Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, a self-styled "workers' priest" who was archbishop of Montreal for over two decades, is seriously ill in hospital.
The archdiocese of Montreal said Tuesday that the 78-year-old cardinal has been in hospital for a few weeks. He has been suffering from "fragile" health for several years, including complications related to diabetes, said Lucie Martineau, director of communications for the archdiocese.
"He is undergoing treatment. His condition is serious," Ms. Martineau said. She denied reports he was in palliative care.
In an unusual message on its website, the archdiocese asks people to pray for him, "for his health to improve."
Monsignor Michel Parent, Vicar-General, says he visited the cardinal in hospital.
"The archbishop emeritus before me was entirely at peace, utterly 'tuned' to the Lord, in full acceptance of His will," Father Parent wrote in a message posted online. "We prayed together for a long time."
Cardinal Turcotte earned a reputation as a charismatic, approachable figure during his 22 years as archbishop of Montreal. His tenure wasn't without tumult; he oversaw church-building closings, sexual-abuse scandals, and upheavals caused by Quebeckers' growing disaffection with organized religion.
In 2008, he gave back his Order of Canada in protest after abortion doctor Henry Morgentaler was given the same honour.
As archbishop in Montreal, Cardinal Turcotte was also likely to be photographed working at a soup kitchen or appearing at his annual blood drive.
"He had a real, deep concern for the poor," Professor John Zucchi, who teaches in the Catholic studies program at McGill University in Montreal, said on Tuesday.
"I heard him say a few times that we're living in a post-Christian world. He wanted to reach out to the secular world," Prof. Zucchi said. "He kept saying, this is not the church of the 1950s."
Cardinal Turcotte was archbishop of Montreal, his native city, from 1990 to 2012. When he was appointed cardinal in 1994, he said he never saw himself in that role.
"I'm an informal man, a man of the people," he said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed the cardinal's illness on Twitter. "Laureen and I would like to extend our thoughts and prayers to Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte and his family during this difficult time," he said Tuesday.