Thomas Merton the Monk who was called by some the Conscience of the Peace and Civil Rights Movements in the 60’s, died in Asia while studying East-West relations, and the religions of the east. He was one of the great Catholic Spiritual writers of his day, and his books are still found on the shelves of many modern bookstores. I mention him in the context of what is happening in Quebec and the new compulsory religious education program. One parent commenting on the recent court decision to forbid parents opting out said, “As a parent, I have a duty and say in what my young child/grandchild learns about religion; that they be taught their own faith and not be confused by other religions. I am a Christian because I believe my faith to be true. I agree with the mother who did not see why her 7 year old son had to study Islam.” (Catholic Register)
Thomas Merton and Vatican II fostered inter-religious dialogue and study, and I support the concept for many reasons, but mainly as an avenue to understanding The God who created all, and the need for all of us to respect the dignity of all. Fostering understanding and acceptance seems to be a role government should play in an effort to promote peace, but is this what is going on in Quebec? The Quebec Bishop’s seem to have adopted a wait and see attitude by declaring a three year moratorium on any position. Cardinal Marc Ouellet is not so sure, and has spoken out against the compulsory nature of the curriculum.
The Quebec courts are siding with the government’s religion course, and it now appears that the case is heading for the Supreme Court. Loyola High School parents have petitioned the courts to exempt them from teaching the curriculum because they are are a private, not a public school. It appears they will probably loose their case, if the recent court decision is reflective of the court’s leanings. Strangely enough the Catholic Register has identified a priest, Fr. Gilles Routhier, as one of the main expert witnesses for the Quebec Religion Course:
“The decision relied heavily on the testimony of Fr. Gilles Routhier, who teaches theology at Laval University in Quebec, and who was called as an expert witness by the school board.
In an interview Sept. 1, Routhier said he testified according to texts of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. He told the court the course did not violate religious freedom because it does not pressure students to believe in convictions they do not share.”
Personally, I find it difficult to understand how the Province of Quebec seems to have given up its Catholic roots, and is now imposing a government run religious ed. program. I wonder how comfortable most people are with the situation, or do they really care. If anyone knows, be sure to comment.