Cardinal Ouellet's issues mea culpa to Quebec

By  Cardinal Marc Ouellet
  • November 22, 2007
{mosimage}Editor's note: Cardinal Marc Ouellet, archbishop of Quebec and primate of the Catholic Church in Canada, made front page news Nov. 21 with the publication in daily newspapers across the province of an open letter asking forgiveness for the sins of past church leaders. Below is an English translation.

Following my intervention at the Bouchard-Taylor commission, your comments have been many and varied. I have read all of them with great care, whether they came in the mail or through the media. I thank you for the messages of support, I also thank you for the criticism which has made me reflect and prompted this open letter, which seeks to deepen reflection, dispel misunderstandings and promote dialogue in a spirit of peace and reconciliation.

In response to my analysis of the Quebecois malaise I have heard “finally, it’s about time!” as well as “what a step backward!” Let’s be clear. I am not asking for Quebec society to go back to 1950. From a sociological and cultural point of view, pluralism and secularism have made their home in Quebec and we must be proud of the gains made in the areas of the economy, health, culture, social services, education, politics and dynamism of Quebec society. Quebec has an enviable living standard, a culture of liberty and tolerance, an openess to immigration and a load of talent in arts and culture. But a fact remains: its search for spirituality is languishing. Perhaps was it impeded by the excessive authority of the Church? Or perhaps has it not received the education necessary to its needs? The spiritual void which I have mentioned is the fruit of the spirit of the world which, by wanting to eliminate God, suggests, in a thousand ways, that we become our own God.

Reluctance to procreate, to spawn life, compromises Quebec’s future, and its youth seeks role-models which are cruelly lacking. We need a serious dialogue on values and our Christian stance to once again give faith and hope to Quebec’s soul.

The Catholic Church has no lack of exemplary figures who have marked our society’s history. Secular people, men and women, religious people, left behind memorable traces, a precious heritage in the fields of health, education and evangelism. Pope John Paul II canonized and beatified 14 of these figures during his pontificate. But, unfortunately, they are too little known.

Much more attention is given to the church’s negative side than to its contribution to active Quebec history and culture. A just and enlightened exam of our past would help, I think, recognize our limits but also nourrish Quebecers’ pride and confidence in their future.

Inspired by the gesture of John Paul II in March of 2000, of which I have born witness, I am inviting Catholics to perform an act of repentance and reconciliation. Quebec society drags a wounded history whose bad memories block access to the sources of its soul and religious identity. The time has come to take stock and make a new start. Errors were committed which have tarnished the image of the church and for which we must humbly ask for forgiveness. I am inviting pastors and the faithful to help me seek the manner with which to recognize our mistakes  and deficiencies, so as to help our society reconcile with its Christian past.

As Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada, I recognize that the narrow attitudes of certain Catholics, prior to 1960, favoured anti-Semitism, racism, indifference toward First Nations and discrimination against women and homosexuals. The behaviour of Catholics and certain episcopal authorities with regards to the right to vote, access to work and promotion of women, hasn’t always been up to par with society’s needs or conformed to the social doctrine of the church.

I also recognize that abuses of power and cover-ups have, for many, tarnished the image of the clergy and its moral authority: mothers have been rebuffed by priests without concern for their family obligations; youngsters were subject to sexual aggression by priests and religious figures, causing great injury and traumatism which have broken their lives! These scandals have shaken popular confidence toward religious authorities and we understand this! orry for all this sin! 

The period of Lent in 2008, in preparation for the international eucharistic congress in Quebec City, will give us the opportunity to make a public display of repentance, basing ourselves on God’s gift to the world of life through the Eucharist. Other initiatives will follow to facilitate dialogue and heal memory.
May this search for peace and reconciliation, made in all sincerity, help Quebec more serenely remember its christian and missionary identity, which has given it an enviable place on the international scene.

As pastor of a mainly Catholic people, you will understand that the handing down of our cultural and religious heritage is close to my heart. That is why I reiterate my support to parents who have the right to receive a religious instruction at school true to their convictions. I therefore join them in asking the State to respect the Quebec tradition of handing down religious teachings at school, not necessarily BY the school, and allow churches and recognised religious groups to teach confessional courses, conceived and paid for by them. And in the name of everyone’s religious liberty, state ethics and religious culture courses should be optional. 
We are proud to be Quebecers and we do not want to lose our means to pass down the deep values of our religious heritage. Our Judaeo-christian tradition has made of us a solidary-minded and charitable people, we know how to help each other and are able to forgive with the help of God. In order to once again fully believe in ourselves and become confident in our future, let us find roads to reconciliation and offer our compatriots a real dialogue on spiritual and religious values which have shaped Quebec identity. In a way, isn’t it about, today as it was yesterday, simply living the gospel?

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