Rorate Caeli

Quebec: accelerated closure of churches and parishes

Saint John the Baptist Church, Quebec

From Catholic News Service (via The Catholic Register). Emphases are Rorate's.

Historic Quebec churches no longer untouchable

QUEBEC CITY - With the decision to close one of its largest and most important churches, the Archdiocese of Quebec is sending a clear message: The future of even the most majestic churches cannot be guaranteed any more. 

On May 24, one last Mass was celebrated in renowned St. John the Baptist Church. Dedicated to the patron saint of French Canadians, the church stands among the high-profile churches of both the archdiocese and Quebec province. Built in the 1880s, it is recognized as a major heritage church. Its seating capacity of 2,400 compares to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

But such a marvel comes with a steep price: It needs renovations estimated at $10 million, a gargantuan amount for a parish that has been accumulating deficits for years. Even with the help of the archdiocese, the Catholic Church of Quebec simply doesn’t have that kind of money. Not any more.

Over the past decade, the dioceses of the Quebec province had to close churches in response to the new secularized reality: less faithful, less money, yet too many churches.

But still, some of the buildings were considered “untouchable.” With the closing of St. John the Baptist, parishioners realize change is afoot.

“It’s sad, obviously,” said Quebec Auxiliary Bishop Gaetan Proulx. “It’s the signal that we’re moving towards something else, with smaller communities. The model for our church is changing.”

Bishop Proulx compared St. John the Baptist to a lighthouse, because its high steeple it can be seen from all around the city. “It was the symbol that the Catholic faith is well established here,” he said. “But it also symbolizes a legacy. Churches are to the province of Quebec what castles are to France.”

And it seems the Catholic Church in Quebec will not be able to save all of its castles.

Throughout the French-speaking Canadian province, there are 2,756 places of worship. Most are Catholic churches. The Quebec archdiocese, the first and oldest Canadian diocese, has 198 churches. By 2020, they will be merged into 29 entities that the archdiocese is calling “communions of communities” in a process that is already underway. Bishop Proulx deems it “realistic” to stipulate that, eventually, half of the churches will have to close, the bulk of them in the next 10 years.

Church closings have become an increasing trend over the past several years in the province. The Quebec Council of Religious Heritage reported that a record 72 churches were shuttered in 2014.

A few years ago, churches had to close because they were lacking human resources. But now, the decision to close them is motivated by the fact that it costs too much money to keep them open,” said Denis Boucher of the council. 

The socio-economic capacity to finance church transformations — about 200 Quebec churches are waiting to be converted for other uses — is getting thinner, Boucher explained. In other words, the “market” for churches has become saturated. (...)

According to Catholic Hierarchy website, the Archdiocese of Québec had 275 parishes as of 1966, 249 as of 2000, and 207 as of 2014. (The Archdiocese has neither changed borders nor lost territory from 1951 to the present).

The situation is apparently even worse in the Archdiocese of Montreal, which is Quebec's largest diocese (much larger than the Archdiocese of Quebec in terms of nominal faithful) and was governed by the liberal-leaning Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte from 1990 to 2012. From 257 parishes in 1966 and 250 in 2000 the count went down to 169 parishes as of 2013. The new Archbishop of Montreal, Christian Lépine, put an indefinite moratorium on the sale of churches in 2012. Too late, however, for Montrealer churches such as the former Dominican shrine of St. Jude (see below):

A 2014 report on DICI related that according to an important survey last year, less than 60% of Quebecois still identify as Catholics (down from 83% in 2001) and of those who do identify as Catholics, only 32% reportedly claim to be Catholics because they have faith. Overall 82% of Quebecois declared that they never go to church except on special occasions.

From 2003 to 2014 around 400 churches closed in the province of Quebec, mostly Catholic churches, according the National Post (source).


Photo source for St. John Baptist church: DICI
Photo source for St. Jude church: National Post article, What’s happening to Montreal’s churches? Quebec finding new ways to preserve its heritage in a secular age.