A Canadian pope. Doesn't really roll off the tongue, does it? Yet, we may just have to get used to saying it, because Quebec's very own Cardinal Marc Ouellet is considered by Vatican watchers to be one of the top contenders to be the next head of the Catholic Church.
If just the thought of having a Canadian Pope stirs up visions of non-stop teasing by comedians and cartoonists for years to come, then you are not alone in that belief. Comedian Stephen Colbert, himself a proud Catholic coming from a family of eleven children, has already mocked the notion of having a Canadian pope on his late-night show. However, regular viewers of his show know that Colbert never misses the chance to joke about anything coming from Canada. His spoof showed an image of the would-be pope holding a hockey stick as a staff.
Joking aside, being head of the Catholic Church also means being the head of state of Vatican City, which despite being the smallest country in the world, has one of the greatest influences worldwide. When the Pope speaks, people everywhere from the Philippines to Brazil listen. Boasting a membership of 1.2 billion people, being head of the Catholic Church is definitely no easy task, especially in a day and age where people are much more cynical towards religion.
And as many of us living in Quebec know today, most Quebecers are Catholic in name only. This is no longer the Quebec Cardinal Ouellet grew up in, where church and state were most definitely not separate under devout Catholic Maurice Duplessis' reign. So the question then arises; would a pope from Quebec change anything for the state of Catholicism in Quebec and Canada?
The hard truth is probably not. After the Canadian Cardinal hypothetically wins the Catholic Church's top job, we can only imagine the media and newspapers will be all abuzz with this exciting news for the first two weeks or so, and then things would slowly go back to "normal". "Normal" meaning the usual Pope-bashing and Church-bashing would resume yet again.
The older generations who grew up in a time when almost everybody attended Sunday mass with their families and where faith permeated daily life will no doubt feel a sense of pride knowing that one of their own is sitting as the next Bishop of Rome. When it comes to the youth, however, Quebec parents haven't done a good job bringing up their children with the Church, and mostly relied on the denominational school boards to go about with the Catholic sacraments of the First Communion and Confirmation. Ever since the faith-based school boards were dissolved by the PQ in 1998 by then education minister Pauline Marois, Quebec youth became less and less familiarized with Catholic teachings.
After Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict VI in 2005, it was revealed soon after that he was a member of the Hitler Youth as a boy. Militant atheists had a field day with this revelation equating the Church with Nazism and some people ignorantly continue to believe that to this day. Susan Sarandon even publicly referred to Pope Benedict as a Nazi in October 2011. What they fail to recognise, however, is that being a member of the Hitler Youth was not optional. As soon as a young German boy turned 14, their name was automatically placed on the Hitler Youth membership rolls, as was required by law.
The query then arises of what the media would uncover about Catholicism in Canada once Cardinal Ouellet hypothetically becomes pope? There is the residential schools crisis for instance, where Church-run schools were meant to assimilate young Aboriginals into the larger Canadian society. That is something that we as Canadians and Canada as a country will have to prepare for, and no doubt, something the Church has to be prepared to address once these stories shortly become being presented in the international media.
The sexual-abuse cases are something that the next pope will no doubt have to tackle and address passionately. The next pope will also have to address a growing list of reforms that are being demanded by Catholics worldwide, regarding same-sex marriage, abortion, women priests, clerical celibacy, euthanasia, contraception, etc... Obviously the Church should not cede to every activist and compromise the Church's own teachings and beliefs, however, the Church does need to take a serious look at the present day and ask itself if it could survive in the West with such policies.
Some interesting statistics from the Pew Research Center show that 54% of American Catholics support same-sex marriage, 51% say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases and not surprisingly, only 15% say that using contraceptives is morally wrong. However, if one takes the time to go through the statistics, American Catholics, like Americans in general, are very split on various issues.
And if one was hoping that Cardinal Ouellet is best to tackle these new reforms, you may need to hold your breath a little longer. Like Pope Benedict VI, Cardinal Ouellet is considered to be a conservative who as Archbishop of Quebec City said that abortion should be illegal even in the case of rape, which sparked much criticism here at home.
Nonetheless, should he be elected the next pope, Cardinal Ouellet's relatively young age of 68 and his warm persona will no doubt be an improvement from his predecessor. During an interview with The National's Peter Mansbridge, Cardinal Ouellet, with great humility and in true Canadian fashion, said when asked if he would like to be the next pope: "I have to be ready even if I think that others probably could do it better". "Better" may mean taking controversial positions, angering some but ultimately taking the Church in a more modern direction and that may not be under Cardinal Ouellet's leadership.
The world will have to wait for the white smoke and see what those 115 cardinals believe the Church's next move should be.
This article was originally published in the Prince Arthur Herald.