On 3 December 1901 our Diocese of Carcassonne said farewell to its Bishop, Monsignor Félix Arsène BILLARD. The Capitular Letter announcing this news refers to Monsignor Billards death as a dreadful misfortune. This misfortune could indeed ultimately prove dreadful for Monsignor Billards numerous creatures if the incoming Bishop decides to rectify the various blunders made by his predecessors but for the Diocese itself - which in any case was being administered, as its Bishop had been indisposed for some 10 years, in a pretty haphazard fashion - it is difficult to see how this misfortune could be described as dreadful. Indeed I would go further: the Diocese might even be justified in seeing the Monsignors death as a happy deliverance.
Monsignor Billard was known as the Bishop of the Rosary, but calling him that would simply be to laugh in the publics face as, during his various pastoral visits to the parishes - such as during the sacerdotal retreats for example - the Bishop was never caught saying a single chaplet during his various moments of leisure. Pope Leo XIII, due to his numerous Encyclicals on the Blessed Virgin, was named the Pope of the Rosary: this no doubt prompted the sycophants surrounding our late Bishop to refer to Monsignor Billard as the Bishop of the Rosary. Another reason no doubt was because Prouille, which has a Church of the Rosary, is also located in our diocese. But Monsignor Billards rosary is far from being a hymn of praise to the Virgin Mary, as we shall amply demonstrate.
It was said that Monsignor Billard travelled about the Diocese with indefatigable zeal. The epithet is poorly chosen as, if he ever suffered the least fatigue, he was always the first to complain loudly, something that certainly does not suggest an indefatigable zeal, as persons of indefatigable zeal never complain. He journeyed through his Diocese out of sheer necessity, because he had to perform confirmations; and he journeyed through the Diocese first and foremost to get his hands on the 2000 francs in travelling expenses payable by the Government. Out of sheer idleness he visited only those parts of his Diocese that struck him as causing the least inconvenience and as being the most pleasant. In fact the canton of Tuchan went for seven years without seeing its Bishop at all, while the cantons of Mouthoumet, Axat and certain others saw him only very rarely. So much for his indefatigable zeal.
It has been said that his eloquence was vigorous and inspirational, but it was only his lungs that were vigorous. When preaching in the pulpit he sounded like nothing so much as a jay being plucked alive, and he hardly ever uttered sentiments that could be regarded as elevated or pious. He sounded like nothing more than an actor playing a part, and moreover an actor who, far from moving his audience, simply made them laugh. As a result his episcopal colleagues went to considerable lengths to stop him preaching in their cathedrals, as they knew that his oratorical gifts were extremely mediocre.
It is said that, on the day of his enthronement as Bishop of Carcassonne, the Monsignor said that God had filled his heart with compassion and goodness. In saying this the Bishop was just trying to make himself sound more interesting and to produce an effect. It was what the French call une affirmation normande, a Norman statement, in other words the sort of utterance that leaves you wondering exactly what it means. All the disagreeable matters in which he was implicated and which have been the subject of such gossip prove that he was actually a most hateful and vindictive Bishop. He never forgave any priest who, simply to defend his honour and livelihood, put up any sort of resistance to him: the priest concerned could expect to ever after remain an object of suspicion and the severest punishment. Jesus Christ told us to forgive others without ceasing: Monsignor Billard felt it was far more glorious never to forgive. He saw vengeance as the passion of noble souls, even though, according to the Holy Fathers and even the pagans, it is the passion of tigers and leopards, the passion of wild beasts.
Finally, people talk about his good works and his numerous virtues, but just read the truth of the matter below regarding 1. his piety, 2. his political beliefs, 3. his administration, 4. his morals, 5. his love of money and 6. his punishments from God, as nothing ever happened except on his orders or with his permission.
You might say, The Bishop is dead, so please show some respect. But it is all too easy to say such things when one has not actually suffered cruelly at his hands. For the cruelly wounded heart, for the soul persecuted for some 14 years by the most disgraceful legal procedures, it is intolerable to see people trying to make this person into some sort of giant of merit and virtue. For me therefore, in my present state of mind, it is not a source of satisfaction but the result of a simple desire for justice to cut this supposed giant of virtue down to size - down to the size of a pygmy, which was Monsignor Billards actual stature. If it is alright for the sycophants, inspired by the memory of some undeserved promotion or a few lavish meals, to praise him to the skies, then it should also be in order for a critic to judge his actual deeds in the name of the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, as they say in the law courts. And that is precisely what we are doing now, dispassionately and without exaggeration, simply in order to put the record straight.
1. Regarding his piety: well this was not a very heavy burden for him to carry around with him. If the weight of his piety had caused his death then he would have to have lived to be as old as Methuselah. To convince ourselves of this fact it is sufficient to examine his behaviour when he presided over religious ceremonies. He was never seen to be in a state of deep adoration before the tabernacle, he turned to right or left just for the sake of something to do, he let his lower lip droop as a sign of profound boredom, the expression on his face as he raised his head towards the roof of the holy edifice clearly said: When will all this be over? and he made nervous movements that indicated his impatience. To see him one would never have believed that he was engaged in a sacred duty; one would have thought that he was undertaking the most arduous of forced labour.
When, on his various jaunts during the course of his pastoral visits, he passed in front of the parish church, as at Cuxac dAude, Saint-Marcel*, Fraissé-Cabardès*, Saint-Laurent-de-la-Cabrerisse*, Thézan* or other places, have no fear that Monsignor Billard ever got out of his carriage to perform an act of adoration to his Lord. He gazed upon the door and the building in which his Lord God resided with the same indifference as he might have looked at a town hall or a Protestant church. The locals noticed this and were scandalised and, it has to be said, they were right to be. It was quite a different matter when he passed in front of the door of someone who was lucky enough to own a castle. Then he was only too happy to pop in and say hello to Monsieur X or Madame Y, but his Lord God was not considered worthy of the trouble. When a Bishop has some piety and some genuine faith he normally makes sure that no parish is left without a priest to go along there on Sunday to say at least one Mass. For Monsignor Billard that was the least of his concerns. And so it was that, for several years, Bouisse*, Duilhac*, Cucugnan* and several other parishes were left without a priest, and Monsignor Billard did not even bother to get a priest from a neighbouring parish to go along on a Sunday and celebrate at least one Low Mass for the edification of the faithful. If he was asked to supply a priest for these parishes he would reply orally or in writing that he did not have enough suitable candidates. Why in that case leave five assistant priests at Saint Vincent de Carcassonne and three priests at Pezens*, which has a population of only a thousand people? Why leave several assistant priests in post in the less important parishes such as Pennautiers*, Alet, Pexiora*, Peyriac Minervois* and others where one curé would suffice? Why were so many young priests working as choirmasters in the towns when they could easily have been replaced by lay people? That is because purely mundane considerations were allowed to prevail over the cure of souls. The small parishes of Brousse*, Gramazic*, Lapomarède*, Tréville* and other small villages on the other hand have never been without their pastors. If a priest was moved then he was immediately replaced. Why? Because, in these small parishes, there was a Monsieur So-and-So, a Madame Such-and-Such, a Marquis de A, a Marquise de B, a Comte de Y, a Comtesse de Z and so on. For Monsignor Billard the souls of the rich were of infinite price. Nice hats and pretty silk dresses were of considerable interest, but the souls of the humble countryfolk were more trouble than they were worth. When, during the pastoral retreats, he used to say to us: Gentlemen, you have to go out to the people, he must have been saying to himself with a slight air of self-satisfaction: As for me, I go to the châteaux. I doubt very much if the good Lord would have approved of Monsignor Billards preference for the company of the rich and powerful of this world.
2. His political beliefs can be summed up in the word Calculation. When he first was appointed to the Bishopric of Carcassonne we already had our doubts. In a newspaper, Le Temps I think it was, we had read that Abbé Billard (as he then was) had told Monsieur DUMAY, the Directeur des Cultes, of his very strong commitment to republicanism. Once he arrived at Carcassonne however he allayed all our fears during a discussion of secular education. In fact, during his pastoral visits he protested against secular education in the strongest possible terms, especially at Lagrasse. These were the words of a Bishop indeed! However, since what he had to say upset the Ministry of Religion he was summoned to Paris, whence he returned suitably chastened. Perhaps he was persuaded by the remonstrations to which he had had to listen? Or was he persuaded by the promise of an archbishopric if he learned to keep his mouth shut? He certainly learned to do just that, but for us such a silence had an eloquence all its own. It was the touchstone that finally made it clear to us that, as far as his personal qualities were concerned, what we had assumed in him to be gold was really only copper. His silence was such that, in 1882, in order to keep in with the Government, he refrained from protesting against the manuals of COMPAYRE, Paul BERT and Mme GREVILLE, which were intended for use in state schools. If he had been any sort of Bishop he would have forbidden the priests, by public pronouncement, to give First Communion to the children who would have had books such as this in their hands, and he would have reminded the Confessors that under the rules of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum they could not grant absolution either to the teachers or to the parents of such children. But did Monsignor Billard do that? No, he most certainly did not. After all, he wanted to be an archbishop. Indeed, he advised the priests to absolve and give communion to anyone unfortunate enough to be caught by the severe rules of the Index. He had no right to speak thus - his words were those of a prevaricator. And he treated very badly all those priests who willingly took a drop in income in order to observe the sacred laws of the Church. The curé of Marcorignan*, he said one day, is getting overexcited reading La Croix et Le Pèlerin. So, according to Monsignor Billard, he had to be brought down to Earth again by being made to read La Dépêche and Le Petit Mériodional [socialist newspapers]. These words of Monsignor Billard are those of a juring bishop. Just because GOBLET, who was running the Church in those days, had held out the promise of an archbishopric, Monsignor Billard willingly spoke just like BAILLY, who notoriously said to Monsieur De POURCEMONT, the curé of St Sulpice in Paris: When the law speaks, the conscience must remain silent.
In spite of these blameworthy acts of complaisance, Monsignor Billard was to quarrel again with the Ministry of Religion; When an archbishopric fell vacant in Northern France he pleaded to be given it, and when it was given to someone else instead he fell into such a fit of pique that he went into a sulk and refused to talk to the Minister at all. To let off steam he decided to visit Rome ad limina without government permission. The Ministry of Religion did not see the funny side of it and docked him a portion of his stipend. His avarice was certainly piqued, but to put on a brave show of things he replied proudly that he preferred a little less money and a little more self-respect. Below we shall see that he quite often preferred money to self-respect. His self-respect would have been put to better use in more zealously guarding the sacred interests of the Holy Church. It is true that he wrote a few mildly enraged Circulars, but this was a mere smokescreen. If the government had been nicer to him he would certainly not have taken the bull by the horns in this way. He made a fuss just to upset the Ministry and to win - at very little personal cost - some kudos among the militant Catholics. His undoubted ambition caused him to make a great deal of noise but he actually went to very little trouble to actually do anything.
3. As for his administration, a Bishop should administer his diocese by practising distributive justice, truthfulness and charity, which is the precise opposite of what happened. Monsignor Billard actually managed to bamboozle the entire civil service, which is no surprise when we consider the impressionable, fickle and sometimes bizarre character of the Bishop of Carcassonne.
1. Our Bishops idea of distributive justice always consisted first and foremost in keeping the civil authorities happy rather than the deserving priests. If he appeared to the civil authorities to be intransigent then that was a cunning tactic: he just wanted to throw sand in their eyes. Monsignor Billard always sacrificed his independence at the expense of deserving priests who, having grown old in the ministry, deserved better than to be trampled underfoot by young priests whose only merit was that their parent, friend or ally was a Deputy, Senator or Conseiller Général. Such representatives of the people met Préfets et Sous-Préfets face-to-face. They would take the opportunity to ask them to find a nice little position for some priest of their acquaintance. The Préfet would then approach the Bishop and ask him to introduce them to whatever Préfet or Sous-Préfet could raise the priest highest in Ministerial favour. That is how Monsignor Billard came to have arrangements with the Préfets, and it was of course the deserving priests who had to endure the consequences of this wretched traffic.
After the Préfet and the civil service the Monsignor Billard had a great love of wealth and the hierarchy of aristocrats who, in order to keep the old feudal traditions going, maintained links with the ecclesiastical authorities that were almost always harmful to the interests of the poor curés, especially those who were most deserving of promotion. Under the pretext of doing good works there came ladies, with their charming smiles, to open their purses wide to Monsignor Billard, so that the Monsignor could then plunder them at his leisure. You can work out for yourself whether Monsignor Billard, with his great love of money, of which we shall speak anon, took advantage of these opportunities. After such favours and after so many sumptuous dinners, how could Monsignor Billard not listen to an aristocratic lady who wants a priest she likes to be given an important post? And, of course, the truly deserving priest is thrust aside in the process.
The rich and the aristocratic thus satisfied, the Monsignor Billard then turned to the task of finding sinecures for his personal friends and for the friends of the Vicars-General, the Canons and the Curés of the towns. He also had to find posts for the various stoolpigeons who, in order to secure the jobs of the truly deserving priests, would bring to Monsignor Billard the most incredible bits of ecclesiastical gossip about their colleagues. This was the distributive justice of the Bishop of Carcassonne.
One day Monsieur AUDOUY*, a Canon and a chairman of ecclesiastical conferences, said to Monsignor Billard: You know, that priest does an excellent job of compiling conference reports. Dont tell him that, replied Monsignor Billard eagerly, Id have to promote him. Frankly a reply like that makes you just want to give up: we now know entirely what Monsignor Billards idea of justice consists of.
2. Truthfulness: one might be inclined to believe that Monsignor Billard never said a truthful word in his life. He himself admitted something of the kind in the middle of a pastoral retreat when he said to his priests: I am Norman and also part-Gascon, which means that I know how to be economical with the truth. Im a little bit of an actor. Apart from those priests who owed their jobs to Monsignor Billard, there was not a single priest in the diocese who did not have at least one story regarding his actor-like behaviour. Monsignor Billard thought he was cunning, but since his acts of cunning were merely transparent lies, his priests laughed at him behind his back as being just a farceur. His acting took different forms depending on who he had in front of him. If Monsignor Billard was faced with a timid priest whom he wanted to transfer against the priests wishes, then he would shout like a maniac. The priest, trembling like a young girl, would accept the new post out of sheer funk. A young priest once told me that Monsignor Billard had shouted so loud to get him to accept Camps* and Cubières* (where, ultimately, he did not actually go) that he felt so ill that he fell over and people had to use smelling salts to bring him round again. If Monsignor Billard had to deal with an ignorant priest then he would tie him in knots with all sorts of trivia and then threaten him with the wrath of a mandatum which had nothing to do with the matter in hand. One day, for example, Monsignor Billard, to keep a châtelain happy, suggested a post to a priest who, respectfully but vehemently, refused it. Ah! said the Bishop, you refuse do you? Well, Im going to have to suspend you because youve been hunting and you know that hunting is banned in the Diocese on pain of suspension. I will keep this suspension in force permanently if you dont accept. So the priest accepted to avoid being suspended. This poor curé was actually most unworthily deceived, as neither the 1869 Mandatum of Monsignor de La BOUILLERIE, which governed us in those days, nor the new 1895 Mandatum prohibits hunting on pain of suspension. These two Mandatums simply say: venatione interdicimus, without any penal sanction. If, on the other hand, Monsignor Billard had to deal with a priest who had been denounced for corrupt behaviour then the Bishop would always act differently depending on whether the priest was one of his protégés. All men are not alike, he would say to himself, lets distinguish between them. If the Monsignor had a poor opinion of a priest who had been denounced then priest concerned would have to agree to be moved to another parish or allow himself to be subjected to an investigation or a reprimand, but if the priest was one of Monsignor Billards creatures or a spoiled rich kid, or was a protégé of some kind, then he would not attach any credence to the denunciation, and priests of this kind who suffered denunciation for their conduct were always exonerated. Take the case of Abbé ARRUFAT*, curé of Pradelles-en-Val*, who suffered from brain fever, and who was guilty of the most incredible extravagances in his parish. The Mayor and certain others brought these facts to the attention of Monsignor Billard, but Monsignor Billard replied that he did not believe a word of it because, in his view, Monsieur ARRUFAT was a saint. Well this saint was so extraordinary that just one month after this reply from the Bishop he was incarcerated in a lunatic asylum in Toulouse. As for Abbé Andrieu, the notorious curé of Escales*, the Bishop refused to hear anything bad about him from anyone - neither the Préfet nor the conseil municipal nor the leading aristocratic families of Escales. Andrieu remained at his post until the day the last piece of the scandal fell into place. Then he finally did have to leave, pursued by the jeers of a population that had threatened to do him a mischief if he dared to remain there any longer. And at Monie* and Fresquet* and so many other places Monsignor Billard always turned a deaf ear to complaints and criticisms. If the priests left their posts it was simply because they wanted to: they would never have been chased out by the locals, because they were lucky enough to be protégés of the Bishop. We know of a priest in the Narbonnais, running a large parish, who was pursuing a consistent course of conduct with a young woman. Father Jean of Fontfroide* called her The Siren. The way the priest frequented her company became a scandal: the pious refused to go to the confessional and the complaints poured into the Bishops Palace. The Monsignor refused to believe any of the stories: each time he simply replied that what people were asking him about was simply a matter of jealousy along the faithful. A Canon of Carcassonne had never needed to worry about repercussions from the Bishop, in spite of the wild rumours that were circulating about him in the town. Monsignor Billard invariably replied: Thats just not true. A certain curé attracted severe criticism about two or three years ago in his small parish of some 300 souls. Every evening he returned from a house in the locality in very compromising circumstances at eleven oclock or at midnight or at one oclock in the morning. From time to time, during the day, he had lunch with this same woman at a country house and the two of them would then return, walking side by side, crossing the town square and walking all round the village without, it seems, worrying at all about offending public morals. Monsignor Billard knew about all this. And what did he do to allay the villagers indignation? He appointed the curé to a rich parish in the Narbonnais, a living of 1200 souls! To protect his protégés, therefore, Monsignor Billard always had answers that were at odds with the truth and he never moved priests to other parishes whatever they did. If they agreed to be moved elsewhere then Monsignor Billard, to compensate them, would always ensure that they enjoyed considerable promotion in the process.
3. Charity: a Bishop should be another Jesus Christ, a copy of this divine model. And how did Jesus Christ treat his disciples! Listen to his words: Jam non dicam vos servos sed amicos. Jesus Christ treated as a friend even the worst priest among his disciples: Amice, ad quid venisti ?. Monsignor BILLARD did not however accept this doctrine from the divine Master. In fact Monsignor Billard reversed the positions of amicos and servos. He liked only those priests who brought him money or who knew how to flatter him. The lower clergy was of no interest to him, and they reciprocated: apart from those who paid him court they left him quite alone in his Bishops Palace and hardly bothered to consult him, as a curé knew that if he had any problems with his parishioners then he was sure to see those problems increase and become even more confused if the Bishop got involved with them. And have no fear that the Bishop would ever come to the assistance of a priest in affliction or misfortune. There was no point in approaching the Bishop for support or consolation. Here is a story that highlights the spirit of charity of Monsignor Billard towards his priests. In 1889 poor Abbé Doucet*, who has just died at Cucugnan, was thrown into prison in Carcassonne for a moral indiscretion of which he must have been innocent because he was subsequently acquitted. At this time a charge of bankruptcy or bigamy (I can no longer remember which) had led to the incarceration in Carcassonne of Monsieur Garou* of Limoux, who had a cell next to that of poor Abbé Doucet. And what did the Bishop do? On his own initiative he went to see this bankrupt or bigamist Garou. Abbé Doucet heard his Bishops voice, but Monsignor Billard refused to go into the cell of the unfortunate priest to bring him some token of sympathy or a word of friendship and consolation. For a Bishop, what charity!
Abbé Rauffet*, after he became curé of Davejean, told Monsignor Billard that he was proposing to celebrate a Requiem Mass for the soul of his predecessor Abbé Olive*. No, the Bishop replied drily, he is dead. Leave the dead alone. A most touching exhortation to devotion to the souls in purgatory! Once again we find this wonderful priestly charity! For a Bishop of all people to utter something like this is a disgrace; one does not refuse prayers to the souls of the damned. Was Monsignor Billard convinced perhaps that Abbé Olive was eternally damned? Perhaps Abbé Olive died in a more saintly state than Monsignor Billard was to do. If Monsignor Billard thought that Abbé Olive was a mean, scandalous priest, then that shows that he had little respect for sacred matters if he was willing to confide the sacred functions of the Holy Ministry to a priest of such a stamp. If Abbé Rauffet had dared to answer back he might have said to him: Monsignor, nolite judicare et non judicabimini. Have no fear that a priest ever looked up to Monsignor Billard as a father-figure. No one loved him, because he was a Bishop without a heart.
4. His morals. We would like to think that these were always perfect but he should have followed the recommendations of our holy books a little more closely: cura de bono nomine. Of his private life I shall say nothing, nor shall I even express any suspicions about it, but I think I can speak of outward appearances. Even if the walls of a town are in ruins and full of breaches one still has to respect them, but Monsignor Billards public life is part of the history of the Diocese and it is therefore permitted to cast a rapid glance at it. So much the worse for him if he laid himself open to criticism. Sometimes he was quite happy to denigrate, on the basis of simple appearances, those priests who he wished to move from one parish to another out of sheer caprice, and we can certainly make known certain facts which would scarcely qualify for mention in a Life of the Saints. Why for example, when Madame K* came to see Monsignor Billard at Carcassonne, did Monsignor Billard say that she had only come along to accompany his sister who did not dare to make the journey all on her own? If Madame K only came to accompany his sister, then why did she continue to visit him after the Monsignors sister had died? Did Madame K visit Carcassonne for another reason perhaps? No doubt it was to measure the Bishop for some cassocks that she was furnishing him with, as when Monsignor Billard needed a cassock he had only to write to 94 rue Cherche-Midi, Paris. Why did the Monsignor accompany this lady to Paris when she left Carcassonne? Had they not seen enough of each other? What lay behind this intriguing behaviour? Could she not have returned alone, since after all she arrived alone! Why on the day of the pilgrimage of the priests of our diocese to Montmartre, after the Mass and in front of everybody, did he get into the carriage of his inseparable companion Madame K, sit alongside her with a view to apparently going out to lunch with her and then that evening not appear at the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur, nor leave with the pilgrim priests the following morning? He always acted very cunningly did our Bishop of Carcassonne, but in this particular case he seems to have lost the plot completely, and many of the priests were far from impressed. Why, before he fell ill, did the Monsignor often visit Paris? What did he go there to do? Why receive in his Bishops Palace so many young women to the point where, fearing to arouse the suspicions of the clergy, he would not, except for extreme emergencies, receive the priests in the morning, which was reserved for the elite (the lower clergy could therefore only visit the Bishop in the afternoon). Why return to the chateau of Madame B de M when, on the day after the blessing of the chapel, scandalous rumours had been circulating about the Monsignor and Madame de M? Why receive at the Bishops Palace the all too well-known Madame C de H, an hysteric whose behaviour and language were so very odd? When a Bishop receives such a woman and he accepts from her a legacy of twelve hundred thousand francs, then it inevitably arouses all sorts of suspicions.
How happy Monsignor Billard was when he entertained certain women! He then found himself miraculously cured of all ills. Some priests tell a story - not without a certain malice - that when one day they found themselves in the company of the Monsignor he suddenly started groaning and wailing and complaining about pains in his head and stomach, and tossing from side to side in his armchair as if he was seeking a remedy for his illness. While he was groaning in this way the domestic servant suddenly came in, saying: Monsignor Billard, Countess X awaits you in the neighbouring room. And lo! this news achieved an immediate cure! The Bishop immediately got out of his chair looking perfectly happy, took a look at himself, passed his hand over his bare head as if to arrange what remained of his hair, and then went off quite cheerfully to see the young lady.
Let us say in concluding this section on his morals that Monsignor Billard, who committed so many voluntary acts of imprudence without the least shame, had the audacity, upon hearing the slightest criticism and on the basis of simple presumption, to morally criticise his priests and then force them to change parish.
5. His passion for money to get his hands on money he conferred the title of Titular Canon for 30,000 francs. He did not say like Judas: Quid vultis mihi dare et ego vobis eum tradam, but he cunningly found a way of getting other people to say it. Monsieur PELOUS*, the former curé of Durban*, Monsieur DANTRAS, the curé of Saint André and others have been quoted on this subject. Monsignor Billard, they said, sought to establish a sinecure, a typically cunning Norman tactic, but also very easy for a Gascon to see through. Monsignor Billard was a simonist, pure and simple: simonia est voluntas emendi vel vendendi res sacras cum effectu. Monsignor Billard technically sold the title of titular canon, since without the 30,000 francs he would not have conferred it. By indulging in such trafficking Monsignor Billard that simony is by its very nature a mortal sin and an enormous sacrilege. He should have read the article on Simony in Mignes Dictionary of Canon Law.
To get his hands on money he sought to oblige his priests to practise the Indult, which is purely voluntary and which allowed him to take money for cancelled Masses and for duplication (i.e. celebration of two Masses on the same day). In his Circular promulgating this Indult he threatened with some arrogance those who refused to obey it. He made it clear that any rebels would be cautioned and punished, perhaps by being deprived of honours and promotion. Monsignor Billard disputed the need for good works: a word to the wise is enough!
To get his hands on money he forced the abbés of the Grand Séminaire to pay into the retirement find. Here is the tenor of his article VI: No seminary student shall be promoted to the sub-deaconate unless he agrees in writing to subscribe to the retirement fund immediately after his ordination. To close the doors of the sanctuary to a young priest for the sake of 20 francs a year is simply odious and even simoniac, since chapters 8 and 9 of Simoniâ make it clear that it is simony to demand money to allow a person to enter into religion.
To get his hands on money he took possession, according to public rumour, of 30,000 francs that Monsieur Geli, former Superior of the Petit Séminaire of Narbonne, had given to him for the upkeep of this ecclesiastical establishment. When Monsignor Billard failed to remit this sum to the financial controller of the Séminaire and this establishment subsequently found itself financially embarrassed, Monsieur Ajac*, the present Superior, decided to ask Monsignor Billard for these 30,000 francs and to demand them, if need be, indi irae. Consequently from that moment on Monsignor Billard ignored Monsieur Ajac, who had been brave enough to defend the rights of his Petit Séminaire. Monsignor Billard did not like him and he never appointed him a canon. Abbé Ajac could however easily afford to ignore this snub as, apart from a few intellectuals, the canonicate consisted mostly of people of very low calibre anyway.
In parenthesis, let us just explain how Monsignor Billard conducted the final nominations of the honorary canons. One will readily see in what spirit of wisdom and with what fine discernment of merit Monsignor Billard distributed ecclesiastical preferments! The curé de Sallèles-dAude* asked Monsignor Billard to give him Monsieur BATTUT* as his assistant priest, and Monsignor Billard duly promised this. Then along comes Monsieur Mario, who asks the Monsignor if he can have this assistant priest, who is a musician and whom he needs to replace Monsieur Trastet*. Monsieur Mario makes his request so eloquently that on the following Saturday the appointment of Monsieur Battut* to Saint Paul de Narbonne is gazetted. Monsieur Lajoux*, furious, seeks out the Monsignor at Prouille and makes the mother of all scenes. The Bishop, to shut him up, says: Monsieur LAJOUX, I appoint you honorary canon of my cathedral. The effect is astonishing: Monsieur Lajoux agrees to let the assistance priest go, smiles at Monsignor Billard, thanks him effusively and compliments him on his good judgement. The Bishop, interrupting him, says: And I will also have to give a similar appointment to your deacon in Ginestas*, as he would be mortified to see that you have been appointed without him being appointed too. Then Monsignor Billard, thinking out loud, says: I also want to appoint the curé of Alzonne to be an honorary canon, as if I do not appoint him then Monsignor Le Camus will make him canon of his Cathedral and I dont want my diocese to become a hotchpotch. Tell me, adds the Bishop, which priest does Monsieur Cantegril like best? Ill make him an honorary canon as well so as to avoid getting a rocket from my first Monsieur-General, who wouldnt be happy to see me making appointments without him.' Monsieur Lajoux* mentioned the curé of Saint Hilaire* as a favourite of Monsieur Cantegril and this person was duly appointed. Monsignor Billard therefore appointed the first honorary canon to shut him up, the second to avoid upsetting someone, the third to avoid a hotchpotch and the fourth to avoid getting on the wrong side of Monsieur Cantegril. I am not questioning the personal worth of these four people, but this is an example of the extent to which the appointments were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
To get his hands on money Monsignor Billard never once, during 19 years, produced any accounts regarding the retirement fund. According to the report (which is in no way exaggerated) of the curé of Saint Marcel*, who deserves the infinite gratitude of all subscribers to the fund, the fund should have contained 1,052,121 francs. Monsignor Billard, without any reason, was only willing, at the meeting of 27 October 1896, to have 568,000 francs shown in the accounts, and that without any supporting documentation. The financial controller admitted quite frankly that there was no supporting documentation, which stunned all the priests present at the meeting. I am not saying that Monsignor Billard put the money into his pocket in this particular case, but if the fund had been run by a dishonest man appointed by the Bishop then this dishonest man would not have conducted himself any differently than Monsignor Billard the Monsignor Billard did for 19 years. This is a brutal fact that gives rise to all sorts of suppositions.
To get his hands on money he arranged for the inheritance of Madame C de H to be diverted to his own pocket. Monsignor Billard was obviously more astute than the Pope, who received a legacy from Madame de Plessis Billière only to give it to the church. Again, in 1900 Leo XIII received a legacy of 1,200,000 francs from Princess Adelaide dISSEMBERG, the cousin of the Emperor of Austria. But the Pope received this gift in the same spirit as Saint Peter received the gifts of the first faithful, gifts that were destined for the treasury of the Church. Monsignor Billard was more practical, as his first thoughts were to round out his own personal wealth. To convince oneself of the truth of this statement one has only to read this single passage of the relevant will, which Monsignor Billard was responsible for drawing up: The present legacy is made to Monsignor Billard, not by virtue of his status as a Bishop but in his own private capacity. In the event that, either by predecease, repudiation or any other cause, Monsignor Billard should not receive this legacy I hereby substitute for him Monsieur Jules Bligny, former notaire of Rouen, and in this event but not solely in this event I appoint the said Bligny as sole legatee. So here are some careful precautions to ensure that Monsignor Billard could pocket the 1,200,000 francs not by virtue of his status as a Bishop but in his own private capacity. And from which woman was it that Monsignor Billard agreed to receive a legacy? From a mad woman, an hysteric who was prone to all kinds of eccentricities and extravagances and who made remarks which were often totally devoid of moral sense. To convince oneself one has only to look at the newspaper La Dépêche de Toulouse, in the issue of 5 November 1896, in which one will find the reasons invoked by Messieurs BUSCAILLON* and ALEGRE* for believing in the insanity of the testatrix and supporting their request to nullify the will. You would have to be besotted with money and to a pretty indelicate extent, especially if you were a Bishop, to allow yourself to receive such a legacy. In fact you have to be hungering after money. When Monsignor Billard told the Ministry of Religion that he preferred a little less money and a little more self-respect he was obviously just posing.
6. The punishments of God - when Madame C de H, the testatrix, died of a stroke on 15 April 1891 and the will became known, Monsignor Billard was himself struck with his first seizure. When the husband of Madame C de H died and the Bishop was going to pocket a first instalment of 500,000 francs from his business agent, Monsignor Billard was afflicted with a second seizure. You may say: pure coincidence, just chance. But what would St. Thomas Aquinas have to say about it, who says that chance is the work of God, that there is no such thing as coincidence? What will you reply? And for my part I say that it is a punishment from God. And Monsignor Billard had not reached the end of his punishments. The greatest representative of God on Earth, the Pope, the Vicar of Jesus Christ, would strike him down in his turn. He struck him down with three months suspension for having administered the funds of the Diocese in a most irregular fashion and for having contracted staggering debts, which nothing could justify. This is what was said in his Diocese. One cannot be sure, not having read the terms of the suspension, but we can say that the Monsignor was not punished unjustly. The pontifical rescript suspending Monsignor Billard from celebrating Holy Mass and from performing any act of episcopal jurisdiction reached him at Azille. Monsignor Billard received a registered letter from Rome containing the prohibition while Monsieur Fournier* received another registered letter informing him that His Holiness granted him spiritual jurisdiction over all the diocese, both inwardly and outwardly, as the Bishop no longer had any jurisdictional power. When the Bishop read the terms of his suspension he turned deathly pale, said he felt ill, returned immediately to Carcassonne and, so that the secretaries and the domestic staff back at the Bishops Palace would not see that he had not said Mass, left for Rouen on the pretext that he would recover more quickly in the North because the climate was fresher. But Monsieur Fournier, who had a wagging tongue, discreetly told several of his friends who, in their turn, once again acted with the greatest discretion by passing the news on to their friends. It is said that Rome, in notifying him of his suspension, also condemned him to make restitution or reparation and to pay against the legacy due to be received from Madame C de H the sum of 200,000 francs for the building of the Church in Prouille*.
Finally, the last and worst punishment that God visited upon him was for him to die completely abandoned by God and men. In his final hour not a single priest stood by his deathbed, nor even a domestic servant to show him the Crucifix, the last hope of the dying. He died like a common criminal: without the Last Sacraments, without Extreme Unction, without the plenary indulgence of the dying, without the slightest blessing, without the least word of support and consolation. You would think they would have brought a bed into his room and asked a secretary or a domestic servant to sleep there until the fatal event came, but no one at the Bishops Palace thought of taking such measures because God wanted him to die like this.
Monsignor Billard therefore went to the grave loaded down with all his cares and regrets as he had left none behind. And it was not too soon that he left this Earth - what good was he doing down here anyway? He did not feed the sheep, he only fleeced them. May he rest in peace! Perhaps the diocese will also rest in peace now too.
Paziols, 25 December 1901