Falling from Grace - The Rise and Fall of the Quebec Catholic Church

July 29, 2017
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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

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