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Last revised:
23 August 2000

Documents sur le Programme catholique de 1871 / Documents on the Catholic Programme of 1871

The Catholic Programme [1871]

Our country, as provided by the constitution, will shortly have to choose its representatives. This simple fact necessarily raises a question that our duty as Catholic journalists compels us to resolve, and this question must be stated as follows:

What steps should Catholic voters take in the up-coming battle and what should be their policy in choosing between the candidates who will be soliciting their votes?

We believe that this question can be answered satisfactorily by developing further the ideas expressed by His Highness the Bishop of Three Rivers in his most recent pastoral letter. This is what we find there:

'The men you send as your representatives to the Legislature are entrusted as much with protecting and defending your religious interests, as the Church sees it, as with promoting and safeguarding your temporal interests, as on many points the civil laws necessarily touch on the sphere of religion. This is what your Bishops in Council clearly say in their decree.

Therefore, you must carefully ascertain that the candidate for whom you vote is properly qualified in both areas, and that, morally speaking, he offers all the appropriate guarantees for the protection of these important interests.

We no doubt have to give thanks to God for the full and entire freedom that the constitution of our country gives, in law, to the Catholic Church to regulate and govern itself in conformity with its own rules.

It is by judiciously selecting your legislators that you will insure the conservation and future enjoyment of this freedom, the most precious of all, that gives your leading pastors the immense advantage of being able to govern the Canadian Church according to the rules and immediate supervision of the Holy See and Roman Church, the mother and mistress of all churches.'

We hope that all Catholic voters of the Province of Quebec will understand this wise advice. It is impossible to deny that politics and religion are closely related, and that the separation of Church and State is an absurd and impious doctrine. This is particularly true in a constitutional regime that, having granted to Parliament all legislative authority, has thus laid in the hands of its members a double-edged weapon with potential terrible effects.

Thus it is necessary that those who exercise the legislative authority be in full agreement with the teachings of the Church. That is why the duty of Catholic voters is to choose as their representatives men with principles that are perfectly healthy and dependable.

Full and complete adherence to Roman Catholic doctrines on religion, politics, and socio-economic matters must be the first and most important requirement that Catholic voters will seek in a Catholic candidate. It is the surest criterion for them to use in judging men and issues. It will be understood that the above does not apply to Protestants to whom we grant the same freedom that we claim for ourselves.

These premises having been established, it is easy to draw the elements that will serve to guide the voters. But to establish practical rules that are easy to apply, one must take into account the special circumstances in which our country is placed, the political parties that have developed here, and their past history.

As a matter of principle, we belong to the Conservative party, that is to say, to the party that has made itself the defender of established authority. By the Conservative party, we must stress, we do not mean any grouping of men having no other bond than that of interest and personal ambition, but a group of men preaching sincerely the same principles of religion and nationality, upholding in their integrity the traditions of the old Conservative party, which can be summarised as an impregnable attachment to Catholic teachings and an absolute devotion to the national interests of Lower Canada.

In the political situation of our country, the Conservative party being the only one that offers serious guarantees for religious interests, we regard it a duty to loyally support its leaders.

But this loyal support must be subordinated to the religious interests that we must never lose sight of. Thus, if there are in our laws deficiencies, ambiguities, or other provisions that imperil Catholic interests, we must demand of our candidates a formal undertaking to work at removing these flaws in our legislation.

Thus it is with cause that the religious press complains that our laws on marriage, on education, on the erection of parishes, and on the registration of civil status are defective in so far as they diminish the rights of the Church, limit its liberty, hamper its administration, or are open to a hostile interpretation. This state of affairs compels Catholic deputies to make the changes and modifications demanded by our Lords the Bishops of the Province in order to bring them into conformity with the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, to ensure that the deputies are more diligent in the discharge of this duty, the voters must make it a condition of their support. It is the duty of the electors to give their vote only to those who will conform completely to the teachings of the Church relative to these matters.

We conclude, therefore, by adopting the following general rules to be applied in certain given cases.

1. If the struggle is between two Conservatives, it goes without saying that we will give our support the candidate who will accept the programme we have just traced.

2. If, on the contrary, the contest is between a Conservative of any stripe and a supporter of the liberal school, our active sympathies will be with the former.

3. If the only candidates seeking our votes in a riding are all Liberals or oppositionists, we must support the one who will subscribe to our conditions.

4. Lastly, in the case of a contest between a Conservative rejecting our programme and an oppositionist who supports it, the situation would be more delicate. To vote for the former would be to place ourselves in contradiction to the doctrine we have just defined; to vote for the latter would be to imperil this Conservative party that we wish to see strong. What are we to do faced with these two dangers? We would advise Catholic voters to abstain.

These rules having been established, it will be understood that the voters retain a certain amount of freedom of action which will depend upon the particular circumstances in each riding and the past history of each candidate. Indeed, we have stressed particularly the religious convictions and qualifications that voters must demand of those seeking their support. Needless to say, intelligence and education are required so that religious convictions will prevail. After making sure of the candidates' religious principles, next it will be necessary to send to the legislature the greatest possible sum of intelligence and of education.

Thus, we would condemn any government action that would tend to eliminate from the parliamentary arena men capable of serving the Catholic and national cause, under the pretext that they would hinder some ambitious men. That our representation would be composed of docile and powerless ministers would be a great evil that must be avoided.

In short, we wish to safeguard both the honour of the Fatherland and the liberty of the Church, and our entire programme could be summed up in these two words: "Religion and Fatherland".

Source: translated from the text provided by André Lavallée, "20 avril 1871 : un programme électoral catholique", in Albert Desbiens, Histoire du Canada. Une expérience tricentenaire, Montréal, Presses de l'université du Québec, 1970, 107-125, pp. 117-119. Le texte a été corrigé avec l'aide du texte de Robert Rumilly, Histoire de la Province de Québec. Vol. 1, Georges-Etienne Cartier, Montréal, Bernard Valiquette, [s. d.], 409p., pp. 177-178.

© For the translation 2000 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College