Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 3, 2007
Ouellet stunned by strong reaction to his apology
Repentance is preparation for Eucharistic Congress, he says
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
The apology "is a first step in a journey of dialogue in order to understand each other better."
- Cardinal Marc Ouellet
"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."
The apology letter came three weeks after his Oct. 30 brief to the Bouchard-Taylor Commission studying reasonable accommodation of religious minorities.
Ouellet told the commission Quebec's uneasiness with newcomers, its miniscule birth rate, high suicide rate and other social ills stemmed from a spiritual void created by the collapse of Catholicism.
The cardinal said the response to this brief prompted him to write the apology letter. In it, he asked whether Quebec's search for spirituality was impeded by "the excessive authority of the Church."
Reaction to the letter dominated news coverage in Quebec and quickly spread to the rest of Canada. It led the CBC's flagship news program The National that night, and made the front page of both Canada's national newspapers the next day.
Many news stories featured negative reactions from representatives of women's groups and gay rights organizations who, while grudgingly accepting the cardinal's apology, criticized it for not going far enough. They criticized the Church's stand on women's ordination, contraception and same-sex marriage.
McGill University professor of religion and public policy Dan Cere described some of the reaction as "bizarre."
"If they are expecting the Catholic Church to transform itself into the United Church of Canada that's not going to happen," he said.
"The Church would end up metamorphosing into another church. But I think that's what some folks are hoping for."
Cere also defended Ouellet's choosing to apologize for the acts of the Church before 1960, because after the Quiet Revolution the Church has been so marginalized in Quebec it has had little impact.
Saint Paul University theology professor Catherine Clifford described the media response in Quebec as "a hermeneutic of suspicion."
"I think he's sincere in trying to take ownership of unfortunate chapters of history in Quebec society."
Clifford challenged the perception that Ouellet's apology was unusual, pointing to numerous other public apologies in Canada by bishops and bishops' conferences for residential schools abuses and the sexual abuse of children.
Ouellet acknowledged being inspired by the example of John Paul II, who in March 2000 asked for forgiveness for past sins of Church members.
Some called the apology tainted or calculating because Ouellet reiterated his support for parents to have a say over the kind of religious education their children receive in the schools. Quebec plans to impose an Ethics and Religious culture course next fall on all schools, public and private. Ouellet has waged a public campaign against this course.
Luc Gagnon, president of Quebec Campagne-Vie, a pro-life organization, and editor of Egards, a socially conservative journal, described Ouellet as "a prophetic voice in our time" and a "religious leader who defends the interests of the faithful against the aggression of the state."
Gagnon said Ouellet's "mea culpa" was an invitation for Quebecers to get past the resentment they have towards their Catholic heritage: "Don't be angry any more about your own religious tradition, but act as an adult, be mature."
While many news outlets treated Ouellet's title as primate as if he were the official leader of the Catholic Church in Canada; others played up his isolation from the other bishops in Canada.
The Ottawa Citizen, for example, said Church officials "sought to distance themselves" from Ouellet, noting the silence of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB).
The Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Quebec (AEQ) president Trois-Rivieres Bishop Martin Veillette described Ouellet's letter as a "personal initiative."
"Cardinal Ouellet has not written his letter with the other bishops of Quebec," he said, noting that each bishop "can decide to make an intervention if he wants."
Canon law expert Father Frank Morrisey of Saint Paul University explained the role of primate as a "primacy of liturgical function."
Because Ouellet heads the oldest diocese in Canada, he gets first place in processions, but in terms of leading the Church it "means absolutely nothing," and has "no jurisdiction attached to it at all."
Morrisey noted Ouellet does not speak on behalf of the Quebec bishops either. However, he described the attention given to his statement as "quite significant."
Cere sees Ouellet echoing in a Canadian context what Pope Benedict is doing on an international and European context when the pope talks about the malaise of European culture and the need for a revival of its Christian roots.
Far from politically calculating, Cere described Ouellet as a "deeply reflecting individual" with a background in theology.
Former gay rights activist Alan Yoshioka appreciated Ouellet's apology.
Church members have been guilty of "failures of sensitivity, respect and compassion towards people with homosexual attraction," said the Toronto-based writer and editor, who was received into the Catholic Church two years ago.
Yoshioka now sees the Church's teachings on homosexual behaviour as "truly motivated by love" but he credits supernatural help in coming to that understanding.
"This statement is a preparation for the Eucharistic Congress," Yoshioka said. "How can the Church in Quebec go forward to this wonderful celebration of the Eucharist without having made peace or an attempt to make peace with the people of Quebec whom it has injured."
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.