Silent night, holy night: Life goes on in La Motte after Marc Ouellet passed over

Ouellet family exhales as media glare turns elsewhere

The parish church where Marc Cardinal Ouellet was baptized and ordained in La Motte, Que. (Paul Chiasson, The Canadian Press)

The town of La Motte’s brief, intense and not always welcome dalliance with the outside world began drawing to a close today, as Catholic Church hierarchy went with a fellow who hails from 9,500 kms away from the birthplace of Marc Ouellet.

Several of the town’s 500-odd people came to the media centre to watch the announcement of the new pope. Silent and arms crossed, they watched Radio-Canada’s French-language coverage from Rome. For whatever reason, it lagged behind the English feed on the screen next to it, and they kept watching Radio-Canada even as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio had been declared the new pope in English, on a screen mere metres from their eyes.

“In a way, I’m happy,” said Marthe Béliveau, a charming 80-something La Motte resident, after finally hearing the news. “We’re a bit disappointed, yes, because it would have rejuvenated the parish. But at least he still has a place in Rome.” Ouellet’s mother, 91-year-old Graziella, “is getting old” and doesn’t need the stress, Béliveau said.

Marc Ouellet’s brothers Roch and Louis who spoke at a post-papal press conference at the church/community centre where young Marc used to play organ, intimated their relief that the media glare will now turn elsewhere. “We’re touched and happy that this is coming to an end,” Roch said. “We can’t wait to see our brother again in all tranquility, far from the media.”

It’s been a prickly ride for the Ouellet clan. Church and clergy types are wary of the news media at the best of times, and the Marc Ouellet’s potential ascendency to the top of the Catholic Church brought new, fresh questions about the family and La Motte in general—a town brimming with secrets.

“There’s a lot of suffering people here, a lot of anger against the church,” says Margot Lemire, a writer who has lived in the town since 1981. The god people knew here wasn’t a god of love, it was a god of suffering. It was Old Testament, not New Testament.”

In 2008, Marc’s brother Paul pled guilty to sexual assault of a minor, an event that profoundly divided the town. To this day, five years after the plea and decades after the actual incidents involving two young girls, there are “pro-Paul” and “anti-Paul” sects in La Motte. A whisper of the crimes, brought up in a question by Maclean’s, was quickly shot down by Roch Ouellet. “We are going to go to another question,” he said.

The Ouellets crave silence, for their brother, their town, their way of life. Lucky them: they’re about to get it.

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