The spiritual vacuum created by secularism and relativism is eating away at Quebeckers' soul, creating widespread insecurity throughout the society, says the Roman Catholic Church's senior figure in the province, Cardinal Marc Ouellet.
In an article in the Catholic University of Milan's publication Vita e Pensiero (Life and Thought), Cardinal Ouellet unleashes a scathing criticism of Quebec society, saying it has become disoriented, unstable, unmotivated and attracted to superficial values.
As Archbishop of Quebec and Roman Catholic Primate of Canada, Cardinal Ouellet reiterated views he has expressed recently that have touched on what he sees as the religious and cultural breakdown of Quebec society since the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s.
"Hence the confusion of our youths, the dramatic drop in marriages, the very low birth rate and the alarming number of abortions and suicides," he writes. "The crisis in values and the search for meaning are profound and urgent problems in Quebec that are even having serious repercussions on public health that have led to considerable costs on the health-care system."
In part he blames the Quebec media for promoting anti-Catholic rhetoric that over the years has fuelled shame and contempt for the province's religious heritage. Quebec, he adds, is ripe for a renewed effort of evangelization and urges Catholics to take up the cause.
Cardinal Ouellet also takes aim at the Quebec government for recently introducing a course on ethics and religious culture that is part of the mandatory curriculum.
The controversial course is an overview of various religions around the world, and Cardinal Ouellet strongly opposes it, seeing it as a means to repress the teaching of Catholicism in Quebec schools.
"It amounts to the dictatorship of relativism implemented right from the elementary school level," he says, adding that the Quebec government has gone too far in adopting laws that distance themselves from the Catholic doctrine. The course imposed by the Quebec Ministry of Education denies students their religious identity, he argues.
"During classes, information is given on the main religions in the world, where controversial issues such as abortion or euthanasia are discussed with no obligation to take a position one way or another," he says.
He remains convinced that the course will do little to create harmony among different religious groups. And he argues that in the name of religious freedom, Quebeckers, the vast majority of whom are Catholics, are getting shortchanged. They will soon realize that teachers have neither the training nor sufficient knowledge to remain neutral in attempting to grasp complicated religious notions found in other religions, he says.
The article was reproduced in an Italian newspaper and picked up by the Journal de Québec yesterday.
Cardinal Ouellet is currently at the Vatican, where Pope Benedict XVI has entrusted him to oversee the opening and closing of the Synod of Bishops, set up to help the Pope run the Roman Catholic Church, and where 250 bishops are meeting until Oct. 23.
Luciano Dorotea, the province's former delegate in Rome, took strong exception to Cardinal Ouellet's views of Quebec society. He said they are far too negative and, if taken literally, could create the impression that religious freedom has been banned in Quebec.
"His comments could lead some to believe that Quebec was almost like an anti-Catholic totalitarian state," Mr. Dorotea told Radio-Canada in an interview yesterday, noting that Cardinal Ouellet's views do not reflect those of the province's bishops.
Cardinal Ouellet has been pleading with Quebeckers for some time to return to their Catholic roots. Last year, he published a letter apologizing for the church's anti-Semitism prior to the Quiet Revolution, as well as certain priests' sexual abuse of minors, treatment of aboriginal students and discrimination toward women and homosexuals.
"Forgive us for this pain," he wrote in the letter that was penned on his own initiative, without the official support of the province's bishops.
He also appeared before the Bouchard-Taylor commission hearings last year on the accommodation of minorities, where he called for the renewal of Quebec's Catholic identity.