• John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

Gilles Duceppe, Opus Dei, and the Ghost of Old Quebec

Gilles Duceppe, head of the Bloc Québecois (the separatist party in the Canadian province of Quebec), is fuming that Nicole Charbonneau Barron is running in the next election for the Conservatives when she formerly served as spokeswoman for Opus Dei. Why is that a bad thing?

The Globe and Mail quotes Mr. Duceppe as follows:

“My problem is that Opus Dei is a rather secret society,” Mr. Duceppe told reporters in Quebec City. “Those people certainly share an ideology, a narrow ideology, that doesn’t correspond at all to the modern times in Quebec…. That candidate said very openly that self-whipping is a sacrifice they have to do. I question myself on such practices.”

Allowing for Mr. Duceppe’s uncertain grasp of English (one presumes he doesn’t mean that he questions himself on whether or not to practice self-flagellation), what he means is quite startling—and apparently self-refuting.

Mr. Duceppe seems to be unhappy about people running for office who “share an ideology, a narrow ideology.” But surely most people who enter politics do have one or another ideology, and of a quite particular sort, that motivates them so strongly that they undergo the rigors of political life.

Furthermore, one might think that someone who spends most of his political life trying to achieve a single goal–removal of Quebec from the Canadian confederation–could be characterized as having “a narrow ideology.”

But that’s not really what upsets Mr. Duceppe. It is that this ideology of Opus Dei’s “doesn’t correspond at all to the modern times in Quebec.” Now since Opus Dei has in fact lots of adherents all around the (modern) world, it is by definition modern. So what else can he mean?

He means that Opus Dei is conservatively Catholic. He means that it reminds him of pre-Vatican II Catholicism and therefore of pre-Quiet Revolution Quebec. He means that all of those Quebecers who have emancipated themselves from the old days must continue to . . . well, what? Denigrate orthodox Catholicism? Resist any influence of the Church in political life? Maintain the Revolution?

In a lovely bit of understatement the Globe records Mr. Duceppe affirming that

. . . he doesn’t screen the religious views of his candidates. He added the Bloc’s positions on abortion and same-sex marriage are clear and likely preclude the religious right from adhering to the party.

Well, yes, I should think the Bloc’s positions would indeed preclude anyone of traditional Christian morality from the party. That policy would count, I should think, as a “narrow ideology,” but it is apparently the correct narrow ideology, one that corresponds with modern times in Quebec–during which, if Mr. Duceppe had his way, only his narrow ideology would count, and anyone else’s would be properly set aside.

How refreshing it would have been instead had Mr. Duceppe said something like this:

“The Bloc Québecois welcomes the entry of this candidate as a definite alternative to our stated policies and convictions. The electorate in this riding thus will have a clear choice and, if we do represent modern Quebec as we think we do, they will vote overwhelmingly for our candidate. We thus are very grateful that the Conservatives are running such a person. Vive la democratie! Vive la Québec!”

Mr. Duceppe chooses, however, to invoke the ghost of Old Quebec to scare an electorate most of whom do not recall it. It will be interesting to see how young Quebecers vote in that riding, to see if they are as afraid of conservative Catholicism as he is. He might be surprised to find how perpetually “modern” traditional faith continues to be.