By Elishama |

I must confess that the topic I will speak on today makes me uncomfortable. I suspect it must make you uncomfortable as well to hear me speak about it. For I want to address the scandal that continues to rock our Church: reports of clergy who sexually abused minors.

We have all been reeling this last month with the revelation that former Cardinal Archbishop Theodore McCarrick sexually abused a minor and later seminarians and priests; that fellow bishops knew about it but did nothing; and that it did not even prevent his being promoted.

We have also heard about a Grand Jury Report in Pennsylvania which found that over a period of seventy years 301 priests, deacons and religious in six dioceses were accused of abusing over 1,000 minors (by “minors” they mean anyone under the age of 18).

And most recently (and locally) we have heard again about Fr. Barry McGrory, who claims that he admitted to former Archbishop Joseph-Aurèle Plourde that he was sexually addicted, attracted to adolescent boys and girls, and asked for help. Instead, he says, he was transferred to Toronto to head an organization that supported the northern missions – only to be convicted in 1993 of sexually assaulting a 17-year old Native boy. There are at least five other persons who have accused him of abuse in incidences that go back to the 1960s and 1970s.

So, what am I to say? What can I say!

First, I want to extend my deepest sorrow and apologies to the victims of the sexual abuse that has occurred in the Church; to them and their family members who suffer with them. My heart goes out to you. Such abuse can destroy faith, can destroy lives. Their suffering needs to be addressed. They need to be heard. Justice needs to be done.

My heart also goes out to all of you, dear parishioners, who have probably had your own faith tested by these continuing revelations and who may have to deal with family, friends or colleagues who challenge or ridicule your fidelity to the Church in the light of this scandal. It makes it harder to be joyous or proud to be Catholic.

I also sympathize with innocent clergy who are now viewed with suspicion and even maligned for things of which they had no part.

Like you I get frustrated, ashamed, and angry that this abuse has occurred and that for decades those to whom many victims turned, the leaders of the Church, our shepherds, frequently failed to deal adequately with the problem, have not infrequently protected the perpetrators, or sometimes been perpetrators themselves.

As Archbishop Terrence Prendergast recently said: “The scandal affects us all…. How can this not upset us? It involves a betrayal of trust and it wounds the hearts of Christians everywhere who hear the pain of the victims and question the integrity of the enablers who did not intervene.”

This whole scandal seriously undermines the sacred mission of the Church, entrusted to Her by Christ Himself, to proclaim the Gospel to the entire world and to sanctify souls. For although priests and bishops are merely human beings (and the Church is bigger than just them), nonetheless they have a God-given authority and mission, are the public face of the Church, and are meant to be, in the words of St Paul, “ambassadors for Christ.”

A bit of history. The revelations of clerical sexual abuse first came to public attention in the United States back in the mid-1980s, most notably with the case of a Louisiana priest who pled guilty to 11 counts of molestation of boys. But it began to encompass the entire American Church after the Boston Globe published its famous 2002 expose.

As revelations of clerical sexual abuse surfaced across the nation, the USCCB commissioned an independent study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice as to the nature and scope of the problem. In 2004 the John Jay Report was released. It is the most comprehensive study on child sexual abuse of any major organization ever conducted. The Report found that 11,000 allegations of sexual abuse of a minor (that is to say, someone under 18 years of age) had been made against 4,400 priests and deacons serving in the US between 1950 and 2002. That was about 4% of all clergy in the US during that period. Shockingly, 149 priests were responsible for almost 27% of all the allegations!

Of the more than 4,000 substantiated victims that the John Jay Report investigated, 19% were female and 81% were male. Of the male victims 77% were between the ages of 11 and 17, 13% were 10 years of age or younger. On average female victims tended to be younger than the male victims.

Whereas in the general population adolescent victims of sexual abuse are overwhelmingly female, the pattern among American Catholic clergy is quite the opposite. The majority of their adolescent victims were male.

The vast majority of the abuse cases found in the John Jay Report occurred from the mid-1960's to the mid-1980's. They peaked in the 1970’s and then began to decline. By the 1990’s the reported incidents of abuse were back to 1950’s levels.

In Canada the scandal erupted in 1988 with allegations of widespread physical and sexual abuse of children at Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John’s, Newfoundland, run by the Congregation of Christian Brothers. The next year similar allegations were made against another facility run by the Christian Brothers: St. Joseph's Training School for boys in Alfred, Ontario, in the Archdiocese of Ottawa. Soon allegations against individual priests of the Ottawa Archdiocese began to surface. In all eleven priests of the Archdiocese have been accused and seven convicted of sexual abuse against minors.

Since then clerical abuse scandals have arisen in many other countries; notably Ireland, Australia and Chile.

I wish I could say we are over the worst of this whole tragic episode. I don’t know, but I doubt it. Other American states will likely follow suit with Pennsylvania in setting up their own Grand Jury Investigations. Maybe similar type investigations will commence here in Canada? Other nations have still to begin, or to dig more deeply, into this whole matter. I think we will be hearing more about abuse scandals in the future.

While such a prospect is very troubling, I believe it also very good. Why? Because these things happened in the dark, they receive their power from the dark, and will continue as long as they remain hidden in the dark. But the light exposes them and ends their power. The light is stronger than the darkness. So, we must bring this evil to the light so that it may be faced and destroyed, and Jesus may heal.

I also think it is very good because all this can lead to a purification of the Church. It is a means by which Christ can cleanse His Temple, wash clean His Bride, and make Her beautiful once more. But it will not be pleasant thing to go through. The Resurrection will only happen after the Crucifixion.

And as this purification occurs many good Catholics may be tempted to give up in despair and disgust. It is understandable. But what should we do? We should look to Jesus and make the words of St. Peter our own: “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.”

I firmly believe that Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church, founded it to bring His revelation and His salvation to the world. The Church is His Kingdom on earth. He is the sower, it is His Field. There may be weeds in the field planted by the Enemy but there is also a great deal of wheat. There is more goodness in the Church than evil.

So, we must cling to our faith. But we need to remember that our faith is not in priests, not in bishops, not even in popes. Our faith is in Jesus Christ. We need to keep our eyes on Him. He is the one that founded the Church. He is the one that promised the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.

This is a time of trial for all Catholics. The Church may become weaker and smaller but it is the Body of Christ. It cannot be destroyed, it will survive.

So, in this ongoing time of trial each one of us must make a conscious decision. A decision much like the one the Apostles had to make when Christ was suffering His Passion: were they going to remain faithful to Christ all the way up to Calvary or were they going to run away? You and I now have to make that same decision: stay or flee. Are we going to persevere with our fellow practicing Catholics through this long Good Friday? Or are we going to leave?

What has happened and what is happening is horrific, tragic and disgusting, but the Church is not the only place where such things happen. They happen in many secular institutions too but are little reported because still largely hidden in the dark.

St. Peter speaks to this in his First Letter: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Pt 4:17). This cleansing is only starting with the Church - because the Church desperately needs to be cleansed.

So, this is not a time to fall into despair. It is not something we should run away from. We need to remain faithful. We need to continue to pray, to fast, and to gather together. We are going to go through some hard times but we have the promise of resurrection.

No matter what happens remain faithful to Christ. Remain close to Him in the Eucharist. Give encouragement to your brothers or sisters in Christ who may be close to giving up. We will get through this together! But, especially remain faithful to Christ by becoming the saint He calls you to be.

By Paul Malvern |

Learning from Each Other

Islam is a difficult topic for many people to discuss in a rational manner – in large measure due to the strong opinions held by partisans on all sides of the issue. For example, for some Muslims, it is nothing short of blasphemy to discuss their religion with others in any way that does not recognize it as the last and perfect revelation from God. Then too, many Christians view Islam as inherently violent and an existential threat to their faith which must be resisted at all costs. And for those secularists who have an animus toward Christianity, accusations of Islamophobia represent a heaven-sent chance to engage in some good old-fashioned virtue signaling.

And then there are the terrorist attacks – which horrify everyone.

In such an emotion-charged atmosphere, discussing in any dispassionate way the world’s second biggest religion which boasts some 1.8 billion followers1 is challenging at best. To my mind this is a great pity since both Muslims and non-Muslims can learn a great deal from each other. And indeed a great deal of mutually beneficial knowledge transfer has occurred over the last 1400 years.

One good example must surely be the contact between Muhammed and the Christian monk, Bahira, (aka Sergius) who is said to have had a significant impact on the founder of Islam – and whom a number of scholars believe may have been responsible for the inclusion of those elements in the Qur’an that are close to Christian teachings.2 (Sadly for Christians, this particular monk was also a member of a heretical Christian sect – possibly Arianism or Nestorianism – which has caused difficulties for Christians ever since.) Later on, Christians continued to influence the early history of Islam – one very good example being the work of Christian intellectuals and administrators in Iraq who were held in high esteem by Muslim rulers following their invasion of that country. For, having a greater level of education and more administrative experience than their newly arrived Muslim rulers, they continued to teach at universities and other educational institutions and hold senior administrative positions in the new regimes.

For their part, Muslim scholars and scientists played an important role in enriching the knowledge-base of medieval Europe through their own research and through their work in transmitting the writings of classical Roman and Greek authors to Western Europe, where these manuscripts formed the foundation of European knowledge in the areas of science and medicine up until the Enlightenment.

Even now there is much that Christians and Muslims can learn from each other. For example, the West has a vast storehouse of scientific and technological knowledge that can be of great benefit to the Muslim world. And it has much to teach Islam about the importance of tolerance and protecting the rights of minorities (lessons learned in the West through hard experience over the last millennium) which could temper some of the worst human rights abuses seen in a number of Muslim countries. For their part Islam’s greatest minds have much to teach the West particularly in such areas as the centrality of God in human society and the importance of following His laws and trusting in Him – lessons which many in the West have rejected, much to their detriment.

Ibn Khaldun – A Universal Genius

One of those great minds must surely be the 14th century historian, sociologist, jurist, teacher, and statesman, Ibn Khaldun, whose magnificent work, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, has much to teach us about human society even today.

My own introduction to this remarkable man and his ideas occurred when I was studying Arabic in Tunis, the city of his birth, where one of the streets near where I lived was named after him. During my time there, I heard frequent mention of the man and his many accomplishments – which is hardly surprising since Tunisians of all political and religious stripes are rightly proud of this great scholar. And well they might be, given the deep insights contained in his writings and the breadth of his vision of human society which transcends time, place and culture. For this was a man who in his role as a statesman and a jurist active in many quite different countries across the Muslim world saw firsthand what works and what doesn’t work in human society and government.

Much of what he has written and which has been written about his life reveals a complex and thoughtful man who was well placed to comment on the world of his time, given his close association with many of the key figures in Spain, North Africa, and the Middle East. Of special interest were his lengthy discussions with the Mongol Emperor, Tamerlane (aka Timur), whose empire stretched from India to what is now Turkey and who was responsible for killing 5% of those human beings living at the time.3 This close contact with the great military and political figures of his time provided him with deep insights into the nature of power, the functioning of societies, economies and political systems, and the stages of development through which nations and empires pass before eventually succumbing to their own vices, foolishness and internal contradictions. From his writings, it is clear that he used these encounters to great effect. And his detailed observations and his insistence upon employing a rigorous analytical methodology have caused many to call him the father of both sociology and economics.

Unlocking the Code

Of course, for many in the contemporary West the idea of reading the work of a long dead Muslim historian who lived in a very different time and place may seem daunting, if not ludicrous. After all, what can such a person possibly say of value to those of us living in the technologically advanced West? Well, quite a lot really! For while technology changes, human beings do not – which means that their motivations, behaviour and errors remain very much the same, no matter what the state of technological development might be.

Even so there is a bit of cultural translation that is required for Western readers dipping into Ibn Khaldun’s thought. One such problem involves the many names, places and events cited in his book plus some of the specialized terms he uses. Coming as they do from the Arabic, Persian or Berber languages, these can be a bit daunting for those not previously exposed to these languages. In my experience, one of the best ways to address this difficulty is by simply glossing over such names and words – very much as people do when reading Dostoevsky’s novels. For what most readers are interested in are the concepts, not the nitty-gritty of North African, Arab, or Persian politics and linguistics in the 14th century.

Another much more important problem involves an issue which lies very much at the heart of Ibn Khaldun’s historical analysis – namely, the conflict between affluent city dwellers and those barbaric or semi-civilized tribes living on the periphery of civilization. Living in the 14th century Islamic world where nomadic tribes (e.g. Bedouin) could be found living close to many settled population centers, such a tension would have been obvious. However, for those of us living in the industrialized West, such a tension may not be instantly apparent. Still, before we dismiss this concept out of hand, it is important to note that for much of human history this tension has been a more or less universal reality. And indeed this conflict is a matter that many historians continue to discuss – the most famous being the great historian, Arnold Toynbee, who refers to these groups of poor and sometimes violent people living on the border of rich countries and empires as the ‘external proletariat’. While Toynbee is talking about largely the same phenomenon as Ibn Khaldun (namely, masses of poor people looking enviously at societies that resemble huge treasure troves of poorly guarded wealth), his term for the phenomenon has a more familiar ring to those who have studied sociology or been exposed to the ideas of the Left. And it’s safe to say that this particular concept now seems more credible than it used to in light of daily news reports dealing with the masses of poverty-stricken migrants flooding into Europe, the United States and now Canada. All of which suggests that our current world may not be all that different from that of Ibn Khaldun.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the key concepts in Ibn Khaldun’s vision of human history and how they may apply to the world in which we live.

Ibn Khaldun’s Great Work – An Introduction to History

While Ibn Khaldun’s literary and scholarly output encompassed a wide array of topics ranging from logic, to theology, law, and the history of the Arab and Berber peoples, the book for which he is best known must surely be his multivolume work, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, which attempts to track the history of the world as he understood it up to the time of writing. The power of this masterpiece, which weaves together philosophy, psychology, sociology, economics and history, to reach across the centuries and national borders is shown by the wide array of intellectuals and public figures who have sung its praises. This includes such famous individuals as former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, economist Arthur Laffer, science fiction author Frank Herbert and British philosopher Robert Flint. One of his greatest admirers, historian Arnold Toynbee, declared Ibn Khaldun’s book to be, “undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever yet been created by any mind in any time or place.”4

The Task of the Historian

Part of the book’s success lies in Ibn Khaldun’s vision of what history is and how historians should undertake the writing of history. In the world in which he lived, many – if not most - historians confined themselves to chronicling dynasties, rulers, and important events. For Ibn Khaldun, this approach was a sterile exercise which missed the most important point about history – namely, that it is about people and how they behave both as individuals and as members of society. Given this understanding, he held that historians should seek to explain the underlying economic, societal and cultural forces that cause events to unfold as they do. And since the study of history embraces all of life, he believed that it should draw upon a wide range of disciplines to discover the forces that drive human history.5

The Importance of Group Cohesion

One such powerful force that played a central role in Ibn Khaldun’s thinking was what he calls Asabiyyah – a difficult term to translate into English which can be roughly thought of as unity, group cohesion, a sense of common purpose, social solidarity … or all of the above.

According to Ibn Khaldun, possessing a strong sense of social solidarity and a common purpose has over the ages allowed many weak, less-advanced, and numerically smaller groups of people to conquer large, rich, powerful and technologically advanced nations that have become decadent and corrupt. For having lost their sense of social solidarity and group cohesion, such wealthy nations become soft and lack courage and patriotism – thus fatally weakening their will to fight and their ability to defend themselves. To support this thesis he points to a very striking incident in history where a small, ill-equipped Arab army, whose members possessed a powerful sense of group cohesion due to their shared religion and common desert origins, was able to defeat a much larger and better equipped Persian army with a weaker sense of group identity.

Recent history suggests that this principle continues to be valid today. Take for instance the defeat of Soviet forces in Afghanistan which were forced to withdraw from that country in the face of dogged resistance by ragtag bands of ill-equipped guerillas often armed with little more than rifles and grenades. Or the experience of American forces in Vietnam which, while vastly superior in equipment and technological prowess, suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of a much less sophisticated army made up largely of peasants.

Of course, the power of group cohesion is not restricted just to the realm of warfare. For it can also operate in the realm of politics – as seen time and again these days in Europe and North America where minorities and small, cohesive and highly motivated groups of people daily exercise influence far out of proportion to their numbers. Good examples include the powerful influence exercised by African-American politicians at all levels of government in the United State and the remarkable ability of Quebec to impact the Canadian national agenda. Even more striking is the disproportionate influence enjoyed by small, cohesive groups of LGBT and feminist activists - not infrequently with funding from wealthy donors and with the full support of our political and judicial elites - who have succeeded in overturning centuries-old customs and laws dealing with marriage, adoption and abortion, often contrary to the wishes of the great majority of the population.

The Rise and Fall of Regimes, Nations and Empires

Of particular interest is Ibn Khaldun’s use of the concept of Asabiyyah in explaining the rise and fall of regimes, nations and empires. According to Ibn Khaldun, nations go through stages of life similar to those experienced by human beings. They are born. They mature. They grow old and become senile. And then they die – only to be replaced by others.

At the heart of this societal or dynastic life cycle, he believes, is the strength of group consciousness, which he views as critical to the health and survival of nations. For as he points out, “Group feeling produces the ability to defend oneself, to offer opposition, to protect oneself, and to press one’s claims. Whoever loses it is too weak to do any of these things.”6 Unfortunately for nations and dynasties and those who live in them, group feeling varies in strength over time. Initially, when power is first seized, it is at its height. Over time it declines, as those in power become more individualistic, self-centered and corrupt. Eventually this group feeling and sense of solidarity becomes so weak that citizens and their rulers lack the courage and will to defend themselves and their state. At this latter stage those disenfranchised or external groups who possess strong group consciousness and a sense of common purpose seize the reins of power and the cycle begins again.

In Ibn Khaldun’s view, the strongest and purest form of group cohesion exists among nomads (or the ‘external proletariat’ to use Toynbee’s term) – because such people are forced to maintain close ties with those around them if they are to survive. And because they live in a very challenging environment, they are forced to become tough and courageous. (In part, I suppose, because they have little to lose by dying in battle.) Once in power these people and their descendants change for the worst over a number of generations (usually about three) and the cycle of history begins yet again.

The Sociological Critique

In Ibn Khaldun’s view, as successive generations become more and more accustomed to wealth, material comfort, and sedentary living, they also become less noble, less virtuous, less honest and more interested in the pleasures of life. And for him one particularly troubling expression of this phenomenon is a general decline in morality.

One area in which he detects such a trend is the economic sphere where people are now willing to do whatever it takes (no matter how dishonest or corrupt) to get the money needed to support their increasingly sophisticated lifestyle. Over time this reaches the point where, “People are now devoted to lying, gambling, cheating, fraud, theft, perjury, and usury.”7 While this moral laxity may initially be limited to relatively small numbers of especially greedy or unethical people, it quickly spreads to the population as a whole as competition for wealth increases and as people “adopt the qualities of their environment and company.”8

This growing wealth of society also disposes people more and more toward pleasure-seeking and overindulgence. While this may initially take the form of trying out new culinary delights, he also believes that it eventually expands to the “diversification of the pleasure of sex through various ways of sexual intercourse, such as adultery and homosexuality”.9 In Ibn Khaldun’s view these new forms of sexual expression come at a cost to society. For example, adultery results in confusion as to who the father of a child might be – with the result that “the natural compassion a man feels for his children and his feeling of responsibility for them is lost.”10 And homosexuality denies society those children who might otherwise have been born and who as adults would have contributed to the general well-being.

However, most troubling of all is the fact that this growing affluence also corrupts religion – which in Ibn Khaldun’s view has a profoundly negative impact on a nation. For as he points out, “When the strength of a man and then his character and religion are corrupted, his humanity is corrupted, and he becomes, in effect, transformed into an animal.”11

The Economic Critique

Judging from the lengths to which Ibn Khaldun goes in discussing economic issues in his multivolume work, he clearly believes that money plays a powerful role in influencing human behaviour and determining the fate of regimes and nations.

One of his most significant economic insights is that raising tax rates beyond a certain point actually reduces tax revenues while reducing tax rates spurs economic activity, thus increasing tax revenues overall. While such a phenomenon may seem counterintuitive to contemporary ‘tax and spend’ politicians, it has in recent years become widely accepted by many economists – with its theoretical foundations best explained by the now famous ‘Laffer Curve’ developed by American economist, Arthur Laffer. A good example of this can be seen currently in the United States where a potent combination of tax cuts, reduced regulation and the repatriation of manufacturing facilities has caused growth and employment to skyrocket. This ability of tax cuts to power growth and increase tax revenues was recently underlined by statistics from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office which show that tax revenues for the first half of 2018 were $76 billion higher (a 9% jump) than those seen in the same period for 2017 - even though income tax rates were reduced in February of this year. This was supported by the Treasury Department which stated that it expects federal income tax revenues to continue to exceed last year’s figures for the rest of this year.12

Of course, this was not the only arrow in Ibn Khaldun’s economic quiver, for he also explored what happens when governments get overly involved in the functioning of the marketplace.

One such case involves the situation that occurs when a government or ruler becomes directly involved in the marketplace as an actual participant – an act he considers highly undesirable given its potential for harming the economy as a whole as well as the citizens who depend on it.

For example, because governments have much more money at their disposal, they can easily outbid private businesses when purchasing the resources, products and services needed to run a successful operation. And the power possessed by rulers and governments allows them to buy goods, resources and other assets at the lowest possible price - or even to expropriate them by force if necessary. Also, not wishing to offend those in power, many private sector businesses will be afraid to bid against their rulers or governments and may feel obliged to buy goods from them at an inflated price – goods which they may have to resell later on at a lower price due to poor market conditions. Plagued by these and many other aspects of unfair competition, a number of businesses will be forced into bankruptcy – which will in turn reduce the tax revenues received by fiscal authorities. Faced with lower tax receipts, governments may then succumb to the temptation to raise tax rates to make up the shortfall in tax revenues – which may in turn further reduce tax revenues for the reasons outlined above.

Finally, it is clear that Ibn Khaldun was a strong defender of property rights since he believed that attacks on private property represent an injustice which can bring about the ruin of a nation. He reasoned that attacks on people’s property remove their incentive to own and improve property – especially if they believe they are likely to have it taken away at some point in the future. And when the assets in question are commercial ones, this is particularly serious since it could negatively impact business activity. For the possibility of seizure would discourage people from setting up businesses – which in turn would reduce employment and take away people’s ability to provide for themselves and their families. When this happens, “the business of civilization slumps and everything decays.”13

Summing Up

These then are just a few of the important insights which this great Islamic thinker has passed on to us - insights that continue to be relevant even today. For example, the link he draws between great wealth and the decline in the moral fibre of a nation, patriotism, and religious feeling must surely give all of us pause to consider as we watch the world around us. And his observations on the impact of ‘tax and spend’ policies on the ability of citizens to provide for themselves and their families plus his defence of property rights should give all of us reason to be concerned as we watch governments of all political stripes continuing to pile up debt as if there were no tomorrow.

Still, while none of this makes for very happy learning, it nevertheless is learning that must be undertaken. For as the great philosopher George Santayana reminds us, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Ibn Khaldun has done us a great service by telling us what worked and didn’t in his world. We can return that kindness by taking these lessons from the past and applying them to our current world in hopes of making it a better place for those who will follow us.




[1]  Pew Research Center. Muslims and Islam: Key findings in the U.S. and around the world. August 9, 2017. Retrieved from: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/08/09/muslims-and-islam-key-findings-in-the-u-s-and-around-the-world/

[2] “Bahira”. Wikipedia. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bahira

[3] Ed West. “The Islamic historian who can explain why some states fail and others succeed”. The Spectator. August 3, 2015. Retrieved from: https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2015/08/the-islamic-historian-who-can-explain-why-some-states-fail-and-others-succeed/

[4] “Ibn Khaldun”. New World Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Ibn_Khaldun#cite_note-0

[5] Fida Mohammad. “Ibn Khaldun’s Theory of Social Charge: A Comparison with Hegel, Marx and Durkheim”. The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences. Summer 1998. p.27.

[6] Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. [Abridged ed.] Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, [2005]. p.111.

[7] Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, [1967]. Vol.2. p.294.

[8] Ibid. p.294.

[9] Ibid. p.295.

[10] Ibid. p.296.

[11] Ibid. p.297.

[12] “Income Tax Revenues Are Up 9% This Year — Is Trump Tax Cut Paying For Itself?” Investor’s Business Daily. July 11, 2018. Retrieved from: https://www.investors.com/politics/editorials/income-tax-revenues-trump-tax-cuts-economic-growth/

[13] Op. cit. The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. [Abridged ed. 2005]. p.238.


Photo Attribution: Tunisian Community Center [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
Culture Witness |


Bishop Barron discusses Jordan Peterson's latest book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.


Here's an in depth analysis of Jordan Peterson's work. It's very good!


By Paul Malvern |

Revolutions are funny things. They start off promising a glorious future of freedom, equality and happiness – and frequently end up creating a world that is considerably less free, equal and happy than was previously the case under the old regime. Such would appear to be the likely end result of the Cultural Revolution currently raging though most Western, industrial countries. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the realm of freedom of thought, speech and conscience – basic freedoms that until recently were held to be the cornerstones of democracy. For while virtually everyone continues to pay lip service to these ideals, the truth is that each year seems to bring more and more restrictions on our ability to think, speak and live our lives as our consciences demand – with the result that these basic freedoms are now more honoured in the breech than the observance.

The Totalitarian Impulse

To begin with, it is important to note that antagonism toward these basic freedoms is by no means a new phenomenon. For truth to be told, people have deceived, manipulated and oppressed each other as long as there have been human beings on the planet. It is as if there is something hard-wired into the brains of the more aggressive members of our species that drives them to shade the truth as a way to make their way in the world. If that means telling lies to deceive and manipulate others, well, ok. If that means making false accusations or inventing events that never happened or crimes that were never committed, well that’s ok too. Or if it means denying the citizens of entire nations the God-given right to know the truth and live, speak and worship according to the dictates of their conscience, well, so much the worse for them. The important thing for such people is to get what they want, no matter how it impacts others.

The Historical Record

Up until a few centuries back, the ability to recast the thinking of whole nations according to one’s own vision of the truth was limited – in large measure because of the lack of communication vehicles capable of reaching large numbers of people spread over a wide geographic area. Even so it did happen occasionally, particularly in the case of religion – with both Christianity and Islam demonstrating the power of great ideas to mould the thinking and behaviour of huge swaths of the world’s population. Still, dramatic as these historical events were, examples of social and intellectual transformation on such a grand scale were few and far between – up until the introduction of printing in Europe in the 15th century by Johannes Gutenberg.

And that, as they say, changed everything. For it was not long thereafter that people found that this new mode of communications could be weaponized - a good example occurring during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) where Protestants and Catholics used this new communications technology in their struggle against each other for the hearts and minds of an entire continent. By the time they were finished, up to 11.5 million people were dead – clearly demonstrating the power of the printed word and the mayhem that can be unleashed when governments and rulers use force to violate freedom of conscience and religion.

But as horrifying as this loss of life and property was, even worse was yet to come later on when the focus of the totalitarian mindset passed from religion to politics. For a little over a hundred years later the militant atheists and secularists who formed the intellectual core of the French Revolution gave the world a powerful lesson in what can happen when propaganda and terror are applied at the national level in hopes of creating a secular heaven on earth. In just a few short years this secular heaven they were determined to impose on their follow citizens became a literal hell on earth engulfing almost all of Europe in a series of wars that only ended with Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo.

Even so, the totalitarian genie was now out of the bottle as more and more ideologues looked to the French Revolution as a model for how nations could be socially engineered to more closely resemble their own vision of a better world. Sadly, this drive to force one’s fellow human beings into a Procrustean bed of political and social virtue was to create quite the opposite of what these idealists had dreamed of – a fact clearly evident from the impressive body count that has piled up since then due to weaponized utopian fantasies. Hitler’s name comes quickly to mind – along with the 35 million deaths that resulted from the European phase of the Second World War that can be directly attributed to his handiwork. But to really get the big numbers you have to look at the death total resulting from the Communist experiments of the 20th Century – which may have been responsible for as many as 100 million deaths.1

With such a clear historical record of what all too often results from such misguided idealism, you would think that those in power around the world would have learned an important lesson – namely, that forcing the consciences of citizens and taking away their right to speak, think, and live as they see fit is a recipe for disaster. And so many did – at least for a while - as seen in the lofty principles contained in the Universal Declaration of Declaration of Human rights proclaimed in 1948 which among other things declared that everyone has the right to:
  • Life, liberty and security of person (Article 3); 
  • Freedom of thought, conscience and religion – and to manifest one’s religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance (Article 18); and
  • Freedom of opinion and expression – including the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers (Article 19).2
With noble sentiments such as these to live by you would think that the signatories – especially those countries with a long history of democratic government – would by now be glorious examples of freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and freedom of religious belief. And sadly you would be wrong. For, as we shall see, in recent decades there has been a trend in virtually every Western country to twist the original concept of human rights – i.e. a means of protecting citizens from governmental oppression and interference - into a vehicle for protecting governments and elites from their citizens.



Killing with Kindness – the Rise of Totalitarian Democracy

Of course part of the problem in thinking clearly about our current situation is that many of the concepts we might be tempted to use involve semantically-loaded words that evoke strong and instant emotional reactions. Words like ‘freedom’, ‘equality’, ‘choice’ and ‘autonomy’ evoke instant and positive emotional responses among most people – which is all the more noteworthy given the vastly different understandings people have of these terms. Similarly, words like ‘fascist’, ‘racist’ and ‘bigot’ are universally negative words (which no doubt explains why they are so frequently employed as rhetorical hand grenades to hurl at one’s political opponents). Finally, there are those terms which, while powerful, mean diametrically different things depending on which side of the partisan fence you find yourself. For example, ‘conservative’ is a positive term for those on the Right while for many on the Left it is an insult. Similarly, ‘socialism’ is a good thing for many on the Left and a synonym for ‘hell on earth’ for conservatives.

Sadly, the word ‘totalitarian’ also fits into the category of those words that nowadays seem to generate more heat than light. For while the word was originally simply a helpful term for use by political scientists in describing those systems of government which exercise powerful control over all aspects of the political, economic and social life of a nation, it has by now been misused so badly for so long as to be of very limited use in any rational discussion. Still you fight a war with the army you have and you analyze political systems with the rhetorical arsenal at your disposal – which is why I will continue use the term in spite of its limitations.

Part of the emotional loading of the word ‘totalitarian’ results from our memory of some of the worst regimes of the 20th Century which have been quite correctly labelled ‘totalitarian’. These include such monstrosities as Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and the Communist regimes of Central and Eastern Europe created following the end of the Second World War – the very mention of which evokes images of jackbooted storm troopers, cruel tyrants, concentration camps and armies marching off to war. Such mental images are far from helpful in analysing the current situation in the West. For while all too often accurate in the past, these tools for exercising control are no longer facets of regimes in the West, which – thanks to insights from social psychology and advances in communications technology – no longer require such crude instruments of power to manage and manipulate every aspect of the social, economic and intellectual life.

Recognizing the inadequacy of our understanding of totalitarianism, a number of historians and political scientists (both on the Left and Right) have coined the term “totalitarian democracy’ to describe those governments, which while seemingly democratic – given that elections are held – actually exclude the great mass of people from the decision-making process. Most notable among such academics is the late Israeli historian, Jacob Leib Talmon, who popularized the term in his book, The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy. In this book, he draws a sharp contrast between liberal democracy - which takes a pragmatic approach to politics and views many aspects of life as being outside the sphere of politics - and totalitarian democracy - which more closely resembles a secular religion animated by a form of political Messianism. Speaking of this messianic impulse, he notes that, “It recognizes ultimately only one plane of existence, the political. It widens the scope of politics to embrace the whole of human existence. It treats all human thought and action as having social significance, and therefore as falling within the orbit of political action. Its political ideas are not a set of pragmatic precepts or a body of devices applicable to a special branch of human endeavour. They are an integral part of an all-embracing and coherent philosophy. Politics is defined as the art of applying this philosophy to the organization of society, and the final purpose of politics is only achieved when this philosophy reigns supreme over all fields of life.3 While such governments may give lip service to freedom, they find it extremely difficult to reconcile individual freedom with their narrow vision of social justice. According to Talmon, this contradiction can only be resolved “by thinking not in terms of men as they are, but as they were meant to be, and would be, given the proper conditions. In so far as they are at variance with the absolute ideal they can be ignored, coerced or intimidated into conforming …4 So much for freedom of speech and conscience.

While Talmon’s comments nicely explain the ‘totalitarian’ portion of the term, the ‘democratic’ aspect is more complex, requiring a bit more explanation. For while such regimes are prepared to do pretty much whatever it takes to force their will upon their citizens, the reality is that no regime can base its rule for very long solely on force or repression. Ultimately, it must have the support of some segment of the population – at least initially – as well as some semblance of legitimacy. This is where elections come into the picture – providing as they do a democratic veneer to conceal the authoritarian reality lurking just below the surface. However, once elections are over, these regimes apply themselves to the all-important task of putting their utopian vision into practice, secure in the belief that they are the sole representatives of the people’s will – now and for the foreseeable future. Armed with this view of themselves and their sense of certainty as to the rightness of their cause, they press their will upon their citizens, tolerating no opposition and using whatever means of coercion are at their disposal. In the past, this involved crude propaganda, brute force and what amounted to state-sponsored terrorism waged against one’s own population. More recently, the emphasis has shifted more or less exclusively in favour of using the legal system to punish dissenters and criminalize politically incorrect speech, relying on a compliant (and at times complicit) media that can be counted on to parrot the ‘Party line’, indoctrinating the young in schools and universities, and using the full power of the state to reward supporters and marginalize or suppress those holding opposing views.

Dizzy with Success – The Progress of Totalitarian Democracy in the West

Back in 1930, Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, published a long essay in the Communist Party newspaper, Pravda, in which he condemned some of the excesses of the forced collectivization of Soviet agriculture – a policy conceived and implemented by him which is said to have killed some 12 million people. One such problem which he condemned involved the ‘ease’ with which collectivization had been achieved – noting that, “successes have their seamy side, especially when they are attained with comparative ‘ease’.5 He went on to add that, “such successes sometimes induce a spirit of vanity and conceit … People not infrequently become intoxicated by such successes; they become dizzy with success, lose all sense of proportion and the capacity to understand realities …6

Such a statement could be said to apply to the social engineers who have ruled most Western countries since the 1960s, driven as they are by a sense of moral superiority and their own special brand of political millennialism. Convinced of the purity of their motives and the rightness of their vision, these would be revolutionaries have literally turned their nations upside down, leaving in their wake a trail of cultural, societal and moral debris that will take decades to clear away – that is, if we can ever get rid of these ‘masters of the universe’.

For currently not one institution of any significance has been left unscathed. Marriage is a mess – with almost one-half of marriages ending in divorce in some jurisdictions. Children are suffering the emotional consequences of growing up in single-parent families. Intergenerational warfare is being waged against young people leaving school, who find it increasingly difficult to get a good full-time job, who cannot afford to buy a house and start a family, and who are faced with the unenviable prospect of paying off the vast deficits that will be left behind when their parents and grandparents shuffle off this mortal coil and go to wherever it is that baby boomers go after death. As well, society has degenerated into a combat zone of competing groups not dissimilar to that seen in Hobbes’ state of nature with its war of all against all – with sexual, racial, linguistic, religious and class conflict the order of the day. And not wishing to leave even a scrap of spiritual comfort to those suffering under them, our current elites seem intent on marginalizing or eliminating Christianity altogether as a force for good in our society – a process that is being actively aided and abetted by not a few leaders of various denominations, including some elements within the hierarchy of the thoroughly modern and oh so progressive Catholic Church under Pope Francis.

And as with all revolutions (our current one being of the cultural variety), there is the inevitable death toll to be considered – which up to now has been largely restricted to unwanted unborn babies. As of the date of writing, this has amounted to about 4 million deaths in Canada since the overturning of Canada’s abortion laws and almost 59 million in the United States since Roe v. Wade. 7 Not content with this modern day Holocaust, Canada’s Supreme Court has recently overturned legislation prohibiting euthanasia – an act of judicial activism that promises to ratchet up the killing even more as the few restrictions and protections promised to us by the Federal Government magically melt away over time just as they did when Canada’s abortion laws were overturned. When that happens, it will be open season on the old, the sick and the disabled – particularly when penny-pinching government officials begin to appreciate the potential savings to the public purse that can be realized when we eliminate that very expensive last year of life for many of our most vulnerable citizens.

Taken by itself, all of this would qualify as a sufficiently damning verdict on the current state of Western civilization as reimagined by the social engineering of ‘our betters’, were it not for the moral and spiritual damage that has made all of this possible – and immeasurably worse. It is said that culture is upstream from politics – which is to say that cultural change causes political change and not the other way around. While this aphorism is widely accepted by many, the truth is that the spiritual is upstream from absolutely everything. One of the characters in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s book, The Brothers Karamazov, is frequently quoted as saying that, if there is no God, all things are permissible. While actually something of a misquotation, it is nevertheless a very profound thought deserving of careful consideration. For it does seem that the very worst crimes of Western Civilization have occurred with greater intensity and frequency as the Sea of Faith (as Matthew Arnold called it in his poem, Dover Beach 8) has receded. Seen from this perspective, it is no accident that abortion has become a secular sacrament at the very time that people in the West have lost their sense of the sacredness of life. Apparently, all things are indeed permissible now that people no longer believe in God – at least in any sense that matters.

Reason to Hope

Even so, there is still hope – hope being one of the greatest virtues.

For me one of the greatest reasons to hope comes from the 17th century Czech genius, Jan Amos Komenský (aka Comenius), who envisaged what he called ‘the hidden seed’ – made up of those believers who keep the flame of faith alive in bad times (quietly and secretly if need be) and pass it on to the generations that follow in expectation of a better future when faith can once again burst into flame.

These are not good times for those of us who cherish the freedom to speak, believe and live according to the dictates of our consciences – especially since every passing year seems to bring with it even more assaults on these basic freedoms. But nothing lasts forever – and certainly not the kinder, gentler totalitarianism we see growing around us. And eventually Comenius’ dream will once again be realized – as it has so many times before.



  1. 1. “Mass killings under Communist regimes” Wikipedia. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_killings_under_Communist_regimes
  2. 2. United Nations. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved from: http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/
  3. 3. J. L. Talmon. The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy. New York: Beacon Press, 1952. Retrieved from: https://www.panarchy.org/talmon/totalitariandemocracy.html
  4. 4. Ibid
  5. 5. J. V. Stalin. “Dizzy with Success: Concerning Questions of the Collective-Farm Movement.” Retrieved from: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1930/03/02.htm
  6. 6. Ibid
  7. 7. “Number of Abortions – Abortion Counters”. Retrieved from: http://www.numberofabortions.com/
  8. 8. Matthew Arnold. “Dover Beach”. Poetry Foundation. Retrieved from: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43588/dover-beach

photo credit: LaStellaBlu Like a bird in a cage via photopin (license)


One of the great ironies of life is that some of the greatest works of art and literature have been produced by people who are (to be charitable) not very nice.

A prime example of this phenomenon is the long dead Czech writer, Jaroslav Hašek, who authored one of the greatest satirical books of all time, The Good Soldier Švejk. To say that Hašek was less than an upstanding citizen would be an understatement of epic proportions. He was a bigamist - having married a woman in Russia while his first wife waited patiently for him back in Prague. He had a major problem with alcohol - which dogged him his entire adult life and which almost certainly led to or contributed to his early death at the age of 39. He was a ne’er-do-well who constantly sponged off his friends. He was a journalist, an author, an anarchist, a cabaret performer, the founder of a bogus political party, and a Bolshevik commissar in a small community in Russia not long after the Revolution.

In short, he lived a big life while possessing character flaws that were every bit as large.

Even so, he did have one redeeming virtue. Namely, that he was a great writer - whose incredibly funny book, The Good Soldier Švejk, is a classic that has stood the test of time.

At the heart of this book is his iconic character, Josef Švejk, a pleasant and woolly-headed chap whom scholars even now cannot quite figure out. Was he an idiot - as he himself claims to be in the book? Was he a crafty malingerer who used his apparent simplicity and foolishness as a cover for his cunning - as yet others suppose? Or was he a revolutionary hero subverting the military, judicial and governmental authorities of his time - as was thought to be the case by Communist educators in the former Czechoslovakia? Or, or, or.... The possibilities are endless.

What is clear though is that Hašek’s character, Švejk, was remarkably successful at surviving in a world gone mad – that is, the vast bloodbath which was the First World War. And he did it all the while by being polite, optimistic, pleasant, obedient to a fault, and quick to embrace orders that made absolutely no sense.

These qualities were, of course, a two-edged sword. For, while they ensured his survival, they also got him into trouble - big trouble. Good examples of this include his over-the-top enthusiasm for the Imperial Government - which pretty much everyone else had ceased to believe in - and his oft proclaimed eagerness to die a horrible and painful death for his Emperor in the trenches of the Eastern Front. It was this extreme and clearly misplaced faith in ‘his betters’ which ultimately convinced those officers and medical doctors unfortunate enough to cross his path that he was either a scoundrel, a fool, an idiot or a lunatic - or perhaps all of the above. With the result that a significant portion of his military service was spent in jails, prisons and hospital wards - thus frustrating his stated goal of dying in agony for his Emperor.

Showing great pride in having been officially declared an imbecile by army doctors, he very much enjoyed his confinement as a lunatic in a mental ward. For as he put it: “'I really don't know why those loonies get so angry when they're kept there. You can crawl naked on the floor, howl like a jackal, rage and bite. If anyone did this anywhere on the promenade people would be astonished, but there it's the most common or garden thing to do. There's a freedom there which not even Socialists have ever dreamed of.”

Still, this book, while hilarious throughout – especially for those of us who harbour a somewhat warped sense of humour – is not everyone’s cup of tea. For it clearly represents heavy going for those readers who possess rigid personalities or delicate sensibilities - given its earthy language and Hašek’s determination to gore every sacred cow in sight. That being said, it is important to note that Hašek is no school yard bully who preys on the weak and mocks the powerless. Rather he punches up - not down. For his harshest criticisms are reserved for those at the top – the hard-hearted individuals who control the soulless military, governmental and judicial bureaucracies that destroy the lives of those poor little human beings unfortunate enough to fall into their clutches. And while it is true that he does poke fun at the foibles of ordinary people, this is little more than good-humoured teasing that is not meant to leave a mark.

While the book is full of memorable characters, perhaps one of the most fascinating must surely be the military chaplain, Father Otto Katz, who employed Švejk for a time as his batman. To make a long story short, Katz was a very bad priest – whose sole reason for entering the priesthood in the first place involved a desire to improve his career prospects. From Katz’ rather twisted point of view, the priesthood represented a dream come true. It allowed him to earn a reasonable salary. He didn’t have to work very hard. And apart from having to say the occasional mass, he could do whatever he pleased with his time – which in his case involved playing cards, socializing and engaging in more or less constant heavy drinking. With pastimes such as these it is little wonder that he and Švejk got on like a house on fire – a friendship which ended badly when Katz lost Švejk in a card game to another officer, Senior Lieutenant Lukaš, who then became his new boss.

From the unflattering (and extremely funny) portrait of Father Katz contained in the book, readers might suppose that Hašek was not all that well-disposed toward the Catholic Church. And they would be right to think this. But if Hašek portrayed Holy Mother Church in a bad light, at least he did it with wit and humour - unlike many critics today - which to my mind covers a multitude of sins. And Hašek’s negative view of the Catholic Church (a sentiment still held by many today in the Czech Republic) is easier to understand when seen in the context of events in Czech history where the Catholic Church has from time to time played a less than beneficent role in that nation’s history. One such black mark was the martyrdom of the Czech national hero, Jan Hus, who was burned at the stake at the Council of Constance in 1415 – an event for which Pope John Paul II issued an apology in 1999 in which he expressed regret for Hus’ “cruel death”, praising his “moral courage”. Yet another incident was the destruction of the Czech nation after the Battle of White Mountain (Bilá Hora) in 1620 and the brutal forced re-Catholicization that followed it - the memory of which continues to haunt the Czech Catholic Church even today. Such memories, once in the culture, do not die easily – and Hašek clearly did his best to keep this national grudge alive.

But while Hašek did not like the Catholic Church, he nevertheless does seem to have had considerable respect for Jesus of Nazareth, that great religious figure from whom every Christian denomination draws its inspiration. Commenting on the general injustice of the world and using Jesus’ crucifixion as a prime example, Švejk notes: “Jesus Christ was innocent too … and all the same they crucified him. No one anywhere has ever worried about a man being innocent.”

Consistent with this is a strong moral critique that runs throughout the work, including one particularly noteworthy warning against loose living (not a little ironic given Hašek’s very messy life) where he declares that, “After debauches and orgies there always follows the moral hangover.” A clear warning for our own generation as we watch the wheels come off Western Civilization!

Given the powerful moral undertone running through the book, it is safe to conclude that Hašek’s work is far from being the simple harmless fun many suppose it to be. For he frequently makes use of what might best be described as Galgenhumor – that is, black humour or gallows humour. And it is humour that rings true to life since Hašek knew what he was talking about. For he served in the 91st Infantry Regiment of the Austro‑Hungarian Army in the truly horrific First World War which saw some 41 million civilian and military casualties (18 million dead and 23 million wounded). This included the death of between 1.2 and 1.5 million Austro-Hungarian soldiers and total Czechoslovak casualties of about 185,000 (155,000 military personnel and 30,000 civilians). With butchery on this scale, Hašek had more than enough examples of human misery and military stupidity to draw on.

Happily, suffering on such a vast scale did not go to waste on Hašek whose portrayal of the insanity of war was masterful. Unfortunately, it was also inspiration which cost the author dearly, causing him enormous emotional pain – a reality evident from even the most cursory reading of his book. For his humour has an edge. It cuts like a razor. This is clearly a book that has a point to make – a point which Hašek is determined to make sure we get. And millions of readers around the world have got his point ever since the first segment of the book was published in 1921 – all the while roaring with laughter at the misadventures of poor, benighted Švejk whose fame has spread around the world, having been translated into some 60 languages and turned into numerous movies and made-for-television productions.

Of course, the real test of genius rests not on whether a literary work was well received at its time of publication, but rather if it is able to stand the test of time. By such a measure it is obvious that Švejk is indeed a classic since it continues to speak to modern readers every bit as clearly as it did back in 1921. Part of this is due to the wit and clarity of Hašek`s writing. But that’s only part of it. For many witty, well written books have fallen out of favour over the centuries, never to be read again – in large measure because they failed to address the needs of successive generations of readers. But such is clearly not the case with Hašek`s book which continues to delight readers around the world – and for good reason! For The Good Soldier Švejk is not simply about the comic misadventures of one somewhat foolish man living a century ago in Central Europe – as amusing as these anecdotes might be. Rather it is bigger than that – and more profound – a reality that becomes crystal clear when you take the time and effort to delve into it and read between the lines. For it is then that you see that this is a book that seeks to say something important about the human condition – which sadly does not seem to change much with the passage of time. Because, like it or not, the truth is that mankind and its failings remain very much the same as they were in Hašek`s time. Technology has changed, of course. And our economic and political systems are very different from those which existed in Hašek`s time. But the brokenness seen in all human beings and the terrible cruelty and stupidity of human society continue very much as they did when Švejk was written. Wars still rage. Injustice and bald-face lies remain a major feature of public life. And the heavy hand of corruption, the soul-destroying reach of bureaucracy, and the denial of freedom of thought and conscience continue to plague the lives of ordinary human beings very much as they did in Hašek`s time. So the need to laugh at the sheer stupidity of those directing our lives remains every bit as strong as in the past. Think of it, if you will, as a sort of psychotherapy which allows readers to remain relatively sane in a totally mad world that shows every sign of spinning out of control.

That’s where Hašek`s literary classic comes riding in to the rescue.

So lift a glass of good Czech beer to the memory of this great writer, whose compassion for the sufferings of the much abused ‘little people’ of his time justly qualifies him for the title of Patron Saint of the Common Man. May his memory continue to be revered and may his iconic character, Josef Švejk, (who lifted more than a few beers in his time) continue to delight readers forever.

Na zdraví!

Photo credit: By Jirka.h23 (Self-photographed) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Fr. Tim McCauley |


Wonder Woman may be finishing her spectacular run at the box-office, but the one whom National Geographic called "The World's Most Powerful Woman," is far from finished her work. Is it unseemly to suggest parallels between the Mother of God and the quintessential female super-hero? Carrie Gress, in her book "The Marian Option," goes so far to say that "Mary wears combat boots," quoting a Marian priest while also citing the liturgy of the Church, which applies the following words to Our Lady: "Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?"

In the mythical-poetic imagination of the writers of Wonder Woman, the heroine Diana intervenes decisively in World War I by defeating Ares, the god of war. In actual fact, Mary the Mother of God did intervene in World War I, appearing at Fatima and beseeching people to pray the Rosary for peace. (What an intriguing coincidence that Wonder Woman was released in 2017, the 100th anniversary of Fatima).

In her engaging and inspiring study, Carrie Gress reminds us of many of the miraculous interventions of the Mother of God in the history of Christian civilization, most notably in safeguarding Christians from invasion by the Muslim Turks at Lepanto in 1571 and Vienna in 1683. One of the heroes of 1683, the Polish King Jan Sobieski, later testified, "I came, I saw, but God and Mary conquered." More important than any military victory, however, is her role in the conquest of sin and Satan, and the inauguration of the Kingdom of God. She confidently promised at Fatima, "In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph." In response to this proclamation, we do not sit on the side-lines as passive observers of her triumph; rather, the Mother of God enlists us to be co-heirs, asking for our prayers and penance so that we may participate in her victory.

One way of understanding the triumph of her Immaculate Heart is by considerating the interplay between justice and mercy, so admirably and effectively depicted in Wonder Woman. In one of the opening scenes, American spy Steve Travers crash lands on the island Paradise of the Amazonians, awakening them to the rude reality of millions of people killed in the "war to end all wars." Even though her own mother attempts to dissuade her, saying, "They (men) do not deserve you," a noble and profound sense of justice impels Diana to leave the security of her home and confront the horrors of WWI. As she herself testifies, she cannot stand by while innocent lives are being lost. She reminds her Amazonian sisters, "It's our sacred duty to defend the world."

Interestingly, in the midst of the carnage of the war, Pope Benedict XV issued a letter on May 5th, 1917 urging people to appeal to the Mother of God to help save innocent lives. "To Mary, then, who is the Mother of Mercy and omnipotent by grace, let loving and devout appeal go up from every corner of the earth. Let (petitions) bear to her the anguished cries of mothers and wives, the wailing of innocent little ones . . . ". The Mother of God responded a mere eight days later by appearing at Fatima.

In one of the most electrifying scenes in the movie, in the trenches in WWI, Diana is moved to take action when she meets a weeping mother and child from a terrorized village nearby. Her male comrades warn her she would face certain death before German machine-guns in "no man's land" -- where no man can go. They attempt to reason with her, saying, "We can't save everyone. That's not what we came to do." "No, but it's what I'm going to do." Key the music and watch her, in full Amazonian regalia, in slow motion climb out of the trench and join the battle!

She succeeds in saving the village with the help of a few brave men, but her simplistic solution to protect all innocent lives fails. After defeating the person she presumed was Ares, the instigator of all wars, nothing happens, and she is baffled. Then the real Ares reveals himself to her as a clearly Satanic figure who glides in and out of rooms like a shadow, whispering into people's ears, fomenting hatred in hearts, stoking the fires of violence and warfare.

The ensuing duel between Diana and Ares echoes the conflict between the woman and the dragon in the book of Revelation. With Satanic malice and envy, Ares tells Diana something to the effect of, "All I wanted was to show the gods how evil my father's creation was" -- human beings who are ugly, selfish and cruel -- who certainly do not deserve her help. The evil of humanity is vividly portrayed by the scar-faced female foil to Diana, the infamous Dr. Poison, the chemist who collaborated with the Germans to develop deadly poison gases. In a climactic moment of decision frozen in time, Diana is holding a tank over her head, while Dr. Poison cowers in fear. Ares is urging her to kill the hapless creature, symbol of all the ugliness of humanity. Diana's initial zeal for justice cannot withstand the mounting evidence of human evil, demanding of her a higher virtue, what Christians call mercy. The writers of Wonder Woman suggest this very thing, although with different language. In a flashback, Diana remembers her last encounter with Steve, who tells her, "I love you." (Earlier in the movie, while the audience heard of the history of the Amazonians, we learned that Zeus created the Amazons in part to "influence men's hearts with love").

When Ares parrots the earlier warning of Diana's own mother, that men do not deserve her help, she issues her final and definitive rebuke to his insidious rhetoric, "It's not about deserving. It's about what you believe . . . I believe in love." She mercifully releases Dr. Poison then turns to face Ares, who has resolved to destroy her, as he cannot persuade her to be his ally. He harnesses a mass of lightning energy from the sky to hurl at her, but his hate is impotent before the power of love rising in Diana's heart. With calm grandeur and serene confidence, she re-directs the energy blast that annihilates the god of war. Later, after the dust settles, in the quiet and reflective denouement of the movie, we hear Diana's voice-over concluding, "Only love will save the world."

The triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is first of all the triumph of love -- love for human beings, most certainly, but first and foremost, love of God. The ultimate justice is to give God what is His due and fulfill the Great Commandment, as enunciated by Jesus -- to love God with all our heart and soul and strength. In the human heart of Mary, we behold a creature, a member of our race, perfectly fulfilling this command and helping us do the same.

It is easy to complain about the evils of the world, and to focus on other people's sins, weaknesses and failures, to talk ourselves into passivity, cynicism, and hopelessness. Diana had to endure the despairing voices of defeatism, but nothing deterred her from her mission: "It's our sacred duty to defend the world." Mary of Nazareth must have perceived among her contemporaries the ravages of the sin of the world. The words of St. Peter on Lot could analogously be applied to Mary: "Day after day, that just one, good as she was, felt herself tormented by seeing and hearing about the lawless deeds of those among whom she lived." Rather than give in to bitterness or resentment, however, the Virgin Mary discerned in her heart a deeper capacity and call, as if to say, "It's our sacred duty to love God with all our heart and soul and strength, and that's what I'm going to do." The prayer taught by the Angel at Fatima to the children would echo in the heart of Mary, "O my God, I believe, I adore, I hope in you, and I love you."

But when the commitment to justice and love comes face-to-face with the ugliness of sin, the malice of men and the ingratitude of the human heart, for love to triumph it must be transformed into mercy. What temptations must have assailed Mary at the foot of the Cross! Perhaps she was even tormented by an inner battle with the voice of Satan the Accuser. But she also heard the voice of her Son, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do." As the perfect disciple of her Son, she did forgive.

The triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, pierced with a sword, is the victory of Crucified Love in the Heart of Mary, the inseparable companion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus crowned with thorns. Thus it is necessary to include the second part of the prayer taught by the Angel: "O my God, I believe, I adore, I hope in you and I love you. I ask pardon for all those who do not believe, nor adore, nor hope in you, nor love you."

 photo 513OLfatima2.jpgThe Immaculate Heart of Mary is not an abstract model of virtue we are called to imitate by our own effort and through our own innate ability. Our blessed Mother desires a relationship with each one of us, in which we accept the gift of her love and intercession for us; she strengthens us to practice justice and mercy, to love and forgive as she does. Another prayer taught by the Angel at Fatima concludes with these words, "through the infinite merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I beg of you the conversion of all sinners." Including ourselves. It is also a prayer for ourselves to be loved and saved by Jesus and Mary. Properly speaking, Jesus saves us as God, and Mary through her intercession as Mother of God, she who is "omnipotent by grace." But we can and should bring before Mary our desire to be loved and saved by a beautiful woman who is also truly our Mother.

Most human beings, as children, have an experience of being loved by a beautiful woman (our mother) and even being "saved" by her whenever we were helpless. Deep in our unconscious, even as adults, we still have a desire to be saved by a beautiful woman, a beautiful mother. Many of us -- proud, independent and self-sufficient adults -- have difficulty admitting this, but as Jesus repeated in the Gospel, "Unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." It is interesting to note, in times of war, how young men dying on the battlefield often instinctively cry out for their mothers. We do not have to wait until we are perishing to practice the heroism of humility that is within our grasp at this very moment.

Gress quotes from St. Maximillian Kolbe, a Marian "giant" on the essence of Marian devotion: "It is not a matter here of kneeling down a long time and praying, but of this relationship of a child to its mother . . . Different prayers and formulas are good and beautiful, but the essential thing is the simple relationship of a child to its mother, this sense of our need for this mother, the conviction that without her we can do nothing."

Justice, love and heroism are all on display in the epic of Wonder Woman. Humility and gratitude, trust and dependence, mercy and forgiveness, shine brilliantly in the life of the Mother of God, virtues that are also offered to us as powerful weapons of the Spirit to achieve victory in the battle of life, and our share in the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary: the hallowed justice of loving God with all our heart, and in the face of all the sins and failings of our fellow human beings, the mercy of forgiving.

By Patrick Meagher |



There are more outrageous things in this world than Donald Trump.

Some come easily to mind: The news media that covers him, university campuses where it is politically correct to discuss killing him and social media, where if it were up to many users, he’d already be dead.

I don’t like Trump tweeting or his crass comments but I don’t have time to whine about them. His policies are where we need debate. But to many Canadians, President Trump’s presence in the White House -- he’s been at the job for six months -- is enough to make their heads explode.

There has never been a president so maligned or policies so twisted. His first two weeks in office, there were 1,000 tweets a day calling for his assassination. The other side didn’t hyperventilate or need safe spaces when Obama was elected and there are few arguments that he has made America a better place. But today’s university campuses, news and social media in the United States and Canada are so driven by ideology and hate for one man that for some of these people, if you don’t hate Trump, you’re the hater for not hating.

They will forgive Obama, who was actually caught – after the fact – spying on American citizens. They will forgive Obama’s lying about healthcare (you get to keep your doctor and insurance premiums will not rise) and Benghazi (four Americans were killed in Libya because of a video) among a long list of debacles. But Trump has to go because he’s an idiot. That’s not an argument but his enemies are desperately stoking the flames of hate in hopes of impeaching him. For what? There’s no Russia link. Doesn’t matter. Leak false stories and cast the net even wider in the hope that someday something will stick.

When people stoop as low as witch hunts, inventing stories, and incessant name calling, all of which has spilled over into Canada, we have a serious crisis. The increasing lack of respect for people and democratic principles is appalling. Trump won. But many people can’t get over it.

I was driving around Ottawa’s flood zone in the spring taking photographs, talking to farmers and listening to CFRA, an Ottawa radio station in Canada's capital that is now owned by Bell Media. A listener called in and berated Trump is an idiot, a moron and just crazy. Since host Rob Snow didn’t bother to ask her what could possibly justify such insults, it fired her up to offer five more. If she had been referring to any other living being, it would be considered abuse and defamation of character.

On another day, same radio station, morning announcer Bill Carroll noted that according to an unconfirmed source, Trump’s Catholic press secretary Sean Spicer had really wanted to meet the Pope during a recent meeting in the Vatican. But the spiteful Trump punished Spicer by not allowing him to go.

“If it’s true, Trump is a jerk,” Carroll said.

“Ya,” said his on-air sidekick. “What a jerk.”

Then they spoke as if the unsubstantiated story had really happened and again both called Trump a jerk.

It was a story they couldn’t confirm because they didn’t know where it came from or who said it or whether it even happened. It’s called fake news but it was good enough for CFRA.

The day before Trump’s first presidential press conference, a report surfaced with no witnesses and no evidence, saying that Trump went to Moscow and hired hookers to use a bed as a toilet in a hotel room that was used by former President Obama. An outrageous story that CFRA was only too eager to tell.

This is just one radio station. It points to the dumbing down and politicizing of our culture and the frightful rise of intolerance.

The university campus is another safe space for anti-Trump vitriol. It’s where you find sympathy for a terrorist but no love for Jews and Christians. Socialism is embraced even though it’s about to crash Venezuela. Isn’t university about higher learning, freedom of speech and the exchange of ideas? Yet, it’s controlled by the politically-correct who define hate speech as “words that provoke violence.” If what you say causes me to punch you in the face, it’s your fault. That is how three-year-olds and troubled teenagers behave. They stomp and flex their appendages when they hear something as awful as “Time for bed.” When two or more are gathered against Trump they turn into a demonic mob that will not tolerate other views. That’s one reason why most people don’t say anything.

There is something you can do. Stay away from loud groups. Read, especially thoughtful analysis, and listen only to upbeat, thoughtful people. Cynics will just ruin your health. Stop listening to people on radio and elsewhere when their choice argument is an insult. For that matter, avoid the superficial political views on Twitter and Facebook. Whenever you are about to hear a university professor discuss politics, tune out.

It’s amazing how much better I feel.

By Paul Malvern |



For most of my life I have had a serious love affair going with Quebec, the predominately French-speaking region of Canada. But, as with most affairs of the heart, this particular romance has had its ups and downs - frequently in response to the breathtaking twists and turns of Quebec politics. Even so, it is a romance that has stood the test of time - and decades later it remains as heart-felt as ever.

But just because I’m fascinated by Quebec doesn’t mean that I fully understand everything that goes on in the place. Far from it in fact! And one of the biggest mysteries for me has always been how decades back Quebec could have gone from being one of the most Catholic nations on earth to becoming one of the most anti-Catholic areas of the planet - a change that seemed to occur more or less overnight.

One day Quebec was an adoring elder daughter of Rome. The next day it was an anti-Catholic nightmare crawling with militant secularists determined to erase every last vestige of the Province’s religious past.

Searching History for the Truth

As is so often the case with important historical events, the circumstances surrounding the Catholic Church’s fall from grace have too often been obscured by mythology - in this case involving a narrative in which the Church, starring in the role of the arch-villain, Snidley Whiplash, gets blamed for pretty much everything that ever went wrong in Quebec.

Of course, not all of this narrative is false. For the Church did make mistakes - some of them quite grievous. Not that great a surprise really, given that it was led - and continues to be led - by fallible human beings, not all-knowing deities! And human beings inevitably fall short of the mark. But to ascribe nothing but harm to the Church - as all too often is the case among Quebec secularists - is to distort reality beyond anything reasonable. For it is equally clear that in spite of its faults, the Catholic Church also did a world of good. And rather than having been the all-powerful institution imagined by many, the role played by the Church was often much more nuanced. For, as we shall see, the Church’s hold on power and influence has varied enormously from one period to another and its hold on the Province has at times been anything but a sure thing. And even when it did play a dominant role, this was sometimes forced upon it by events rather than the result of some overweening lust for power and control.

But rather than simply take my word for it, let’s take a quick look at the history of the Church in Quebec with an eye to examining what it sought to achieve during each period, the challenges it faced, how it impacted the people under its care, and how some of its mistakes - teamed with larger societal trends - ultimately led to its demise.

The Early Years

To begin with, it’s important to recognize that the Catholic Church has been a part of the story of French Canada from the very first moment Europeans set foot on the shores of the New World. It all began on July 7, 1534 when a French priest accompanying explorer Jacques Cartier celebrated Mass for the first time on what was to become Canadian soil. And with the founding of Quebec City in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain the colonization that was to lay the basis for the colony of New France began in earnest.i

During this early period - which was to stretch from 1608-1663 - the Church played a key role in the development of the colony, performing many of the functions that should have been handled by the State. This was in large measure due to the lack during this period of any of the administrative functions normally performed by a civil government. Forced to step into the breach, the Church provided many services in the areas of education, medical care and social services, to name but a few. In addition to attending to the “here and now” needs of settlers and native inhabitants alike, it also responded to the call to spread the Gospel in this new continent and minister to people’s spiritual needs. For this was a Church which possessed a deep spirituality and great missionary zeal - qualities not always obvious in later periods.

But, as the saying goes, nature abhors a vacuum. And nowhere is this truer than in the area of politics and government. Which in this case led to what historians call, “the Gallican period” stretching from 1663 to 1760.2 During this period, a civil government was at last in place in New France - which changed the relationship between Church and State profoundly, stripping the Church of many administrative duties and making it subordinate to the State. While it remained responsible for most matters relating to education, health and social services, it now performed them under the watchful eye of government officials. Still, not all of this was negative. For under this new arrangement, the Church was financially supported by the State and held a position of great respect in the colony.

Of course, all of this changed yet again in 1760 with the fall of Quebec to the British - an event which threatened both the future of the Church and the survival of French language and culture in North America. For with the fall of New France, the Church suffered a series of important losses - not the least of which were the loss of State protection and financial support and the breaking off of contact with France - which effectively separated Quebec from France and prevented it from bringing in more French-speaking immigrants and clerics from that country. Teamed with this was the banning of a number of religious orders - most notably the Jesuits. And the loss of favoured status and financial support from the State forced the Church to seek acceptance by the British Government. This new situation was particularly galling since it forced the Church to act in ways that would have been unimaginable previously - such as: urging respect for established authority (i.e. their new British masters), supporting the British during the American invasion of 1775, and cooperating with its new colonial masters to gain acceptance as a trusted partner in government.

While this collaboration did work in the short run, it was to have long-term negative repercussions since it blackened the Church’s name with the more nationalistic or liberal elements among the population. This became particularly serious when the radical ideas generated by the French Revolution began to infect the growing middle class made up of doctors, lawyers, and other professionals. These new ideas presented a significant challenge to the Church and its claim to being the truly authoritative voice in French-speaking society. Eventually this conflict came to a head with the uprisings of 1837-38 - whose failure proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Church. For the Church could now claim that its approach was the correct one - an argument which proved highly effective in restoring its position as the dominant force in society.

Even so, it was not all clear sailing for the Church which was faced with another even more daunting problem - namely, that of keeping up with the rapid increase in the population, which during this period was doubling every 25 years. Simply put, the Church did not have enough priests and religious to serve each and every community and segment of population - a failing which reduced its influence and control in many areas of the Province.

Happily for the Church, this shortage of priests proved to be only a speed bump on the road to becoming the dominant force in Quebec society - a situation which had become increasingly evident following 1840 as each year saw the Church exercise greater and greater political influence and control over Quebeckers’ lives.

The Glory Years

Having bested its liberal opponents in the battle for the hearts and minds of Quebeckers, the Catholic Church now had a clear field ahead of it and was determined to consolidate its position and firm up its hold over the cultural, social and political life of the Province. And press ahead it did - as can be seen by the rapid increase in the number and size of religious orders and the setting up of classical colleges from which some 50% of graduates eventually entered the priesthood. Even more significant was the increase in the percentage of Catholics who did their ‘Easter duty’ (going to confession and communion at least once during the Easter season). It rose from 50-60% in 1840 to 98-99% in 1896.3

Not surprisingly, this newfound power and influence brought with it many privileges. For example, the only schools permitted in Quebec were confessional schools. Civil registries were kept by the Church. Divorces could only be obtained via an act of Parliament. Church corporations were not taxed. And the Church by and large controlled education, health services and charitable institutions. All and all a very impressive show of strength!

In spite of this, the Church’s hold was still far from unassailable. For there remained some liberal holdovers from the past who continued to be a thorn in its side, finding frequent expression in the media and political system. However, by the turn of the century, even this opposition seemed to evaporate. Which resulted in the more or less total victory by the Church whose influence would now be seen in almost every facet of life in Quebec - and whose excesses would eventually lead to its undoing.

The Triumphalist Period

During this period - which stretched from the beginning of the 20th century to the emergence of the Quiet Revolution in 1960 - the Church dedicated itself to Christianizing (as it understood the term) every aspect of Quebec society. And no detail, it seems, was too small to escape the attention of Holy Mother Church.

To the modern mind, some of these details seem petty and even comical in a dreadful sort of way. One of my favorite examples was contained in a university lecture I heard recently where the Professor in question asked students if they knew why stairs between floors in older apartment buildings in Montreal are on the outside of the building rather than inside as is the case elsewhere. The answer to that riddle, he said, was that many decades back the Catholic Church lobbied the City of Montreal to require staircases on the outside - in hopes of discouraging extramarital sexual relationships between tenants of such buildings. While I have no idea if this is actually true or simply an urban myth, it clearly is a great story. And the fact that it is still being told and taken seriously is a good indication of just how crazy the Church’s interference in people’s private lives became during the period - and the extent to which memories of the Church’s interference in peoples’ personal lives have become burnt into the public consciousness.

Of special interest to those living in our current sex-obsessed culture are the Church’s past efforts to encourage couples to be fruitful and multiply. In short to have children - and lots of them! Judging from the number of times I have heard Quebeckers complain about this, it clearly was a very galling issue for those alive at the time. For time and again people have regaled me with stories about how some bossy priest had pressured their grandparents and great grandparents to bring lots of children into the world.

Looking back on it with the benefit of hindsight, it is hard to know how true these stories are and how embroidered they might have become with the passage of time. But what clearly is real is the passion people inject into this story’s telling and its prominent place in Quebec’s national mythology. Indeed, I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has told me the story about how some parish priest visited their grandparents and strong-armed them into having 16 children or some similarly high body count.

But is it true? Or is it just one more secularist fairy tale to scare small children?

In some cases, I suppose these things probably did happen. For every religion has its share of foolish and intrusive clerics - Catholicism being no exception. So it’s reasonable to assume that Quebec did have a number of religiously-motivated busybodies. But in fairness to these much-maligned priests from the past, they did have a point since the Christian faith has always considered children to be a great blessing. And it is true that, were French-speaking Quebec to survive as a cultural and linguistic entity, it was going to need lots of Francophones around to hold back the evil Anglophone tide. So little wonder that some priests - quite possibly with the blessing of some local bishops - would try and communicate the love of large families to their parishioners. Then too we also need to consider what Quebec was like at the time - namely, a largely rural society. Given the nature of farming - where many hands to the plough is a good thing - it’s likely that having large numbers of children was an easy idea to sell to many rural parishioners. All of which suggests to me that many of these interfering priests may not have had to twist rural couples’ arms very hard when it came to reproduction.

But whatever the truth of this particular ‘blast from the past’, it remains an undeniable fact that the Quebec Catholic Church did inject itself into many areas of people’s personal lives - with a somewhat mixed record of success.

Still, this tendency for the Church to stick its nose into other people’s business was only a small part of a much bigger picture. For the Church hierarchy had much bigger fish to fry than losing sleep over small-time sinning at the parish level. And it was these larger issues that would create the biggest problems for the Princes of the Church.

One major issue facing them involved the survival of Quebec as a French-speaking entity - not an easy task given the political, economic and cultural dominance of the huge mass of English-speakers that surrounded it. This required the Wisdom of Solomon as they responded to challenge after challenge - a good example being the First and Second World Wars, where conscription was a huge - and vastly unpopular - issue among francophone Quebeckers.

Equally trying was the question of how it should respond to the transformation of Quebec from a rural and deeply conservative society into a modern industrial state with a growing working class facing many social and economic difficulties. (This last one was to cause some of its most enduring headaches and would play a major role in the Church’s demise.)

And how were they to relate to a federal government whose agenda was far from Christian?

None of this was easy - but the Church did its best with the resources it had at its disposal. Sometimes it managed this well. Sometimes it failed. And sometimes it succumbed to the temptation to make what seemed like deals with the devil - as in the case of its alliance with the government of Maurice Duplessis.

The End Game

To many in the Quebec Church hierarchy, Maurice Duplessis (the Premier during the years 1936-39 and 1944-59) must have seemed like a dream come true. He was a strong leader. He viewed Quebec as a Catholic society. And he was prepared to do whatever it took to keep it that way. But as with all deals with the devil, there was a catch. And the catch here was the man’s character and his governing style, which combined authoritarianism, political patronage and unsavory political practices into an unholy trifecta. Was the Catholic hierarchy aware of the regime’s dark side? Almost certainly, given the education and sophistication of those who guided the Church at the time! Did they approve of all that Duplessis did? Probably not but they may have seen their silence and collaboration as the price they had to pay to retain the goodwill and active assistance of the Province’s political masters. And in fairness to them, their strategy did work well for a time - until it no longer did. But when that terrible day finally did arrive, the Church would pay a high price for having compromised its principles.

Sadly for the Church, Duplessis was only one of their problems - and maybe not even their biggest headache. For a far greater long-term challenge was the socio-economic transformation that took place in Quebec during the first half of the 20th century, which changed the Province from a very traditional rural society with the Church at its heart into a very urban, highly industrialized society where the old rules no longer applied. Part of this involved the growth of the urban working class - which led to the rapid growth of trade unions and calls for greater social justice from all segments of Quebec society.

For a time the Church responded well and with great creativity to this new challenge - by championing working class causes, promoting community development and social justice at the grass roots level, and encouraging the growth of the trade unions, many of which were avowedly Catholic. For example, the rapid growth in the number and size of trade unions following the end of the First World War led to the formation of the Canadian Catholic Confederation of Labour (CCCL) in 1921, many of these unions having a priest assigned to them to act as an advisor. Quebec Jesuits were especially active in promoting social justice in the Province - as seen by the establishment in 1912 of the École sociale populaire in Montreal and the founding some eight years later of annual conferences on social justice called the Semaines sociales du Canada.4 While such social change and community development initiatives proved highly successful in improving peoples’ lives and raising the consciousness of Catholics as to the social and economic problems facing the Province, their very success placed the Church in an awkward position. For while many in the Church strongly supported the fight for social justice and good working conditions, the Church hierarchy nevertheless wanted to keep things from getting out of hand. This was clearly going to prove tricky. For, as the Church was to discover, encouraging social change can have many unforeseen consequences - one of the most obvious being that the movements you have a hand in starting may not always continue to follow your lead or stay faithful to their original principles. Nor are there are any guarantees that these movements, once powerful, will not come back to bite you. Which is exactly what eventually did happen when activists were exposed to more radical and at times very anti-Catholic ideas. The words of the great 16th century scholar, Rabbi Loew of Prague, who noted that, “He who touches may also be touched”, ring particularly true here. For by encouraging social justice movements and trade union activism, the Church was to inject itself with an ideological virus that would cause great internal dissension and weaken its ability to respond forcefully when faced with the challenges of the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s. And the first sign of trouble was to occur in 1949 with the Asbestos Strike - an event of such importance that nothing was ever the same again.

The Asbestos Strike of 1949

While revolutions often are the result of long years of injustice or oppression, most can point to one particular event that really started the ball rolling. In Quebec that event would almost certainly be the Asbestos Strike of 1949. Initially, it was just your run of the mill industrial dispute where workers claimed to be underpaid and the employer saw things differently. In normal times it would have been resolved - eventually - and life would have returned to normal. However, in this case, events spun out of control quickly catching the attention and sympathy of much of Quebec society. True to form, Duplessis sided with the company and then the real fun began with other important groups - including the Catholic Church - taking the side of the workers. This was significant because the Church, while sympathetic to workers, nevertheless had traditionally opposed most strikes, instead urging both sides in labour disputes to settle their differences as amicably as possible. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen here and things rapidly moved past the point of no return - eventually forcing the Church to take a clear stand. And it did - in favour of the workers. Its unequivocal material support for the workers won the day for the union. But it also severely damaged the careers of a number of Church figures - most notably that of Montreal Archbishop Charbonneau who had been especially vocal in his support for the workers. And it ended the informal alliance between “cross and crown” that had existed for hundreds of years. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Catholic unions in the Province learned important lessons from this strike which were to make them much more militant and which would eventually result in their freeing themselves from the restraints of the Church.5

In short, the fat was now in the fire and the process of radical change had begun. When it came to fruition, the old order would be swept away - and with it the key role of the Catholic Church.

The Quiet Revolution

The year, 1960, marks a key transition point in the history of Quebec and the Catholic Church in that Province. For it was in this year that the newly elected Liberal Government of Premier Jean Lesage embarked upon an ambitious plan aimed at modernizing the Quebec economy and society. Brandishing the slogan, “Maîtres chez nous!” (Masters in our own house), the Lesage government launched wide-ranging reforms which included nationalizing key sectors of the economy and dramatically increasing the ability of the State to impact the lives of Quebeckers through a significant increase in the size and scope of the Provincial Government. Special areas of interest included education and health care, which up to this point had been largely the responsibility of the Catholic Church. In short order these responsibilities were taken away from the Church - which dramatically reduced its profile in Quebec. Teamed with this was a push to secularize Quebec society which was to see the Church removed from its central position to become simply one group among many - if that.

Vatican II

The 1960s were not kind to the Church’s position in society in another important way. And that involved the work of Vatican II which called on churches around the world to respect the autonomy of the political sphere and not rely on the past strategy of using the power of the state to make Catholicism the primary religion. The effect on the Quebec Catholic Church was profound. For as one political scientist commented, “ just as the Quebec state was declaring its autonomy from the Church, the Church was itself affirming the autonomy of political society, the freedom of individual consciences in political matters, and the need for citizens to involve themselves in the important debates and projects of their societies.”6

To make a long story short, Vatican II made any counter-attack against the secularist tsunami virtually impossible. Surrender to the spirit of the times thus seemed like the only available option to many in the hierarchy - which is exactly what happened.

The legs had been cut out from underneath the Church and all that remained was to make the best of a bad situation.

The Fallout

Revolutions - ‘Quiet’ or otherwise - are hard on people and societies. As noted by the ultimate revolutionary, Mao Tse-tung, who declared that, “A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.”7 That certainly was the case with the Quiet Revolution. There was little or no physical violence, of course. But there was most definitely emotional and cultural violence. And there was an overthrow of one class (encompassing the main elements of traditional Quebec society, most notably the Church) by another one (led by an alliance of bureaucratic, professional, academic, media and trade union elites). This was not a small matter. Rather it was a struggle for the very soul of the Quebec nation. And the cost for the losers was enormous.

The Damage to the Catholic Church

Certainly, the damage done to the Catholic Church has been huge. For if some in the Church believed that the Quiet Revolution and Vatican II might somehow magically revitalize the Church, they were sorely mistaken. Sadly, quite the opposite has happened. For rather than bringing about a new reawakening, these two events instead created a series of shocks that caused the implosion of the Church.

Take, for example, attendance at mass - an excellent indicator of the state of engagement by the faithful. Prior to the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, Quebec had one of the highest attendance rates in North America - if not the world. Now it has one of the lowest.8 And all of this happened very quickly - as noted by former Bloc Québécois leader, Gilles Duceppe, who stated that, “Before Duplessis died, we’d all go to church and make our sign [of the cross], and a year later we didn’t go to Mass anymore.”9 Just how rapid and precipitous this decline was is clear from the statistics. In the early 1960s, the percentage of Quebec Catholics who attended mass once a month or more was over 80%. By 2007 weekly attendance had dropped to 15%.10 And the damage continues unabated, as seen by the observation by veteran Vatican watcher, Sandro Magister, who notes that, “Today less than 5 percent of Catholics go to Mass on Sundays. There are few religious marriages, most funerals are civil, and baptisms are increasingly rare.”11

But it’s not just the drop in the attendance that is a problem. Rather it’s also the damage done to the Church itself, its personnel and its infrastructure - with churches closing and the ranks of its priests being thinned by death (many are now elderly), the desire to build a new life in the secular world, and a reluctance by young men to enter the priesthood. A good example is the Archdiocese of Quebec (the area around Quebec City) which saw the number of priests drop from 1565 (453 Catholics per priest) in 1966 to 634 (1676 Catholics per priest) in 2014 with the number of parishes falling from 275 in 1966 to 207 in 2014.12 Similar declines have been seen in every part of the Province.

These declines in the number of churchgoers and priests have created huge problems for the Church - not the least of which what to do with those buildings and properties that are no longer needed and how to pay for the maintenance required for those that are retained. Responding to this challenge, the Church has tried various approaches - including closing churches and parishes, finding alternate uses for church buildings and seeking the assistance of the State by having churches declared historic sites. Sadly, this trend continues today - as seen by the fact that between 2003 and 2014, some 400 churches, mostly Catholic, closed in Quebec. And many are being considered for new uses such as health clubs or cultural centers.13

The Fallout for Society

Of course, not all of the fallout from secularization and modernization has been restricted to the Catholic Church. For it goes without saying that rapid social, economic and cultural change inevitably brings with it significant stresses and strains for which individuals and society as a whole inevitably must pick up the tab. And this fallout has been particularly evident when it comes to that key social institution, the family.

Back in 2011, Andrea Mrozek, Catherine Benesch and I wrote an in depth report for the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada on the state of the family in Quebec entitled, A Quebec Family Portrait. In it we outlined a number of disturbing trends observed in that Province which included: out of control government spending, a low fertility rate which threatened the very future of French-speaking Quebec, a growing preference for co-habitation over marriage, and high rates of sole parenting, out of wedlock births, divorce and abortion. None of which augured well for the happiness of individuals, strong families or social stability.

Of particular concern for us was the state of marriage in the Province - which has not done well since the 1960s. We found an institution that has fallen out of favor with many Quebeckers. For example, at the time of our study, married couples made up 54.5% of families in Québec, as compared with the Canadian national average of 68.6%, Quebec’s marriage rate (the number of marriages per 1000 people) was 2.9 compared to 4.4 nationally, and Québec had the highest divorce rate (e.g. the risk of divorce in Quebec by the 30th wedding anniversary was 48.4% in 2004 compared to 37.9% nationally in the same period). By contrast, co-habitation was much more common in Québec (34.6% of couples) than the rest of Canada (13.4%). And not surprisingly Quebec led the country in out of wedlock births (in 2000, 60% of births in Quebec were to unmarried mothers versus 1 in 3 in Canada as a whole).14

All of which is troubling since study after study has shown that marriages tend to be more stable overall all than common-law relationships. And it suggests that perhaps not all of the Church’s moralizing in the past was totally without merit.

Of course, that’s only part of the problem. For the rapid decline of the Catholic Church also removed the most important intermediary institution between the State and individual citizens - which meant that the State could now do pretty much anything it wanted, without any counterbalancing force to restrain it. And the result has not always been a happy one.

Interestingly enough, this very issue was very much on the minds of some Catholic intellectuals back in the 1960s and early 1970s who warned about the growth of an all-powerful Quebec State, now liberated from the restraint of a powerful intermediary body such as the Catholic Church. For such critics this new, enormous and largely unfettered Quebec State would have enormous resources and power which could potentially be used to oppress people rather than liberate them. Fears of just such a possibility were expressed by critics such as François-Albert Angers, who warned that, “When the state is master in every domain, the people are masters in none. The phrase, ‘We are the state!’, which we have not ceased repeating here, is the greatest load of rubbish ever proposed to put the people to sleep and to give the dictatorial green light to all [government] ministers who are, by definition, budding little dictators.15

While these words would prove prophetic decades later, such warnings eventually died out as people accustomed themselves to this new reality and grew to appreciate the benefits that accrue from having a modern welfare state and a strong government capable of preserving the linguistic and cultural integrity of the Quebec nation.

But nothing is ever cost free, is it? And certainly that has been true in the case of Quebec. For, while much can be said in favor of the security provided by the welfare state, there is inevitably a price to be paid in terms of personal freedom. Part of this flows from the very size of many of these programs - which makes it virtually impossible to allow for those individual differences that make each one of us who we are. If such programs are to function in an efficient and cost-effective manner, governments inevitably must resort to a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach - an approach that all too often reduces people to little more than ciphers on a page that can be manipulated as program needs require it.

Of course, such a danger is not restricted to Quebec. Rather it is a reality facing virtually every country in the industrialized West - one that each and every one of us must learn to live with.

Finally, there is the moral, ethical and spiritual fallout that has occurred as a result of the Church’s sidelining in the Sixties - which, while seldom commented on by journalists and academics, nevertheless is a serious problem in present day Quebec. This was noted by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, former Archbishop of Quebec, who noted that: “Québec’s real problem is the spiritual vacuum created by a religious and cultural rupture, by the substantial loss of memory, which leads to a crisis in the family and in education, leaving citizens disoriented, dispirited, vulnerable to instability, and attracted to fleeting and superficial values.16 Writing as someone who used to live in the Province, I would have to say that the Cardinal is onto something here, since there does seem to be a profound spiritual vacuum in Quebec. For while Catholicism may have been largely removed from the public square, other forms of worship are prominent - such as materialism, hedonism and a variety of secular religions disguised as political movements.

Even so, this picture is far from totally bleak. For there are a number of hopeful signs. To begin with there do seem to be the early signs of a revival of Catholicism in Quebec - as new religious congregations are set up and immigrants and some young people begin to fill the pews left empty by the flight of older native born Quebeckers. One additional bit of good news, spiritually speaking, is that Catholicism is no longer the only game in town - as seen by the Evangelical revival that occurred in Quebec during the 1980s and the fact that Evangelical churches continue to thrive in that Province even now. I can personally attest to the strength of this movement since I experienced it first hand when I got saved (or ‘racheté as they say in French - that is, ‘redeemed’) in a French language Pentecostal church in Quebec City in the mid-1980s. While some strict Catholics may not see this Evangelical resurgence as a good thing, the reality is that it has been of great benefit to both Catholics and Protestants in a number of ways. For example, it ensures that the Christian message continues to be heard, no matter who does the preaching - which must surely be a good thing. And it allows people to rethink their negative attitudes toward Christianity since Evangelical churches were not associated in the past with the Duplessis regime, as was the case with the Catholic Church. Finally, there is often a spillover effect from Evangelicalism which benefits the Catholic Church. For I recall my pastor at the time saying that one of the benefits he saw flowing from his church was that young people would get saved and then start encouraging their parents to get serious again about their faith. This would give their parents and other relatives a bad conscience. However, being ‘good Catholics’, they could not consider going to a Protestant church. Instead they would return to the Catholic Church and become regular mass attendees. In short it was a win-win situation for all concerned.

Summing Up

The story of the rise and fall of the Quebec Catholic Church is a remarkable one - which contains the elements of a great epic novel. There is a passionate but tragic love affair - in this case between a nation and a great religious institution. There is betrayal - with blame to be laid on both sides. There is the sweep of great historical movements - in this case involving the death of the old very rural, very conservative, and very Catholic Quebec and the rise of a modern, urban, high-tech social democratic State. There is the rise of a seemingly nihilistic and materialistic secular order - and the tantalizing early outlines of a possible spiritual revival.

In short it is a tale worthy of a remarkable people - which Quebeckers most definitely are.

I wish them well in the future - and look forward to seeing what lies ahead for them.

photo credit: The Library of Congress Church of Ste. Anne de Beaupré (LOC) via photopin (license)



1. Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. History of the Church in Canada. Retrieved from: http://www.cccb.ca/site/eng/church-in-canada-and-world/catholic-church-in-canada/history-of-the-church-in-canada

2. Claude Bélanger. The Roman Catholic Church and Quebec. Retrieved from: http://faculty.marianopolis.edu/c.belanger/quebechistory/readings/church.htm

3. Ibid.

4. Terence J. Fay. A History of Canadian Catholics. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, [c2002] p. 304.

5. Ibid. pp. 252-253.

6. David Seljak. “Why the Quiet Revolution was ‘Quiet’: The Catholic Church’s Reaction to the Secularization of Nationalism in Quebec after 1960". CCHA Historical Studies, 62 (1996). p. 111.

7. Mao Tse-tung. "Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan" (March 1927), Selected Works, Vol. I, p. 28. Retrieved from: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/works/red-book/ch02.htm

8. Reginald Bibby. Religion À La Carte in Quebec: A Problem of Demand, Supply, or Both? p.14. Retrieved from: http://www.reginaldbibby.com/images/Quebec_Paper_July07.pdf

9. Preston Jones. “Quebec after Catholicism”. First Things. June 1999. Retrieved from: https://www.firstthings.com/article/1999/06/quebec-after-catholicism

10. Reginald Bibby. Op. Cit. p.1

11. Sandro Magister. While Rome Talks, Québec Has Already Been Lost. Retrieved from: http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/207117bdc4.html?eng=y

12. The Hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Archdiocese of Quebec. Retrieved from: http://www.catholic-hierarchy.org/diocese/dqueb.html

13. Graeme Hamilton. “What's happening to Montreal's churches? Quebec finding new ways to preserve its heritage in a secular age.” National Post. July 25, 2014. Retrieved from: http://nationalpost.com/holy-post/whats-happening-to-montreals-churches-quebec-finding-new-ways-to-preserve-its-heritage-in-a-secular-age/wcm/419f8d6a-c470-4c7b-b222-891298dc3457

14. Paul Malvern, Andrea Mrozek and Catherine Benesch. A Quebec Family Portrait. Ottawa: Institute for Marriage and Family Canada, 2011. pp. 20-22. Retrieved from: https://www.imfcanada.org/archive/247/qu%C3%A9bec-family-portrait

15. “Hauteur et mauvaise foi envers nous de ‘l’État c’est nous!’” L’Action nationale, 55, no. 3, (November, 1965). p. 331. Quoted in David Seljak. Op. Cit. pp. 116-117.

16. Marc Ouellet. “Where is Québec going? On faith and secularism”. Published in Vita e Pensiero, the magazine of the Catholic University of Milan. Retrieved from: http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/207117bdc4.html?eng=y