Quebecers reluctantly accept archbishop's apology

A widespread apology issued Wednesday by Cardinal Marc Ouellet is being met by skepticism among those targeted by the mea culpa.

Quebec City cleric seeks forgiveness for church's past sins

A widespread apology issued Wednesday by Cardinal Marc Ouellet is being met by skepticism among those targeted by the mea culpa.

In an open letter published inthe province'snewspapers Wednesday, the archbishop of Quebec City admitted "errors were committed" in the past by certain Catholics and other church officials, and he asked Quebecers to forgive the institution and reconcile with their Christian heritage.

'These scandals shook the confidence of the people towards religious authorities, and we understand them. Forgive us for all this pain!'—Quebec Cityarchbishop Cardinal Marc Ouellet

Among the errors he cited are attitudes, prior to 1960, which favoured "anti-Semitism, racism, indifference to First Nations and discrimination against women and homosexuals."

Montreal-based gay activist Michael Hendricks said while the cardinal's comments are true, the church hasn't done much to address entrenched attitudes.

"The Catholic Church's role in promoting homophobia is unchanging, and has continued throughout the whole marriage debate," he told CBC News.

Women say apology does little to change their status in the church

Ouellet acknowledged that abuses of power hurt the church's image in Quebec and hindered its moral authority.

"Mothers of families were snubbed by parish priests without regard for the family obligations that they are already assumed; youngsters were subject to sexual aggression by priests," he wrote in his letter, published in Quebec's French-language newspapers.

The Quebec Women's Federation commended Ouellet for acknowledging mistakes of the past, but spokeswoman Nancy Burrows said it doesn't change women's lack of franchise in the church.

The Roman Catholic Church still opposes the use of contraceptives, and has resisted growing pressure to allow women to join the priesthood.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet at the Vatican in 2003: 'Mothers were snubbed by priests,' he acknowledges. ((Pier Paolo Cito/Associated Press))

Many Catholic women want the church to adapt, but they're not being heard,and the cardinal could make a real difference if he used his position and leadership to lobby for change, Burrows said.

She also said shesuspects the cardinal has ulterior motives. "The actual goal of the letter was to get to the point of wanting to push forward with his agenda to bring the church back into schools," she said on Wednesday.

Views on religious education criticized

Ouellet called for a return of religious education in schools, but qualified his request by saying catechism didn't have to be provided by schools.

The cardinal also said Quebec's new course on ethics and religious culture should be optional.

That attitude suggests the cardinal doesn't see the value in teaching people from different faiths about different religions, Ottawa-based theologian Carolyn Sharp said.

"He continues to be very hostile with regards to the program that's been proposed and being developed, with regards to the teaching of religion as a teaching subject," said Sharp, who teaches ethics in the faculty of theology at Saint Paul University in Ottawa.

Politicians react with nuance

The letter is a good start, Quebec Culture Minister Christine Saint-Pierre said. Times have changed since a priest told her mother she didn't have enough children, but the church still has some catching up to do, Saint-Pierre said.

"I saw what the Catholic Church did to women, but there is still some gains that we have to see concerning contraception, concerning homosexuality, concerning the equality between men and women," she said on Wednesday.

Quebec Finance Minister Monique Jérôme-Forget called Ouellet's letter an "act of courage" but warned it does not make up for mistakes in the past.

Ouellet said he wrote the letter in light of the attention generated by his presentation at the Bouchard-Taylor commission on immigrants.

The letter also said the church will make a public display of repentance next spring during Lent.

Ouellet is considered among the highest-ranking Roman Catholic officials in the country and has often spoken publicly against same-sex marriage.

With files from the Canadian Press