Clericalism in Québec: A Thing of the Past, or Sublimation Through Technocracy?


Here in the Province of Québec, we used to live under a system known as clericalism. This was a societal system whereby the Roman Catholic clergy, in all its forms, was dominant in most areas of Québec society. It was especially dominant in the fields of education, health care and social services, making our province, for a time, an almost de facto theocracy. According to Professor Pierre Savard, of the University of Ottawa, at the height of clerical hegemony in Québec, around 1961, there were 10 173 members of male religious communities and 35 000 members of female religious communities for a population of only 5 300 000, making for a ratio of about one member of a religious community for every 117 Québecers!!!

No wonder people felt stifled. One couldn’t even form an amateur ball club without having a Catholic Chaplain to look over your shoulder. It was like the Communist system in the east block during Soviet times. The captain of a naval vessel was theoretically the supreme commander of his ship, but the political officer, who represented the Communist Party, could over rule any decision that the Captain made. Such was life in Québec during the era of clericalism.

The Quiet Revolution changed all that. Or did it? As of 1960, a rapid period of secularization swept through Québec, as the government of Jean Lesage introduced sweeping reforms in the fields of health care, education, and social services. All of these institutions, which up until then had been run mostly by the Church, were either partially, or totally secularized, with Church leaders, and workers, slowly, or sometimes quickly squeezed out from their positions of authority and responsibility. They were replaced with people who had been trained in the latest fields of technocratic knowledge, such as economics, sociology, psychology, social work, etc…

It was felt that they would do a better job of bringing Québecers into the light of the modern age. But what has become of the Quiet Revolution? Jean Lesage was admired by some, but reviled by others, being nicknamed, ‘p’tit Jean la taxe’, because his reforms meant that taxes were raised on everything and everyone to pay for these new fangled reforms. Others criticized some of his ministers such as Paul Guérin-Lajoie, one of the architects of the education reforms, as, , ‘the High Priest of Atheism’. He would take Québec youth and distance them from the tenets of their Catholic faith.

Well, almost 50 years later, the Quiet revolution is quietly falling to pieces. Schools are falling apart, with not enough money to repair and maintain them. School boards are grossly mismanaged and constantly get defrauded by unscrupulous contractors who build substandard buildings and do shoddy repairs. The traditional authority which so many reviled has been replaced with ‘les enfants roi’, children who are literally treated like Kings, who terrorize their teachers and openly sell drugs at their schools supplied by the Hell’s Angels .

What’s most ironic is that the most fundamental elements of clericalism are still in place, except they’re now devoid of any form of traditional authority or spiritual direction, and instead have chosen to channel their energies through the colourless, sterile, and spiritually barren instrument of technocracy. Let me explain. When all of those priests, nuns and Christian brothers left their religious communities behind, the iconic and archetypal personality typologies which defined their roles as educators, administrators, counsellors, etc, did not disappear with them. What happened is that they simply got sublimated into the newly-emerging fields of technocratic management.

So, the Mother Superior who used to run a hospital, now became a senior female hospital manager with an MBA. Same thing for a male administrator. A nun or Christian brother who used to teach became a lay person who taught, sometimes someone who was single, and never married. A nursing sister became a nurse, period. A nun, who would’ve in the past counselled troubled children, became, in later generations, a social worker or psychologist. The Jesuit priest who taught at the University eventually became a lay person in future generations with a PhD, and so on.

All of these people maintained their same vocation of wanting or needing to heal, or care for others, or to impart knowledge and wisdom to others, but now found themselves in a secular world, where faith and Godhead were treated like intellectualized constructs of a bygone era, to be studied with a dispassionate, even slightly patronisingly superior air.

However, as Sting put it in his song when he was with The Police, we are ‘Spirits in the material world’. We are all inherently spiritual beings living in a material world of existence. We cannot hope to survive, and thrive without at the very least acknowledging the existence of a power greater than ourselves, and that we owe a great debt of gratitude to said power. For it is because of that power that we live, breathe, and have our being.

How sad that in our mad headlong rush to ‘free’ ourselves of the ‘oppression’ of the clergy, we got rid not only of its negative elements but also the good. We threw out the baby with the bath water. Our ‘clergy’ of the post-modern era, the social workers, psychologists, educators, administrators, all put their ‘faith’ in secular-humanistic, humanistic-existentialist, cognitive-behaviourist, bio-medical, psycho-dynamic, and all other manner of ‘touchy-feely’ theories that came out of universities in California, New York, London and Paris, in the 20th century, especially in the 1960s onwards. But they can’t get their minds around the word GOD. In the twelve step program, which some schools of social work won’t even officially endorse, because it teaches that addiction is an illness and that faith in a higher power is the answer, GOD is said not just to mean a higher power, but ‘Good Orderly Direction’.

Let’s not forget which book is still the all time world’s Best Seller. It’s called the Bible, which means, simply, ‘The Book’. It’s not just any book. It’s the Good Book. Agatha Christie’s crime novels outsold the Bible, but she had to add up all of her litany of woes before the sales beat the Bible.

Is clericalism really dead? Or have we just hidden its face behind a cold mask of technocracy? Perhaps some of those taxes that ‘p’tit Jean’ instituted way back when could be put to better use by bringing back some Good Orderly Direction to our society

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