Marc Cardinal Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec City and Primate of Canada:
The debate on the Accommodation Practices and their emotional repercussions have forced Quebec society to an exercise of listening, reflection and dialogue on the subject of the place of religion in the public space. We are happy that a large forum presided by two known personalities permit us to calmly lead this reflection and dialogue on the actual problem, on the causes, issues and means of solution. Quebec society is presently in front of a choice that obliges individuals and institutional instances of the State, Churches and different religious groups to a serious examination of the situation and a real and sincere dialogue in order to wisely decide the way to follow in order to live harmoniously in the coming decades.
From the outset, I declare my conviction that the attack on values and the quest for a meaning of life in Quebec are so profound and urgent that they have grave repercussions on the public health that engenders enormous costs for the system of health. For 400 years, the Quebec society rests in the midst of two pillars: the French culture and the Catholic faith that forms the base of armature that permits the integration of other components of an actual pluralistic identity. It is made fragile by the weakening of the religious identity of the francophone majority.
The debate today directly touches religion and the relations between cultural communities, but the real problem is not that of the integration of immigrants that would be rendered more difficult because of the demands of their religious practices. The statistics reveal that the accommodation practices for religious motives are minimal, which would indicate the reason for current and future tensions. So we cannot then not give responsibility to them or judge them overwhelming, despite the profound anxiety of the Quebec society towards those who are seeking refuge or a place of welcome for their religion. The refugees and immigrants often bring us the great riches of their witness and of their cultural values that add to the common value of Quebec society. Sharing and solidarity should then be the basic attitudes in regard to the immigrants and their human and cultural needs.
The real problem is also not that of "the place of religion in public space," to spread this expression, vague as it is, facilitates the diffusion of the modern slogan: "religion in private or in church but not in public places." What is a public place? Is it a street, a park, the air waves, the school, the city hall, or the National Assembly? Should we destroy the monument dedicated to Bishop Francois de Laval from the public place or the one dedicated to Cardinal Taschereau? Should a banner say "Merry Christmas" in the center of Parliament or should it be replaced by "Happy Holidays," in order include everyone? Have the religious characteristics of our history that constitute our collective identity become problems or bad memories to be put aside? Do we have to eliminate them from public places in order to satisfy a radical secularist minority who are the only ones who complain in the name of an absolute equality of citizens?
The believers and unbelievers bring with them belief or unbelief in all the places that they frequent. They are all called to live together, to mutually accept each other, and to not impose their beliefs or unbelief's, in public or in private. To take away all religious signs from a cultural public place identified by a tradition defined by its religious dimension, is this not equivalent to promoting unbelief as the unique value that has a right to depict itself? The presence of a crucifix at the National Assembly and at a City Hall is not a sign of a single religion of the State. It is an identifiable and cultural sign linked to a concrete history, a real population who has a right to the continuity of its institutions and its symbols. These symbols are not over all a denominational sign but a witness of the cultural heritage of all a society marked by its historical vocation from the cradle of the evangelization of North America. To take them away signifies a cultural rupture, a denial of who we were and who we are called to collectively be; historically founded on the values of Christianity.
The real problem of Quebec is then not the presence of religious signs or the apparition of overwhelming new religious signs in public places. The real problem in Quebec is the spiritual emptiness created by a religious and cultural rupture, a substantial loss of memory, leading to a crisis of the family and of education that leaves the citizens disorientated, de-motivated, subject to instability and dreams of a passing and superficial value.
A people whose identity was strongly configured for centuries by the Catholic faith cannot from one day to another (a few centuries are brief in the life of a country) be emptied of its substance without which results in grave consequences at all levels. The disarray of the youth, the dizzying fall of marriages, the low birth-rate and the many horrible abortions and suicides, to name only a few of the consequences that add to the precarious conditions of the elderly and of the public health. And to fill this spiritual and cultural emptiness is a anti-Catholic rhetoric full of clichés that unfortunately finds itself too often in the media.
He who favors a real culture of disdain and shame in regards to our religious heritage, destroys the soul of Quebec. It is about time that we ask: Quebec, what have you done with your baptism? It's about time that we break the hold of secular fundamentalism, imposed even with public funds, and that we find a better equilibrium in Quebec between tradition and creative innovation to the service of the common good. We should relearn the respect for religion that is the means of identifying the population and the respect of all the religions without giving in to the pressure of the secularists who advertise the exclusion of religion in public places.
Quebec is ripe for a new profound evangelization that is taking shape in certain circles by important catechetic initiatives, even by community efforts in returning to the sources of our history. A spiritual and cultural renewal is possible if the dialogue between the State, the Society and the Church spread their teachings, constructive and respecting the collective identity that has become pluralistic.
Within the context of this debate on the Accommodation Practices, we cannot ignore the radical change that the Quebec State has introduced concerning the place of religion in the schools. These changes provoke disorder and anger in many parents who have had their private rights stolen in the name of a ultimate reform and the modernization of the Quebec school system. Without taking into account the primacy of the rights of the parents and their will clearly expressed to maintain the liberty of choice between denominational and moral teaching, the States suppresses all denominational instruction and imposes their course of ethics and religious culture in the public and private schools and this, without possibility of exception. Because of the profound unrest in many families, coupled with a sense of helplessness in the face of an all-powerful State that does not fear anything, it seems, including the influence of the Church who cannot impose her law without major constraint. The most scandalous situation is reserved to the private Catholic schools that are forced, because of the interplay of government grants, to marginalize their own denominational instruction to the advantage of the state courses that are being imposed everywhere and at each level.
Will the reframing of the formation of ethics and religion for the citizens with obligatory courses be successful to save a minimum of points of reference to assure a harmonious existence of living? I doubt it, and I am even convinced of the contrary, because this operation was done at the expense of the religious freedom of the citizen, especially that of the Catholic majority. Moreover, they are founded exclusively on an "understanding" of the beliefs and rites of six or seven religions. I doubt that the teachers who are not very much prepared to take up this challenge, will be able to teach in neutrality and in a critical manner, ideas that they understand even less than their own religion. One would have to be very naive to believe that the miracle of cultural and religion instruction will fabricate a new little pluralist Quebecer expert in inter-religious and critique relations towards all creeds even that of their own parents. The least we can say is that the thirst for spiritual values will be far from being satiated and a dictatorship of relativism risks making more difficult the transmission of our religious heritage.
The rural Quebec culture puts a cross everywhere at the road crossings. These crosses invite us to pray and reflect the meaning of life. What choice is imposed now upon our society that the State must take clear and very respectful decisions of the religious and individual consciences, as well as that of groups and the Church? In spite of certain deviances due to recurrent but limited surges of fanaticism; religion stays a source of inspiration and a power of peace in the world and our society, if it is not manipulated by political interests or bullied into legal aspirations.
The reform that imposed by Law 95 submits religions to the control and the interests of the State, all the while putting an end to religious liberties acquired for generations. This law does not serve the common good and cannot be imposed without being resented as a violation of the religious liberty of the citizens. It is not unreasonable to maintain it as is stipulated, because their goal was to establish a laciest jurisdiction that would exclude religion in public places. The two pillars of our national cultural identity, our language and religion, are called historically and sociologically to either hold each other up, or to fall together. Has not the moment come for a new alliance where the Catholic faith and the culture emerge together to give to Quebec society, security and confidence for the future?
Quebec lives always the heritage of a religious tradition that is strong and positive, exempt of major conflicts and characterized by sharing, welcoming strangers and compassion towards the less fortunate. We must protect and cultivate this religious heritage founded on love that is a force of social integration much more useful than an abstract knowledge of a few superficial ideas from six or seven different religions. Above all its important at the present time for the Catholic majority to wake up, recognize its true spiritual needs and renew with its traditional practices in order to be up to the mission that belongs to them. May the wisdom of God inspire the recommendations of the Commissionaires in order that they recognize religious freedom as a primary and permanent value that it blossoms in Quebec and gives meaning to life.
Marc Cardinal Ouellet