The Cardinal and his church in a year of conflict

PETER GZOWSKI July 14 1962

The Cardinal and his church in a year of conflict

PETER GZOWSKI July 14 1962

The Cardinal and his church in a year of conflict



THE FRENCH AND CATHOLIC PEOPLE of Quebec, in their by-now famous quiet revolution, are changing faster than any group of people on this continent. What they are changing from, as much as anything else, is their consent to domination by the Catholic church and clergy of their schools, their social ideas, and in some ways even their politics. It is this two-centuries-old grip of the church that has made it popular if imprecise for outsiders to describe Quebec as “priest ridden.” In Quebec's new mood, the church itself faces what John Foster Dulles called, in another context, an agonizing reappraisal. It must change with the times or try, as best it can, to stop the times from changing. Today, the dilemma divides Quebec’s most influential churchmen.

One of the most powerful advocates of change in French Canada is Paul-Emile Cardinal Leger, Archbishop of Montreal. The influential opponents of change in Quebec include the bishops of Rimouski, Sher-

brooke, Three Rivers and the Gaspc — indeed, all the bishops outside Montreal with the exceptions of Ottawa, Quebec City and perhaps one or two others. The wing the cardinal leads, which is ready to give laymen a greatly increased voice in the church and the schools, can be described for lack of more precise terms as the “liberal” or “left” wing of the church. It is opposed, with conviction and mounting emotionalism among extremists, by a status-quo party that in these terms is the church's “conservative” or “right” wing.

This summer the argument between the left and the right in the church is growing louder. It may yet echo across the country. If it does, it will be well to keep one thing in mind: whatever their differences, and however bitterly these differences are expressed, they are still differences within the church. Both movements are, before everything else. Catholic movements. The left is the ecclesiastic left — something far different from the political position. And neither side intends to rend the church. Nevertheless, and that being said, the church in Quebec cannot move both ways at once. Only one of these'forces can prevail. And, because the church and Quebec have always been and will CONTINUED OVERLEAF

The cardinal’s critics

Légers opponents range from the bishops shown here to an extremist group that has much in common with the John Birch Society

surely continue to be inseparable in their development, the outcome of the struggle within the church will have a profound effect on the future of French Canada—and for that reason all Canada.

Already the left wing has effectively “liberalized” some aspects of the Catholic religion in Quebec. The w'ing draws its strength from both laymen and priests. Some of the laymen — like Gerard Pelletier, a brilliant forty-three-year-old former labor leader who is now' editor of the big Montreal daily, La Presse — are devout Catholics who have spoken so frankly and often in past years about the need for change within the church that they have sometimes been accused of simple anticlericalism. Most of this wing's priests are young. Most of them are well educated, many schooled abroad. A significant number are Dominicans.

The right wing, too. has lay support for its churchmen. In addition to the rural and small-city bishops it includes many parish priests and some influential Jesuits. But its most extreme members, and the ones the liberals fear most, are adherents to a lay movement called Cité Catholique, which is of French origin and is just now' rearing its head in Quebec. This movement is not unlike the John Birch Society in the U. S. It rigidly opposes ail change. It holds as its principal enemies communism and what it calls laïcisme. In Cité Catholique terms, laïcisme is any school of thought that would reduce the clergy's role in anything, and Cité Catholique sees laïciste plots everywhere.

Recently, a couple of conservative French-Canadian newspapers printed what they claimed was a “secret document of great importance,” w'hich they had just discovered. The document, they contended, was a “plan of laïcisation prepared by enemies of the church.“ One step in the plan was to publish “anticlerical and free-thought articles in La Presse and Le Devoir and in the magazines Cité Libre and Liberté . . . and to publish caricatures and articles that ridicule the clergy, the religious communities and the people of the right (les gens de droite).”

The French word for the ultraconservatism that produces this kind of nonsense is intégrisme, and the intégristes’ chief target, the most important and interesting proponent of changes within the most monolithic of human institutions, is the Archbishop of Montreal. Cardinal Léger has not always been a liberal. When he became archbishop of Montreal in 1950, many liberal Catholics were extremely wary of him, and for the first several years of his tenure their wariness seemed justified.

There were at least two reasons for the attitudes Léger brought with him. One was his background. Until he became a bishop, he had virtually no contact with liberal ideas. Born in 1904 in a town called Valleyfield, Quebec, first of two sons of a general storekeeper. Léger was raised and educated in St. Anicet and in Ste. Thérèse. A highly intelligent and bookish child (his mother surprised him one day, at the age of eight, making a speech on reciprocity to his mirror), he dreamed at twelve of being a missionary. At twenty he entered the grand seminary of Montreal, and after his ordination in 1929 he left for four years ol teaching and further study in Paris. From Paris, after a brief visit home, Abbé Léger was sent to Japan and for the next six-years his boyhood vocation was fulfilled. As part of his work there, he founded a seminary. Extracurricularly, he grew' a rich black beard, which, coupled with his black eyes, gave him a sternly dramatic appearance in photographs taken before the war. In 1939, clean-shaven, he returned to teach sociology for a year at the Séminaire de Philosophie de Montréal, and in 1940 he went back to Valleyfield as vicar-general. In Valleyfield. his reputation as an efficient administrator grew, but his popularity among the “liberal” Catholics of Montreal did not. One of them, now a fervent admirer of Léger’s, recently recalled that the young monsignor had seemed like “poison to what we were fighting for.” In 1947, because of his growing reputation as a teacher and administrator. Léger was sent to Rome, where he became rector of the Pontifical Canadian college. Three years later he was appointed archbishop of Montreal, replacing Msgr. Joseph Charbonneau. In 1954 Léger was made a cardinal, and when he arrived back from Rome with his new red hat his words were such that they have stayed in the mind of a friend of mine for eight years, because, says my friend, of their “typical arrogance.” "Montréal,” said the new cardinal, “ô ma ville, tu as voulu te faire belle pour recevoir ton Pasteur et ton Prince.” (Rendered freely, this was his acknowledgement of Montreal's efforts to beautify itself in honor of its prince.)

The situation in his city during the early fifties was a second reason

for Léger's early conservatism. This was the height of Duplessism, and liberal ideas, religious ones as w'cll as political, were seldom if ever heard out loud. Msgr. Charbonneau. Léger's predecessor, had been a liberal in some ways — he had fought from his pulpit for Quebec's labor movement in the bitter asbestos strike of 1949. Charbonneau had been fired. The official explanation was that Charbonneau had “retired lor reasons of health,” but in Victoria, B.C., where he went after stepping down, he told a reporter he “felt fine" and was now “among lriends." One of Léger's early official acts, and one that still makes liberals wince, was to take what they consider abusively unfair action to help crush a teachers' strike in Montreal.

But the liberal currents that were stirring, few as they were, began to reach the cardinal. He showed himself accessible to points of view' he did not yet share. In the early 1950s. he invited to a personal audience two of the editors of Cité Libre, the very liberal little magazine that is and w'as the principal sounding board for many liberal Catholics. Léger was quick to learn the realities of life in Catholic Montreal, against which, in his scholarly and often remote life, he simply had not brushed. His response was sometimes strong enough to arouse his emotions — he is. say those who know him, emotionally intense. One man who w'as an official of the lay movement Action Catholique in the 1950s recalls having a disagreement with Léger on a matter that concerned a source of gifts to his movement. He criticized the cardinal. Léger asked to see the layman and listened to an explanation of his position. Léger wept; he admitted he was wrong, and asked only that in future the layman should bring criticism first to him.

"He is,” says a Catholic who was not in those days among the cardinal's admirers, “a deeply religious man, a truly religious man. I would not say that of all the bishops of the church. I think it is this that is behind the tremendous change that has come over him. 1 can't see how, otherwise, a man of that age could change so much.”


Something else behind the change has been the appointments Léger has made to his own staff. The men around him now are. mainly, bright, highly trained, young priests — one monsignor is still in his middle thirties — from such backgrounds as the universities and the labor movement. These men know they are expected to speak frankly and freely to His Eminence about the issues of the day.

The liberalism that these factors, and of course others, have produced is as varied in its applications as those issues. Like the present pope, John XXI11, Léger has taken a special interest in what churchmen call the "ecumenical dialogue” — the discussion among all Christian faiths about possible unity — and he has become one of his church's leading spokesmen on the subject. He now spends ten days of every month in Rome, working on plans for John's upcoming Second Vatican Council, w'hich. as Léger has said, “aims to facilitate the reconciliation and reunion of churches.” Last winter, Léger asked all the Catholics in his archdiocese to pray for the World Council of (Protestant) Churches, then meeting in New' Delhi. In traditionally rigid and nationalistic Quebec, this request made, as a writer for the U. S. Jesuit magazine America noted, "a profound impression.” The cardinal has also set up in Montreal a diocesan committee of priests and laymen, one of the first in the w'orld, to pursue the ecumenical dialogue. In other fields, he has requested priests and monks to wear black clerical suits instead of cassocks or colorful robes as their street dress in Montreal. While this decision may have flattened a little of the city's special flavor for tourists, it has also given the clergy a considerably more up-to-date image to present to the world. (One neighboring bishop, probably more conscious of tradition than of the tourist trade, quickly pointed out that the ruling didn't apply in his diocese.) On the Mass itself, the cardinal has written a pastoral directory that has been admired and followed as far away as Europe. As part of what Catholics call the "liturgical revolution” — which may one day result in the Mass being celebrated in living languages — he has helped further the practice of “dialogue services,” in w'hich the congregation answers the priest. “I now have parishes where a thousand people sing the Mass like angels,” he told the magazine America with a touch of pride. Under his aegis, the Dominicans, have established a "pastoral training institute” in Montreal, to CONTINUED ON PAGE 39



continued from page 15

“God has put into your hands, not a bludgeon — but charity”

help \oung priests bridge the gap between their unworldly seminary training and the sometimes cold sociological facts of the outside.

This sort of change, however, while certainly of the kind the liberals advocate. is not what has brought Cardinal Léger up hard against the intégristes. Education has done that.

Quebec, as nearly everyone must know by now', is in the middle of a thorough overhaul of its school system. Changes have been made already and there is now a provincial royal commission studying the question. Quebec is, in the next few years, likely to jump from having one of the continent's most backward systems of education to having one of its most advanced. Among the crucial decisions that are going to have to be made before that jump is completed is to what degree the schools will remain “confessional" — how much teaching, in other words, is going to be taken away from the "black robes," the priests and the brothers and nuns.

“A subversive affair”

The intégristes, of course, would like the schools to remain exactly as they are, or better, as they were a few years ago. At the other extreme is a loose organization called Le Mouvement Laïque de Langue Française. The MLF was organized in the spring of 1961 to see what could be done about, among other things, providing more adequately for teaching children of French-speaking non-Catholics. Some of the MLF's members do favor a complete “neutralization" of the schools, but the movement as a whole does not. Instead, it has suggested a plan, modeled on one presented to it by Prof. Paul Lacoste of the University of Montreal, that w'ould divide education in Quebec on a language basis rather than a religious one. Because of this plan, and even though the MLF's membership is at least half Catholic (including at least one priest), the movement has become a favorite target of the intégristes.

In May, for instance, the Fédération nationale des Ligues du Sacré Cœur issued a ringing condemnation of the MLF (not to mention drinking on Sundays without meals, uncensored movies and a few other la'iciste trends). In a phrase not untypical of the intégriste line on this question, the Rev. Wilfrid Gariépy, who had just been re-elected national director of the Ligues, called the MLF's position “a subversive affair.” The Ligues claim a total membership of 192,000, and even though there were only seventyfive people at the convention that passed this resolution, their ideas presumably represent those of many Catholics in Quebec.

They do not represent those of the archbishop of Montreal. The week after the Ligues’ convention, about a thousand Ligueurs met in Montreal to hear their leaders report on what had

gone on. and invited the cardinal to hear, too. After the announcement of the anti-/fli<7.v/e motion, there was prolonged applause. Then Cardinal Léger stood up, "visibly troubled" as one reporter put it. He rapped the Ligueurs’ knuckles. "Have you studied these questions?" he asked in a lengthy speech, which ended: “God has put into your hands, not a bludgeon, but eharity."

Léger has not, of course, endorsed the Mouvement Laïque. But he has


made it abundantly clear that he regards the desire of laymen to play a much greater role in the teaching of Catholic children as both natural, at this moment in Quebec’s history, and healthy. In a remarkable speech at the seminary of Saint-Jean-de-Québec last summer. Léger explained that he did not see this desire as any sort of evil "laïcisme." He said that he thought laymen — Catholic laymen — could in fact he a "leaven" in education in the province, and he pointed out that

both Pope John and his predecessdV. Pius XII. called for more lay participation in church affairs.

Making his actions fit this view. Léger last year made his three appointments to the Montreal Catholic School Commission laymen; all three positions had always been filled by priests. He has appointed a layman as vicechancellor of the University of Montreal. He has handed over St. Paul’s College, a Montreal collège classique formerly directed and staffed by sec-

ular priests, to laymen, and he has pointed proudly to the fact that in some other secondary schools in his archdiocese up to seventy percent of the teaching hours are now in the hands of the laity.

This leaves the cardinal still to the right of such movements as Le Mouvement Laïque, but within the church it places him a long way left of many of his clergy. “Where are the collèges classiques that are the property of these laymen?" a priest wrote re-

cently. “(These colleges) are OURS."

The most important form of reaction to what is happening in the Quebec church today is Cité Catholique. Cité Catholique began in France in the 1940s. In anyone's terminology, it is ultra-right-wing. While no formal link has ever been established between Cité Catholique and France's terrorist Secret Army Organization, it is known that the two groups shared many followers. The man who has done most

to draw Quebec’s attention to its potential is the Rev. André Liégé, a French Dominican who has studied and fought against the movement in France and who spent this winter at the Universities of Laval and Montreal. Father Liégé describes Cité Catholique as a “struggle against all the ideas and all the trends that characterize the modern world." In I960, the Assembly of Cardinals and Bishops of France (the church in France, of course, is essentially lib-

eral) issued a “mise en garde” —a warning — against Cité Catholique and the magazine it publishes. Verbe. One passage in that document explains why Cité Catholique is literally more Catholic than the pope. Cité Catholique's announced goals include uniting the church on both doctrine and temporal action. Said the French bishops: “unity on doctrine is a matter for the church itself to decide; unity among Catholics on temporal matters is neither possible nor desirable . . . The church gives its sons great liberty in the domain of concrete techniques in the social and political order . . . The spirit of Cité Catholique is the spirit of counterrevolution . . . There is (in that point of view) a grave danger for the true mission of the church.”

The new target of this movement is Quebec, and the revolution it would like to counter is the quiet revolution here. This spring, the international director of Cité Catholique, a short, slim, mild-mannered Frenchman in his forties named Jean Ousset, took up residence in Quebec City. When he arrived, or how long he would stay, no one was saying; he was there in midMay, at 42 Rue Saint-Famille, with a group of laymen who live like a religious community. He was not entertaining journalists. In April, a girl reporter named Fvelyn Gagnon, of La Presse's Quebec bureau, got in to see Ousset, and discovered that the only reason he had agreed to see her was that on the telephone he had understood her to say Labrccquc. not La Presse. Miss Gagnon didn't discover much else. Cité Catholique is a secret movement. It works by a device similar to that of its enemy, communism. It organizes cells, often groups of people from the same office or belonging to the same club, who meet to dis-

cuss creeping la'icisme und what they can do to fight it. The movement's own phrase is “action capillaire."

How far this capillary action has already seeped into Quebec, no one knows. Verbe is being seen more and more around the province. Father Liege told the Nouveau Journal that he thought more than three thousand copies of a book setting out the movement's aims, a nine - hundred - page tome called Pour Qu'Il Règne (a more classical text on the same theme is called Liberalism is a Sin), had been sold in Quebec.

How far it can seep in has many liberals — within and without the church — worried. The quiet revolution has as yet had little effect on the number of people in rural and artisan Quebec who tend to see things in black (or red) and white, as the phenomenal outbreak of Social Credit here has proved. “It would be utopian to think that Quebec, a milieu to a large extent still traditionalist and now undergoing rapid transformations, could remain aloof from intégrisme,” a young Dominican wrote recently. At least one U. S. Catholic bishop has publicly deplored the fact that Catholics seem more ready than Protestants to join this sort of movement. There arc already strong organizations, such as the Ligues du Sacré Cœur, with a strong leaning toward intégrisme. As Abbé Louis O'Neill, the young Quebec City priest who has become nationally known as a spokesman for democracy in his province, put it recently: “In Quebec, people of the right tend to be very far right.”

There is talk that Cité Catholique has plans for a newspaper of its own here, and the talk mentions as editor Jean-Noel Tremblay, the nationalistic, ultra-Catholic former Laval professor who sat as Conservative MP for Robervai from 1958 until June 18. and whom an Ottawa journalist once described privately as having “the best medieval mind in the House of Commons.”

To the men who have been fighting Cité Catholique, priests and journalists mostly. Cardinal Léger has given tacit encouragement. But he has not yet condemned the movement publicly. Why not? Perhaps the most important reason is that he still has those other bishops to contend with. Already there are sounds of grumbling in the boondocks about the changes he has made —even a rumor that there has been a letter circulated among some bishops that would have Rome slow the cardinal down. To denounce intégrisme at this time would almost certainly set many of his fellow bishops squarely and bitterly against him. (There is virtually no chance, however, that Léger will suffer Msgr. Charbonneau's fate. For one thing, his own connections in Rome and his influence there are far stronger than those of any other Quebec bishop. For another, he is a superb administrator, which Charbonneau was not, and apologists for the church still quote Charbonneau's inept administration as a reason for his dismissal.)

Why is Cardinal Léger so much readier than most of his colleagues to accept and even institute change? Many people of whom I asked that question w'ent into various explanations of how Montreal, with its recent influx of immigration and its cosmopolitan nature, is far more ready to undergo modernization of it? church — as of its other institutions — than rural and artisan Quebec. But. as one Montreal Dominican said: “Rosemont and Hochelaga and Verdun—they are all in the archdiocese of Montreal and they are no different from Rimouski in their make-up.”

Will the others catch up? Which w'ay will the church in Quebec move? Abbé O’Neill says: "This province now is like a man in a canoe, going down a set of rapids. He can steer— he must steer, or he will crash on a rock — but he cannot get out and he cannot turn around.” ★