Gabriel Garcia Moreno--Regenerator of Ecuador - Mrs. Maxwell Scott

The Reunion of Ecuador with the Holy See

The moment had now come for the President's supreme task—that of endeavoring, after thirty years of Revolution, to unite Ecuador to the Holy See. In the early days the Spanish Kings—in view of the great distance and the difficulty of communication—had obtained numberless ecclesiastical privileges from the Sovereign Pontiffs relative to Church property and the appointment of Bishops, etc. Little by little the power of the King was substituted for that of the Pope and of Canon law, which resulted in some abuses and conflicts, but as the Kings sincerely desired the good of their subjects not much harm ensued.

It was, however, quite different when revolution and anarchy took the place of rightful authority. As we have seen, religion was openly persecuted, all previous laws were trampled underfoot, with the result that the State ruled the Church as despot, disposing as it wished of Church patronage and property, interfering in the most sacred matters, and practicing in short the favorite freemason dogma, "the subordination of the Church to the State."

It was to remedy this deplorable state of affairs that Moreno had solicited the authorization of Congress to conclude a Concordat with the Holy See. Without entering into all the details of his plan, he sketched briefly for the Assembly the main objects desired. "In order," he said, "that religion with all its blessings should exercise its influence over social life, it is necessary that the Church should march side by side with the Civil Power under conditions of true independence. Instead of absorbing or contradicting her, the State should limit itself to protecting her in a just and efficacious manner. Therefore, let there be no further interference by the Civil Power in the nomination of Priests, secular or religious, and you will cease to see unworthy Priests taking the place of really apostolic men to the great prejudice of Religion and Society. Appeals from Ecclesiastical Tribunals to secular judges will likewise cease; then let us organize Colleges, Seminaries, Missions, so that the social influence of the Clergy may respond to their high calling."

To attain the great end before him, it was necessary to find a suitable person to negotiate with the Holy See, and in Don Ignacio Ordonez, Archdeacon of Cuenca, Moreno found the man he sought. This admirable young priest had been sent to France towards the close of 1861 to bring over some of the Religious who were to found the new schools. From France he had passed on to Rome, where, to his great surprise, he received from his Government a missive naming him Minister Plenipotentiary of Ecuador to the Holy See, with mission to negotiate the proposed Concordat. His first thought was to decline a responsibility for which he felt insufficiently prepared, but in an interview with Pius IX the latter encouraged him with the greatest kindness. "As a Priest," he said, "you must know what are the rights of the Church; and as an Ecuadorian, the needs of your country; besides, you are provided with the instructions of your President, what more do you need?" adding, with a charming smile, "Must one then be a Metternich to treat with Pius IX?"

Moreno's instructions were absolutely simple and straightforward. He began by stating that the Government of Ecuador had not the temerity to petition for Concessions from the Holy Father, but humbly begged him to bring to an end, by the measures he thought most efficacious, the evils which devastated the country. "Our Plenipotentiary will manifest the state of our ecclesiastical affairs to the Holy See, as a sick person describes his sufferings to the physician from whom he hopes for cure"; and then follows a statement of the evils which oppressed Ecuador.

After six months of discussion, the preparatory Concordat ad referendum was signed , on October 26th, 1862, by Cardinal Antonelli, the Pope's Secretary of State, and by Don Ignacio Ordonez as representing Ecuador. The chief points were as follow:

"Education in every branch will be modeled on the principles of the Catholic Church.

"The Church will exercise without let or hindrance full power to possess and administer her property.

"The Sovereign Pontiff will have power to communicate with his bishops and the faithful without State interference.

"The Church grants to the President of the Republic the right of presentation to vacant bishoprics."

The plan of the Concordat being thus decided, it was arranged that the solemn exchange of signatures should take place at Quito, and Pius IX sent thither as Apostolic Delegate Mgr. Tavani, who bore an autograph letter from His Holiness to the President congratulating him on his profound devotion to the Holy See, his ardent zeal for the interests of the Catholic Church, and exhorting him to uphold with all his strength her full liberty and the diffusion of her divine teaching on which depends the peace and happiness of nations."

Moreno had for Pius IX not only the affection of a loyal son of the Church, but also a personal devotion and deep sympathy for the trials he was now undergoing. When he received the papal Ambassador he could not restrain the expression of his indignation against the enemies of the Church. After declaring his thankfulness to Almighty God, and to the Pope for the singular blessing conferred by the granting of the Concordat he continued,

"I beg you to transmit to the Holy Father our sentiments of gratitude, and tell him that we Ecuadorians, as Catholics in soul and heart, are not, and cannot be, insensible to the attacks made on the Holy See and its Temporal Sovereignty, that indispensable condition of its liberty and independence as it is also of the peace and civilization of the world. Tell him that if we are unable to raise a rampart against the impiety and ingratitude of some, the cowardice and indifference of others, it is our privilege at least to raise our voice in condemnation of the crime and to point out the criminal. Tell him in conclusion that, united to him still more closely in these stormy times, we who live on the summit of the Andes and by the shores of the ocean, ever pray for our Father. We beg that God will bring to an end the sorrows that afflict him, and feel the consoling conviction that these days of trial will soon pass, for if for the present evil triumphs, God reserves the future to Himself."

On April 22nd, 1863, the Concordat was solemnly promulgated in Quito, and in all the cities of Ecuador. In the Capital the great ceremony took place in the Cathedral. After the Pontifical High Mass the President and Mgr. Tavani signed the Concordat, which was read aloud to the people. During the singing of the Te Deum, which was accompanied by salvos of artillery, the Papal flag and that of Ecuador were placed side by side, thus symbolizing to the eyes of all present the union which should in future exist between Church and State.

Garcia Moreno


This occasion may be regarded, perhaps, as the happiest in Moreno's checkered career. He saw realized at last the great and noble wish of his life, and before the storms broke afresh he must have had a moment of peace and of hope for his country's future. "By this act of Christian polity," says his biographer, "an act unique in the history of modern nations, Moreno stands above all statesmen since St. Louis . . . alone amidst the fatal current of Liberalism which sweeps kings and peoples into the abyss, he gave back to his country true liberty by placing her once more under the guidance of Almighty God."

Soon after the promulgation of the Concordat a National Council met at Quito to prescribe the necessary ecclesiastical reforms, and the President strongly urged upon the bishops to see that the rules laid down by it were fully carried out. "On my part," he said, "I will do all in my power to assist you. Your decisions shall be respected, but it is for you to judge and punish the guilty"; and when the good Archbishop expressed some alarm on the subject of the repression of abuses, "what does it matter," exclaimed Moreno, "one must sacrifice one's life if God wishes it, for the honor of His Church. I will not suffer it, be sure, that anyone shall be wanting in his duty."

Amidst the proposed reforms, the increase of bishoprics was specially desired. Pius IX, when a young priest, had visited several parts of South America, where the immense extent of the Republics and the distance between the cities had convinced him that the number of Dioceses was far too small: speaking one day on this subject to Don Ignacio Ordonez he remarked, "your zealous President desires to regenerate his country, and also to multiply its population by recalling emigrants from different European countries: Tell him that to succeed he must erect Crosses. Wherever a Cross is set up a small population gathers round it, were it even on the summit of Chimborazo. Your dioceses are too large for one man to administer. We will create three new bishoprics, and we will make mention of this project in an Article of the Concordat. You have no power in this matter, but I know Garcia Moreno; tell him that the Pope wishes it, and that will suffice."

When Moreno heard of the Holy Father's intention, he was enchanted and, calling his ministers together, he said to them: "It is Almighty God who suggests this idea to us through His Vicar—we must realize it without delay."

The municipalities of Ibarra, Riobamba, and Lima, the towns selected for the proposed bishoprics, received the news with enthusiasm, and a few days later Moreno, who never lost time, sent off the topographical plans of the new dioceses to the Holy Father. Measures such as these were hailed with joy by the good Catholics of Ecuador, but, as was to be expected, the President was the victim of a perfect torrent of abuse from the Liberal and Radicals. Moreno let them talk and calmly continued to support the work of regeneration to the utmost of his power.