03/14/2013 10:58 EDT | Updated 03/14/2013 11:40 EDT

Marc Ouellet, Canada Cardinal: Pope Gig Nixed Over Conservative Concerns?

At least Cardinal Marc Ouellet's mother can take comfort in the fact that he didn't get the gig.

"Well, I am keeping my son, in a way," the 90-year-old reportedly said after hearing that Argentina's Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio would be the 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church and assume the title Pope Francis.

But for Canadians, those tell-tale Vatican smoke signals must surely represent a disappointment as the country missed its best chance yet to see a fellow countryman lead the world's 1.2 billion Catholics.

And it begs the question: Why didn't the man from La Motte, Que., become the first Canadian pontiff ever?

Since former Pope John Paul II appointed him bishop in 2001, Ouellet seemed a rising star in the Catholic world. In 2002, he became archbishop of Quebec City and Primate of Canada. A year later, he was elevated to cardinal. In 2010, he began serving on the Congregation of Bishops — the powerful body that oversees the nomination of bishops around the world.

The Globe and Mail suggests Ouellet lacked 'the mettle' to be Catholic #1.

He certainly did himself no favours when, in a 2010 interview, he described it as a "nightmare" job.

Ouellet also came under fire for his perceived silence on the smoldering issue of sex abuse in the Church.

"Cardinal Ouellet is responsible for the silence, indifference, the inaction of the Catholic church in Quebec when it comes to sexual-abuse victims," France Bedard, president of l'Association des victimes de prêtres told The Canadian Press."

"His primary goal is to protect the image of the Catholic church."

But what may have really undermined his drive to the Vatican runs even deeper than that — to the early 20th Century writings of a Swiss priest named Hans Urs von Balthasar.


Balthasar died in 1988, but not before penning a massive body of work, much of it extolling traditional Catholic values while rejecting the Church's perceived leanings toward modernity.

"Balthasar challenged what he considered to be the anti-Christianity of Western modernism and believed God could conquer godlessness — appropriate lines of thought for someone like Ouellet, who spent eight years as archbishop of a hyper-secularized Quebec," Michael Valpy wrote for the CBC in the days ahead of the papal conclave.

As such, Balthasar was a staunch supporter of celibacy for priests and would stamp out any notion of allowing women to take the cloth.

One of the most prominent Catholic thinkers of his generation, Balthasar proved a powerful influence on the Church — and, as, the Montreal Gazette reports, a friend to the cardinal from Quebec.

Indeed, Ouellet's doctoral thesis included a discussion on the Swiss theologian's body of work.

Balthasar also happened to have an ardent admirer in former Pope Benedict XVI.

"He's completely in the spirit of Benedict," Michael Higgins, a teacher at Connecticut's Sacred Heart University told The Associated Press before the conclave. "Whether that makes him the ideal pope for our time is a different matter."

As Valpy echoes for the CBC, "By most accounts, Ouellet is another introverted intellectual like Benedict."

Ouellet certainly practised what Balthasar preached. In a 2010 interview with the National Post, he claimed Catholics had interpreted teachings from the landmark Second Vatican Council too liberally.

Was it all a little too introverted — and perhaps, too grounded in yesterday's dogma — to light the way for a Catholic spring?

An article appearing in German newspaper Spiegel suggests the Church was looking to make a clean break from the company men of yesterday.

Citing leaks from the Vatican, the article sees cardinals around the world "sharply critical of the papal administrative machinery."

Ultimately, the Church's lurch into the 21st Century may have led it away from Balthasarian thinking — and, in the process, from the man from La Motte.

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