Que­bec bish­ops main­tain cru­ci­fix not sim­ply an ‘ar­ti­fact’ or ‘sou­venir’

Montreal Gazette - - CITY - CATHER­INE SOLYOM csolyom@post­media.com twit­ter.com/csolyom

Al­most ex­actly five years ago, at the height of the first furor over the cru­ci­fix at the Na­tional As­sem­bly, Catholic bish­ops of Que­bec put out a state­ment to clar­ify how they felt about the is­sue.

If demo­crat­i­cally elected MNAs de­cide to re­move the cru­ci­fix from the halls of power, they said, they will re­spect that.

But the cru­ci­fix is most as­suredly a religious sym­bol of the Catholic faith, the Oc­to­ber 2013 state­ment con­tin­ued — “not a mu­seum ar­ti­fact or just a sou­venir of the past or part of our her­itage.”

“It must be treated with all the re­spect due to a fun­da­men­tal sym­bol of the Catholic faith,” wrote the Assem­blée des évêques du Québec.

Fast for­ward to this week, and now it’s premier-des­ig­nate François Le­gault sug­gest­ing the cru­ci­fix in the Na­tional As­sem­bly is part of our his­tory — not a religious sym­bol.

As such, the Coali­tion Avenir Québec’s con­tro­ver­sial pol­icy on state sec­u­lar­ism will ap­ply to other peo­ple in po­si­tions of author­ity — teach­ers, judges and po­lice — but not to politi­cians work­ing in the aura of the cru­ci­fix in the Na­tional As­sem­bly.

“In our past we had Protes­tants and Catholics,” Le­gault said Thurs­day. “They built the val­ues we have in Que­bec. We have to rec­og­nize that and not mix that with religious signs.”

For Ém­i­lie Nico­las, the co­founder of Québec In­clusif, it’s “back to the fu­ture.”

“I don’t want to have these same ar­gu­ments any­more. Maybe we should just boy­cott this con­ver­sa­tion ,” she said.

Five years ago, premier Pauline Marois’s Char­ter of Val­ues dom­i­nated pub­lic de­bate, and cre­ated a sense of ur­gency that the right to free­dom of re­li­gion — par­tic­u­larly the more vis­i­ble, Mus­lim re­li­gion — would be tram­pled on, Nico­las said.

Nurses and teach­ers es­pe­cially feared los­ing their jobs if they con­tin­ued to wear the hi­jab. (In Que­bec there were no po­lice of­fi­cers or judges wear­ing hi­jabs then, and there are none now.)

But Marois felt the cru­ci­fix, which has hung above the Speaker’s chair in the Na­tional As­sem­bly since 1936, was part of our her­itage, not a re­li­gion sym­bol.

She was de­feated along with the Char­ter of Val­ues in a snap elec­tion.

The CAQ has cre­ated that same sense of emer­gency to­day, Nico­las said, at least in Mon­treal, where an es­ti­mated 3,000 peo­ple turned out last Sun­day to protest the in­com­ing gov­ern­ment’s in­ten­tions to for­bid pub­lic sec­tor work­ers from wear­ing religious sym­bols.

Le­gault has sug­gested he may al­low those al­ready on the job to keep wear­ing hi­jabs or kip­pahs or tur­bans. But he has also said he is ready to in­voke the not­with­stand­ing clause in or­der to by­pass the Char­ter of Rights and push his leg­is­la­tion for­ward in the Na­tional As­sem­bly — un­der the watch­ful gaze of Je­sus on the cross.

“I grew up say­ing prayers at school in the morn­ing,” Nico­las said. “But you don’t have to have a Catholic back­ground to see that this is bo­gus.”

She said the whole dis­cus­sion, on re­peat, is forc­ing peo­ple to fight for the sta­tus quo, in­stead of mov­ing for­ward on hu­man rights is­sues and deal­ing with sys­temic racism and racial pro­fil­ing, for in­stance.

But one thing that has changed in the five years be­tween Marois’s Char­ter of Val­ues and Le­gault’s sec­u­lar­ism pol­icy is how civil so­ci­ety is re­act­ing.

Al­ready, some school boards and CEGEPs have sug­gested they won’t en­force the pol­icy on religious sym­bols, she said.

And Mayor Valérie Plante said she did not in­tend to take down the cru­ci­fix in city hall, or force city work­ers to stop wear­ing religious sym­bols.

As for the Catholic bish­ops, they haven’t changed their minds ei­ther.

“We thought we’d be at peace for a while, though we ex­pected this dis­cus­sion would resur­face if the CAQ was elected,” said Ger­main Trem­blay, the lay as­sis­tant to the sec­re­tary gen­eral of the Assem­blée des évêques du Québec, and the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s spokesper­son.

“Our po­si­tion hasn’t changed. The cru­ci­fix for us is not just a her­itage ob­ject — it’s a sa­cred religious ob­ject that should be in churches or res­i­dences for peo­ple of the Catholic faith. It’s a sym­bol of hope in the res­ur­rec­tion and to re­mind the faith­ful that there is life af­ter death.”

Trem­blay said it was Mau­rice Du­p­lessis who placed the cru­ci­fix in the Na­tional As­sem­bly to show the com­plic­ity be­tween the church and the state. (Du­p­lessis was very much against sec­u­lar­ism.)

“Now in 2018, if Mr. Le­gault is wait­ing for the sup­port of the Catholic church he will be dis­ap­pointed … Politi­cians put the cru­ci­fix there, it’s up to politi­cians to de­cide what to do with it,” Trem­blay said. “I think we have bet­ter things to dis­cuss.”

JAC­QUES BOISSINOT/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

Re­gard­ing the cru­ci­fix in the Na­tional As­sem­bly, Que­bec bish­ops’ spokesper­son said: “Politi­cians put the cru­ci­fix there, it’s up to politi­cians to de­cide what to do with it.”

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