Quebec bishops ‘disappointed’ about end of religious instruction in schools, but hopeful

.- Quebec bishops are disappointed that the provincial government has gone ahead and drafted legislation that will put an end to Catholic and Protestant religious instruction in public schools by 2008. But there is hope that the new ethics and religious culture program will “bear some fruit,” said Bishop Pierre Morissette.

The president of the education commission for the Assembly of Quebec Catholic Bishops (AECQ) told CNA he has a “double reaction” to the new program announced Wednesday by Education Minister Jean-Marc Fournier.

“It’s clearly a disappointment,” the bishop said in a telephone interview. “The bill is not in line with the position of the bishops, and the suggestions that we made to the minister in the fall were not followed.”

The AECQ had submitted a document to the Ministry of Education in October, insisting that the current program—offering the choice between Catholic or Protestant religious instruction or moral instruction—be maintained and implemented “more seriously.” They also insisted on improvements to the training program offered for religion teachers and to the schools’ spiritual animation services.

But Bishop Morissette said he also sees “relative good news” in the new program.

“Young people will not be totally cut off from the religious fact,” he commented. “Religion will still be taught, though from a cultural perspective, but if it is well done, it could bear some fruit.”

On the positive side, Bishop Morissette said he also sees this legislative change as “a chance for our Christian communities to renew themselves by transmitting the faith to younger generations.

“This is a new and big challenge for the Church in Quebec,” the bishop of Baie-Comeau remarked. “We have relied on schools to do this [pass on the faith] for us for a long time. But now this has ended.”

Bishop Morissette said Quebec bishops saw this change coming and some have been preparing their dioceses for this eventuality for a few years, setting up yearlong faith education programs in parishes.

The new ethics and religious culture program will only be implemented in 2008. In order to allow sufficient time to develop it, the Education Minister said the provincial government intends to renew the notwithstanding clause for a period of three years.

The renewal of the clause means status quo: parents and students will maintain the right to choose between Catholic or Protestant religious instruction, or moral instruction for the next three years.

The Education Minister said groups would be invited to present their opinion on the bill before a parliamentary committee in the coming weeks.

The Quebec bishops have not yet received an invitation, said Bishop Morissette, who doubts the government will scrap the bill based on the hearings. The hearings would likely be an opportunity to make suggestions on how the bill and the new program could be improved, he speculated.

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