A History of Canadian Catholicism by Terence J. Fay (McGill University Press, $27.95, 400 pages)

Terence J. Fay is a Jesuit priest and author of A History of Canadian Catholicism. The latter fact you would know from looking at the cover of the book. The former is impossible to find anywhere in the book, so great are the efforts to hide Fay’s religious affiliation. Not that he is embarrassed to be recognized as a Jesuit, for he is not even identified as a priest. He is, the back cover and inside introduction tell us, “a faculty member of the Toronto School of Theology for St. Augustine’s Seminary of the University of Toronto.”

A fair criticism of this book requires one of two things: an in-depth analysis of each flaw, a process that would take dozens of pages of The Interim, or a dismissal of the book by illustrating two brief points. Mercifully, this review will take the latter route.

In a section entitled, “Dissent to the Right and to the Left,” Fay begins, “Catholic dissenters from the right are centered in Opus Dei, Comunione e Liberazione, Focolare and the pro-life movement.”

Whatever may be said of the first three groups – and I would hardly call Opus Dei dissenters from the Catholic church – anyone who would classify the pro-life movement as a Catholic dissenter has clearly shown his own bias, and a disqualifying one at that.

In a curious but typical (for Fay) example of theological revisionism, the author argues that the correct Catholic stance on contraception is the position taken by the Canadian bishops in the Winnipeg statement in which the bishops presented Humanae Vitae, the papal encyclical on the issue, as “the ideal rather than a binding requirement.”

Because pro-life Catholics questioned that understanding of Humanae Vitae, Fay finds them to be dissenters, despite the fact they are upholding the views of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II (who re-affirmed the position in Evangelium Vitae).

Fay’s animosity toward the pro-life movement is illustrated in the next paragraph, when he describes the evolution of, in his words, “the well-organized and confrontational Campaign Life Coalition,” which is more interested in lobbying than “sympathetic support for pregnant women.”

(He conveniently forgets to note what CLC is lobbying for; namely, an end to abortion – a goal all Catholics must support.

He also charges politically active pro-lifers with elitism, saying they see themselves as a “distinct society” within the church and a group that is “the true leaven inspiring a lethargic and secularized church.”

By contrast, Fay’s treatment of feminist Catholics, such as the heretical Joanna Manning (who supports abortion and homosexualit)y, is one of fawning deference. He treats their concerns seriously and blames John Paul and others for the left’s dissidence.

But it is not merely on matters of interpretation in which Fay fails. In his two-paragraph treatment of the Companions of the Cross, he has erred in the presentation of facts. Fay says the Companions, originating in Ottawa, have 50 seminarians, 20 ordained priests, and “six parishes in the Ottawa area and have requests to open parishes in Canada, the United States and abroad.”

This is true as far as it goes, but he seems oblivious to the fact that the Companions have a parish in Toronto. They also run the Catholic chaplaincy at York University. Such errors understate the successes of this relatively new order of priests.