The late Fr. Raymond Gravel. Catholic Register file photo.

Fr. Gravel pursued agenda of rebellion

By 
  • August 21, 2014

Fr. Raymond Gravel died on the feast of St. Clare and was buried on Assumption day with great laudations from Quebec’s political class. The flag at Montreal city hall was lowered to half-mast by order of the mayor, and former Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe spoke at the funeral Mass. 

Under different circumstances, I think I would have enjoyed meeting Fr. Gravel. Something of his character obviously inspired people, and brought a measure of comfort and consolation to the suffering and ostracized. We never did meet though, as his decision to run for Parliament in 2006 earned my public criticism, which he did not take well. 

I was on Parliament Hill more than a few times during his two years as an MP for events open to all, but he did not attend. He did write me a handful of heated letters, the kind of letters that led one to conclude that any dealing with him was best handled in writing alone, where everything was on the record. 

Fr. Gravel took great offence that I wrote that as a consequence of him serving as an MP — explicitly forbidden by canon law — he was suspended from his priestly duties. He claimed that he was not suspended because his bishop had given him permission to serve in Parliament. (It is not clear whether such permission is even within the bishop’s authority to give.) In any case, the bishop imposed on Fr. Gravel the restriction that he not celebrate the sacraments publicly and not preach, so it was quite obviously a de facto suspension from priestly ministry. 

Fr. Gravel argued that because he agreed to these conditions, no suspension had been formally imposed on him. It was a distinction without a difference, all the more evident when the bishop of Joliette, after being repeatedly told to enforce canon law by his brother bishops in Canada and by the Holy See, forced Fr. Gravel to leave Parliament or leave the priesthood. Fr. Gravel consequently declined to run in the 2008 election. 

Fr. Gravel’s protest was consistent with his public life, in which he was always determined to have it both ways. He called himself a priest first and foremost, but then insisted on running for office and exempting himself from the penalties. He promised that if elected he would not advance positions contrary to Catholic social doctrine, but did just that regarding the sanctity of life and marriage. He insisted he was faithful to the Gospel, but publicly took positions at odds with defined teaching of the magisterium. He spoke about empowering the laity, but denounced lay people who disagreed with him and had the temerity to offer public criticism. He insisted on his freedom to speak and to criticize, but when criticized by LifeSiteNews he tried to shut them up with an absurd nuisance lawsuit. He insisted that he was not “pro-abortion” even as he argued that abortion should remain legal. 

His bishop got to have it both ways too. He did not prohibit Fr. Gravel from running for office and did not prevent it. He both applied canon law and did not apply it. He finally acted but could blame it on Rome at the same time. The Bloc Québécois, always strident about keeping religion out of public life and censuring clerics when they speak out, was happy to have a priest in their caucus, so long as he accepted their separatist and secularist ways. 

At his funeral in the Joliette cathedral, Fr. Gravel’s casket was covered by the Quebec flag. The usual custom is for the casket of a Catholic to be covered by a funeral pall, symbol of baptism. The choice — whoever made it — of the flag spoke volumes about the priorities in Fr. Gravel’s life. The blue-and-white fleur-de-lis flag of Quebec is vestigially religious, much like Fr. Gravel’s public life. 

“Raymond said out loud the things that many Quebecers thought but didn’t dare express,” a Catholic Register story quoted Radio Canada journalist Alain Crevier, a longtime friend. 

That is hilariously untrue. There was nothing Fr. Gravel said on public affairs that was not well within the rather narrow acceptable consensus of Quebec separatist politics. He was a passionate man but a boring thinker, slavishly following the tired agenda of Catholic rebellion that has shaped Quebec public life for decades. Entirely predictable on all matters, he was news only because the expectation that Catholic priests will uphold the Gospel rather than a party manifesto still has some purchase in Quebec. 

It is sad that Fr. Gravel died at only 61. He was sincere in seeking to serve, even if it was ambiguous who he was serving. Requiescat in pace

(Fr. de Souza is the editor-in-chief of Convivium, a Canadian magazine of faith in our common life: www.cardus.ca/convivium.) 

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