Archbishop Maurice Couture

Archbishop Maurice Couture

March 7, 2016
PHILIPPE VAILLANCOURT
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

QUEBEC CITY - Archbishop Maurice Couture, 89, embraces the Year of Mercy as a concrete sign of hope for both society and the Church, especially on critical issues such as euthanasia, divorce and abortion.

As archbishop of Quebec from 1990 to 2002, he was among the most important Church figures in Canada.

The former Canadian primate had mercy tattooed all over his pastoral style, for which he is fondly remembered. However, every archbishop of Quebec since the end of the 19th century became a cardinal, except him. Some say his openness was not in vogue.

In a large living room at the provincial house of his community - the Fathers of St. Vincent de Paul - he recalled when Quebec was still called a "priest-ridden province."

"As a Church, we occupied a lot of space - too much, in fact," he says, thinking about how the province went from being one of the most Catholic places in the world to a deeply secularized society.

He has followed the passionate debates about Quebec's December implementation of an end-of-life law that now legalizes euthanasia and medically induced death.

"To me, dying with dignity means offering a thorough, warm and reassuring presence for those who agonize, so that they feel loved, catered, hugged.

"I think that people who wish to die and consider euthanasia feel they've become a burden. They've come to think that they're no longer useful and worthy," he said.

Couture said he understands that feeling but added, "If we, as a society, tell each other that everyone's worthy, that everyone deserves to live until the very end; if we make sure that everyone's surrounded by the love and care of their own family, then it's different.

"A desperate fatally ill person, you hold his hand, and you usher a few soothing words to his ear, and a smile comes."

The archbishop said spiritual leaders must stand firm and remain faithful to their beliefs, but they must be ready to listen and display a comprehensive attitude toward today's problems.

"This world is ours, and we love it wholeheartedly. This world isn't really mean or evil. But every day we're overwhelmed by a rising tide of news. Every day we're tossed around by new facts, fads and ideas.

"We end up thinking that this is it, this is the way things should be. But (as a pastor), I must remain faithful to the Gospels and keep on proclaiming what I consider to be the truth. And live accordingly. And keep on loving our world, our people."

Couture praised Pope Francis' Year of Mercy and said his initiatives might lead to renewal by questioning some pastoral approaches. What's truly essential, he said, is to remind everyone that they are loved and accepted; that they fit in and that they do have a place in the Church.

DIVORCED AND REMARRIED

Such is the case with the pastoral attitude toward the divorced and civilly remarried, a divisive issue hotly debated in last fall's Synod of Bishops on the Family.

A day of recollection he once held with the divorced and civilly remarried is among his "dearest memories" as a pastor, he said.

"We mustn't just say that they have a place in the Church. We must find ways for them to occupy this place," he added.

He praised Pope Francis' decision, on the eve of the Jubilee of Mercy, to grant all priests the power to absolve women who have undergone an abortion."

GUILT AND REGRETS

"It doesn't mean we erase the sin, but we recognize that we're dealing with human beings. I've never met a single person who (has) taken lightly such a decision.

"The vast majority of the people I've met were still coping with guilt and regrets (after an abortion). . . .

"I'm, of course, pro-life. But, dear Lord, can we be pro-life without constantly displaying creepy pictures of blood-stroked fetuses?" said Couture.

"What's truly disturbing is that we've come up to believe that having a child is an unbearable decision, unless we're able to offer him everything he may need."