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"Pope" Raymond Gravel

Father Raymond Gravel The Apostolic Nuncio to Canada
On the left, Raymond Gravel. On the right, the Apostolic Nuncio to Canada,
who's trying to avoid contamination while answering questions about the Gravel Affair.
(Source for Gravel; Source for Nuncio)

1) Introduction

Here is the best article I've read so far about the "Raymond Gravel Affair". Raymond Gravel was a homosexual prostitute for the first ten years of his adult life. Then he became a "Priest" in the Diocese of Joliette, Quebec, with surprizing ease. Since those years, he has been stridently voicing his opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church, among others on sodomy and abortion. He even got himself elected to Parliament for the Bloc Québécois political party, probably the most anti-Catholic in Canada.

(On the other hand, this article only deals with the religious aspect of the "Raymond Gravel Affair". For the political aspect, please see: I Cast The First Stone At Raymond Gravel.)

This scandal once again raises the question of "Who is the Pope in this Church?" Who has "full, supreme and universal authority over the Church"? [Denzinger #4146] Is it Benedict XVI, or "Pope" Raymond Gravel? You might claim the answer is obvious. But for ordinary (and confused) faithful, who are daily bombarded by anti-Catholic propaganda, the Catholic Omertà tends to elect "Pope" Raymond Gravel.

After all, you and I can't just get out of bed in the morning and change the teachings of the Catholic Church! Even Bishops and Cardinals can't do that! But if Raymond Gravel can do it, then he must be the Pope!

2) He doesn't (by Uncle Diogenes)

It's official. We've been told that the Holy See did NOT give Father Raymond Gravel permission to run for the Canadian Federal Parliament. His diocesan ordinary has issued a statement to that effect (credit to LifeSite). The following is an unofficial translation:

Clarification from the Bishop of Joliette, the Most Reverend Gilles Lussier

No "green light" has been given by the Vatican. The Bishop of Joliette received no permission from Roman authorities concerning Father Gravel's campaign. The Church's legislation is clear: every priest must refrain from all active engagement in politics. However, in particular and truly exceptional circumstances, it can come about that such a thing is possible. This is a matter of a derogation from the usual norm. It belongs to the competent authority, in this case the diocesan bishop, to study the question. He must to take into particular consideration the good of the ecclesial community and the common good of society in order to grant permission -- should the occasion arise -- for a derogation of this sort. He must consult his Presbyteral Council, i.e., the representatives of the diocesan clergy that assist the bishop in his government of the diocese. In the present case, it is not the situation in our country which justifies the derogation from the common rule as the law of the Church defines it.

In making the choice to take an active part in a political party, Father Gravel keeps his priestly status but is released from the exercise of priestly ministry. He may not exercise any activity as a priest during the time of his active political involvement. This measure is intended to preclude any and all confusion among the faithful and to maintain the distinction between political activity and religion. In any case, the fact of renouncing one's conduct of priestly ministry always presents a distressing situation for the Church.


This clarification raises as many questions as it answers, but it plants a few firm pegs in the turf. Let's take a closer look at it.

The first three sentences were almost certainly written at gunpoint. They read as if the Nuncio dictated them over the phone and demanded that they be made public verbatim. They get the Nuncio and the Holy See almost completely off the hook (more on that later).

The second part, concerning the possible exception to the non-involvement rule, is largely smoke. We get a legal narrative of what the diocesan bishop is required do in order to grant exceptional permission, but we're only told that requisite pre-conditions were not met. It's not even clear whether the Presbyteral Council was actually consulted or not. We can deduce from his clarification that Lussier did not seek a canonical derogation that would legitimize Gravel's candidature, but Lussier never explicitly says that he denied Gravel permission, whether formal or informal, nor does Lussier explicitly say that he disapproves of Gravel candidacy. The concluding line is equivocal, and probably intentionally so: We can read it to mean "it's painful when a priest gives up priestly ministry because he finds secular activity more important," or we can read it to mean "how sad that a wonderful man like Gravel must be released from ministry in order to run for office!"

Obvious Question #1: Why did Bishop Lussier wait this long to announce that Gravel did not have the Vatican's permission? The headlines have been blasting the contrary story for more than a week. Lussier must have known ahead of time of Gravel's decision to run, so why didn't he issue a statement making clear Gravel's status in anticipation of his candidacy?

Obvious Question #2: Did Lussier have any communications with the Holy See about Gravel's candidacy prior to its announcement? If not, why not? If so, what form did they take and what was the outcome? Can Lussier pretend that he figured the candidacy of a priest who was a former prostitute would escape comment by the news media, such that informing the Vatican ahead of time wasn't worth the bother?

Obvious Question #3: Did Lussier inform his fellow Canadian bishops ahead of time? Did he ask their counsel or consent? Did he phone Bishop Fred Henry in Calgary to say, "This isn't in your bailiwick, I realize, but we all may catch some flak from the media coverage. Didn't want you to get blindsided by Ray Gravel's running for Parliament"?

Obvious Question #4: What discussions did Gravel have with Lussier? When was the possibility of Gravel's candidacy known to Lussier? Did Lussier disapprove? Does he disapprove now? Did the question of a public declaration of ecclesiastical permission come up? If not, why not? If so, who fed the press the "Vatican permission" story?

The Most Obvious Question of All: Even leaving his grotesquely problematic past to one side, how is it that a public and contumacious dissenter like Raymond Gravel was not dismissed from the priesthood three years ago?

The tactically-limited truthfulness and sheer subterfuge that we meet in every aspect of the Gravel story is exasperating. It's clear they're not leveling with us. Suppose for a moment that Gravel was not a gay activist but a racist, say, who flaked out in the opposite direction, by accepting the nomination for some kind of "Immigrants Go Home" nativist party. Do you think the diocese would be bashful about distancing itself from him? Do you think we'd be waiting two days, much less two weeks, for a statement of categorical repudiation? Do you think we'd be in any doubt whatsoever about the history of the bishop's dealings with the priest in question? Do you think he'd keep his priestly status as Gravel has, or that we'd be reminded that Church regards his interruption of priestly ministry as pénible?

But more annoying than the bother of having to yank facts like impacted molars out of the chancery one-by-one is the insinuation that the faithful have no business knowing the exact status of Gravel's ecclesiastical permission. It is not unwholesome curiosity to ask whether and to what extent the Church approves of the controversial positions that her clergymen take in public. The distinction between Gravel's priestly status and exercise of priestly ministry may satisfy a canon lawyer, but 90% of the faithful (and the public) will understand simply that a notorious gay-activist priest, who has not been defrocked, is running for office without public opposition from the Church.

If this is pastoral solicitude, what does pastoral malfeasance look like?

Copyright © 2006 Catholic Culture.

3) Conclusion

Here, Uncle Diogenes concludes by listing the contact info for the Joliette Diocese and the Apostolic Nuncio to Canada, so you can write to them. You're the judge, but I'm not in favor of e-mail storms. I feel like saying that if you haven't yet publicly made your Profession of Faith, don't bother asking your superiors how come they are not doing their job. Do yours first.

Diocèse de Joliette
2, rue St-Charles-Borromée Nord
C.P. 470
Joliette, QC
J6E 6H6
Phone: (450) 753-7596
e-mail: communication (at sign) diocesedejoliette.org

S.E.R Msgr Luigi Ventura,
the Apostolic Nuncio to Canada
724 Manor Avenue
Ottawa, ON
K1M OE3,
Phone: (613) 746-4914
e-mail: nuntius (at sign) rogers.com

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