Almost from its beginnings, Cité Libre and, subsequently, Trudeau were charged with “undermining the Church.” Writing for Relations, the Jesuit monthly, in 1951-52, M. J. d’Anjou, sj, and Richard Arès,sj, addressed this aspect of Cité Libre. Also in 1952, charges of “leftist infiltration” were made by Patrick Walsh, an informant for the RCMP. This was followed by another controversy, between Trudeau and Fathers Braun and Desrosiers, about Trudeau’s articles on life in Moscow and the Soviet Union. Then, in 1956, the historian Robert Rumilly published L’Infiltration gauchiste au Canada français, followed by two more shorts books. Although Rumilly made some interesting observations about dissenters supporting one another in the various medias, he failed to prove his implied theory about a vast conspiracy, nor did he come to grips with the ideas being advanced by these “leftist infiltratiors” (cf David Somerville, Trudeau Revealed ). A wild description of Trudeau as the French Canadian Karl Marx was made in 1960 by Father Gérard Saint-Pierre; Trudeau wanted to take legal action but failed to do so when he did not receive a response from Bishop Georges-Léon Pelletier of Three Rivers before the expiry of the allotted time in which a charge had to be registered (cf Cité Libre, March 1961).
Undermining the Church
Trudeau took the first set of charges – that of undermining the Church – more seriously than the second. In 1953, he produced a nine-page article for Cité Libre on “Clericalism” in which he tried to sort things out. He made the important distinction between anti-clericalist and anti-clerical. The latter he saw as part of a sterile European phenomenon of professional Church-baiting; the former, on the other hand, embodies opposition to the use of spiritual authority for the settling of pragmatic temporal affairs which should be settled according to their own principles. Trudeau, already the pragmatist, nevertheless argued that two facts remained outside discussion: Quebec’s French heritage and Quebec’s Catholicism. Here and in later essays Trudeau did not deny the right of the clergy to have political opinions; he simply asserted that in temporal affairs their authority is the same as everyone else’s. What he was attacking was the religious authority exercised by clerics in civil affairs.
Four years later (1958), Cité Libre was forced to answer a charge by Marcel Clément published with the revealing title, Inscriptions pour une Cité libre: “Instaurare omnia extra Christum” (Motto for a Free City; “To Restore All Things without Christ”). This is a reference to the motto of Pope Pius X: “To Restore All Things in Christ” (Ephes 1.10). Clément saw Cité libre as maintaining “that it is necessary to liberate lay activities from the tyranny of religion.” Hence, he said, Cité libre (Free City) is in reality “une cite libérée de Dieu”, a city liberated from God.
It did not go very far
Cité libre’s editors replied as a group. They pointed to its declaration of July 1952 in which it had clearly stated that the magazine was not opposed to the Church’s authority in matters of spirituality. They challenged their accusers to find a singe word of disrespect for the Sovereign Pontiff. To cap their argument, they quoted the Bishops of France in their recent declaration on freedom of expression within the Church. This response was valid as far as it went; unfortunately, it did not go very far. In 1953, Trudeau had argued that he opposed clerical authority in ordinary political affairs. But the 1957 charge was not about the abuse of such authority in politics, but the fact that Trudeau and his colleagues were exorcising Christian principles from temporal affairs altogether. By appealing to freedom of speech the editorial team skirted the question of whether political pragmatism inspired by intellectual liberalism could be joined to a meaningful belief in Christianity.
As everyone except the dogmatic secularist knows, relations between religion and society are too complicated to be fully described by any abstract model. In practice, harmony or disharmony, is the product of shifts in attitude, even subtle ones. Attractive as Mounier’s personalism may be, it places on the individual a heavy burden of moral choice in concrete situations, as Reginal Whitaker has pointed out in his article on Trudeau (Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory, Winter 1980). Trudeau had embarked on a path of ascending difficulty.
The morals of a slave and the morals of a free man
George Radwanski in his book Trudeau (1978), observes that Trudeau as a young man was especially interested in reconciling personal freedom with the moral code of the Church. He believed he had found the answer in ST. Thomas Aquina’s distinction between the morals of a slave and the morals of the free man. “Suddenly”, Trudeau said, “I found that I could be a free man and yet accept certain moral codes and the morals of a free man.” Radwanski, basing himself on an article on Trudeau in The New Yorker (July 5 1969), and on an interview with Trudeau conducted by Francine Laurendeau in 1968, the text of which was issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, notes that Trudeau “puts more emphasis on conscience than on legalistic religious rules.” “Yes, God exists for me,” Radwanski quotes Trudeau as saying, “I encounter Him everywhere; I also look for Him in the Church, but rather elsewhere. I believe in eternal life, hence in God.” Radwanski further reports Trudeau as saying, “The notion of sin is not a term I like to use…The only really basic sin is to hurt others. I say with Tom Payne, ‘My religion is to do good.’ ”
It may be noted that Tom Payne, an American patriot who died in 1799, claimed to be an atheist, and that the Catholic notion of sin, while it definitely incorporates offence against neighbour, teaches that sin is above all a rejection of the divine order established by God. Trudeau’s search for “the morals of a free man” and his emphasis on conscience rather that religious rules (which Radwanski call “legalistic”), make for a secular kind of individualism. John Henry Newman described the same thing as he found it in nineteenth-century liberalism in England:
When men advocate the rights of conscience, they in no sense mean the rights of the Creator, nor the duty to Him, in thought and deed, of the creature; but the right of thinking, speaking, writing and acting according to their judgment or their humour, without any thought of God at all.
…Conscience has rights because it has duties; but in this age, with a large portion of the public, it is the very right and freedom of conscience, to dispense with conscience, to ignore a Lawgiver, the Judge, to be independent of unseen obligations.
…Conscience is a stern monitor but in this century it has been superseded by a counterfeit which the eighteen centuries prior to it never heard of, and could not have mistaken for it, if they had. It is the right of self will.
The Difficulties of Anglicans (1850)