Conservative Catholics in the United States frequently bemoan what they perceive as the excessive liberalism of their Church in this country. I have been consoling them for years with the assurance that they have it easy, compared with their coreligionists in our neighbor to the north, and especially in the province of Quebec. La Belle Province, as recently as 60 years ago, was a stronghold of conservative Catholicism, in which the Catholic Church wielded a great deal of clout in political affairs — but, as tends to happen in places where religion has too much power in the secular sphere, a reaction set in that was ferociously anticlerical. In Quebec, the Church responded by veering left.
Consider this news-service story, headlined “Canadians pack Quebec cathedral for funeral of Father Raymond Gravel.” It begins: “St. Charles Borromeo Cathedral was packed as Bishop Gilles Lussier and several priests concelebrated the funeral of Father Raymond Gravel, an outspoken social activist and advocate for Quebec independence.” And it goes on to describe how the late Father Gravel, who had been an elected member of Canada’s Parliament for two years, was loaded with honors in death as he had been in life. Internet homages flowed; politicians and journalists praised him; the mayor of Montreal ordered the city’s flag to be flown at half-staff. (He had been a chaplain to firefighters; even before his death the firefighters had named a building in his honor.)
While he declared his personal opposition to abortion, Father Gravel was an outspoken advocate of abortion rights, and publicly excoriated Quebec’s (and Canada’s) primate, Marc Cardinal Ouellet, for defending the Catholic Church’s position on abortion. In anop-ed in the newspaper Le Trait d’Union, Gravel pointed out that 94 percent ofQuebecers disagreed with the cardinal. This latter fact illustrates what I was saying above about the religious and cultural changes in Quebec over the past half-century. It also makes me bristle at the comment of a Radio Canada journalist quoted in the wire-service story: “Raymond said out loud the things that many Quebecers thought but didn’t dare express.” Yes, saying out loud what 94 percent of one’s fellow citizens believe really makes one a profile in courage.
Cardinal Ouellet took the courageous position in defense of Church teaching and he was excoriated not only by Fr Gravel but by the mainstream media. He was even called an ayatollah and one columnist wished him a slow and painful death. Thankfully, a major shift in the episcopacy in Quebec has been underway since 2010 when His Eminence was named Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.