Pope in Quebec amid decline of Catholic Church in province – The Journal
Pope Francis arrives in Quebec at a time when many French Canadians not only continue to distance themselves from religion, but explicitly reject it
QUEBEC CITY (AP) — Pope Francis arrives in Quebec City on Wednesday at a time when many French Canadians in the province are not only drifting away from religion, but explicitly rejecting it, embracing secularization long after their ancestors built their identity on the rock of the Catholic Church.
These days, pews are rarely filled, hundreds of churches have closed, and the provincial government has banned utility workers from wearing religious symbols.
“A lot of churches are closing, and that’s very indicative of the dwindling support the population is giving to the church,” said Jean-Francois Roussel, professor of theology at the University of Montreal. “Some talk about the collapse of the Catholic Church in Quebec.
Although almost all of the province’s 6.8 million Francophones have Catholic roots, less than 10% attend mass regularly, compared to 90% several decades ago.
The Church’s once pervasive influence on politics and culture faded almost completely, and in what is known as the Quiet Revolution it lost its central role in areas such as education and Health care. This is significant considering that the Church founded Quebec’s school system and for decades controlled education, teacher training, social assistance and health care.
Daniel Béland, a professor of political science at McGill University in Montreal, said Quebec was quite similar to Ireland and southern Europe before 1960. At the height of its influence from the 1930s to the 1950s, the he Church dominated people’s lives from conception to death and was closely linked to political leadership.
“It controlled cultural and intellectual life down to the type of books that could be published, the type of paintings and sculptures exhibited, the type of plays performed,” wrote Stephen Clarkson and Christina McCall, biographers of the former Quebec premier. Peter Trudeau. , who died in 2000.
The defeat of a pro-Church Conservative party in the 1960 provincial election and the victory of a progressive Liberal government empowered a new economic elite that pursued secularism, Béland said.
“Church attendance and fertility rates, which were once among the highest in the Americas, also fell dramatically over a relatively short period as Quebec modernized and its French-speaking majority became more educated, prosperous and urbanized,” Béland said.
French-Canadian nationalism in Quebec was very centered on Catholicism, but after the Quiet Revolution its most dominant aspect became the French language, he said.
In 2003, there were 2,746 Catholic churches in Quebec. Since then, 713 have been closed, demolished or converted, according to the Quebec Religious Heritage Council. Cardinal Gérald Lacroix of Quebec said last year that the number of churches in the province was unsustainable.
“The number of new priests does not exceed 10 per year. This entails a profound restructuring of parishes and dioceses,” declared E.-Martin Meunier, sociologist of religions at the University of Ottawa.
Meunier also noted that the proportion of newborns baptized as Catholic has dropped by more than 30% in the past 20 years, compared to just 13% from 1969 to 2001. Catholic marriages in Quebec have also been falling for decades.
Today, the Quebec government is staunchly secular, embracing politics and industry that seem to run counter to the conservative sexual ethic of Catholicism. In 2004, the province legalized same-sex marriage. Montreal, the largest city, has a vibrant sex industry.
In 2019, Quebec controversially banned public officials in positions of authority such as teachers, police officers and prosecutors from wearing religious symbols at work. Critics say the ban is prompted by growing anti-Muslim sentiment more recently.
Religious leaders and civil rights advocates have opposed the ban, but it remains popular among the French-speaking voter base of the Coalition Avenir Québec, which has ruled the province since 2018.
“A new phase in the politics of secularism in Quebec began about 15 years ago, when religious accommodations for minorities such as Muslims became a major media and political issue,” said Béland, who highlighted the attempts to make secularism a key element of Quebec identity.
Clergy sex abuse scandals have also tarnished the church. And the discovery of unmarked graves at the sites of church-run residential schools further damaged it.
Current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Pierre’s son, publicly chastised the church last year, saying he was ‘deeply disappointed’ that it had not issued a formal apology and made amends for its role in schools where abuse was endemic.
A Catholic and a Montreal native, he lambasted the church for being “silent,” “not intervening” and failing to show “the leadership that, frankly, is supposed to be at the heart of our faith.”
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said in 2018 that the pope could not personally apologize for residential school abuses, but that’s exactly what Francis has since done, at the Vatican this spring and again on Monday in Canada.
Reverend Antonio Hofmeister, a Brazilian priest who worked in Edmonton, Alberta, for several years and is now based in Rome, said church-state relations are strained in Canada, with the Liberal government of Trudeau and the Catholic Church disagree on issues ranging from abortion to euthanasia to same-sex marriage.
Francis was scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon with Trudeau and Quebec Premier Francois Legault.
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