The death of Paul Comtois #3

Part 3. CAUSES?

The state funeral for Paul Comtois was held on Thursday and the press coverage was extensive; hundreds of political personalities were in attendance including Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson and opposition leader John Diefenbaker. Most papers reproduced the eulogy of Cardinal Maurice Roy, the Catholic Archbishop of Quebec. Again no mention was made of the alleged attempt by Paul Comtois to save the Eucharist, a surprising omission by the Catholic Church.

On the day of the funeral, Le Soleil, the Quebec City daily, reported that the possibility that the fire was caused by the explosion of the furnace had definitely been eliminated as the furnace had been found intact. The plausible explanation by the authorities for the fire had now become “electrically caused” a catch all to avoid the more appropriate “the cause of the fire is undetermined”. The same authorities, including Prime Minister Jean Lesage, continued to maintain that they had no indication to the effect that the fire might have been criminally set. According to the article the investigation into the fire would be completed by the next day allowing the coroner’s inquest to be held the following week.

Le Devoir, in its Saturday edition, reported that the preliminary findings by the Fire Commissioner had come to the conclusion that the fire was caused by an electrical problem in an old cold room located in the basement under the main hallway where the fire was first detected. The cold room had been used to store apples. The report mentioned that the room was insulated by layers of cork impregnated with tar and that the fire was caused by an electrical arc created by damaged wires that connected a light inside the cold room to a light located outside. As far as the explosions that many had heard, the report explained that, in their opinion, they were caused by “natural causes” that often occurred in such fires.

These preliminary findings combined with the absence of any communications claiming credit for the act all seemed to point to the conclusion that the fire was accidental. A terrorist group would have claimed the act; otherwise what would have been the point?

Now that the cause of the fire seems determined there remains the enigma around the source that led to the story that Paul Comtois had died in an attempt to save the Eucharist. This information had only been mentioned in the papers on the day of the fire. I will give credit to the journalists and assume they could not corroborate the information and therefore did not pursue. But still what was the original source? In an article that later appeared in the March 10, 1966, issue of the Wanderer the author, Father J.M. O.M.I. Laplante, explains the disappearance of the story in the media “to a conspiracy by the left-wing press to play down the wonderful deed”. The Wanderer is a national Catholic weekly founded in 1867 and is still published today. In the same article, Father Laplante writes at length on the attempt to save the Eucharist and adds a number of other unsubstantiated and far-fetched details on the religious life of Paul Comtois that cast a doubt on the credibility of the article. Father Laplante does not offer a source for his information other than the original newspaper reports.

In spite of the fact that the article lacks credibility, it has become a source for many writers who have written on the subject in recent years. Among those articles, a blog* published in 2009 by London-based writer Andrew Cusack also appears to be a source of information for others. During the same period similar articles appeared on the site and in the Michael Journal. More recently the National Post published in its March 8, 2016, issue an article titled. “A martyr for the Eucharist” and a long article on Paul Comtois appeared the magazine Le Verbe (February/March 2016 issue) where the subject is mentioned.

How the journalists came upon the information remains a mystery. Maybe the coroner’s inquest will shed a light on the subject.

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