Cardinal Ouellet abortion comments ignite 'hateful response'

  • May 19, 2010
Cardinal Marc Ouellet and babyOTTAWA - A popular Quebec columnist said he hopes Cardinal Marc Ouellet will die after a long, painful illness because he called abortion a moral crime even in cases of rape.

“Why should we push a woman who has been the victim of a crime to commit one of her own,” Ouellet told a pro-life conference in Quebec City May 15, prompting a province-wide backlash.

Afterwards he told journalists: “I understand very well that a woman who’s been raped is dealing with trauma and that she needs to be helped. But she needs to do so with respect for the being that is in her womb. It is not responsible for what happened. It’s the rapist who is responsible. But there’s already a victim. Do we need to have another one?”

Those remarks prompted La Presse columnist Patrick Lagacé to not only wish death on the cardinal, but also to call him an extremist and compare him to the Iranian imam who recently blamed natural disasters on women who dressed indecently.

“We’re all going to die,” Lagacé wrote in Montreal’s La Presse. “Cardinal Ouellet will die someday. I hope he dies from a long and painful illness. . . Yes, the paragraph I’ve just written is vicious. But Marc Ouellet is an extremist. And in the debate against religious extremists, every shot is fair game.”

“The statement of Patrick Lagacé is below any standard of journalistic fairness or respect, and is frankly hateful,” said Joanne McGarry, executive director of the Catholic Civil Rights League. “If La Presse has any regard for its reputation, it will apologize and distance itself from its columnist’s remarks.”

Ouellet was merely doing his job as a bishop, teaching the views of the Catholic Church, said Catholic Organization for Life and Family director Michele Boulva. She noted Ouellet was only proposing Catholic teaching, not imposing it when he made the remarks during a 40-minute address to the pro-life conference organized by Campagne Quebec-Vie.

“It’s very clear he is not condemning any woman who has had an abortion,” Boulva stressed. “He is simply trying to protect the dignity of human life from conception to natural death.”

Lagacé crested a wave of vitriol that swept the Quebec media and political establishment and spread to Ottawa. Federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Josée Verner distanced the Harper government from the cardinal and called his remarks “unacceptable.” Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff used the occasion to attack the pro-choice Verner for not supporting the funding of overseas abortions.

The Assembly of Quebec Bishops issued a May 17 statement that called abortion one of the most difficult and painful questions society confronts. It is urgent to recreate a climate of serenity and respect for rational public dialogue, it said. The bishops said all could agree, whether pro-life or pro-choice, to create measures to support, love, help and surround every pregnant woman in distress so misery and hopelessness do not drive her to consider abortion.

Quebec archdiocese communications director Jasmin Lemieux-Lefebvre said Ouellet knew his remarks would provoke debate. He acknowledged Ouellet was taking a tough stand that many would not want the Church to take.

“We just want to contribute to the debate,” he said. “Here’s the contribution of the Church. Is the full legal vacuum the answer? In the opinion of the cardinal, it is not.”

Campagne Quebec-Vie president Georges Buscemi, who organized the May 15 conference, said abortion always triggers an irrational response in Quebec.

“There’s a kind of visceral or allergic reaction,” he said. “It is pre-rational and it is almost always vicious and it aims at destroying dissenting opinion.

“The more prominent the figure, the more vicious the attack,” he said, describing Lagacé’s as the worst. “It just seemed kind of sick; there was something deeply unhealthy about it and disturbing.”

Buscemi said the media is playing up a schism, a view that there are two Catholic Churches in Quebec: an inclusive gay-rights and abortion-friendly Church and the Church of Ouellet that is medieval and passé.

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