Edouard Cardinal Gagnon, P.S.S. † Edouard Cardinal Gagnon, P.S.S. †
President Emeritus of Family, Roman Curia
Cardinal Priest of S Marcello
Jan 15, 1918
May 25, 1985
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English Cardinal Edouard Gagnon, P.S.S. 1918-2007
Nov 09, 2007
By Msgr Vincent Foy.

(Catholic Insight, Nov 8th, 2007) “A faithful pastor who, with an evangelical spirit, consecrated his life in service to Christ and His Church”—Pope Benedict XV1.

In the death of Cardinal Gagnon, Canada has lost one of its most illustrious churchmen. He was a holy, learned and courageous teacher and defender of Life and the Faith.

The Basic Statistics

Eduard Gagnon was born in the small Gaspé town of Port Daniel in 1918, the third of thirteen children. His mother was part Irish, his father French Canadian, a carpenter. The family moved to Montreal in his childhood. He went from altar boy to seminarian and was ordained a Sulpician priest in 1940. He remained at the seminary a year longer to obtain his doctorate in theology.

In 1941 he was sent to study Canon Law at Laval in Quebec City and in three years obtained his doctorate. On his return to Montreal he taught moral theology and canon law for ten years at the Grand Seminary.

From 1954 to 1960 he was Seminary President at St. Boniface, Manitoba. In 1961 he was named rector of a major seminary in Colombia, South America. He was there for three years before returning to Canada, when he was elected Provincial of the Sulpicians for Canada, Japan and South America. During his time as Provincial he also acted as a peritus during the closing phase of Vatican Council II.

He was ordained bishop of Saint Paul in Alberta on March 25th, 1969, and was there until his resignation in May of 1972. That year he was named rector of the Canadian College in Rome. In January of 1973 he was appointed Vice President of the newly formed Committee of the Family, and became President the following year.

In 1979 he resigned his position in Rome and for the next years travelled extensively in Canada, the U.S., Africa and South America promoting Family Life, and right catechesis. Everywhere he emphasised the need to uphold the encyclical Humanae vitae and the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio.

He was recalled to Rome by Pope John II in 1983, and on May 25thof that year named titular Archbishop and Pro-President of the new Pontifical Council for the Family.

In May of 1985 he was named Cardinal Deacon and President of the Council for the Family. He resigned that office in 1990. In 1991 he was appointed President of the Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses. He also worked on some canonisation causes.

He was invested as an officer of the Order of Canada in 1993. In 1996 he was created a Cardinal priest.

He returned to Canada upon his retirement in 2001 and resided at the Sulpician residence. When able he continued to lecture on Life issues, mostly in the U.S. He died in Montreal late on Saturday August 25th, 2007, or early on August 26. His funeral Mass was at Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal on Tuesday September 4th.

Special Missions

On a number of occasions Cardinal Gagnon represented the Holy See at international evens. In 1973 at a meeting of Catholic Universities in Salamanca, Spain; in 1974, as head of the delegation of the Holy See at an International Conference on Population in Bucharest. There he spoke on the many evils following from contraception.

He wrote numerous articles on Life issues, interviewed countless delegations, arranged many audiences with the Holy Father and carried on an immense correspondence. He wrote to Catherine Bolger of Toronto thanking her for her articles in the Messenger of the Sacred Heart upholding the Church’s teaching on Life and family.  In all his work his fluency in English, French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese was a considerable help. Here I would like to single out three missions of importance to the Church. In each of these he acted as the delegate of the Holy Father.

The Pontifical Lateran University

In the late nineteen seventies, Pope Paul VI entrusted to Bishop Gagnon an investigation of the teaching at the Pontifical Lateran University. There had been a public scandal when the Roman newspaper Si Si NoNo reported that some professors at the Lateran were Modernists, teaching the errors of Hans Kung and others. This I knew to be true. When I was living at the Canadian College in 1977 a Canadian student priest came to me greatly disturbed when a teacher at the Lateran told him he could not get his doctorate unless his thesis took into account the teaching of Hans Kung.

After numerous interviews at the Lateran and elsewhere, Bishop Gagnon presented a report with recommendations to Pope Paul VI. I do not know what happened to this report.

The Roman Curia

About 1977 the Pope asked Bishop Gagnon to conduct an investigation of the whole Roman Curia. There were widespread rumors of corruption and infiltration by enemies of the Church. These led to the often-repeated saying of the pope that the smoke of Satan had entered the Church. This was an immense task, which took many months of intense work and many interviews.

Dr. Alice von Hildebrand, in an interview with Latin Mass magazine, reprinted in Christian Order this year, gives this account, based on a conversation of Bishop Gagnon with an Italian priest, Don Luigi Villa of the diocese of Brescia. Bishop Gagnon “ compiled a long dossier, rich in worrisome details. He requested an audience with Pope Paul in order to deliver personally the manuscript to the Pontiff. This request for a meeting was denied. The Pope sent word that the document should be placed in the offices of the Congregation for the Clergy, specifically in a safe with a double lock. This was done, but by the very next day the safety box was broken and the manuscript mysteriously disappeared. This theft was reported even in L’Osservatore Romano (perhaps under pressure because it had been reported in the secular press). Cardinal Gagnon, of course, had a copy, and once again asked the Pope for a private audience. Once again his request was denied. He then decided to leave Rome and return to his homeland in Canada.”

The implication was that it was because of the refusal of Pope Paul VI to see him that Bishop Gagnon returned to Canada. Perhaps it was because of his poor health that the Holy Father did not want to face up to the problems in the Curia at that time. (The Pope died in August of 1978). Bishop Gagnon told me that the Pope was under heavy medication and that explained why his speech was sometimes slurred. Actually it was because Pope John Paul II did not implement any of the recommendations of the report that Bishop Gagnon decided to leave Rome.

Bishop Gagnon wrote me on June 10th, 1979, about ten months after the election of Pope John Paul II (October 1978). He said, in part, “He (the Pope) must feel that if he started changing or contradicting the VIPs around him he would be engaged in a constant battle and would not be left enough time or strength  to preach and write-- –all you can do for the Church is to pray and fast. We should not judge him—but I am waiting for his settling down after Poland to tell him that I am sorry for him and cannot continue working in the present set-up. I wish I were holier and could go and spend my life in a monastery, just praying. My situation will be of uneasiness. Without naming you I had communicated to the Pope’s personal secretary the new facts contained in your letter, so he knows how I feel on that too.”

In a letter dated October 20, 1979, from Montreal, Bishop Gagnon informed me that he had returned from Rome. He said:   “ I am here since the 5th. It is probable I will not go back. I have brought along my belongings and unless the Holy Father calls me back and promises to take into account the important facts I have exposed, I’ll remain here for a good period of rest and spiritual retreat and then I’ll go back to teaching and preaching.”

That is what he did as we have already seen. He was called back to Rome by the Holy Father, four years later, in mid 1983.

The Society of St. Pius X

As a delegate of Pope John Paul II, in 1987 the now Cardinal Gagnon tried to end the rift between Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and Rome. To this purpose he conducted interviews with the Archbishop and others and visited institutions belonging to the new Society. At first, things seemed to be progressing favourably. Unfortunately, swayed by his advisors, the Archbishop refused the condition that he ordain only one bishop for the Society. So the mission ended in failure. Archbishop Lefebvre was excommunicated in 1988 after consecrating four bishops without permission from the Holy See.

Personal Memories

Although we were two years apart at the Faculty of Canon Law at Laval University in Quebec City during World War II, Father Eduard Gagnon and I took many courses together and became good friends. That friendship was shown in much kindness to me over the years.

Father Gagnon was one of four periti or experts present when the Canadian bishops met at Winnipeg in September of 1968 to discuss the encyclical Humanae vitae. Unfortunately he could only remain about two days. Bishop Francis Allen, Auxiliary Bishop of Toronto, told me that, although he considered the Winnipeg meeting a disgrace, a bright light near the beginning of the week was a talk by Fr.Gagnon asking for fidelity to the Church’s teaching.

On several occasions I was a guest of Bishop Gagnon when he was Rector of the Canadian College in Rome. When I was on a mission to Rome in 1977-78, he gave me the ample quarters of the former Vice Rector. He referred me to many key churchmen pertinent to my mission. Once when I was called to the Vatican by Archbishop Caprio, the Substitute Secretary of State, to thank me for an article I wrote on the tenth anniversary of Humanae vitae, Bishop Gagnon asked me to present to the Secretary reasons why a certain churchman should not be the Vatican’s representative at the United Nations. His appointment was imminent. I believe that, because of that interview, another bishop was named to the UN.

After the Canadian College was closed in the summer of 1977, to be relocated in the Fall to smaller quarters, Bishop Gagnon arranged for me to be relocated in a suite in the Casa Internazionale del Clero, where most of the priests there worked at the Vatican. Many visiting bishops and priests stayed there during their visit to Rome. The “Casa” was an excellent listening post for events at the Vatican.

Bishop, later Cardinal, Gagnon and I corresponded over many years, mostly on Life issues. He was a great support to me in my failed efforts to have the Winnipeg Statement recalled. Here is an example from a letter dated October 13, 1988: “Thank you most cordially for your letter of Sept.13 and the transparent article on Humanae vitae. It will help me for a meeting of bishops which the Holy Father has convoked for November on the actuality of the Encylical.”


In my personal opinion, Cardinal Gagnon was perhaps Canada’s greatest churchman. I never met anyone so completely dedicated to the Church and Family issues. For many years he suffered from ill health, which he bore heroically, though he regretted that it sometimes impeded his work. He wrote to me from Pamplona, Spain on October 20th, 1990: “I write this from this city where I have come for seven weeks therapy, for something they discovered during an operation I had here in September at the Opus Dei University Clinic. Pray that Our Lord help me to accept even deep suffering.” In the same letter, concerning another matter, he wrote: “Obedience to the Church remains the surest means of an efficacious apostolate”

Cardinal Gagnon constantly spoke and wrote on the need to uphold Humanae vitae. He wrote: “Humanae Vitae is one of the most important documents in the history of the Church. The opposition to Humanae Vitae came mostly from ‘theologians’ who advanced the pretext that it was difficult for couples to observe the rules of morality in the present circumstances. But it is no more difficult than it was. We were thirteen in my home. We were born in two or three small rooms. Most of our families had more difficulties than anyone has now. Parents had more children and they were happy with the children they had.”

Cardinal Gagnon looked upon the Winnipeg Statement of the Canadian bishops as a true tragedy. He considered those bishops who upheld it to be in schism.

If some of Cardinal Gagnon’s missions apparently ended in failure they were failures only in the sense that martyrs are failures. Now it is up to more bishops, priests, religious and laity to hold up the torch to Truth about Life, which Cardinal Gagnon held up so bravely and for so long.

On Tuesday September 4th, 2007, the mortal remains of Cardinal Gagnon were interred in the crypt of the Grand Seminary in Montreal. This is the Institution where his Mission began. In the words of Pope Benedict: “ May the Lord receive him in peace and in the light of His kingdom.”

Msgr. Vincent Foy is the oldest diocesan priest in the Archdiocese of Toronto. A canon lawyer by training, he has written widely on questions of Catechetics and moral theology. His last book, Birth Control: Is Canada out of step with Rome?, 2005, pp. 128, is available from Catholic Insight at $10.00 plus postage ($2.50).
French Lettres: Un cardinal qui a soutenu Québec
Sept 08, 2007
Luciano Dorotea, Ancien représentant du Québec à Rome, Montréal, septembre 2007.

Le cardinal canadien Édouard Gagnon est décédé à la résidence des prêtres de Saint-Sulpice à Montréal, dans la nuit du samedi 25 au dimanche 26 août dernier, à l'âge de 89 ans. Ayant été en poste à Rome comme représentant du gouvernement du Québec pendant six ans (1985 et 1986 et 1989 à 1993), j'ai eu le privilège de bien connaître le cardinal Gagnon. Le cardinal s'est vu confier d'importantes fonctions au Vatican et a été un proche conseiller des défunts papes Paul VI et Jean-Paul II. Il a, entre autres, assumé pendant plusieurs années la présidence du Conseil pontifical pour la famille et, jusqu'à son départ de Rome, en 2000, il présidait le Comité pontifical pour les Congrès eucharistiques internationaux.

Au cours des 22 dernières années, lors de nos rencontres à Rome et au Québec, nous avons eu l'occasion de discuter de divers projets, dont celui du Congrès eucharistique de Québec en 2008. Connaissant la grande modestie du cardinal Gagnon, il m'apparaît important, au lendemain de son décès, de lui rendre publiquement hommage pour son intervention stratégique, auprès du défunt pape Jean-Paul II, dans le choix de Québec comme ville hôtesse. Dans une lettre manuscrite que le cardinal m'adressait le 22 novembre 2004, il écrivait ceci: «Comme président du Comité pontifical pour les Congrès eucharistiques internationaux, je savais que le choix du lieu où faire ceux-ci était habituellement motivé par la coïncidence avec le rappel qu'on voulait souligner d'un événement important pour la vie de l'Église. Le Congrès de Séville par exemple soulignait le fait que c'est de là que partirent Christophe Colomb et les premiers apôtres de l'Amérique latine 500 ans plus tôt.»

«Je savais que le pape accepterait la proposition que je présenterais de la part du Comité pontifical, sachant le rôle de l'Église de Québec et de Mgr de Laval dans le développement de l'Église de toute l'Amérique du Nord. De fait, il accepta ma suggestion immédiatement et avec enthousiasme. Quand j'ai laissé Rome [en 2000], il était acquis que le Congrès de 2008 serait à Québec. Mais il fallait, suivant les procédures ordinaires, qu'une demande officielle soit faite par l'archevêque, puis par la Conférence épiscopale.»
English Quebec-born cardinal known as the Shadow
Sept 07, 2007
Personal friend of Pope John Paul II. Received the Order of Canada in 1993 in recognition of his 'unstinting service to the church'

The Gazette (Montreal, August 29) A funeral is to be held Tuesday in Montreal for Édouard Gagnon, a Quebec-born cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church and former president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Vatican department responsible for promoting family values.

Gagnon died Saturday in his apartment at the Sulpician Seminary in Montreal. He was 89.

Known as the Shadow, Gagnon was a low-profile prelate who spent more than 30 years as a Vatican bureaucrat.

"He was a faithful pastor who, with an evangelical spirit, consecrated his life in service to Christ and to his Church," said Lawrence Terrien, superior-general of the Sulpician fraternity of priests.

Édouard Gagnon was one of 13 children in a carpenter's family. He was born in Port Daniel-Gascons, a Gaspé community, on Jan. 15, 1918, and was raised in Montreal's Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district.

Gagnon studied for the priesthood at the Grand Seminary in Montreal. Ordained in 1940, he majored in canon law at Université Laval before being accepted as a Sulpician priest in 1945. He then taught moral theology and canon law at the Grand Seminary.

He was head of the seminary in St. Boniface, Man., from 1954 to 1960, then was elected Provincial of the Society of St. Sulpice for Canada, Japan and Latin America.

In the early 1970s, he served briefly as bishop of St. Paul, Alta. In 1972, he became rector of the Canadian College in Rome, where Pope Paul VI appointed him vice-president of the newly created Committee for the Family. When the committee was given the status of a pontifical council, Gagnon was put in charge.

During his years in Rome, Gagnon drafted a harsh report critical of Vatican bureaucracy; the report was, for the most part, ignored.

Gagnon was a personal friend of Pope John Paul II, who made him a cardinal in 1985.

One of Gagnon's earliest assignments was to mediate the dispute between reactionary French bishop Marcel Lefebvre and the Vatican over Lefebvre's refusal to accept ecumenical reforms. Lefebvre started his own cult, the Society of St. Pius X, and was excommunicated.

Gagnon resigned his Vatican assignment in 1990 and retired seven years ago.

Gagnon was invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1993 in recognition of his "unstinting service to the church."

With Gagnon's death, there now are only three Canadian cardinals: Marc Ouellet, the primate, in Quebec City; Jean- Claude Turcotte, archbishop of Montreal; and Toronto's Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic, who is retired.

Worldwide, there are 181 members of the College of Cardinals, but only 105 are under age 80 and are eligible to vote in a papal election.

Gagnon's body is to be exposed in the chapel at Notre Dame Basilica between noon and 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday. The funeral is to be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the basilica.

His body is to be interred in the seminary crypt.
English Cardinal Gagnon, a Great Friend to the Pro-Life Movement in Canada, Dies at 89
Sept 07, 2007
Gagnon "admired the courage and the zeal of the pro-life activists he had met".

August 27, 2007 (LifeSiteNews.com) - His Eminence Édouard Cardinal Gagnon, P.S.S., died Saturday August 25 at the age of 89 in Montreal.  Jim Hughes, National President of Campaign Life Coalition told LifeSiteNews.com that the Cardinal was a great friend to the pro-life movement in Canada.

Born January 15, 1918 in Port-Daniel, Quebec, he was ordained a priest on August 15, 1940 and consecrated Bishop of Saint-Paul on February 19, 1969.  Three years after his appointment as Bishop of Saint Paul, he was called to Rome to work in the Vatican.  He was appointed as the first President of the Pontifical Council for the Family and more recently as President of the Pontifical Council for Eucharistic Congresses. Pope John Paul II appointed him to the College of Cardinals in 1985.

Hughes recalled that Cardinal Gagnon was a faithful and holy man who was exceptionally helpful to the pro-life movement. "Especially in conveying our concerns to Rome," said Hughes.  Hughes recalled how much Cardinal Gagnon "admired the courage and the zeal of the pro-life activists he had met."  Hughes told LifeSiteNews.com, "the Cardinal said we were constantly in his prayers, and I feel we're still in his prayers."
English Canadian Cardinal Gagnon dead at 89
Aug 28, 2007
Cardinal Edouard Gagnon, the former president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, died in Montreal on August 25 at the age of 89.

Montreal, Aug. 27, 2007 (CWNews.com) - Cardinal Edouard Gagnon, the former president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, died in Montreal on August 25 at the age of 89.

The Canadian prelate, who was ordained as a Sulpician priest in 1940, became Bishop of St. Paul, Alberta, in 1969. In 1973, he was named by Pope Paul VI to be vice-president of the newly created Committee for the Family. He became president of that body the following year, and in 1981, when Pope John Paul II (bio - news) elevated the committee to the status of a Pontifical Council, he remained head of the office-- now with the title of Archbishop. He was raised to the College of Cardinals by Pope John Paul in 1985. Cardinal Gagnon resigned his Vatican assignment in 1990, to be replaced by Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo.

Upon hearing of the Canadian cardinal's death, Pope Benedict XVI (bio - news) wrote separate messages of condolence to Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte of Montreal and Father P. Lawrence Terrien, the superior general of the Suplician order. The Holy Father praised Cardinal Gagnon as a "faithful pastor who, with an evangelical spirit, consecrated his life in service to Christ and his Church."

With the death of Cardinal Gagnon there are now 181 living members of the College of Cardinals, of whom 105 are below the age of 80 and thus eligible to participate in a papal conclave.
Italian Visitatore delle opere della Fraternità San Pio X
Sept 15, 2004
"Io voglio dire che siamo stati colpiti ovunque. Nutriamo una grande ammirazione per la pietà della persone, per l'attualità e l'importanza delle opere, soprattutto per quel che riguarda la catechesi, la formazione, l'amministrazione dei sacramenti. Di certo, abbiamo in mano tutto ciò che è necessario per fare un rapporto molto positivo" .

(Fideliter, n. 62, marzo-aprile 1988, p. 29) La Santa Sede ha inviato un visitatore nella persona del cardinale Edouard Gagnon. Dopo un minuzioso esame delle opere della Fraternità San Pio X, il cardinale non ha avuto, l'8 dicembre 1987, che elogi verso l'arcivescovo e la sua opera:

"Io voglio dire che siamo stati colpiti ovunque. Nutriamo una grande ammirazione per la pietà della persone, per l'attualità e l'importanza delle opere, soprattutto per quel che riguarda la catechesi, la formazione, l'amministrazione dei sacramenti. Di certo, abbiamo in mano tutto ciò che è necessario per fare un rapporto molto positivo" .
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