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Arguments That Don't Hold The Road

Typical argument of the Quebec Government, concerning religion in school.
Typical argument of the Quebec Government, concerning religion in school.

Note: This article is a critique of an article by Jean-Pierre Proulx, published in Le Devoir, 2007-Nov-26, concerning Cardinal Marc Ouellet's recent declarations on religion in school. M. Proulx is professor at the Education Faculty of Montreal University, and he chaired the Task force on the place of religion in school.

[Green] Opinionated, Cardinal Ouellet once again demanded that the State offer "space to the Churches and the recognized religious groups so that they may give confessional courses which will be designed and paid for by them".

[Yellow] His arguments, we will observe, don't hold the road

Distinguo. Some of Cardinal Ouellet's arguments, not all. Moreover, sometimes his demands are good, even if the arguments he offers to justify them are bad.

[Green] The Cardinal first invokes "the right" of parents. Up to 2005, the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms actually recognized the "right to demand that, in public schooling facilities, their children would get a moral religious teaching conformant to their convictions".

[Yellow] But, it was modified in 2005 and now says something else.

Distinguo. Maybe the Government respects the scraps of paper. On the other hand, scraps of paper don't necessarily represent real rights. Supreme Courts and Parliaments are not infallible. (See among others: Bill C-666.)

In the specific case of the rights of parents and the Church, the State totally oversteps its rights by demanding a monopoly on education. But to explain this, the Cardinal would need to explain that God exists and that it can be proved, that men have a supernatural destiny which is not known by the State, that God founded one single Church, and that the task of orienting men toward their supernatural goal belongs to this lone Church.

Can all these things be explained in a short article? No. On the other hand, an overview of the argument can easily be given, with references to supporting documentation. Note that's what I try to do in the previous paragraph. Also note that the Cardinal almost always does the opposite.

Actually, we could make a long two-column list, comparing what should be done, with what the Cardinal is doing. For example, to convert a whole dechristianized population, you need a robust web site with a strong dogmatic and moral content, whereas the Quebec diocese web site looks like the site of a ringette league. You also need to constantly and abundantly refer to the Bible, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the teachings of the Magisterium, whereas often the Cardinal's documents have no references to these three essential sources! Moreover, you need a solid Philosophy textbook, in order to support your non-theological assertions, whereas neither the Cardinal, nor even the Quebec Seminary have anything comparable, etc.

But the Cardinal should know that fighting against Atheists and anti-clericals, without the right vehicle, is a recipe to quickly get bogged down in mud!

Quebec vehicle better adapted to Atheist and anti-clerical mud
Quebec vehicle better adapted to Atheist and anti-clerical mud.

[Green] We'll get back to it.

[Green] Therefore the Archbishop of Quebec invokes rather a philosophical argument to support his request. For him,

[Yellow] the basis for the right of religious education in school is derived from the primary responsibility of parents in the education of their children.

Partly. The other basis, which is totally omitted by the Cardinal, even if it's clearly asserted by the Magisterium, is that the Church has inalienable rights.

[Red] But this line of reasoning doesn't hold. Indeed, if this parental responsibility entailed the correlative obligation of the States to offer confessional teaching in public schools, we would need to condemn most Canadian provinces, the USA and France and many others, who don't do it.

Mr. Proulx's argument boils down to: "If right X existed, it would be respected. But, right X is not respected, therefore it doesn't exist". With such an argument, you can justify racism, slavery, well, anything!

If we want to know if a right exists or not, a sociological survey will give us a good clue. But to err is human (and whole human populations can err too). That's why the final argument will have to be based on the very nature of the rights of parents and the Church.

[Green] On the other hand, international rights and Quebec rights recognize the right of parents to "insure the religious and moral education of their children, in conformity with their convictions [...]" (Section 41 of the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms). If the State doesn't have the obligation of insuring itself the exercise of that right, it must nevertheless permit its exercise. Either it does it itself, or it recognizes the parent's right to chose for their children private confessional schools.

[Red] But this right is fully recognized. Quebec therefore completely fulfills its obligations.

Precisely not. The Government's Course is imposed to all, and the State violates the Church's right to "establish and to conduct freely schools of every type and level" [Gravissimum Educationis, #8]. Think about it: even private Catholic schools can no longer teach Catholicism!

Following traditions

[Green] The Cardinal also invokes the "quebecois tradition relative to the transmission of religious knowledge in school". We here leave the domain of rights. The answer to this argument has already been given in the democratic debate ended in 2005. The important changes that have occured in Quebec for the past 50 years, observable among others through the secularization of citizens and the religious diversity of its population, justify abandoning or rather evolving this tradition.

And here, I agree 100% with Mr. Proulx! This is actually one of the reasons I'm so angry at the clumsiness of Cardinal Ouellet. By constantly (and falsely) repeating that Quebec has a Catholic majority, the Cardinal supplies our opponents with their clincher argument! Anybody can observe that Quebec's population couldn't care less about the elimination of Catholicism from our schools. So, if the population doesn't complain, it's because it agrees!

Actually, the population doesn't care, because the population has apostasized. But no Bishop in Quebec dares mention this "elephant in the sacristy", as they say. That's why I defend Mr. Proulx on this point. He reasons correctly based on the incorrect information supplied by the Cardinal.

[Green] Not toward a negation of the religious universe, but rather by its reappropriation, this time with a cultural, plural and patrimonial objective. The new program indeed proposes what the Cardinal wishes, i.e. to "transmit religious knowledge", but in another way, and by granting on top of that the priority to the Christian tradition.

Here again, Mr. Proulx is conditionally right. If the Cardinal's assertions are true, then Mr. Proulx reasons correctly. If Catholic schools exist to "transmit religious knowledge", then nothing prevents a non-Christian school from transmitting the same knowledge!

On the other hand, if Catholic schools exist to transmit Catholic Faith, then you must have Faith, to transmit it!

the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known - it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing.
[Spe salvi, #2]

But too many Quebec Bishops apparently couldn't care less about the transmission of Faith. Indeed, the last poll I heard of showed that over half the catechesis teachers were Atheists or non-Catholics! Moreover, the rare times I was able to look at what was taught to our youngsters in Quebec's "Catholic" schools, it wasn't even real catechesis courses! So here again, we can understand that Mr. Proulx is confused!

More importantly, this leads us to a sociological reflexion. A people doesn't radically change overnight. The disappearance of catechesis courses from our schools is not a sudden event. It was prepared by over fourty years of a thinly-veiled schism by Quebec's Bishops. What we are seeing is simply the realignment of laws with underlying sociological realities.

[Green] Mr. Ouellet nevertheless pushes his request further. He wants that "in the name of everybody's religious freedom, the State course on Ethics and religious culture be optional".

[Red] But, religious freedom is not even the issue here, since this course doesn't have a confessional objective. It doesn't take sides for one religion or against a religion. It essentially aims at helping "understand religious phenomena".

Once again, if a catechesis course exists to transmit a "culture", a "knowledge", as the Cardinal constantly repeats, Mr. Proulx is right. Except if we want to transmit the Catholic Faith, then it's serious when we're imposed a course which doesn't transmit the Catholic Faith!

[Green] In doing so, Quebec also satisfies its international obligations. The International Pact on economic, social and cultural rights, I remind you, recognizes the parent's right to "ensure the religious and moral education of their children, in conformance with their own convictions" (section 41 of our Charter mirrors it). But the Office of the UN High-Commissioner for Human Rights, tasked with formulating its official interpretation, writes that this clause "permits the teaching in [Red] public [End Red] facilities of topics such as [Red] the general history of religions and morality [End Red], as long as its given in an impartial and objective way, respectful of freedom of opinion, convictions and expression". It's very precisely the goal of the quebecois program.

First, this Office talks about public schools, not private schools.

Secondly, a catechesis course is not a course on history of religions. We demand, among other things, the right to give catechesis courses, not history courses.

Thirdly, the Government's Course is precisely not a Morality course. The Course itself says so, and we can observe it by reading it. It's a religion course, the religion of Value Theory. See once again: How To Poison Your Children With A Course On Ethics And Religious Culture.

Religious culture

[Red] We must also reject as inadmissible the Cardinal's accusation that the National Assembly would be abusive by imposing a program of Ethics and religious Culture. On the contrary, the Assembly did its duty by wanting to form religion-aware, tolerant and dialogue-capable citizens.

When the State prevents private Catholic schools from teaching Catholicism, you have to be spinning your wheels in intellectual mud to claim the State respects the rights of parents and the Church!

[Green] That being said, it's not impossible that parents claim in good faith that this program infringes upon their religious freedom, but they conserve the right to try to convince a court. If they should win, it would behove to find an accommodation, such as an exemption.

The rights of parents and the Church, concerning the transmission of the Catholic Faith, are untouchable. They don't depend on human decisions (courts, parliaments, etc.). But the Cardinal asserts the exact opposite, so I understand Mr. Proulx's confusion.

[Green] I here open a parenthesis. The scandalized indignation of the Cardinal caused by the fact that the Ethics and religious Culture course will also be compulsory in private Catholic facilities didn't disturb them. Indeed, in a recent publication called The Confessional aspect of the educative project of the private school in the application context of the ethics and religious culture program, The Federation of Private Educational Facilities concludes that "far from being a cause of retreat, this change gives us access to an extraordinary challenge of openness and commitment".

Once agan, Mr. Proulx is right about the observable effects, and wrong about the ultimate cause of those effects. The ultimate cause is the generalized apostasy of Quebec, pseudo-Catholic schools, and heretical Bishops. As long as the Cardinal refuses to talk publicly about the elephant in the sacristy, people like Mr. Proulx won't be able to see their mistake.

An amicable settlement

[Green] Finally, the Cardinal retreats behind one last argument. The space (and the time) he demands of schools so that confessions might dispense "confessional courses which will be designed and paid for by them", constitutes, he repeated, a "very reasonable accommodation". The argument here is purely rhetorical. Indeed, it's not a reasonable accomodation, since the fact of not offering confessional education in a public school doesn't constitute a norm.

[Red] No rights nor freedoms are being infringed.

If the State respected the Church's right to "establish and to conduct freely schools of every type and level", Mr. Proulx would be right. Except it's the exact opposite which is going on.

[Green] What the Archbishop is demanding is more like an arrangement. It appears to him easier if children can receive confessional teaching in school rather than in the Parish. We are no longer here in the domain of principles, but on the practical level, like two neighbors who negociate in good faith the use of their common parking lot.

Once again, if the Cardinal is right, Mr. Proulx's interpretation "holds the road". Except the Cardinal doesn't present the Church's position.

[Green] I draw your attention on what the Task force on the place of religion had recommended in 1999, i.e. that the "Public Education Act specify that local school boards can make classrooms available, outside teaching hours, to religious groups who want to organize courses or services for their members who attend that school, and this, paid for by these groups". The Task Force invoked the school's community mission to support this recommendation.

[Green] Most of the dioceses have chosen to take charge of the religious formation of youngsters in the Parishes. Without a doubt they judged that this was a better way of forming future Christians fully engaged in their community. But that is a pastoral issue to be solved in the Church.

Once again, Mr. Proulx is conditionally right. If the dumb things said by most of our Bishops and Parish Priests are true, then Mr. Proulx's interpretation "holds the road". I personally heard my Parish Priest, during a homily, holler against people who try to defend the Church's rights. He compared those people, in a demeaning way, to Israelites who complained against Moses and who missed "the good old times" in Egypt! But my Parish Priest quotes Magisterial teachings about as rarely as his own Bishop, Cardinal Marc Ouellet!

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