Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Canadian Bishops and the Public Square

Further reading of Catholics Against the Church, by Michael Cuneo, tells of the legalization of contraception in Canada in 1966. At the time, the Catholic bishops were expected to take a stand and they submitted a brief to the Committee on Health and Welfare "which announced that they would not oppose the legalizaton of contraceptives...In their October brief the bishops attempted to clarify the 'distinction between Catholic teaching and the attitude of the church towards legislation in a pluralistic society' such as Canada. They accorded explicit recognition to the autonomy of the political sphere and emphasized the ill-advisability of facilely attempting to translate moral law into civil laws. 'That which the Church teaches to be morally reprehensible should not necessarily be considered as indictable by the criminal code of a country.'"

The bishops also asserted that Catholic legislators were to follow their own consciences when voting for laws and their advice was to consider what was best for the common good, rather than hold rigidly to the doctrines of one's religion

Then came 1969 and the loosening of the laws on divorce; once again, a statement from the Catholic bishops was expected. While affirming the Catholic positiion on the indissolubility of marriage, the bishops stated that "Canada is a country of many religious beliefs. Since other citizens, desiring as we do the promotion of the common good, believe that it is less injurious to the individual and to society that divorce be permitted in certain circumstances, we would not object to some revision of the Canadian divorce laws that is truly directed to advancing the common good of civil society.'

Pierre Trudeau was the Minister of Justice at the time and he addressed Parliament on the second reading of the bill to widen grounds for divorce:
We are now living in a social climate in which people are beginning to realise, perhaps for the first time in the history of this country, that we are not entitled to impose the concepts which belong to a sacred society upon a civil or profane society. The concepts of a civil society in which we live are pluralistic and I think ...it would be a mistake for us to legislate into this society concepts which belong to a theological or sacred order.


The Canadian bishops did not raise any objections to Trudeau's statement and their position of holding to Catholic doctrine but not forcing it upon the Canadian citizenry seems to have become their default position. Is it any wonder that they are now quiet on the issue of abortion, and even more so on the advancement of the homosexual agenda, since they publicly stated that they did not have the right to push their beliefs down anyone else's throat?

And then came the relaxing of the law on abortion. In March 1968, a delegation from the Canadian Catholic Conference, led by Bishop Remi De Roo of Victoria BC, appeared before Parliament. De Roo's opening remarks stressed that the delegation had come 'in a spirit of dialogue' and did not want 'to impose a particular point of view' upon a 'complex and difficult question.' The Globe and Mail denounced the statement as "ecclesiastical meddling" and reiterated that the bishops should not seek to affect civil law with moral law. This was exactly what the bishops had stated on the issue of legalizing contraception; funny isn't it, how it always seems to come back to whether or not the clergy follow the teachings of Humanae Vitae? Even though Humanae Vitae came out in 1968, two years after contraception was legalized in Canada, the mentality of acceptance of the prevailing secularization of society seems to have governed the course of action for Canadian bishops.

Father Alphonse de Valk was a vocal critic of the bishops' relationship to Parliament. He is still going strong in the publication Catholic Insight, of which he is the editor. De Valk chastised the bishops for submissivenss and for failure to intervene more directly in the political process. He states that they were overcome by a spirit of Vatican II, taking that spirit to be one of conciliation to the point of seeking harmony and goodwill at the expense of adherence to Catholic doctrine.

I find the following paragraph statement to be particularly poignant:


The distinction articulated by the bishops between moral and civil law, de Valk concedes, was motivated by a sincere and honourable respect for Canadian democracy and the diversity of ethical views that inevitably exist in a heterogeneous society. But, he argues, the bishops misplayed this distinction into the hands of cultural elites who advocated the total secularization of Canadian society and, concomitantly, the total withdrawal of the Catholic church from the political forum. Thus, apologetic and defensive at the hour of decision, the bishops offered 'no prophetic stand,' but instead stood by meekly as the 'legalization of abortion was introduced, defended and pushed through by a heavily Catholic party, thereby making Canada the only country in the world where Catholics bear this responsibility.'

I wonder who those cultural elites were? how many glasses of Scotch were clinked by bishops and parliamentarians, as the bishops mistakenly thought they could cozy up to the Catholic elected parliamentarians and all would be well? did they trust them too much? did a man like Trudeau convince the Catholic bishops, at least those who had power, to let him lead in the issue of abortion? have the Canadian bishops relinquished their right to speak in the public square by their initial statement on contraception, a statement that drew a hard line between church and state?

Having just finished Metaxes' biography of William Wilberforce, Amazing Grace, what would have happened if Wilberforce had thought that civil law was not to be informed by moral law? We need one or two moral giants in this country, men who are not afraid to speak of morality when it comes to legislation. Our complete lack of protection for the unborn, and cases like the judge who acquitted the woman who killed her newborn child in Alberta, illustrate how desperately we need morality to inform the law. Law is a teacher, and when you have no law or laws that are immoral, then you are guilty of teaching people to live immorally.

A very good priest once said to me "there are going to be a lot of bishops spending a lot of time in Purgatory."

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