Canadian pope not to be: Why Quebec Cardinal Marc Ouellet wasn’t chosen

Matthew Coutts
Marois aimerait aller à Rome si Marc Ouellet devenait pape
Tandis qu'à Rome, les spéculations vont bon train sur l'élection du 266e pape, au Québec, plusieurs croyants et serviteurs de l'Église espèrent que le cardinal Marc Ouellet sera élu

For about a month the name Marc Ouellet was the biggest thing in Canada. He was the name on the tips of the lips of every Canadian, Catholic and otherwise, leading into the papal conclave.

The man who might be pope. Scratch that. The Canadian who might be pope. What a story that would have been. When Argentinean Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was selected to lead the Catholic Church on Wednesday, taking the name Pope Francis I, Ouellet returned to relative obscurity of being merely a member of the College of Cardinals.

Nothing to sneeze at, but not something that will make Protestants in Sarnia, Ont., chatter at the downtown diner.

So what happened? Was it Ouellet’s humble suggestion that others would make a better leader that did in his papal hopes? Was it that the likelihood of any one of the 115 candidates being chosen was just too low to bank on? Was it that Canada got its hopes up over Ouellet because, simply, it was fun to dream?

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While the process of selecting a pope is a closely-guarded secret, some suggested that Ouellet remained a top contender through the early rounds of consideration. Bergoglio was selected on the fifth vote, an unlikely contender when he entered the conclave.

According to The Telegraph, U.S. Cardinal Timothy Dolan said the reason Pope Francis was selected was because of his open values and outgoing personality.

"You want a man of God, you want a man of good pastoral governance, you want a man of a sense of the church universally, you want a good communicator," he said. "He fills those bills."

Ouellet, meantime, is considered more introverted. More along the lines of Benedict XVI. It may not make Ouellet any less qualified, but perhaps that is what boosted the outgoing Bergoglio to the forefront.

Some have presumed Ouellet's chances were hamstrung by a confliction between the man, considered conservative in most respects, and his posting in Quebec and Canada, where the church has been on the decline and members champion a more liberal tone.

The Globe and Mail writes:

He defended church doctrine in a staunch, unwavering fashion, repeatedly complaining that Quebeckers had lost their spiritual anchors. He spoke in punchy soundbites, complaining about “secular fundamentalism” or “dictatorship of relativism.”

That a U.S. group listed him among a "dirty dozen" cardinal that failed to address abuse concerns in the church may not have hurt his changes internally, but certainly didn't benefit him externally.

[ More Brew: Will Pope Francis be a progressive force in Catholic Church? ]

Regardless, the spotlight of papacy would have brought attention to previous controversies, such as his harsh stance against abortion and same-sex marriage. He once partially shunned NDP MP Joe Comartin for supporting same-sex marriage. His brother has been convicted of sex abuse.

Not only that, experts now say having a homegrown pope would not have revived Catholicism in Quebec. The Montreal Gazette reports that the "pendulum has swung too far toward secularization and more liberal values" for a local pope to alter.

Louis Rousseau, a former theology professor at the University of Quebec, said it would have been "catastrophic" for Ouellet to have been chosen, considering his previous controversies.

Ouellet did not appear with Canada's other two cardinals at a media availability following the papal announcement. Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins said he believed Ouellet was relieved to have not been selected.

Ouellet’s family spoke to media in La Motte, Que., and similarly said they were relieved he was not chosen to be pope.

It seems we were never meant to have a Canadian pope. Perhaps it was too much to ask that a boy who grew up on the hockey ponds of a small Quebec community would one day lead a religion with 1.2 billion members. Ouellet still holds a powerful sway in the church, and by all accounts he isn't too devastated by being passed over.

And as Canadians, we were likely more interested in the novelty of a Canadian pope that in the reality of one.