Cardinal Maurice Roy and parish democracy

On my website, I have already started to trace how the phrase “conscious and responsible” based on the Sillon definition of democracy slowly began to emerge into Catholic social teaching.

But I found the use of the phrase in Pope Paul VI’s 1971 Apostolic Letter to Cardinal Maurice Roy to mark the 80th anniversary of Rerum Novarum to be particularly striking. I mentioned this document earlier in my post on the Vatican missing paragraph mystery.

What’s more it turns out that Cardinal Roy, who was president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, drafted the letter himself before it was eventually worked on by Pope Paul and others at the Vatican.

(See Christine E. Gudorf, Commentary on Octogesima Adveniens, in Kenneth Himes (ed.) Modern Catholic Social Teaching, Commentaries and interpretations, Georgetown University Press, 2005 at p. 318.)

So I wondered whether Cardinal Roy, a French-speaking Quebecois as well as archbishop of Quebec, could have been familiar with the Sillon.

Interestingly, notes that after completing his PhD in philosophy in Rome, he went to Paris in 1929-30 where he studied at the Sorbonne.

Now there were a number of ex-Sillonnists teaching at the Sorbonne at around that time. Plus Marc Sangnier was still very active with his International Democratic Peace Congresses. And the YCW and other specialised movements were emerging, or should I say booming.

So I would say that there is every likelihood not to say probability that a young social action minded priest lke Fr Roy would have been very aware of all these activities.

Then I found a small 1950 pamphlet by Archbishop Maurice Roy, who by now had become archbishop of Quebec, with the title “The parish and democracy in French Canada”.

Now there were not many bishops around 1950 (or even today) who would dream of connecting the subjects of parish and democracy in the one talk or article.

And sure enough this is what Archbishop Roy says in his pamphlet:

“Even a hundred and fifty years before the introduction of the parliamentary regime to Canada, the parish had already the essential features of a democratic institution, and that, more recently, our parish priests have taught their flocks to look after their affairs by establishing economic organizations under the direction of laymen…

“We have seen how the parish, a small religious society organized in a very democratic spirit, accustomed our people to methods of government known only much later by civil society. However, it is not merely as a centre of religious activity that the parish was a school for teaching our people to choose their leaders and to accept responsibilities. Particularly in the last fifty years, it has become the foundainhead of a very intense economical and social activity.

“Within the parochial framework, in the cities as well as in the rural districts, a multitude of social and economic organisms have developed, each contributing after its fashion to educate our people and make them conscious of their responsibilities, and thus leading them to excercise an efficacious influence over their social milieu.”

And to repeat the last paragraph in the original French:

“Dans le cadre paroissial se sont développés, tant à la ville que dans les campagnes, une multitude d’organismes qui, dans le domaine économique et social, contribuent chacun à sa manière à former les gens, leur font prendre conscience de leurs responsabilités et les entraînent à exercer une action efficace sur la société dans laquelle ils vivent.”

And as Archbishop Roy concludes, praising the many woocutter cooperatives that had been created through the parishes of French Canada:

“Thanks to a long and painful program of education, several priests have succeeded in organizing woodcutting cooperatives whereby the woodcutters themselves take the responsibility for forestry exploitation: they have completely transformed the lives of the woodcutter members.”

In any case, it sounds to me very much as if Archbishop Roy is totally conscious himself that his use of the term “conscious of their responsibilities” is a direct reference to the Sillon definition of democracy.

It is yet another example of how the Sillon may have lost the battle in 1910 but over the next 60 years they came to win the war.

Stefan Gigacz