Canada: churches for sale in Quebec.

Source: FSSPX News


Last October 29, the press agency APIC made an interesting report on the patrimony of real property of the Catholic Church in Quebec. Readers will find below the most significant excerpts and should not forget that this dramatic situation, which is a tangible sign of universal dechristianization, is not just a phenomenon limited to Catholics of Quebec.

In Quebec, historic Catholic bastion of North America, social and religious life has long revolved around the parish. The correspondence was practically complete…until the mid-1960s. Then came the “silent revolution”, a laicising movement preaching individual autonomy and liberty of conscience; the churches inexorably emptied. Today, due to a decrease in the number of faithful and a lack of the means to maintain them, combined parishes are having to get rid of their places of worship.

The historic churches, victims of the disaffection of the faithful, the migration of the population from downtown to the suburbs and the demographic decline, must suppress parishes or group them into "parish units". What seemed inconceivable only a short while ago is becoming common : churches are secularized and sold. Others are placed at the disposal of cultural groups or of Eastern rite Catholic communities, because those in charge of the churches’ maintenance cannot afford to pay for it. The traditional Churches simply cannot bear the financial burden which is today’s ransom of their wealthy past.

A government study reveals that if we take into account all the works of art produced in Quebec during its history, close to 50% of this patrimony is of religious inspiration. So it is no wonder to find on the Internet real estate ads such as : "East canton. Town of Brigham. Church built in brick in 1872 with original windows. A real jewel, ideal for renovation or for someone good at odd jobs" or also "loft-style apartment to rent. Located in a church, close to the Palais railway station, the Old-Quebec, the Old-harbor. Brick walls."

In 1967, a Quebec suburban parish priest was planning to build a new church… "because the parking lot around his church was to small to accommodate the cars of the 11:oo am mass church-goers while those going to the 10:00 am mass had not yet left." Today, these same parishes are thinking of turning these churches into libraries, gymnasiums, or even houses.

Montreal, once called the "city with 100 steeples", has over these past decades become a great cosmopolite and secularized metropolis. Much water has flown under the bridges over the Saint-Lawrence since the days when, in 1642, Paul de Chomedey, lord of Maisonneuve, gave the name of Ville-Marie to the hamlet he was building at the foot of the Royal mount. The French nobleman, at the head of a missionary expedition, had come to convert the American Indians to the Catholic faith.

Now, only the presence of other ethnic groups or of other religious confessions makes it possible to save a certain number of Catholic buildings in Montreal : Latin-Americans, Koreans, Haitians, Syrians or people from Taiwan have taken over the churches, adapting them to their own rites. "This reflects the new visage of Montreal", a multi-cultural and multi-ethnical city, states Robert Koffend, the spokesman of the Consistory of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

This latter was among those who signed an agreement between the government of Quebec and the main religious authorities of Montreal in November 2001, in the cathedral Mary-Queen-of-the-world. This new partnership aims at promoting the conservation and consolidation of places of worship which present a patrimonial interest in the metropolis. The agreement made for a period of 5 years also foresees a pilot-project for the partial recycling of places of worship in case of desecralization.

Currently there are over 600 places of worship of all religious walks, whether churches, chapels, temples, or synagogues on the island of Montreal. Many of them are numbered among the historic monuments classified as protected patrimony. Among them 70 Catholic churches and about 40 places of worship of other traditions are of patrimonial interest, according to the directory of traditional architecture of the city of Montreal.

Rather than to see them demolished by bulldozers, churches are sold and recycled. The recycling for purposes other than religious is an option already applied to diverse religious buildings. Thus, several rectories have been turned into bed and breakfast, restaurants, or private homes. Same with several convents which have been turned into apartment blocks.

Thus in Quebec, last January the Circus School of Quebec was inaugurated in the former church of the Holy-Ghost, located in the quartier Limoilou. Built in 1930, this religious building had been desecralized since the summer of 2001. It was the first in the city of Quebec to be put to another use following an agreement between the Archdiocese of Quebec, the city of Quebec and the Office of Culture and Communications, regarding the protection and enhancement of the churches located in the Old town of Quebec.

Its fate is better than that of the Church of Our Lady of the Way, built in 1932 and razed to the ground in 1999. As for the church of Saint John of the Cross, located at the corner of the St Zotique Street and the Saint Lawrence boulevard, it was sold. Developers have just turned it into a 59-unit condominium with underground garages and outdoors parking lots. Its porch has been replaced by a large bay-window, and in its sides were opened windows with balconies. The defenders of the patrimony little appreciate the mere safeguard of the outer shell of religious buildings, they have coined a word for it : "façadisme".

In a more social style, the "Chic Resto Pop" — a non-profit organization set up in 1984 by five unemployed people who wanted to create their own employment and help people of their area -— has recently purchased the desecralized Saint-Matthias church and rectory, located at the corner of Orleans and Adam streets in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve quartier. This community restaurant daily serves over 1,200 meals for a reasonable price, and plans on moving into the former church in January 2004. But the new owners intend to keep the steeple, the lights, the stained-glass windows and even the confessionals. The marble altar will be moved to the entrance to serve as a front desk, the pews will be turned into benches, and the sanctuary into a dining hall.

The archdiocese of Montreal sold about ten churches over the past years and wishes to foster the sale to religious groups belonging to the great Christian family. There is less enthusiasm to turn churches into apartment blocks. "Between 1970 and 1976, the diocese of Montreal allowed the destruction of 10 churches. These destructions would not be perceived in the same way today" says Father Claude Turmel, vice-president of the Foundation for the religious patrimony of Quebec. For this priest of the archdiocese of Montreal, "the patrimonial awareness is now stronger."

The Quebec Jesuit André Brouillette, on his part, does not hesitate to speak of a "dilapidation of the religious patrimony" which takes place "in a relative silence and a political powerlessness rather typical of our age". "The protests against impudent projects to turn religious buildings into private properties and disfigure them are sporadic and belated. Besides, nobody wants to go to the root of the problem which is first of a financial nature", states André Brouillette in the Quebec Jesuit magazine Relations (October/November 2001). The Church, he stresses, is the depositary of a rich spiritual patrimony indeed, but also, by reason of its history, of a great part of the patrimonial buildings of Quebec. "Now, it can no longer afford to maintain them on its own."

For André Brouillet the churches do not belong only to the Christians, any more than the synagogues to the Jews : "They are part and parcel of the landscape of our towns and countryside and have been incorporated into our common heirloom. But when the heirloom implies a debt, it must be shared." In spite of the late awakening of a population who long remained indifferent, it is becoming increasingly clear that the safeguard of the religious patrimony cannot be the business of only the practicing faithful. Thus, the struggle for the preservation of the historic monuments concerns all the people of Quebec no matter what their religious convictions and their ethnical origins are. (sic)

The government of Quebec acknowledged this fact by launching a program of subventions for religious buildings in 1995. The money is handed over to the Foundation for the religious patrimony of Quebec which manages the program in accord with the Office of Culture and Communications. The Foundation is a private non-profit association for all religious confessions which operates in Quebec. Its mission is to help the representatives of religious communities and traditions who own buildings, furniture and art works of patrimonial interest to ensure the conservation and enhancement of their properties by restoration and preventive maintenance. The financial operations of the Foundation began in April 1996. Since then, over a thousand project of various sizes from all parts of Quebec have been set under way.

In the Netherlands too, according to the Dutch newspapers, less and less churches are used for the celebration of the mass. Within the last ten years, 623 churches have been closed down or put to other purposes. They shelter mainly libraries or museums or they are turned into apartments. Others remain empty and derelict. The ecumenical commission for ecclesiastical buildings fears that by 2010, one fourth of the 1,800 Catholic churches would have disappeared. According to a poll, three fourth of the Dutch desire that at least one church per village be safeguarded.