be able to elect only the curette until the episcopal deputy, the vicar, is approved by the council of state. On this basis, the existence of a Catholic diocese in the canton is prohibited. However, Roman Catholics refused to obey this secular dictate, which led to the nationalization of their church, called the National Catholic Church. This led to a government-ordered forcible takeover of the Catholic Church in Compessier on 20 January. 1875 and searches of the church of Shen-Burg on April 2, 1878 and others.

Meanwhile, during this era, the wind of freedom and democracy passed through Switzerland and throughout Europe. The federal constitution was adopted in 1874. The following year, the Geneva notables, Voltaire’s neighbors, did not even consider banning religious corporations in the canton and nationalizing their property. It will take twenty years for the situation to calm down and for the notion of tolerance to permeate souls. These grotesque measures did not only affect Catholics. Protestants also pay a high price.

The history of this explosive dossier culminated in 1906, when all state subventions, subsidies and contributions to religious organizations were discontinued.

Someone will say that this is an old story? This is not true at all! These are not historical incidents unrelated to the present. Today’s situation shows that the instincts for witch-hunting are not forgotten at all, but only asleep and ready to wake up at any moment for a new life. It is true that naming an avenue in the city of Geneva in memory of Cardinal Mermillod washes the face of the Geneva state from past crimes, but it is much more important to seek peaceful coexistence in a spirit of understanding and difference, of course, with respect for the law. .

In Geneva, the radical government of the state councilor Antoine Carteret (1870-1879) decided to implement the policy of the German chancellor, as applied by the radicals in the other Swiss cantons and in many other European countries. Let us recall the meaning of the word “radical”, as defined by Paul-Émile Littré at the end of the last century: “Who works for complete change, regardless of the political agenda in a democratic sense,” the word derives “root” and indicates the idea of ​​radical change. As laudable as the idea is, radicalism opens the door to extremism insofar as a branch of the Geneva radicals, that of the liberal radicals, decides to erase all religious organizations perceived as enemies of the new democratic order, arguing the old radicalist argument that religion is “undemocratic ”.

Let us try to summarize and systematize the main events of the Geneva Kulturkampf, as told to us by historians (cf. “Histoire de Genève de 1798 à 1931”, published by the Historical and Archaeological Society of Geneva):

October 1870 Antoine Alfred Désiré Carteret, a radical liberal, becomes President of the Council of State of Geneva (the highest executive body in the republic).

June 18, 1871 Introduction of a bill, dictated by A. Carteret, prohibiting participation in the educational system of religious corporations or congregations.

October 1871 A. Carteret presents a bill on “religious corporations.”

October 23-25, 1871 Joseph Hornung, professor of law at the Geneva Academy (University), gave two lectures at the Grand Conseil (cf. Discours prononcés au Grand Conseil le 23 et le 25 octobre 1871 par Joseph Hornung, Genève, Imprimerie Soullier et Wirth, 1871), one in which he defended the principle that the State and the Church should be united and one in which he supported the new law on religions by denigrating the Roman Catholic monastic congregations, namely, accusing them of: conspiracy to cover Europe with a monastic network; the state must retain its power over the Church; Catholic congregations follow their own judiciary and refuse to obey the state one, and their members are subjected to violence; the withdrawal of the monastic communities from the world and their unquestioning obedience leads the latter to “social death”; the vows of poverty of their members are nothing more than an instrument for enriching the property of their members and their disinherited families.

February 3, 1872 The Grand Council (ie Parliament) passed the law on corporations by 51 votes to 32. This law is still in force in Geneva, reads, inter alia, the following: no group belonging to a religious order and living in a dormitory will be called a congregation; no group without the authorization of the Grand Council may be dissolved by the Council of State; no approval criteria are specified.

October 19, 1872 The Grand Council passes a law on education: education is secular. The state also oversees private schools.

February 17, 1873 The Vicar Bishop of Geneva, Msgr. Gaspard Mermillod is expelled from the Swiss Federal Council by Switzerland, if he is a Swiss citizen.

February 19, 1873 The law on the reorganization of the Catholic cult, inspired by A. Carteret, was voted by the Grand Council (77 votes in favor, 8 against and 2 abstentions). The state imposes elections for clergymen from the parishioners and recognition, approval of a bishop by the state authorities. Most Roman Catholics refuse to obey the law.

17 January 1874 The Apostolic Nuncio (Vatican Ambassador) is no longer recognized by the Swiss Federal Council and receives his passport and credentials back.

May 10, 1874 The National Catholic Church is established in Geneva. It is considered schismatic by Rome. Roman Catholics are boycotting the election, thus failing to reach the required quorum.

May 29, 1874 The new Swiss Constitution is adopted by the people of Switzerland. It contains several articles restricting the freedom of Catholics.

January 30, 1875 The quorum was abolished by law.

August 23, 1875 A decree was issued banning all religious corporations in the Canton of Geneva.

August 28, 1875 A law is passed banning any religious services in public places. This law has not been repealed to date.

May 24, June 3, 1876 The Grand Council (mostly made up of radical liberals) “purges” the magistrates so that, in the words of Antoine Carteret, “the tribunals can do what the people want.”

September 27, 1876 The property of religious corporations was incorporated into that of the state.

October 6, 1878 The people of Geneva refuse a reform of the Geneva Constitution proposed by A. Carteret, which provides for the strengthening of the powers of the State. In particular, the aim is to ban religious education.

November 10, 1878 A. Carteret suffered a serious loss in the elections to the Grand Council.

April 14, 1883 cardinal Mermillod, now Bishop of Lausanne and Geneva, has been recognized by the Swiss Federal Council.

1893-1900 Roman Catholics gradually regain most of their temples.

June 15, 1907 The Grand Council passed a law separating the Churches from the State (60 votes to 23), and the appropriation of temples ceased. The Act of February 19, 1873, was repealed.

June 30, 1907 The people of Geneva pass the law.

May 16, 1944 The Council of State decrees that only the Protestant National Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Christian Catholic Church (formerly the schismatic National Catholic Church) be recognized by the State (a status directly related to tax relief).

May 20, 1973 The people of Switzerland vote to repeal Articles 51 and 52 of the Swiss Federal Constitution, which until then had banned the Jesuits and the construction of new monasteries, with a total of 790,000 votes in favor and 650,000 against. 16 and a half cantons against 5 and a half.

Today, part of the legislation of the Kulturkampf era is still valid in Switzerland and Geneva and applies to minority religious communities that are not traditional for the confederation, namely:

1) Art. 50 (4) of the Swiss Federal Constitution, which states that an episcopate may not be established in Switzerland without the approval of the Confederation.

2) Art. 176 of the Geneva Constitution: a religious congregation or corporation may not be established in the canton without the permission of the Grand Council, and this authorization may be revoked.

3) The Law of February 3, 1872 on Religious Corporations (a magazine that the Council of State may dissolve unauthorized religious corporations).

4) The Act of August 28, 1878, which forbade religious services and religious dress in public places.

5) The regulation of May 16, 1944, defining only the Protestant National Church and the two Catholic churches as state-recognized.






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