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  • The “Christian Society” of Garret FitzGerald and Pierre Elliott Trudeau
  • Joseph Dunlop (bio)


Recent scholarship has begun to compare the parallel trajectories of postwar Catholicism in Ireland and Quebec.1 Leslie Woodcock Tentler’s anthology The Church Confronts Modernity (2007) offers “the beginnings of a comparative project,” bringing together scholars of American, Irish, and Quebecois Catholicism.2 Unsurprisingly, these comparisons have explored themes of dechristianization and decline, charting the erosion of the once-formidable institutional influence of the Catholic church, along with the steep drop in [End Page 43] Mass attendance and vocations in the past fifty years. Much of this analysis reinforces the commonplace of secularization theory that religion breaks down under the assault of modernization,3 and at first glance the histories of postwar Ireland and Quebec seem to bear this theory out. Quebec’s “Quiet Revolution” of the 1960s witnessed church-run health, social, and educational services absorbed by an expanding state and, more broadly, signaled a modernist break with the province’s traditional Catholic past. As for Ireland, historian Dermot Keogh has observed that the past thirty years have seen “the modernization of a once-traditional society and the manifestation of a secularism with a strong anticlerical bent.”4

It would be easy to fall into the habit of seeing the church as a conservative obstruction to the coming of modernity or, to take a perhaps slightly more sympathetic view, as a hapless victim facing the unbending forces of urbanization, industrialization, state expansion, and rampant individualism. Canadian historian Michael Gauvreau, a contributor to Tentler’s project, points out that treatments of twentieth-century Quebec have often cast Catholicism “as an object acted upon, rather than as a dynamic presence in the history of modern Quebec.”5 In recent years, however, historians and sociologists have increasingly moved away from a narrative that emphasizes decay or confrontation; they argue instead that the relationship between Catholicism and modernity can be characterized in terms of intellectual exchange and mutual transformation. Tentler remarks that all the contributors to her comparative project are “wise enough to challenge a too-literal reading of ‘decline and fall,’”6 and other, specialized studies of Quebec and Ireland stress the broad spectrum of Catholic responses to the emergence of modern secular societies. Bryan Fanning’s The Quest for Modern Ireland: The Battle of Ideas, 1912–1986 (2008) reacts against “the sort of reductionism that would portray Catholic conservatism as merely engaged in blocking [intellectual] debate” and envisions Catholic institutions as “an intellectual [End Page 44] field in their own right and a prism through which other social and political ideas were refracted.”7 Despite its reputation for intransigence, Irish Catholicism “was by no means monolithic. Catholic and liberal intellectual ideas intertwined and found ideological expression in subsequent institutional developments.”8

Comparable trends are evident in studies of postwar Catholicism in Quebec. As early as 1985, historian Michael Behiels pointed out the role of a liberal Christian humanism in promoting political and social reform in mid-twentieth-century Quebec. Several recent works have provided a more sustained analysis of this “Left” or “liberal” Catholicism.9 In Sortir de la “Grande noirceur”: L’horizon ‘personnaliste’ de la Révolution tranquille (2002), Quebec sociologists E.-Martin Meunier and Jean-Philippe Warren inquire whether or not Catholicism, “que l’on perçoit généralement comme un empêchment de la Révolution tranquille . . . , n’a-t-elle pas joué également ici le rôle révolutionnaire?”10 (which is generally perceived as an impediment to the Quiet Revolution . . . , has not equally played a revolutionary role here?) Historian Michael Gauvreau fleshes out a similar argument in his wide-ranging study, The Catholic Origins of Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, 1931–1970 (2005). Asserting that “we should resist any a priori attempt to equate the categories ‘Catholicism’ and ‘tradition,’” Gauvreau contends that “although powerful currents of conservatism certainly remained within Catholicism, there was a growing ideological diversity in the church” from 1930 onward.11 His book demonstrates how certain cultural and ideological streams within Catholicism itself helped to channel Quebec’s conversion into a modern liberal society, though, of course, many Catholics resisted this attempt to make “Catholicism coterminous with aspects...


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