Pope Francis Visits Quebec Quickly Shaking Off Catholicism


THE CITY OF QUEBEC — For more than 140 years, the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church, with its conical spire towering high in the sky, an imposing presence here in the provincial capital.

It was a gathering place for the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society, an organization dedicated to protecting the interests of the French-speaking population of Quebec. It appeared in travel guides. In 1991, with a facade designed to mirror that of the Sainte-Trinité church in Paris, the church was classified as a heritage building for its architectural and artistic value.

But today, amid growing secularization, poor attendance at mass, declining revenues and rising costs of maintaining centuries-old places of worship, the doors are closed. The church celebrated its last mass in 2015. The future is uncertain; Officials are considering how to repurpose the building.

Saint-Jean-Baptiste’s plight parallels the Church’s declining role in Canada’s most Catholic province, where it dominated for centuries public and private life – and where towers and spires still tower over small villages and urban centers – but that is now losing faith at a rapid pace.

Pope Francis arrived in Quebec on Wednesday for the second leg of his “penitent pilgrimage” where he was again criticized for what critics say was his inadequate apology for the Church’s role in the Canadian residential school system for Indigenous children.

For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families to be placed in boarding schools, often hundreds of miles from their communities, where they were forbidden to speak their native language, practice their cultural traditions, and in many cases were physically and sexually abused. Most schools were run by Catholic entities.

Francis on Monday apologized for the “evil perpetrated by so many Christians” in the system, but not for the church’s complicity as an institution.

The 85-year-old pope celebrated a mass on Thursday at the basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, a popular pilgrimage site outside Quebec City. Before it began, two people approached the pulpit and unfurled a banner calling on Francis to revoke the 15th century papal bulls that enshrined the Doctrine of Discovery, which were used as justification to colonize and convert indigenous peoples into the new world.

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The Quebec Francis found has changed dramatically since Pope John Paul II visited it in 1984. John Paul was serenaded by a 16-year-old Céline Dion at a packed Olympic Stadium in Montreal and celebrated mass with some 350,000 people in what was then Canada’s largest religious gathering.

According to Statistics Canada, the proportion of Catholics aged 15 and older in Quebec fell from 87 percent in 1985 to 62 percent from 2017 to 2019. In 1985, more than half of people who identified as Catholic participated at least once a month. to a religious activity. From 2017 to 2019, it was 14 percent.

The proportion of people with a religious affiliation other than Catholic doubled, from 9 percent in 1985 to 18 percent from 2017 to 2019.

“We’ve moved out of a situation where there was some sort of moral authority of Catholicism decades ago,” said Jean-François Roussel, a theology professor at the University of Montreal. “For many Quebecers…Catholicism is not part of their lives, not even part of their family life.”

Between 2000 and 2020, the number of parishes in the province decreased from 1,780 to 983according to the government agency that manages the library and archives of Quebec.

Catholic baptisms and marriages have also fallen, researchers reported last year in the journal Secular Studies.

“We have entered a strong phase of decline of a particular Catholicism in Quebec for the last 10 years or so,” said sociologist E.-Martin Meunier of the University of Ottawa, a co-author of the report. “If there is a collapse of Catholicism, it is primarily institutional Catholicism.”

Residential schools banned native languages. The Cree want theirs back.

Quebec has a long, complex relationship with the faith.

For centuries, the Church had a stranglehold on public institutions in Quebec, including health care, education, and social services, before the province began to break away in favor of a more secular approach — the so-called Silent Revolution of the 1960s.

The shift away from Catholicism has gained momentum in recent decades.

As a result, more than 600 churches in Quebec have been closed, many of them bulldozed or desecrated so that another use can be found for the historic buildings.

In Sherbrooke, 160 kilometers east of Montreal, the former Sainte-Thérèse church is now the OMG restaurant, a “festive place” where cocktails are topped with cotton candy and “even the wisest will be tempted to listen to the devil that sleeps in them.”

(The O in OMG has devil horns. Some burgers too.)

In Montreal, where Mark Twain once remarked, “You can’t throw a brick without breaking a church window,” places of worship have also been transformed into condominiums and community centers.

In 2014, the former Notre-Dame du Perpétuel Secours was reborn as the Théâtre Paradoxe, where this month Justin Turnbull, who goes by the name “The Suicide Jesus”, defeated Brian Pillman to become the first-ever Apex Championship Wrestling World Champion. .

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Saint-Jean-Baptiste, meanwhile, is in limbo.

The first church on that site was consecrated in 1849. It was dedicated to John the Baptist, the nephew of Jesus, who would become the patron saint of French Canadians. When it was destroyed by fire in 1881, it was immediately rebuilt.

The priest who delivered the last homily in 2015 praised it as “a stone church, built with genius, with grandeur, with pride, which enables everyone – without distinction – to cherish beauty, silence, exaltation, contemplation.”

The church is owned by the Archdiocese, said David O’Brien, a spokesman for the local government. He said the city is looking into how it can be reused.

Eva Dubuc-April waited for Francis at the Basilica of St. Anne-de-Beaupré on Thursday to celebrate Mass.

Dubuc-April, 31, said she had her children baptized and attend mass periodic. But she strongly believes that the Church needs to modernize by rethinking its teachings on sexuality and the male-only priesthood.

She likes Francis personally and sees him as a reformer, but he has encountered resistance from a conservative Vatican bureaucracy.

“In Quebec, people who practice Catholicism disagree with these ancient teachings,” she said. “If they don’t move forward, there’s no one left.”

Chico Harlan in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Quebec, contributed to this report.

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