A few days ago, John reported about how the bishops of Québec appear to be seeking a government bailout. By marketing the old churches in Québec as “heirlooms” of historical significance, the bishops are cheapening the meaning of Christianity.
But there’s a more pernicious problem here.
As we’re currently witnessing in the Catholic school board debacle in Ontario, as soon as Christians start leaning on government, they’re forced to compromise on independence and orthodoxy. In the case of the school boards, the bishops have publicly admitted that they have no control over these taxpayer-funded schools. The government is calling the shots.
It’s a universal principle in a capitalist society that whoever controls the cash also controls the direction of an organization. If the Québec bishops start leaning on the government for funding, I guarantee you that the churches of Québec will have to cede some of their autonomy to the State. We saw it when the government bailed out the auto companies. It makes sense. This is a normal part of accountability for the use of government funds.
The bill, as currently proposed, already contains some pretty drastic clauses:
- Section 76 states the government has the power to shut down any property of historical value if there is a “perceived or real threat of significant degradation“. That term is not defined in the legislation.
- Section 78 gives the government power to expropriate or demolish any historical property.
- Chapter VIII provides for fines as high as $200,000 for violations of the act. The bishops have voiced their concerns about the fines.
Those are the general dispositions of the bill. But if churches eventually become chronically financially dependent on State handouts, I can see several additional conditions being imposed on them. We all know that the Church has many enemies who also happen to have a lot of political clout. Do you think these groups really want government subsidies for failing churches? Of course not. They will eventually lobby hard enough for the government to impose additional conditions on churches receiving subsidies, for example:
- Since the churches are being marketed as tourist attractions, the government could require a larger percentage of the parish budget to be allocated to renovations and maintenance. Other services would have to be cut.
- Similarly, the government would only want to subsidize the oldest and most beautiful churches. The newer but less decorative churches could be left to fail, regardless of which parishes are actually following Church teaching. Hence, the future of your parish could hinge solely on its age and appearance.
- In a more extreme case, the churches could be forced to marry homosexuals or allow women priests as a condition of funding.
On that last point, keep in mind that the Ministry responsible for managing the policy is called the Ministry of Culture, Communications and the Feminine Condition. It houses the feminist agenda of the government.
If the government funding is limited to a small contribution or tax credits on renovation expenses, then I don’t think there will be any major problems. But if it takes the form of significant cash handouts, then watch out.
The Québec bishops are playing a dangerous game.