In response to 19 dissenting priests, the Quebec bishops have issued a press release calling for mutual understanding and unity in the Church.

The 19 priests published a letter of dissent regarding Church teaching on same-sex marriage and the ordination of homosexuals. The bishops’ call also responded to a document by the Canadian Religious Conference that is critical of Church teaching as well.

The priests’ open letter appeared in La Presse, the largest Montreal newspaper, in late February. The priests are from five dioceses; five of them minister in the Archdiocese of Montreal.

In their communiqué, dated March 9, the bishops expressed openness and a need for dialogue in the Church. However, they said, they regretted that they were dragged into “a confrontational dynamic” with the clergy and religious by the way in which these issues emerged in the press.

The priests’ letter “raises a complex question in our society” about sexuality, said the communiqué. “Faithfulness to the Gospel also invites all Christians to critically look at certain currents of thought that run through our culture,” it continued.

The province’s two cardinals, Jean-Claude Turcotte and Marc Ouellet, and the president of the Quebec bishops’ conference, Bishop Gilles Cazabon, held a press conference in Trois-Rivieres that same day.

Cardinal Turcotte, archbishop of Montreal, told journalists that such dissent within the Church is not unprecedented. He said each local bishop would meet and speak with the priests who signed the letter.

Cardinal Turcotte said the Church welcomes and ministers to homosexuals but it cannot condone or bless behaviors that run counter to the Gospel. The same rule applies to heterosexuals, he said.

Cardinal Ouellet of the Archdiocese of Quebec agreed. He defended the Church’s teaching on same-sex marriage. He affirmed that the Church must remain faithful to the message of the Gospel and could not bless same-sex unions or same-sex marriages.

The document of the Canadian Religious Conference (CRC), which was to remain private, was leaked to La Presse at the beginning of March. Among the CRC’s concerns, which include the need for faith education and outreach to the poor, it asked the Canadian bishops to review the Church’s position on women’s ordinations and abortion.

The document was the result of a survey of religious congregations in Canada; not all congregations responded. It was submitted to the bishops in view of their upcoming Ad Limina visit.

In their communiqué, the Quebec bishops said they intend to discuss “the questions and concerns of the Church in Quebec”—including the priests’ letter and the CRC document—during their visit to Rome in May, “with the conviction that this will contribute to strengthening the links of communion with the universal Church.”