History has yet to determine the legacy Cardinal Marc Ouellet has left Quebec, and the legacy he will leave in his new role as Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.
His longtime friends reveal a much different picture than the mainstream media's depiction of a hardliner who opposed abortion and was ambitious for the papacy.
When Cardinal Marc Ouellet became Archbishop of Quebec in 2002, people initially viewed him mistakenly as an outsider, as "the man from Rome" sent to straighten things out, said Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, SJ, of Ottawa.
McGill University historian John Zucchi described Cardinal Ouellet, 66, as an insider who not only lived through the Quiet Revolution he was at the Grand Seminary in Montreal during its "cusp" but as someone who deeply felt its impact upon his immediate family. Only he, of eight children, and his 88-year-old mother still practise the Catholic faith.
Cardinal Ouellet's years as a Sulpician missionary in South America and his studies in Rome under the great Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthazar exposed him to different perspectives, Zucchi said. He did not return to Quebec as an archbishop as a "hit man to fix everything," but recognizing that there are "no quick fixes in the Church," that only humility and following a long, arduous path will restore the place of religious faith.
"He never managed to carry the majority of the Quebec Bishops, or he didn't manage to do that on some key issues," said McGill University Catholic theologian Douglas Farrow. "Of course, he is a bishop of a quite different stripe."
Many of the Quebec episcopacy he described as "still deeply mired in the aftermath of the Quiet Revolution" that required the Church to adjust to the new laicism and agnosticism of Quebec society.
Cardinal Ouellet "wasn't of that sort," Farrow said. "He pointed out that Quebec society cannot flourish, not for long, without recovering its roots and its attachment to the Christian Gospel, and he was unafraid to make that claim even on very controversial matters."
He was not against Quebec's desires, Zucchi stressed, but saw that she was missing the salvation she longed for, the true fulfilment that could only be found in Christ.
Both Zucchi and Farrow say the Quiet Revolution did not reverse the coziness Catholic religious leaders had with government during the Duplessis era.
The Church had been the right hand of government under Duplessis, Farrow said, but this "hand in glove" relationship after the Quiet Revolution changed so "the government was the leading hand now and the Church was going to go along with the government."
In Cardinal Ouellet's criticism of the relativist course in Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) the province imposed on even private schools, Cardinal Ouellet pioneered a new attitude towards the relationship of church and state, Farrow said.
"He may not always have gone about it in the most diplomatic ways, but he certainly has gone about it with courage and comprehension of the situation," Farrow said.
Cardinal Ouellet's stance recalled the courageous and tenacious battle of Quebec's first bishop, Bishop Laval, with Governor General Frontenac over the liquor trade that was destroying the lives of native people, Farrow said.
History will judge whether his stature is comparable to Laval's, Farrow said. Three previous generations of bishops, however, have provided many "counter-examples," he noted.
Cardinal Ouellet also paid a price for his uncompromising defence of human life. Zucchi said he has never seen any Church leader attacked so derisively and viciously.
"The silence of the hierarchy in Quebec spoke volumes," Zucchi said, who questioned why none came forward publicly to show solidarity with him.
The attacks against Cardinal Ouellet, who had no power, pointed to a fear in Quebec society of "anyone who has the courage to speak the truth," the historian said.
One bishop who did stand publicly with him was Archbishop Prendergast, who travelled to Quebec City in late May to face the Quebec media at a joint news conference.
"Given that many bishops prefer to lay low on controversial topics, he appears harsh for simply speaking the truths of our faith without compromise," Prendergast said. "Dealing pastorally with people who find themselves conflicted happens at the individual and parochial level, but a bishop should proclaim the truth fearlessly and unequivocally, and I admire him for that."
"The Christian faith has to be handed on as it has been received," the archbishop said, "so every bishop by necessity is a conservative."
Archbishop Prendergast has known Cardinal Ouellet since the days they were both young priests who never expected to become bishops. He described the cardinal as a shepherd. "He believes that only those who are evangelized, [who] have had an encounter with Christ personally or through contact with His Church, will be able to accept His teaching on the life issues."