Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
July 19, 2010
Ouellet challenged a secular Quebec
He displayed courage in challenging relativist pieties of secularist society
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS
History has yet to determine the legacy Cardinal Marc Ouellet has left Quebec and will leave in his new role as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.
But his longtime friends reveal a much different picture than the mainstream media's depiction of a man ambitious for the papacy, a hardliner out of touch with Quebec and a harsh "ayatollah" who will be remembered for opposing abortion.
When Cardinal Marc Ouellet became archbishop of Quebec in 2002, people initially viewed him - mistakenly - as an outsider, as "the man from Rome" sent to straighten things out, said Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast.
McGill University historian John Zucchi described Ouellet, 66, as an insider who not only lived through the Quiet Revolution - he was at the Grand Seminary in Montreal during its "cusp" - but as someone who deeply felt its impact upon his immediate family. Only he, of eight children, and his 88-year old mother, still practise the Catholic faith.
Ouellet's years as a Sulpician missionary in South America and his studies in Rome under the great Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar exposed Ouellet to different perspectives, Zucchi said.
When he returned to Quebec in the late 1980s to teach at Montreal's Grand Seminary, he "came back with a new objectivity on the situation in the Church," making him both an insider and an outsider.
Zucchi said Ouellet's return as archbishop in 2002 was not that of a "hit man to fix everything," but a recognition that there are "no quick fixes in the Church," that draconian measures could not change things - only humility and a long, arduous path to restore the place of religious faith.
"He never managed to carry the majority of the Quebec bishops or he didn't manage to do that on some key issues," said McGill University theologian Douglas Farrow. "Of course, he is a bishop of a quite different stripe."
Farrow said many Quebec bishops remain "deeply mired in the aftermath of the Quiet Revolution" that required the Church to adjust to the new laicism and agnosticism of Quebec society.
"(Ouellet) wasn't of that sort," Farrow said. "He pointed out that Quebec society cannot flourish - not for long - without recovering its roots and its attachment to the Christian Gospel and he was unafraid to make that claim even on very controversial matters."
He was not against Quebec's desires, Zucchi stressed, but saw that it was missing the salvation it longed for, the true fulfillment that could only be found in Christ.
Both Zucchi and Farrow say the Quiet Revolution did not reverse the coziness of Catholic religious leaders had with government during the Duplessis era.
The Church had been the right hand of government under Duplessis, Farrow said. But this "hand in glove" relationship after the Quiet Revolution changed so "the government was the leading hand now and the Church was going to go along with the government."
A NEW ATTITUDE
In Ouellet's criticism of the relativist ethics and religious culture curriculum (ERC) the province imposed on even private schools, Ouellet pioneered a new attitude towards the relationship of Church and state, Farrow said.
"He may not always have gone about it in the most diplomatic ways, but he certainly has gone about it with courage and comprehension of the situation."
Ouellet's stance recalled the courageous battle of Quebec's first bishop, Francois de Laval with Governor General Louis Frontenac over the liquor trade that was destroying the lives of native people, Farrow said.
Ouellet also paid a price for his uncompromising defence of human life.
Zucchi said he has never seen any Church leader attacked so derisively and viciously. "The silence of the hierarchy in Quebec spoke volumes," Zucchi said, who questioned why no one came forward publicly to show solidarity with him.
FEAR OF THE TRUTH
The attacks against Ouellet, who had no power, pointed to a fear in Quebec society of "anyone who has the courage to speak the truth," the historian said.
One bishop who did stand publicly with him was Prendergast who travelled to Quebec City in late May to face the Quebec media at a joint news conference.
"Given that many bishops prefer to lay low on controversial topics, he appears harsh for simply speaking the truths of our faith without compromise," Prendergast said.
But Prendergast, who has known Ouellet since the days they were both young priests who never expected to become bishops, dismissed claims the cardinal is a moralist or an ayatollah. He described him as a shepherd.
"He believes that only those who are evangelized, (who) have had an encounter with Christ personally or through contact with his Church, will be able to accept his teaching on the life issues."
"But given that Quebecers have fled the Church, he needs to get their attention so that they will come to inquire of Christ. One way is that of his counter-cultural preaching pointing out to people that having the highest suicide rates, broken marriages and wounded families are not indicators of the 'good life' people thought they were acquiring when they bought into the secularist agenda," Prendergast said.
Zucchi stressed Ouellet was not an ideologue. Instead, he wants people to have an encounter with Christ, an encounter with the Eucharist.
Ouellet will be remembered for the impact of the 2008 Eucharistic Congress and for his reaching out to youth, through the Montee Jeunesse/Youth Summits, Zucchi said. "It's not a massive group of young people, but a significant following, whose fruits we will see in the future."
Though the cardinal was attacked constantly for being retrograde and conservative, Zucchi said there is a silent world of thousands of people who knew him, followed him, admired him and loved him.
Prendergast agreed that the faithful in Quebec love him. He predicted the congress would leave a lasting legacy.
"Several times during that magnificent week of June 2008, Cardinal Ouellet, stated emphatically that the congress marked a 'turning point,'" Basilian Father Tom Rosica, CEO of the Salt and Light Media Foundation said in an online tribute.
"Cardinal Marc Ouellet was God's instrument of resurrection at this moment in Canadian history," Rosica said.
Some observers viewed his 1994 move to the small St. Joseph Seminary in Edmonton as a demotion. Zucchi dismissed criticisms of Ouellet as ambitious for power. "He was a nobody until 1999. He had no ambitions," he said.
Zucchi recalled attending an event in Rome in the late 1990s that drew many bishops, archbishops and cardinals. He saw Ouellet sit humbly in the back, a simple priest. "He didn't go up to mingle with them; he wasn't there to try to network with the Vatican bigwigs."
In 1999, Pope John Paul II appointed him secretary of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity and made him a bishop. In 2002, Ouellet was "completely shocked" to be named archbishop of Quebec, Zucchi said.
In the next two to four years, half of Quebec's dioceses will become vacant due to bishops' reaching retirement age. In his new role, Ouellet will play a key role in finding bishops to form a "united episcopate that is capable of taking on the challenges that now have to be faced," Farrow said.
Rosica noted the importance of Ouellet being a North American, but not Anglo-Saxon, making him a "bridge to Latin America and to Europe."
Many say it will be hard to find someone of Ouellet's stature to replace him as archbishop of Quebec and primate of Canada. While his promotion is widely seen as good for the universal Church, he will leave a gaping hole in Quebec.
"He'll be remembered for being the first of the major episcopal voices to challenge the status quo and call Quebec to repentance and to recover its lost heritage of faith," said Farrow. "I think a voice in Quebec was needed and he was it."
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