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Reasonable Accommodations And Religious Freedom In Quebec

Jacopo Palma il Giovane. Justice and Peace.
Mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed [Ps 85:11].
(Jacopo Palma il Giovane. Justice and Peace. [Source])

Note: This article is a critique of the document presented on 2007-October-30 before the Bouchard-Taylor Commission by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada. I add the colors and the sloppy English translation.

Note also that this text by Cardinal Ouellet was shortly followed by a second one, called Open Letter To Quebec Catholics. Both those texts caused many reactions in the Quebec pagan media, like Arguments That Don't Hold The Road or The Catholic Church Called To Do Her Examination Of Conscience.

[Green] The debate on reasonable accommodations and its emotional repercussions has forced the québécois society to conduct an exercise of listening, thinking and dialogue, on the topic of religion's place in the public square.

[Yellow] It's good that a large forum chaired by two recognized personalities lets us serenely conduct this reflexion and dialogue on the current malaise, its causes, its stakes and its possible solutions.

If the Cardinal is offering here the usual diplomatic curtsey, then I have nothing to say. But if he's seriously claiming that the Bouchard-Taylor Commission is a "dialogue", Nego. It's precisely not a dialogue, but a burst of monologues in front of two stunt doubles for the Government. In other words, valium for the people, spin doctoring so the unwashed masses will have the impression that the Charest Government is doing something.

In a real dialogue, for example, the Cardinal could have asked tough questions about Bill 95 to the Leader of the Government. Moreover, Muslims could have asked questions to Atheists, Christians to Muslims, etc. You know, a real social debate!

[Green] Quebec society is currently placed before a choice which requires of individuals and institutional instances of the State, Churches and the different religious groups, a serious examination of the situation and a true and sincere dialogue in order to wisely decide the path to take, in order to live together in harmony for the next decades.

1) Daring a deep diagnosis

[Green] Right off the bat, I declare my conviction that the value crisis and the quest for meaning in Quebec are so deep and urgent that they have serious repercussions on public health, which generates huge costs for the health system.

By itself, Concedo, the apostasy of Quebec's people has repercussions, even on the physical health of individuals.

On the other hand, I'd appreciate if the Cardinal called a spade a spade, and a "generalized apostasy" something other than a "value crisis". If all the Church has to offer to Quebec are values, then we'd be better off dumping Catholicism in the trash can!

Note also that the Cardinal never mentions the spiritual effects of apostasy (i.e. eternal damnation). The body's health is important, but not that much. For example, it's better to sacrifice our body's life, rather than commit one single mortal sin! But that type of consideration is generally absent from the Cardinal's speeches. And Cardinal Ouellet is the best Bishop we have in the Province of Quebec...

[Green] The québécois society has based itself for 400 years on two pillars: French culture and the Catholic religion, which form the basic framework that permitted the integration of other components of its current pluralistic identity. However, it's fragilized by the weakening of the religious identity of its francophone majority.

The Cardinal here seems to assert: "Catholicism is only useful as a security blanket to pacify babies misadapted to modernity". We'll come back to this.

[Green] The current debate touches directly religion and relations between cultural communities, but the real problem isn't that of the integration of immigrants, which would have become more difficult because of their requests of religious accomodations (Translator's note: "accommodation" in the sense of "bending civil laws to be nice to immigrants"). Statistics reveal that the accommodation requests for religious motives are minimal, which indicates that the reason for current tensions is to be found elsewhere. We should neither impose the responsibility for a deep crisis of Quebec society to those who have come to it, seeking refuge or a homeland, nor to their religion that we judge as invading us.

And here, I absolutely agree. Well said, Cardinal!

[Green] Refugees and immigrants often bring us the riches of their witnesses and their cultural [Red] values [End Red] which are added to the common [Red] values [End Red] of Quebec society. Hospitality, sharing and solidarity must remain basic attitudes toward immigrants and their human and religious needs.

[Yellow] The real problem isn't the one of "the place of religion in the public square" either

Ah yes? I thought that was one of the most important aspects of this whole kerfuffle!

[Green] to use this expression, as vague as you want it to be, which facilitates the dissemination of the popular slogan: "religion in private or in church but not in the public square". What's the public square? The street, the parc, radio waves, schools, city hall, the National Assembly? Should we remove from the public square the monument dedicated to Mgr François de Laval and also the one for cardinal Taschereau? Should we ban "Merry Christmas" from the parliamentary precincts and replace it with "Happy Holidays" to be more inclusive?

[Red] Religious symbols characteristic of our history and therefore part of our collective identity

The Cardinal here seems to say: "The Catholic Faith is only useful to those people who have been Catholic for a long time, whereas for non-Christians, it's accessory if not totally useless". We'll come back to this.

[Green] have they become nuisances and bad memories to be stored in a closet? Should we eliminate them from the public square to satisfy a radical secular minority ("minorité laïciste radicale" in French) which is the only one complaining in the name of the absolute equality of citizens?

[Yellow] Believers and unbelievers take their beliefs or unbeliefs with them in all the spaces they go to. They are called to live together and to respect each other, they are called to avoid imposing their belief or unbelief, whether in private or in public.

It depends which beliefs. We'll get back to this issue of "how much respect should we give to all beliefs".

[Yellow] Doesn't the removal of a religious sign from a public place culturally identified according to a definite tradition with its religious dimension, equate to promoting unbelief as the unique value having the right to display itself?

It depends. If the majority of citizens no longer find themselves in this cultural symbol, why not change it?

[Red] The presence of the crucifix at the National Assembly, in City Hall and at crossroads is not the sign of some State religion. It's an identity and cultural sign linked to the concrete history of a real population who has a right to continuity of its institutions and symbols. This symbol is not first and foremost a confessional sign but the witness of the cultural heritage of a whole society marked by its historical vocation as the cradle of evangelization in North America. Removing it would mean a cultural rupture, a denial of what we have been and what we are called to be as a collectivity historically founded on the values of Christianity.

Once again, Cardinal Ouellet seems to say that Catholicism is only a "cultural heritage", a "sign of our identity". Moreover, he asserts that removing from a people its cultural heritage and signs of identity is a shameful deed, an affront to human dignity, and even a cause of physical health problems!

But then, what about the native americans who were here before us? Didn't they also have a long cultural tradition, "institutions and symbols", a "heritage of identity"? Didn't the Catholic Church remove their signs, their symbols, their culture, their identity? Why should we have a "sacred right" to our "cultural heritage", but not them? Why complain about being invaded and assimilated by missionaries of Atheism, whereas we, the Catholics, have invaded and assimilated the native peoples?

If I were the Pope, Cardinal Ouellet would get punished. He'd get detention after class, and he'd have to write 1000 times on the blackboard this famous quote from Tertullian:

Dominus noster Christus veritatem se, non consuetudinem, cognominavit.

(Our Lord Christ called Himself "Truth", not "Custom".)

But I'm not the Pope, so all I can do is suggest that Cardinal Ouellet read: Culture, Custom, Tradition.

2) The true basic problem

[Green] Quebec's true problem is therefore not the presence of religious signs or the appearance of new invading religious signs in the public square. The true québécois problem is the spiritual vacuum created by a religious and cultural rupture, a substantial loss of memory, leading to a crisis of the family and education, which leaves citizens disoriented, demotivated, subjects to instability and locked into fleeting and superficial values. This spiritual and symbolic emptiness gnaws québécois culture from the inside, disperses its vital energies and generates insecurity, for lack of roots and continuity with the sacramental and evangelical [Red] values [End Red] that have fed it since its origins.

This paragraph would be almost good, if it wasn't ruined in its foundations by the whole preceding spiel on values and culture-custom.

[Yellow] A people whose identity was strongly configured for centuries by the Catholic faith cannot overnight (a few decades are brief in a people's life) be emptied of its substance without incurring serious consequences at all levels. Whence the dismay of youth, the free fall of marriages, the minuscule birth rate and the horrible number of abortions and suicides, to name only a few consequences that are added to the precarious conditions of the elderly and the public health.

In other words, we'd have to let Crucifixes and religion courses drag on a few more decades, time enough for the Quebec people to get over the "hangover" caused by excessive intake of Catholic beverages during its wild youth?

[Green] And to top it off, this spiritual and cultural vacuum is maintained by an anti-Catholic rhetoric larded with clichées which is unfortunately too often found in the Media. This fosters a true culture of contempt and shame for our [Red] religious heritage [End Red], which destroys the québécois soul. It's high time to ask ourselves: Quebec, what have you done with your baptism?

[Green] It's high time to stop secularist fundamentalism ("intégrisme laïciste" in French), imposed with public funds,

I don't like the word "layperson" ("laïc" in French). It's an euphemism. I'm a layman: I go to Mass, I say my Rosary and my Breviary, and I do these things every day (or at least I try). Except I'm neither a Priest nor a Monk, therefore I'm a layman [Lumen gentium, #31]. But them, they are Atheists.

But I totally agree with the Cardinal that we have to stop taxpayer-funded Atheist propaganda.

[Green] and that we find a better balance in Quebec between tradition and creative innovative at the service of the common good. We must re-learn the respect for religion which has shaped the population and

[Red] respect for all religions

It seems to me we talk far too often about "respect for all religions" these days. I looked in the teachings of the Church, and I didn't find that, on the contrary.

See: Must We Respect All Religions?

[Green] without giving in to the pressure of secular integrists who clamor for religion's exclusion from the public square.

[Green] Quebec is ripe for a new in-depth evangelization

[Yellow] which is emerging in some areas through important catechetical initiatives,

Ah yes? Where?

[Green] as well as by the communal efforts to return to the sources of our history. Our society needs a conversion movement to its deep spiritual values and a new alliance between its now dormant or passive faith and an emerging common culture which is seeking for its roots. A spiritual and cultural renewal is possible if the dialogue between the State, Society and the Church is restarted, constructive and respectful of our henceforth pluralistic collective identity.

3) Threatened religious freedom

[Red] Related to the debate on reasonable accommodations, we cannot ignore the radical change that the québécois State has just introduced concerning religion's place in school.

"The québécois State"? Stéphane Dion, while he was Interdepartmental Minister in 1997, sent a letter to the Quebec Bishops to ask them if they had any objections to changing the Canadian Constitution, in order to remove confessional schools in Quebec. The Leader of the Quebec Bishop's Assembly at that time, Monsignor Pierre Morissette, answered that Quebec Bishops didn't have any objections!

Let's listen to Stéphane Dion, according to this quote taken from the official web site of the Canadian Parliament:

Finally, to be sure that there is no ambiguity, I have written to Monsignor Morrisette, and in response to my letter asking him to confirm the bishops position, the new head of the the Assembly of Quebec Bishops, Monsignor Pierre Morrisette, reiterated that the bishops are not opposed to the establishment of linguistic school boards and are satisfied with the guarantees under the education act that I alluded to earlier.

His comments, in a letter that I am submitting and that you will be able to read, were as follows: "We know that means other than involving section 93 could have been used to effect the desired change. Nevertheless, our Assembly did not oppose the choice to amend section 93. It has always been our conviction that the choice of means is the responsibility of the political authority."

I can table these letters when you would like, Mr. Chairman.

[Special Joint Committee To Amend Section 93 Of The Constitution, 1997-Oct-21]

Why accuse the Quebec State of treason? It's just following the guidelines of the Quebec Bishops... And why is the role of our Bishops in this whole story never mentioned?

Moreover, during the last elections, Quebecers clearly and democratically expressed their agreement with Bill 95. And Cardinal Ouellet himself said that this vote would decide, contrary to the explicit teachings of the Catholic Church!

See: Religious Freedom In School.

[Green] This changes causes the dismay and anger of many parents who are deprived of their

[Red] grandfathered rights

Technically, they are divine rights, not grandfathered. (See the Divini Illius Magistri encyclical, quoted in the article here above.) But the Magisterium's declarations don't seem to be part of Cardinal Ouellet "cultural identity"!

[Green] in the name of an ultimate reform and modernization of the québécois education system. Disregarding the primacy of parent's rights and their clearly expressed will to maintain freedom of choice between a confessional teaching and a moral teaching, the State suppresses all confessional teachings and imposes a Ethics and Religious Culture Course in public and private schools, and this without the possibility of opting out. No European nation has ever adopted such a radical orientation which disrupts the convictions and the religious freedom of citizens. Hence the deep discomfort of many families, in addition to a feeling of helplessness in front of an all-powerful State which no longer fears, it seems, the influence of the Church and which can therefore impose its law without major constraints. The most scandalous is the situation reserved to private Catholic schools who see themselves constrained, via government grants, to marginalize their own confessional teaching, for the profit of the State course imposed everywhere and at all levels.

[Yellow] Will the reframing operation of the ethical and religious formation of citizens through this compulsory course succeed in saving a minimum of reference points ("point de repère" in French) to insure a harmonious living together?

Christian education doesn't have "reference points" as content, and a "harmonious living together" in this lifetime is only one of its objectives, and not the main one.

[Green] I doubt and I'm even convinced of the contrary, since this operation is done at the expense of the citizen's religious freedom, especially that of the [Red] Catholic majority [End Red].

As I keep repeating, the smallest scientific effort to seriously count the number of Catholics in Quebec arrives at a minority, not a majority.

[Green] Moreover it is exclusively based on a "knowledge" of the beliefs and rites of six or seven religions. I doubt that teachers, unprepared for this challenge, could teach in all neutrality and in a critical way what they will understand even less than their own religion. You have to be very naive to believe in this little miracle of cultural teaching of religions which will manufacture a new little pluralistic québécois expert in interreligious relations and critical toward all credos including the one of his own parents. The least we can say is that the thirst for spiritual [Red] values [End Red] will be far from quenched and a dictature of relativism risks making even harder the transmission of our religious [Red] heritage [End Red].

Here, Cardinal Ouellet should have given a serious overview of this course by the Quebec Government. The goal of this course isn't to produce "a new little pluralistic québécois", but an Atheist. This course is not only unacceptable for a Catholic, but it's unacceptable for all Quebecers! It teaches seriously immoral things.

See: How To Poison Your Children With A Course On Ethics And Religious Culture.

4) Conclusion

Marc Cardinal Ouellet.

[Green] Rural québécois culture has erected a cross here and there at crossroads. This "cross of the roads" invites us to pray and reflect on the meaning of life. Which choice currently imposes itself to our society, so the State will take the decisions that are informed and really respectful of the religious conscience of individuals, groups and Churches?

[Yellow] Despite some deviances caused by recurrent but limited bouts of fanaticism, religion remains a source of inspiration and a force for peace in the world and in our society, as long as it's not manipulated by political interests or oppressed in its legitimate aspirations.

See my comments here above on the respect we must give to "all religions".

[Green] The reform imposed by Bill 95 subjects religions to the control and interests of the State, while putting an end to religions freedoms acquired for generations. This law doesn't serve the common good and will not be able to be imposed without being percieved as a violation of citizen's religious freedom. It would not be reasonable to maintain it as it's worded, since it would introduce this narrow secular legalism ("juridisme laïciste étroit" in French) which excludes religion from the public square.

[Red] The two pillars of our national cultural identity, language and religion, are historically and sociologically called to mutually support each other, or to fall together.

Just when the Cardinal was starting to sound like a worthy successor to the Apostles, there he goes again dragging the Catholic Faith down to culture and identity...

[Green] Hasn't the time come for a new alliance between the Catholic Faith and the emerging culture, to give back to québécois society more security and trust in the future?

[Red] Quebec still lives off the heritage of a strong and positive religious tradition

That's precisely not the case. The Quebec people has massively apostasized. The majority of people I know who have had their children baptized are Athiests, or heretics, and their children too. All the serious sociologicial surveys I know of have arrived at the same conclusion.

If Quebec really still "lived off the heritage of a strong and positive religious tradition", the self-proclaimed "Catholics" who pushed Bill 95 through our Parliament would have been long excommunicated. Churches would be full. Abortion would be inexistant. And Cardinal Ouellet would have been so verbally flogged, by Catholics, after his dismal testimony before the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, that his derrière would be as red as his little Cardinal's vest.

Unfortunately, right now, Cardinal Ouellet seems like a Catholic superhero, compared to the rest of Quebec's Bishops...

[Green] exempt from major conflicts and characterized by sharing, welcoming of foreigners and compassion for the poorest. We have to protect and cultivate this religious heritage based on love which is a force of social integration far more effective than the abstract knowledge of a few superficial notions of six or seven religions. It's especially important at this time that the

[Red] Catholic majority wakes up

"Catholic minority". Also, and especially, the majority of our Catholic Bishops has to wake up, not just one timid Ouellet!

[Green] that it recognize its true spiritual needs and that it gets reacquainted with its traditional practices in order to be ready for the mission which is its duty since its origins. May the wisdom of God inspire the recommendations of the Commissioners such that religious freedom as primordial and permanent [Red] value [End Red] would once again bloom in Quebec and give it back its reasons to live.

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