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Canada-Vatican relations
Canada   Vatican City
Map indicating location of Canada and Vatican City
     Canada      Vatican City

Although the Roman Catholic Church has been territorially established in Canada since the founding of New France in the early 17th century, Holy See–Canada relations were only officially established under the papacy of Paul VI in the 1960s.

In part, this is because the Vatican had lost its territorial sovereignty during the papacy of Pius IX and that it was only re-established during the Lateran Treaty of 1929. Also, relations with neighbouring Italy were bad during the Mussolini regime and were only re-established in the post-1945 era.

Areas of cooperation between Ottawa and Rome have traditionally included education, health care, the struggle against poverty and international diplomacy. Before the establishment of the welfare state, Church involvement was evident in many sectors of Canadian society. Today, Canada's international preoccupations in favor of justice and peace are often in line with those of Rome, who favors dialogue on a global level.

John Paul II was the first pope to visit Canada in 1984, 1987 and 2002.


17th-18th century

After the British conquest of 1759, relations with Rome were temporarily frozen and jesuits were forbidden from entering the country. However, religious tolerance was quickly re-established under the 1774 Quebec Act, owing to the Anti-American sentiment of colonial administrators.

19th century

John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister, is thought to have had problematic relations with the Church, as it was manifest by the anger of many Catholics against Macdonald during the Louis Riel affair, a conflict which had many sectarian undertones.

In the 19th century, Pope Leo XIII did have an apostolic delegation and did send diplomatic envoys to important socio-political events. Pope Leo took a strong interest in Canadian affairs and wrote the encyclical Affari Vos on the Manitoba Schools Question.

20th century

Wilfrid Laurier, Canada's first francophone prime minister, had genuinely good relations with Pope Pius X, and during his time as PM the Church went though a relatively prosperous period in terms of vocations and social influence.

Pierre Trudeau, another Quebec Catholic PM, was raised as a strict Catholic, but later cooled to the institution after the publication of Humanae Vitae in 1968. After 1968, Trudeau passed a number of liberal laws on divorce, adultery, homosexuality and abortion, laws which have profoundly liberalized and secularized Canadian society.

Governor Generals of Canada have sometimes been very Catholic. Jules Léger was the brother of Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger. Jeanne Sauvé was a former member of the Catholic Action movement. Georges Vanier is a servant of God who has been proposed for beatification.

In practice, abortion was only completely legalized under the government of Conservative Catholic Brian Mulroney, who personally objected to it but could not prevent a 1988 Supreme Court decision removing all previous restrictions to the procedure.

21st century

This tendency of liberal Catholic PMs to ignore Church teaching and adopt very liberal laws was pushed further under the governments of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, who were instrumental in enacting gay marriage legislation.

Stephen Harper, the current Conservative PM, is said to have played on this dissatisfaction with Catholic voters in the 2006 election, and managed to win the Catholic vote, something that other Protestant PMs were not always able to do.

See also


  • Ciani, Adriano Ercole. "The Establishment of Diplomatic Relations Between Canada and the Holy See, 1945-1969 (MA Thesis, University of New Brunswick, 2005)


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