Questions abound regarding Fr. Raymond Gravel, the Quebec priest and former Bloc Quebecois MP who is suing LifeSiteNews.com. Questions, but no answers.
It all stems from a few basic facts on which there is general agreement. On June 29, 1986 Raymond Gravel was ordained a Catholic priest for the diocese of Joliette, Quebec. In 2006, Gravel plunged into the political arena by obtaining the political nomination of the Bloc Quebecois for the by-election in the riding of Repentigny. Over the years Gravel has spoken and written in public outlets offering his opinions on matters with moral and social dimensions. In his own words, he has often taken positions that challenged the Catholic Church teachings on certain sensitive subjects. In December of 2010, Father Gravel commenced a lawsuit against LifeSiteNews, claiming in his deposition that the pro-life news agency, through their reports on him, had defamed him and caused him to leave politics.
Essentially the problem stems from opposing views of what is Church, what constitutes faithfulness on the part of clergy, and the responsibilities of various authorities in sorting things out so that truth and justice as well as freedom are served with integrity. As is stated in the oath priests take upon ordination:
On the occasion of his diaconal and priestly ordinations, the plaintiff signs the form of faith, by which he “embraces as firmly and to retain any and all real truths that the Church proposes permanently on the doctrine of faith and morals. In addition, with religious submission of will and intellect, I promise to adhere to the doctrines set out, either by the Roman Pontiff or by the College of Bishops, exercising their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim by a definitive act, and the Pledge of Allegiance, in which I promise to always keep in communion with the Catholic Church, both in my speaking and in my actions/mode of behaviour.. In fulfilling the charge entrusted to me in the name of the Church, I will preserve its integrity in the deposit of faith, and I will transmit and explain it faithfully, so I will refrain from all doctrines that are contrary to it… In Christian obedience I will abide by that which pastors declare as authentic according to the doctors and teachers of the faith or determined by the leaders of the Church.”
There seems to be a serious disconnect between what was promised in that oath and what Fr. Gravel actually did. Admittedly, there have been other examples of clergy who have expressed dissenting views about church teachings. What is amazing is the lack of any sanction when Fr. Gravel and others transgressed against their solemn promise.
Given this undertaking cited above at the time of his ordination, and then the subsequent behaviour of Fr. Gravel, a series of troubling questions are raised, the answers to which, or lack thereof, cause genuine puzzlement. We know that the Church has been wracked with problematic behaviour on the part of some of its clergy. We also know that it is possible for people to reform their ways as they mature or experience a spiritual conversion, but it still begs the questions with respect to the very beginning of the saga: why was a former male prostitute who worked in a Montreal gay bar (for six years) allowed to enter the seminary?
Once ordained as a priest he maintained an interest in many of the controversial social issues of the day, especially those revolving around sexual matters, marriage, abortion, and Church teachings on these matters. Gravel adopted stances that increasingly were at odds with official teachings of the Church. This was public knowledge as he developed a certain reputation for being readily available for interviews on said matters.
Gravel is the author of “The Vatican is Wrong,” a 2003 article penned for La Presse, a Quebec newspaper. The article openly challenged magisterial teaching on same-sex “marriage” calling on Canada’s bishops to abandon the Catholic Church’s opposition to homosexual “marriage.” His other works include “Honourable Bishops, Be Silent!” an open letter (La Presse, 1999) which chastised the Vatican and defended a woman’s choice to have an abortionist kill her unborn child in the case of rape. In another piece in Le Devoir newspaper, “Henry Morgentaler: Hero or Criminal?” (which came out after the Order of Canada was awarded to the abortionist). Fr. Gravel’s position stood out enough as a contradiction that it drew the attention of the Canadian Press, who wrote of Fr. Gravel’s “support for the Order of Canada award to Dr. Henry Morgentaler.”
Gravel published numerous other open letters and made TV and radio appearances in which he spoke in favour of homosexual “marriage” and defended a woman’s choice to have an abortionist kill her preborn child. The Quebec cleric has repeatedly opposed recriminalization of abortion, even to the point of trashing Cardinal Marc Ouellet in the media in 2010 over the latter’s reaffirmation of abortion as a grave evil in all circumstances, including rape.
After a decade of priestly ministry, he caught the political bug and began to weigh the possibility of entering politics. This important step was clouded in mystery according to the many news reports in Quebec at the time of his political career, and several questions spring to mind: did he receive dispensation to run for political office from his bishop as he claims? In the Le Soleil newspaper of Nov 7, 2006, the priest was actually accused of “lying” because it came out that a previous insinuation of having received “a green light from the Vatican” was not true. Since permission did not come from the Vatican, why was he not prevented from running? When the Bishop of Joliette said that he had not given Fr. Gravel permission to run, why was the priest not censured or suspended for doing so? When the Bishop said that his priests’ council had given the go-ahead for Fr. Gravel’s candidacy, did they indeed have the authority to override the Vatican’s denial of permission? Why has this Bishop of Joliette not been censured by the Vatican or not been forced to resign due to his failure to stop the dissident priest?
While serving as a Member of Parliament, Fr. Gravel had been shorn of his priestly privileges (saying Mass and administering the sacraments) and he had promised not to vote on matters or in ways that would go against church teachings, yet as reported in a February 20, 2007 Fugues magazine interview, Fr. Gravel admitted that had he been an MP during the vote to redefine marriage, he would have voted in favour of homosexual “marriage.”
On another level it is strange that the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has not publicly rebuked the priest or his bishop over this scandalous matter. This silence is peculiar.
The law in Canada is supposed to protect freedom of the press, but one must then ask, why Fr. Gravel was allowed to file a lawsuit against a pro-life news agency when its stories on the seemingly dissident priest had first been reported on the CBC and in the French-language press in Quebec?
Repeatedly, throughout the many years of operating in the public square, before and after entering politics, the news reports showed him contradicting Church teaching on key issues, like abortion, same-sex “marriage,” women priests. Gravel was not shy about offering his opinion on these contentious issues. If LifeSiteNews was accurately reporting his statements as made to various Quebec media outlets, where was the harm? Why didn’t the priest sue the CBC and the papers in Quebec?
Finally, why did Fr. Gravel wait a full two years before launching his lawsuit against LifeSiteNews? What really motivates this priest’s lawsuit? Is it possible his claims of defamation are merely a pretense so he can conduct legal warfare against LifeSiteNews and silence a political opponent? Whereas the secular press cheerlead Fr. Gravel’s alleged dissent from Church teaching, LifeSiteNews frames it as damaging to the Church.
This has all the marks of a baseless SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) designed to squelch free speech, harass, and ultimately bankrupt LifeSiteNews with ruinous legal fees. It would appear Fr. Gravel is seeking to silence a pro-life organization because he strongly opposes their views. That is damaging to the Catholic Church because it encourages other dissenting Catholics to be brazen in their disrespect for Catholic teachings. It is also damaging to seekers of social justice and human rights, by potentially eliminating one of the most influential pro-life communications sources.
Fr. Gravel is claiming damages to the tune of $500,000, with the promise that if successful, the proceeds awarded by the courts would go to organizations like the controversial Development and Peace, another object of LSN extended coverage. The choice of potential recipient of the funds is instructive as to possible motives. What is there about Development and Peace that inspires this generosity on the part of Fr. Gravel? The reality is that organization was exposed by LSN for funding pro-abortion groups in some of their partnerships.
The lawsuit is troubling for LifeSiteNews, but more troubling are the many unanswered questions surrounding the saga of Fr. Gravel and the silence of the Canadian bishops.