The Role of the
Catholic Church

Think about big questions like:

Is historical change caused more by individuals or the conditions of society at the time?

What you will be able to do:

Explain the characteristics of Ultramontanism.

Explain the characteristics of Anticlerical Liberalism

Explain the characteristics of Survival Nationalism.


Overview text

After the turn of the 19th century the Catholic Church became a significant player not only in cultural and religious sphere, but also in the political one, especially as concerns education. They were influenced and energized by new currents of religious thought and action in Europe, and by the subsequent arrival of a large number of religious communities from France. Already responsible for hospitals and schools, the priests and nuns and brothers were now also in charge of most social institutions. The Catholic religious leaders relied on a new "nationalism of survival" and also took advantage of the ultramontane movement to further extend their interests. Their conservative values were opposed to the liberal values defended by groups like the Institut canadien.


Paraphrase and alternate version of source: Quebec History of Quebec and Canada program, page 40

Read more about different ideologies of the times

FIRST, read some definitions that describe the following four ideologies: anticlericalism, liberalism, nationalism and survival ultramontanism.


Anticlericalism was a modernist liberal ideology that claimed the superiority of the power of the State over that of the Church, and also called for the separation of church and State. It was present in Quebec, especially in the 19th century, in response to ultramontanism.

Liberalism is a doctrine that claims the rights and individual freedoms, economic and political. This ideology supports freedom of religion, freedom of speech and justice for all people. In the economic sphere, it defends private property, free enterprise and free trade. In politics, liberals call for the adoption of democratic principles.

Survival Nationalism developed in Lower Canada after the failed rebellions and the introduction of the Act of Union, but also in response to the assimilation attempts on the part of the British authorities. It envisioned the French Canadian nation's survival by maintaining the Catholic religion, the French language and French-Canadian institutions, and it encouraged the participation of French Canadians in the economy.

Ultramontanism was a traditionalist Catholic ideology that claimed the superiority of the power of the Church over the State. Ultramontanes wanted an alliance of church and state, where the clergy was superior to the politicians, and where they had the right to intervene in all spheres of society. This ideology settled into Québec from around the 19th century.


Source: What are the dominant ideologies between 1840-1896? by the RECITUS

THEN, discuss with your partner the differences between them.

(Definitions also in a separate page available here)

View the following two videos and discusses new ideas you have learned, and how these ideologies compare to each other.

Overview text: Ignace Bourget vs The Institute Canadien

Ignace Bourget, became the bishop of the newly created bishopric of Montreal in 1840, making him religious leader from James Bay to the American border and presiding directly over “186,244 souls”. His influence, and that of the Catholic Church did not stop there.

His main goal was to better Christianize the people. To do so he entrusted the training of priests to the Sulpician monks and helped other religious orders from France to establish themselves in Lower Canada. These groups included the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the Jesuits, the Society of the Sacred Heart and the Good Shepherd Sisters. All of these priests, monks and nuns allowed Bourget to control the social institutions of the colony: elementary schools, the classical colleges, and hospitals.

Another goal of Bourget, and of like-minded religious leaders and clergy of the day, was for the Church to dominate and influence important social and cultural decisions made by the state, that is to advise and essentially direct the political and civil leaders of the time. This ideology is called Ultramontanism and it took hold in Lower Canada starting in the 1840s. Bourget’s leadership was strengthened as his superiors in Rome (where the Vatican is located) including the Pope rejected liberalism and “any compromise by Catholicism with modern thought”.

Despite the growing influence of ultramontanes and the Church in Lower Canada, some people continued to advocate for liberalism and modern ideas. One symbol of this movement at the time was the Institut canadien. This organization in Montreal, along with others like it throughout Lower Canada, was concerned with patriotism and culture, history, the natural sciences and art. The Montreal group however, were also liberal and reform-minded thinkers, who actively entered into politics. Their more radical stance resulted in winning them the nickname “the Reds” or the Parti Rouge.

Conflicting on many issues with ultramontanists, their stance favouring annexation by the United States allowed Bourget, the clergy and the opposing conservative Parti Bleu to combine efforts and force 138 members to resign. The Pope condemned the institute and placed their yearbook on the forbidden book list known as “the index”.

One of the final blows to the institut came when one member, Joseph Guibord, who had refused to give up his membership, died. His burial on “consecrated ground” of the Roman Catholic cemetery was blocked by Bourget. And even though the Parish of Montréal was taken to court and eventually lost the case instigated by Guibord’s widow Henriette Brown, the damage to the institut’s reputation and position had been achieved. Despite being eventually buried in the cemetery, the prolonged reaction and strong opposition of the public, and the culminating “deconsecration of the plot where Guibard’s body lay” by Bourget himself, all of this effectively meant the end to the institut.

Text by Paul Rombough and Matt Russell, based on sources and additional information on The Canadian Encyclopedia at /ignace-bourget and /institut-canadien and /ultramontanism and /guibord-affair

Overview Text: Desaulles, Dorion and The Parti Rouge

The main opponents to the Catholic Church in Lower Canada were the anti-clerical liberals, who formed the political group known as the Rouges. As a political group the Rouges were liberals, but their ideology was not uniform with some members being more moderate and others more radical.

The radical members of the Rouges were the most anti-clerical. Centred on the institut Canadien, these men, like Louis-Antoine Dessaulles, were fervently against the Catholic Church and called for the separation of Church and state. They were republicans and admired the United States so much that some even called for the annexation of Canada into the American union!

The Rouge movement in Lower Canada was split in 1858, when 138 members left the Institute Canadien in Montreal. These moderate Rouges sought to advance the liberal cause through politics. Led by Antoine-Aimé Dorion, the Rouge party were the main opponents to the Catholic Church-supported Bleus in the 1850’s and 1860’s. Dorion’s political success in Montreal was due to his moderation and promotion of economic liberalism, which attracted support from the city’s English community. However, the Bleus were a political force in the countryside and the Church actively encouraged people to vote for them, reminding people that “Heaven is blue and hell is red”.

Text by Matt Russell, WQSB. Read more about the Parti Rouge and its impact in section Causes of Confederation

Activity: Identify the players

Each document portrays an actor or represents a manifestation of one of the ideologies. Match them (document and ideology) correctly in the table on the student task here ➦.

For each document justify the link that unites it with the ideology. In other words, in one or two sentences, explain why you associate a particular actor or event to an ideology. Do not forget to make clear links to the definitions.

Activity: Distinguish the opinions of the Ultramontanes and the Anticlerics?

View various pairs of documents (DUOs) in this separate the documentary file

Describe in your own words the opinion of each of the actors involved, and place a summary of their position in the appropriate column: anticlerical position or ultramontane position.

Indicate about which precise points the players disagree.

Duo 1

Duo 2

Duo 3

Context for Duo 3 (Docs 5 and 6):

All texts by Matt Russell and Paul Rombough above are © LEARN under CC license BY-NC-ND

The original RECITUS student workbooks, documents and tasks:

What are the dominant ideologies between 1840-1896?

How to distinguish the opinions of the Ultramontanes and the Anticlerics? ➦

And for these and various additional texts, activities and specific documents mentioned or displayed above view
LEARN Document of curated web sites: (#3) The Role of the Catholic Church available here ➦

Teachers in Quebec can access these and many other large document collections on the "Communauté Histoire du Québec et du Canada database" via LEARNquebec.ca/histquecan_resource ➦