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22 October 1845 — Bishop Jean-Baptiste Épalle to Father Jean-Claude Colin, Sydney

APM OMM 411 Épalle

22 October 1845

Very Reverend Father
At last we are definitely leaving tomorrow, may God be thanked a thousandfold for that. New Zealand has caused us to waste two and a half months here. If I could have foreseen such a considerable waste of time and, especially, such a meagre result, we would today be in some island of Melanesia, after having seen, perhaps, Bishop Bataillon. It is certain that we will not call at Wallis, but we will see the Bishop Douarre who is quite on our route, and we are carrying some supplies to him. It seems certain that at Wallis there are some disturbances brought about by natives who have come from surrounding islands. We hope that the French frigate Rhin has established peace. This frigate has been expected here for three months. Bishop Pompallier is expecting Father Viard to come on it, and says he has a right to him because he is his pro-vicar. His Lordship has made strong requests to get two priests and two Brothers. I have constantly told him in reply that it wasn't in my power to give them to him. I made the same reply to the Archbishop of Sydney who asked me for Father Chaurain for a year. Decidedly this matter is growing and serves to convince me more and more that Belley is the mould of the Society. Let us do the impossible for places like Belley; we couldn't serve our interests better.
As you wished, I spoke to Bishop Pompallier about the need to come to the Society’s help in forming men who must be consecrated for the missions. His Lordship is so much convinced of this that he is thinking of founding in New Zealand establishments to form a clergy there. However I have not been given the responsibility of giving you anything practical in this regard. The Bishop, expecting to leave for Europe very soon, has not decided anything. This journey excuses me from giving you in a more particular way my opinion about New Zealand matters. To sum up everything for you in a word, it would suffice for me to tell you that the Bishop's great refrain is: "nihil conscius sum" [I am aware of nothing wrong], everything I have done and said I would do it again and I would say it again, if the same circumstances arose again. The fact is that the Bishop -- I know no longer what I wanted to say to you. Bishop Pompallier came this morning at the moment I was beginning my sentence, and the whole day has gone by without my having been able to continue it up until this moment -- midnight.
I do not think I can pass over in silence at least some rather outstanding points put forward today by Bishop Pompallier. You, very Reverend Father, you have wanted to see yourself as the Archbishop of all these missions and, not being approved in that role by the Holy See, your self love has led you to launch thunderbolts on the New Zealand mission. You have wanted to be more than an Archbishop, because an Archbishop will never call on the priests of his suffragan to judge their Bishop. Rome has understood your behaviour since it has written to him "nihil intentatum relinquimus ut superior Societatis tuo non se immiscent negotiis…" ["we relinquish nothing of our intention that the Superior of the Society not get involved in negotiations with you."] It has often been a matter of your thunderbolts launched on New Zealand, and more often still the fear has been expressed of seeing those of heaven and the Holy See fall on you. If you do not want to correspond with Pompallier, you should correspond with the Vicar Apostolic[1]
As I had had the misfortune to say on one occasion that Father Viard's conduct in taking it on himself to leave the Wallis had not been approved, I was obliged to expiate my misdeed by listening to a diatribe[2] into which were slipped some things which I dare not repeat for fear of having poorly understood them. Finally my turn came and I was told clearly that by breaking the rules of Canon Law I also had gone against my Bishop. Acting on the supposition that I was sometimes a subject to Bishop Pompallier, I who never had more than a verbal permission from the Archbishop of Lyons to leave his diocese, I ended that difficult meeting with four points: the extraordinary allocation of January 1843, the letter from Very Reverend Father Superior of February 1843, the allocation of May 1843 and my conscience [all] answered this painful accusation.
Propaganda, in writing to the Bishop to inform him of the erection of two vicariates of Melanesia and Micronesia added that his Lordship, if he was expelled from New Zealand, could take over it either of these two vicariates, which the Bishop said that he had arranged to be done along the lines of the decree.
The central office in Paris (and my opinion is that it was M Lavaud[3]) wrote to him that the Council in Paris pleaded his cause and that it was won, and that his Lordship ought not to be astonished that a traitor had been found among his men.
The Bishop wrote a long letter to the Propagation to give the explanations asked for, concerning the letter of 6th November 1842; that letter was addressed to the Cardinal Prefect with the liberty to send it on or keep it. In my opinion it is the most insulting of all.
The Bishop is sure that you have sent to Rome letters addressed to the Propagation of the Faith by himself. Without the Propagation of the Faith having ever been aware of these letters. The one which the prelate has just received from the office in Lyons and that from Father Germain shattered him. The office in Lyons said: His Lordship will agree, we are certain, that we continue to remain strangers to... A tribunal of Turks, said the Bishop, would give him more justice. People receive false accusations and remain closed to justifications.
My letters not being official, the Bishop has not seen it as appropriate to appoint a procurator in France. I still have the documents which would make me an official correspondent.
I could go on; (but) you have more than is needed to outline to you a situation which I am not responsible for.[4] It is almost two hours after midnight. Allow me to go and get some rest. Father Rocher is quite happy to be responsible for telling you about what I resolved to make the subject of this letter, our expedition. You will see the reasons and the authorities which have led us to act. You will then decide and you will not publish our actions if you judge it right. I am asking Father Rocher to forget nothing. I am enjoying most wonderful health. Everyone is well in every respect. Right now especially, we need prayers. Our establishment in the Solomons is becoming almost probable.
For the sake of my reputation, hide this letter; I would be sent to the eighth [class? -- or 'back to primary school'?)
I am, with deep respect, your very humble and obedient servant,
+ J(ean) B(aptiste) Epalle
Bishop of Sion


  1. Si l’on ne veut pas correpondre avec Pompallier, que l’on corresponde avec le vicaire apostolique. - This seems to imply the need to distinguish between Pompallier the person and Pompallier the office holder -- translator’s note
  2. une thèse
  3. et moi je dis M Lavaud
  4. Je n’enfinirois pas; en voilà plus qu’il ne faru pour vous dicter une situation don’t jene me charge pas.