Accueil » 28-3 ( 1973) » Les Chevaliers du travail et le Cardinal Taschereau

Les Chevaliers du travail et le Cardinal Taschereau

Philippe Sylvain


L'auteur explique le rôle joué par l'archevêque de Québec dans la condamnation des Chevaliers du travail par l'Église catholique en 1884. Il montre comment cette censure a été relevée en 1887 grâce à l'intervention de l'archevêque de Baltimore.


The Knights of Labor and Cardinal Taschereau

In 1869, nine Philadelphia garment cutters were forming a secret society,The Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor. Many such secret societies were then established following the discouragement of militant workers vis-à-vis the failure of their efforts. The Molly Maguires and the Knights of Labor were only two of them. This movement spread rapidly among American Catholics, mostly belonging to the working class, with the approval of religious authorities considering it their sole means of defense.

The recession of 1883-1885 was greatly favorable to the recruitment of members for the K. of L. in the United States. In September 1884, the total membership of the organization was 71,326. This total is increased when Canadian members are added. Indeed the K. of L. have established locals in Hamilton (1881), Toronto 1882), and Montréal (January 12, 1883). Three assemblies were then existing in the Province of Québec, all in Montréal, and four fifths of its members were Catholics.

This recruitment finally worried the religious authorities. Indeed, would the secret nature of their activities lead one to identify the K. of L. to a Freemasons association ?

Archbishop Taschereau, cardinal to be in 1887, after consultation with Rome, received from the Congregation of Propaganda an instruction dated May 10, 1884, telling him that it was a serious sin to be a member of the K. of L. On April 19, 1886 the Québec Archbishop published a Pastoral Letter on « some forbidden societies » in which he recalled the Roman interdict.

After having been instructed of this condemnation, the American hierarchy became perplexed. But Archbishop James Gibbons of Baltimore since 1877, and cardinal to be on same year than Taschereau, has always been sympathetic to the K. of L. On September 3, 1886 he wrote to Cardinal Giovanni, prefect of the Propaganda, to keep him from a rapid condemnation of the association in the United States. The K. of L. had also supporters within the Canadian Hierarchy, namely from the Archbishops of Montréal (Fabre) and Toronto (Lynch).

At the beginning of 1887, Gibbons left for Rome where he presented a long memorandum on the question to Cardinal Simeoni on February 20. After inquiring on the subject, Pope Leo XIII declared on August 16, 1887 that there was no cause for censorship.

This attitude of Gibbons brought him to be widely known in Europe. The American churchman especially has the merit to have contributed together with Ketteler, Albert de Mun, Vogelsang and the group of the Fribourg Union to the preparation ofRerum Novarum, that Magna Charta of social catholicism promulgated on May 15, 1891