"QUIT giving them money to feed their fat bellies!" The author of the quotation confessed that it was indeed undignified language particularly in reference to bishops, but, continued New Orleans political boss, Leander H. Perez, "this is not a dignified fight." This could be described as a classic understatement from a nominal Catholic who could add: "If we keep the money out of the collection plates on Sunday, then they will know how we feel." He described Archbishop Joseph Francis Rummel's Catholic school integration order of March 27 as a "black curse on the 75,000 white children involved . . , a morally degradin order violating every principle of Christianity".
THE ranting of Perez and the excommunication penalties which followed, established no precedent in Louisiana and in particular in the parish of New Orleans. The game of "Baiting the Bishop" indulged in by the three excommunicants, Perez, Jackson G. Ricau and Mrs. B. J. Gaillot, is an old one.
The three are playing the game of the plantation elite, still reaching out from the past to preserve a way of life denounced from pulpits by courageous priests, before hostile congregations, back to when Louisiana was a French pro vince. New Orleans still suffers from a small but vociferous and politically powerful minority who have inherited the Jansenism and Gallicanism which accompanied the orginal French settlers to Louisia na, Fleeing from depotism in their native land, the immigrants installed a dictatorship of their own which included a feudal system oased upon slavery rather than serfdom.
They built their own churches.
They hired and fired the .pastors and reluctantly paid them pittances out of Church revenues which laymen collected and disbursed for such other services as sacristans. altar I.oys and cemetery help. It was in fact Presbyterian management. but minus any authority to the priests.
SERMONS were censored by the laymen Church officers. An attempt was made to horsewhip one parish priest for daring to deliver an uncensored sermon attacking the plantation elite for their evident culpability in the growing population of illegitimate mulattos — evidence of concubinage between whites and negresses. Slavery had its unpublicised perquisites which the planters were unwilling tn give up. Another priest had his ears assaulted by raucout snores from men stretched out on pews, a visible and aurol criticism of a sermon assailing them for their predilection to certain popular sins.
Criticisni of another sermon took the form of arson. the church being burned to the ground amid the gleeful shouts and taunts of the arsonists who pinioned the priest and forced him to watch their handiwork.
Sermons elsewhere were punctuated — vocal censoring — by shouts and ribald remarks by the congregation. In one case those who disagreed violently with a sermon. threatened to hang and quarter the priest. Compliant legislators sided with congregations who refused to accept priests assigned by the bishops and passed a law forbidding bishops, priests, ministers or rabbis from functioning in the State unless elected by their congregations.
THIS is the background of the troubles in New Orleans and elsewhere in Louisiana. The segregationists do not all use undignified arguments. Emile A. Wagner. President of the Association of Catholic Laymen, formed in 1957. following Rummel's original integration order, called upon Catholics "to unite in daily prayer Holy Spirit may enlighten and guide this association, its members and all other persons concerned with the issue of racial integration". Wagner declined to state 4o reporters how many members were enrolled in the association. His appeal in the New Orleans tmes Picayunne" was for a campaign fund of 120.000 from dues at 51.00 per member. It is doubtful that the organization ever had more than a few hundred members from a white Catholic count of 480,000.
Ill was then Archbishop Rummel issued his first excommunication threat, assessing the penalty on Wagner and his board members if the association was not dissolved. Wagner bowed "to His Excellency's authority" but "questioned the propriety of the decision".
The association died but before it expired Wagner forwarded a letter to the Pope appealing against Rummel's decision. The letter was never answered, but the story was published in Osservatore Romano congratulating Archbishop Rummel on his action. Officially the organization died, but the activity of its former members in antiintegration showed there was still life in the corpse.
The oublicity accorded Wagner was instrumental in his election to the Orleans Parish School Board, which has nad considerable legal success in fighting the federal gov ernment direotives and paying lip service to federal orders by limiting to a round dozen the admission of Negro children to former allwhite schools over a period of four years.
HE Association of Catholic
Laymen apparently have been unaware of the integration which Archbishop Joseph Francis Rummel has been fostering for years. The two archdiocesan seminaries were integrated 28 years ago -integrated incidentally at the urging of the white seminarians.
The captain of the football team in St. Augustine's high School in the 1961-2 year is a Negro. And it is interesting to note that among the alumni is a student now at Columbia University with the same surname of Leander Perez.
Until the segregationist campaign started in 1957 Negro priests had offered the Sacrifice of the Mass in churches in mixed parishes, and white communicants had accepted the Host from consecrated black fingers. But then Father Gerald Lewis, S.V.D., was rejected by air congregation of the Jesuit Bend mission chapel under the jurisdiction of the New Orleans Archdiocese. The Archbishop immediately suspended services at the chapel until the parishioners agreed to accept any priest he sent them, irrespective of race or colour.
WHEN the U.S. Supreme Court banned segregation in the nation's schools, the order apped only to public schools. Rummel might have used this as a subterfuge for failure to obey the moral structure of the Court's ruling. He announced an end to segregation in Catholic schools with gradual integration one grade at a time, starting in 1957. It was an intelligent plan, and a plan that had worked in many Louisiana Catholic high schools and colleges. He added to his statement: "Let there be no further discrimination or segregation in the pews, at the Communion rail, at the Confessional and in parish meetings, just as there will be no segregation in heaven."
It was this unequivocal declaration which gave birth to the Association of Catholic Laymen and resulted in the reluctant postponement of the plan — to avoid anticipated violence. Violence did ensue in the attempt to register coloured children at New Orleans public schools. This was followed, after legal skirmishes. with the token desegregation in effect at present in a half-dozen scattered elementary schools. The integration slow-down exContinued on page 5