MONTREAL—Quebec's bishops denounced a government commission's recommendations that schools end the traditional Catholic or Protestant religious instruction and educate pupils about world religions as cultural phenomena.
The bishops called for a multidenominational approach to religious instruction that would respect the beliefs of the majority of Quebecers and accommodate trends in immigration.
“The education system will gain nothing by compromising a denominational approach that is open to pluralism and that is facing the new needs of Quebec's young people,” said Bishop Pierre Morissette of BaieComeau, president of the Quebec Assembly of Bishops.
His statement and the bishops’ report were delivered Nov. 18 to the Parliamentary Commission on Education and the Place of Religion in Schools.
In view of current immigration trends, the bishops said they favored a multidenominational approach that would respect the spirit of the Quebec Charter of Rights and Liberties.
“If new provisions can be enacted that will better guarantee the same opportunities for everyone, for those from all of the major, universally recognized religious traditions, as well as for those who adhere to no religion, we will all be much further ahead in this debate,” they said.
The bishops stressed the importance of religious education in the development of young people, saying it encourages self-evaluation, a social conscience and community spirit.
“We remain open to the idea of publicly supporting any new adjustment that could prove useful or necessary in ensuring that the freedoms of conscience and religion of all Quebecers are respected,” the bishops said.
Earlier this year, the government-mandated Proulx Commission recommended that in the name of equal status for all citizens, Quebec's schools should break with their historical denominational tradition.
In 1997, the government abolished the traditional denominational school boards, replacing them with linguistic boards. Schools were allowed to choose their denominational status, and parents were offered the choice of secular moral instruction or religious instruction for their children according to the school's denominational status.
The bishops argue that state schools should offer denominational religious education based on the religious practices of the majority. The Proulx Commission has argued that schools should offer only education about world religions as a cultural phenomenon. The bishops said this was simply an extension to the humanities component of the school curriculum.
Quebec's Catholic and Protestant education traditions have helped to shape Quebec society and culture, the bishops argue. According to the bishops, the Proulx Commission's approach suppresses the role of the community as an intermediary between the individual and the state. Thus, they said, the commission's proposals show no respect for the religious convictions of many Quebecers and fail to take into account parents’ wishes.
“Civil society and parents have an important role to play in how our schools are run,” said the bishops. “The government has a responsibility to consult them and take their opinions seriously.”
The Proulx Commission also argued that in the face of increasing multiculturalism brought by immigrants of dozens of different world religions, if the state cannot offer religious education for all the denominations, in the interests of equality, it should not offer religious education.
A section of the Quebec Charter of Rights and Liberties specifies that parents have the right to choose whether their child receives religious education and if so, they can opt for whichever denomination they please. The section has long ceased to be considered viable, at least within the state education system. The bishops argue that in recent years, religious education for immigrants coming from Catholic and