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L’Église catholique au Canada

The Catholic Church is the largest religious community in Canada, and the most long-standing after the Indigenous religions.

A brief historical overview

Made the State Religion under French rule, it held this status until the annexation of New France by the British Empire (1534-1763). The Anglican Church succeeded it as the established religion until 1851, when Canada formally separated religion from the State by instituting freedom of worship. Upon the Conquest, the Catholic Church lost the right to recruit priests from France and administer itself according to its will, in accordance with Roman law and the papal hierarchy - it would regain this right around 1840. It established the first ecclesiastical province in 1844. The right to a separate Catholic education was enshrined in the Constitution in 1867.

The Catholic Church in numbers

The Catholic community has been the largest in Canada since the 1960s, as it remained until the mid-19th century. In absolute numbers, it is growing, sustained by strong immigration, with Catholics accounting for 35% of total immigration (2006-2012). The Catholic Church has 12,810,705 members in Canada, or nearly 39% of the Canadian population (2011). 45.3% of these members are concentrated in the French-speaking province of Quebec, where they make up 74.7% of the population (2011). In addition, intergenerational transmission is high : 81% of Canadians whose mother is Catholic self-identify as Catholic (2015).

Religious practice and vocations

Ordinary Catholic religious practice is on the decline, as are rites of passage. In 2015, 24% of Canada’s Catholics reported regularly attending Mass (at least once a month) and 20% reported never attending. 41% of them reported regularly attending in 1988. It is in Quebec that regular religious practice is lowest, at 16% in 2015. And it is among the elderly and Catholics born abroad that religious practice is highest. There were 104,188 baptisms (6.3/1,000 Catholics ages 0-7) and 18,174 Catholic marriages (1.2/1,000 Catholics) in 2012, compared with 167,031 baptisms (17.4/1,000 Catholics ages 0-7) and 85,953 marriages (9.1/1,000 Catholics) in 1973. In addition, 57% of Catholics said in 2015 that they wanted a religious funeral. The number of vocations is also on the decline. The Catholic Church in Canada had 13,721 secular clerks and 46,173 regular clerks in 1973 ; the same figures amounted to 7,509 and 16,199 respectively in 2012.

Catholic Church and society : recent debates

The Catholic Church has taken a stance on many recent social issues and discussions, and has itself been taken to task. The Conference of Catholic Bishops of Canada spoke out in favour of improved palliative care in Canada, replacing the recent legislative enactments on medically-assisted death. It came out in favour of welcoming more refugees, especially Syrian refugees, better interfaith dialogue and support for Christians in the Holy Land. It has been criticised for its role in assimilating indigenous people in Catholic boarding schools and has been brought to justice for cases of sexual abuse. To illustrate, in 2011, the Congregation of the Brothers of Sainte-Croix agreed, before the Superior Court of Quebec, to financially compensate former students to the tune of $18 million (CAN).

Sources :

 BIBBY, Reginald, et REID, Angus, Canada’s Catholics. Vitality and Hope in a New Era. Toronto : Novalis, 2016.
 Conférence des évêques catholiques du Canada, « Salle de presse ».
 LEMIEUX, Lucien, L’établissement de la première province ecclésiastique au Canada (1783-1844). Montréal : Fides, 1968.
 MEUNIER, E.-Martin et WILKINS-LAFLAMME Sarah, « Sécularisation et catholicisme au Québec et au Canada », Recherches sociographiques, vol. 52, n° 3, 2011, p. 683–729.
 Statistique Canada, Enquête nationale auprès des ménages de 2011, produit numéro 99-010-X2011032 au catalogue de Statistique Canada.
 Annuaire statistique de l’Église, Città del Vaticano, Editrice vaticano, 1973 et 2012.

D 20 juin 2017    AJean-François Laniel

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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