Quebec: A Debate on Secularization

Source: FSSPX News


According to a survey made by SOM-Le Soleil-La Presse, almost 65% of the Quebecers thinks that too many “reasonable accommodations” have been granted to date. Certain practices, -- such as voting with the face veiled, or the kirpan carried in schools by the Sikhs (the kirpan is a symbolic weapon similar to a dagger), or the request made by Hasidic Jews not to have a woman examiner when they take the driving test for the Car Insurance Company of Quebec, -- are condemned by almost all of the persons surveyed.

According to Gilles Therrien, President of the Poll Company SOM, for Quebecers, “secularization is very important, just like equality between genders.” Thus, in the name of secularity, they oppose the Sikh turban worn instead of the safety helmet in the Port of Montreal, and the Sikh turban worn by a policeman of the Royal Canadian Police, but also the Christmas trees before the town halls of Quebec and the official use of the greeting “Merry Christmas.” Still in the name of secularity, polemics arose against the presence of the crucifix in Quebec National Assembly, and that of crosses on public property.

In the name of these “reasonable accommodations” which must fight against religious discrimination, in 2004, Marion Boyd, former General Procurator of Ontario, expressed the wish that Muslims may use the sharia -- Islamic law  -- in Canada, within the frame of family law.  The project was abandoned after a heated controversy. The only Muslim Congresswoman, Fatima Houda-Pépin, opposed it, judging that the sharia would be unacceptable for Muslim women in Canada.


Cardinal Ouellet Before the Bouchard-Taylor Commission

Since last August, a commission, presided over by Gérard Bouchard, a sociologist and historian, and Charles Taylor, a philosopher, has been trying to take stock of the practices of accommodation, to analyze the present malaise, its causes, its stakes (inter-culturalism, immigration, the place of religion in the public field, and Quebecer identity), in order to try  to find solutions. For the purpose, on October 29, the commission received Cardinal Marc Ouellet, archbishop of Quebec, who presented a memorandum entitled “Reasonable Accommodation and Religious Liberty in Quebec.”

According to the prelate, the “real identity malaise” of Quebec is not connected with the place of religion in public life, nor with the integration of immigrants and their requests for accommodations, but with “the spiritual void which is undermining Quebec culture and generating insecurity.” He asked the majority of the Catholics to “wake up,” judging that if they were to recover their faith, “we would have most of the solution to the existing tensions”, and that “Quebecers would better welcome and accept immigrants if they were to return to the Catholic religion which advocates sharing and tolerance.”

The primate of Canada thinks that this spiritual void in Quebec is responsible for “the distress of youth, the sharp drop in marriages, the weak birth rate and the frightening number of abortions and suicides which add to the precarious conditions of public health. Quebec is ripe for a new profound evangelization,” he affirmed. “Our society needs a movement of conversion to deep spiritual values and a new covenant between a faith that has become dormant or passive and the common culture which is emerging and is in search of its roots.”

Cardinal Ouellet noted that the requests for accommodations for religious reasons are negligible, and in his opinion, it shows that the reason for the present tensions is to be found elsewhere. “Let us not make either those who came here to find refuge and a country of adoption, or their religions which we consider intrusive, endorse responsibility for the deep crisis in Quebec society.” “Refugees and immigrants often bring to us the riches of their testimonies and cultural values which are added to the common values of Quebec society,” he specified. “To welcome, to share and to show solidarity must remain our basic attitude towards them and towards their human and religious needs.”

Indeed, for Cardinal Ouellet the true root problem is the emergence in Quebec of an “anti-Catholic rhetoric, full of clichés” which is often found in the media and which fosters “a veritable culture of contempt and shame for our religious heritage.” “The presence of the crucifix at the National Assembly, in the Town Hall, at our crossroads is not a sign of some State religion” and to remove it would be equivalent to a “cultural rupture,” and a “denial” of the history of this country, “based on the values of Christianity.”

For the Canadian Archbishop, it is vital that Quebecers “learn again to respect all religions,” without giving way to the “pressures exercised by secular fundamentalists who clamor for the exclusion of religion from the public domain.” Moreover, he denounced Law 95, which, as of next September, will replace classes of Catholic religion in schools by lessons of ethics and religious culture, in which the child will be taught the beliefs and rites of several religions. “The reform imposed by Law 95 subjects religions to the control and the interests of the States, while putting an end to the religious liberties which had been acquired for generations,” he concluded.

The Gazette of October 30 specified that Cardinal Ouellet added: “We have lost contact with the regular preaching of the Gospel on Sunday, you know, the gathering around the eucharist which was key to the identity of the Quebec people. The day you take distance from this source of grace and blessing, you will find down the road social consequences.”


Religious Liberty at the Service of Truth?

In spite of a certain courage, the discourse of Cardinal Ouellet nevertheless remains paradoxical. For him, it is a matter of defending the place of Catholicism in Quebec society in the name of religious liberty. They must “learn again to respect all religions” without for all that, “giving way to the pressures exercised by secular fundamentalists who clamor for the exclusion of religion from the public domain,” - any religion, independently of its dogmatic teaching. And, Pierre Foglia, in La Presse of November 1, found it easy to reply, not without a certain amount of bad faith: “The objective of secularism was never to ignore “the religious fact.” Ever since the beginning of the previous century, secularism has never prevented millions of Christians to live their faith, and never attempted anything against their liberty of conscience. A pope like John Paul II, thoroughly attached to the rights of men, acknowledged that secularism was legitimate.”

The paradox which is latent with Cardinal Ouellet, became clearly manifest under the pen of another prelate consulted by the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, Bishop Martin Veillette, of Three-Rivers, who pleaded in favor of the social role of Catholicism both in the name of the principle of separation of Church and State, and in the name of religious liberty. “I will confine myself to two aspects (…): the separation of State and religion, and the right of every citizen to manifest his religions, his vision of the world.”

Concerning the first point, he affirmed: “That Church and State be separate is very good. ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God, the things that are God’s,’[1] Jesus said to the Pharisees who were trying to trick him. Quebec society has long suffered from a “sometimes too close marriage” between religion and the governments. And, this is not peculiar only to our Province! Everywhere in the world, when the State and the religious domain are closely “adapted to each other” deviations occur and populations suffer the consequences.

“I acknowledge historical errors, and, in the line of the Gospel, I encourage a perspective in which both State and religion are autonomous in their respective spheres. (…) Along these same lines, I agree that the State must not be identified with one religion or one vision of the world. The Commission underlines this, and this neutrality is a logical consequence of the fact that State and religion act independently. The State must represent all its citizens and treat them on an equal basis. The Gospel message points to the same direction since it is addressed to all nations and to all cultures.”

But, in order for the separation of Church and State not to end in a secularism who would confine religion exclusively to the private domain, with no influence at all on social life, Bishop Veillette had recourse to the notion of “open secularism,” namely a secularism mitigated by religious liberty of expression.

“I put forward an open secularism, since ‘traditional religions, essentially Christianity, do not represent any threat for the neutrality of our institutions, but are, on the contrary, a support, and breathe into them additional values’[2]. As Jacques Grand’Maison wrote: “The progress of the State of right and of pluralism allows all groups, including religious ones, to coexist in the public field.”[3]

“I put forward an open secularism, since I believe that society needs both the content and the form of its spiritual heritages build up a more just society. An integral secularism maintains that no religious reference must be taken into account in the establishment of a civic ethic. Numerous Christians justly claim the contrary. Believers and unbelievers expect Christians to be at the heart of social, political and cultural stakes.

“Of course, Christ calls upon us to ‘love one another.’ But, He said this and practiced it in all sorts of ways. All through His mission on earth, He opened up paths of prophetism. He denounced debasing authorities, including religious ones, and gave His preference to the beggars rather than to the rich. He placed the dignity of the human person in the foreground and questioned the established order, disembodied institutions, and so on.”

“I take the liberty of quoting Fernand Dumont: “Christians are probably not the only ones to wish that the Church plunge her roots again in our soil, (…) that she be present again in the significant matters at stake in the country. After a beneficent phase during which she withdrew, it would be scandalous that the Christian community accept to live in a ghetto-situation, in a peaceful coexistence with the government.”[4]

“I put forward an open secularism and I wish that, during the works of this Commission, we be many to refuse that the Catholic religion be relegated to the private sphere. I feel no nostalgia for the “ecclesial” society prior to 1960, and I certainly do not want to restore it. The rise of secularism was salutary for society and for the Catholic religion itself. It was a kind of  purging. It was a call made to us, Catholics, to renew with the deep roots of our faith, to come closer to the humility of the Gospels and to continue to work for a better and more just world with less means, but inspired with the same spirit.”


In Bolivia Also

Thus it is not in the name of the right of truth to be taught, but in the name of freedom of expression for all religious opinions, that is claimed the right for Catholicism to intervene in public debate.

The same attitude was adopted by Bolivian bishops who have requested that a “privileged” status for Catholicism be removed from the Constitution of their country. Indeed, on June 30, 2007, Archbishop Abastoflor, of La Paz, declared the position of the Church on Article 3 of the Constitution of the Bolivian State[5]: “We have expressed the wish that the redaction of this article may be changed, because it gives the impression that the Church is privileged compared with other religious denominations or beliefs in the country.” Nevertheless, the archbishop of La Paz recalled that it was very important to take into account the social, historical and sociological reality of the Church in Bolivia where 80% of the population is Catholic. In other words, for statistical and no longer for dogmatical reasons, Catholicism must take part in the public debate in Bolivia. But, demographic statistics may change… downwards with the rise of sects. Then what will be the place granted to the Catholic Church in Bolivia?

When confronted with the denial of the rights of revealed truth in the name of religious liberty, it is useful to go back to the traditional doctrine of the Church as it was recalled in a book recently published: “The Church (since the Second Vatican Council) with the recognition of the principle of religious liberty, has rallied herself to secularism. Proclaiming the State’s incompetence in religious matters, she has rendered legitimate a separation which Saint Pius X, following Pius IX, had condemned because it had, as its corollary, the renunciation of the Church to her claim to giving rule to society.”

“In the traditional doctrine, such as it was taught up to the Council, the doctrine made into a theory by St. Thomas Aquinas, there certainly was no confusion between the spiritual and the temporal order, but there was collaboration. Because the temporal order had to be in a position of subjection for what pertained to the spiritual (what we called mixed domains, in which there were religious or moral implications), even if it enjoyed autonomy in its own domain.”

“The Council’s declaration upturned the relationship between the Church and the world by proclaiming that  the freedom of choosing and practicing your religion in the external forum was an imprescriptible right of the human person, because it was bound with the ontological dignity of man. By substituting the person to divine truth as the subject of a right free of any constraints, it tied the hands of the Church and, in advance, deprived her interventions in the social sphere of any authority.” (Michel De Jaeghere, Enquête sur la christianophobie, Editions Renaissance Catholique, pp. 203-204) - (sources: Zenit/Apic/The Gazette/ La Presse/ private sources)

[1] Matt. 22:21.

[2] Quebec Bishops’ Meeting, “Reasonable accommodations”, a synthetic document presented on the occasion of the Plenary Meeting held September 11 through 14, in Three-Rivers.

[3] Jacques Grand’Maison, “Pour un nouvel humanisme” Fides, 2007.

[4] Fernand Dumont, “Raisons communes”, Boréal, Collection papiers collés, 1995, pp. 223-224.

[5] “The State acknowledges and supports the Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman religion. It guarantees the public practice of any other religion. The relationships with the Catholic Church will be ruled according to the concordats and agreements between the Bolivian State and the Holy See.” Art. 3 of the Constitution.