HE COULD end up being a pope who can tell a slapshot from a backhander. When not playing hockey, as a young man Marc Ouellet was also fond of hunting around his parents’ farm in La Motte, in northwestern Quebec. And yes, he once had a girlfriend, but it was “not serious,” he said in a recent interview. Such trivia about the archbishop of Quebec City is surfacing now that John L. Allen Jr., a respected Vaticanologist, put him on a short list of 20 papabili (“popeables”): plausible candidates to succeed Pope John Paul II when the cardinals’ conclave begins this Monday. Cardinal Ouellet is the only man from Canada and the United States on that list, which was published in a recent column in the U.S. magazine National Catholic Reporter.
Okay, he’s a long shot, as is Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte, archbishop of Montreal, whose name is also being floated. But among his qualifications for the job is the fact that Ouellet is a superb intellectual who has earned a doctorate in dogmatic theology; that he has mastered five languages; and has taught in seminaries in South America as well as Canada. At the age of 60, he is also among the youngest prospects on Allen’s list, but he’s enjoyed a high-profile career built in such Vatican powerhouses as the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity and the Pontifical Academy of Theology—while being an adviser to the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.
You’d think that Quebecers, usually so quick to raise the flag and cheer one of their
own, would be excited about his prospects. But, no, not really. Ouellet has come under steady criticism from his flock in the province since he was appointed archbishop in November 2002. “He has supporters, but he does not create unanimity,” says Gilles Routhier, a theology professor at Université Laval. “His positions have triggered heated debates in the media. Even political
the head-office man preaching John Paul IPs love-it-or-leave-it orthodoxy in Quebec
cartoonists have lampooned him, something we hadn’t seen since, perhaps, the heyday of the liberal, anti-clerical press in the mid-19th century.” And that, explains André-Philippe Côté, one such cartoonist at Quebec City’s Le Soleil newspaper, is because “he symbolizes the return of an oldfashioned vision of the Church, one we had forgotten here for at least 50 years.” Ouellet recently came under scathing criticism from a group of Catholic intellectuals, who said, “we will not let Quebec
Catholicism be hijacked by fundamentalists,” and accused him of “becoming the mouthpiece for the most conservative fringe among local Catholics.” In that diatribe, published in Montreal’s Le Devoir newspaper, the group also said it rejects Ouellet’s vision of the Church “shamelessly aligned with the reactionary platform of the Conservative Party of Canada and the most militant factions of the American religious right.” Says Marco Veilleux, who penned the attack: “Ouellet came in on a collision course with the direction the Church in Quebec had been following for decades now.”
Among other things, the archbishop has reminded divorcees they cannot receive Communion. He abolished “collective absolution,” a popular practice, and reinstituted private confessions to a priest. In Quebec, he has led the fight against same-sex marriage, as well as the lobby to maintain denominational Catholic and Protestant school boards in the province.
Ever since Quebecers, en masse, turned their backs on the Church in the late 1960s, bishops in the province have taken a resolutely populist approach to their religion, allowing practices and prayers they hoped would fly under the Vatican’s radar. Ouellet is the man head office has sent to preach John Paul’s tough-love, love-it-orleave-it orthodoxy. And that may be what being a papabile is all about. lifl
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