Fr. Gravel, who sat in Parliament as a BQ MP, dies at 61

  • August 11, 2014

Priest, politician, Scripture scholar and lightning rod for controversy Fr. Raymond Gravel has died. 

The 61-year-old Joliette, Que., priest died in palliative care in the Lanaudiere region of Quebec Aug. 11. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

The one-time Bloc Quebecois Member of Parliament for Repentigny, northeast of Montreal, was a well-known advocate for Quebec independence.

Fr. Gravel angered many in the pro-life movement by opposing the recriminalization of abortion and instead advocating for more services to women in crisis. Years of stories critical of Fr. Gravel and his positions on abortion and homosexuality eventually provoked him to launch a lawsuit against the LifeSiteNews web site.

In December 2010, after being removed from his position as catechist in the Diocese of Joliette, Fr. Gravel went to the Superior Court of Quebec asking for $300,000 for an attack on his reputation and another $200,000 in punitive damages, calling LifeSite's public characterization of him a voluntary, intentional and malicious attack.

At his death LifeSiteNews editor John Henry Westen was unsure whether the lawsuit would proceed, despite Fr. Gravel's passing. 

Westen said he and his family were praying for the repose of Fr. Gravel's soul.

"We held no animus toward him. We held nothing but love and concern for his soul," Westen told The Catholic Register.

Westen has claimed Fr. Gravel's suit had the potential to sink LifeSite. In a court filing, LifeSiteNews called the suit "an extreme attack on freedom of the press and freedom of speech."

Fr. Gravel had run for office with the permission of his bishop in 2006, delivering the small-town riding of Repentigny to the separatist Bloc. Once in office, complaints began to pour into the Vatican's Congregation for the Clergy, claiming that Fr. Gravel was contravening canon law by holding political office. Eventually, Rome asked Fr. Gravel to choose between laicization and his political career. The request came shortly before Parliament dissolved in 2008. Fr. Gravel did not run again.

There was never really any choice between politics and priesthood, Fr. Gravel later told The Catholic Register.

"My choice to be a priest is essential to me," he said. "This is part of who I am. I love the Church. I can always bring hope to people as a priest."

Fr. Gravel was disappointed that he had been unable to pass a private member's bill he had authored that would have improved seniors' access to guaranteed income supplements. He was also disappointed by the meanness and pettiness of some politicians.

Fr. Gravel regretted how being an MP took him away from the pulpit.

"I am trained as a biblical scholar and not being able to preach was torture for me," he said.

Fr. Gravel drew the ire of some Catholics for his positions on homosexuality as well as abortion. The story of how a young and homeless Fr. Gravel had been briefly pushed into prostitution, long before his 1986 ordination, was played up with sensational headlines on the Internet.

Fr. Gravel also criticized some of the Vatican's language on the pastoral care of homosexuals, calling it "discriminatory, hurtful and offensive."

Abortion was the big issue that dogged Fr. Gravel. LifeSiteNews called him "pro-abortion," a characterization Fr. Gravel repeatedly rejected.

"I am not pro-abortion. I am not pro-Morgantaler," he said. 

Fr. Gravel had supported awarding Dr. Henry Morgantaler the Order of Canada.

Throwing women or doctors in jail was unlikely to do anything to stem the tide of abortion, according to Fr. Gravel. He was also contemptuous of "back-door" attempts to recriminalize abortion through measures such as a 2008 failed private members bill to declare a woman's fetus to be a victim of crime in traffic accidents or assaults that result in death of the mother.

"We have to reopen the abortion debate, but not through the back door," he said. "We must do it openly. I would have supported an open debate."

On leaving political office, Fr. Gravel said he hoped to work in a grassroots ministry to reduce abortions by helping women carry their babies to term.

Even in his illness, Fr. Gravel remained in the public eye, opposing then Quebec premiere Pauline Marois's secular charter.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.