On January 25 the Toronto Star reported that “Maureen McTeer, a practising Catholic and wife of External Affairs Minister Joe Clark, has become an honorary director” of the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League. McTeer was quoted as saying that – while she would never consider having an abortion herself – she believes as “a lawyer, a mother and a Christian,” that a woman must have the right to “control her own fertility.”
McTeer told the Star that moderate voices (like herself) might help defuse “some of the extremism.” The Church, she said, had taken a “very severe stand” on a number of “difficult, sensitive human issues” such as contraception, women’s ordination and abortion, but today there are Roman Catholics who hold different views from the Pope on these issues. She expected no repercussions from the Church.
Some pro-life leaders, asked for their comments, either downplayed the importance of McTeer, or expressed no surprise because McTeer was known to have approved of abortion since her husband entered politics, others thought she might now be excommunicated for taking this very public stand against her Church. (Toronto Sun, January 26, Globe January 27.)
These comments immediately brought down the wrath of such pundits as Dalton Camp: “McTeer disturbs banshees” (Star, January 28). Slinger’s column on the “political spouse factor,” (Star, January 28) reported Rev. Jack Gallagher, director of the Cardinal Carter Centre for Bio-ethics, as surmising that the Church would not impose a penalty on McTeer.
As usual, the Globe felt the need for an editorial. Entitled “Immoderate minority,” it ridiculed Baptist minister Ken Campbell’s letter to the Prime Minister suggesting that Mr. Clark should resign his Cabinet post unless his wife withdraws from the directorship. This idea struck the Globe as utterly ludicrous in a day and age when women have their own careers and opinions.
The sharpest contrast of views was provided readers of the Sun. Claire Hoy, the only one of the many columnists writing for the three Toronto newspapers who takes the pro-life side, headed his Sun column: “Abortion posting shameful.” He observed that Maureen McTeer’s coming “out of the closet as a champion of more abortions” and being given the title “honorary director” was sheer “tokenism” and “name catching.” It made the front pages, he said, not because of what McTeer had contributed, but because of her husband’s position.
The editor of Hoy’s paper, John Dowling, thought differently and headed his editorial “Moral bullies.” He spoke of “self-proclaimed Christians” losing “all semblance of Christian charity.” In order to balance this one-sided attack on pro-life he also proclaimed: “It [abortion] is not just birth control.” (McTeer’s directorship, of course, is with an organization whose sole purpose is to establish abortion on demand and abortion as birth control.)
Inevitably, on February 4, Laura Sabia, the Sun’s own “Catholic” pro-abortion columnist, made her appearance with “Yea, Maureen.” Sample of her writing: “All hell broke loose! The Womb watchers, the sperm worshippers and the fetus fetishists come out of the woodwork crying “foul” and “murder.”
The Catholic Register of February 10, carried a news story, an editorial and the editor’s column on the subject. Stan Koma’s news report included an interview with canon lawyer Frank Morrisey, o.m.i., in Ottawa. Father Morrissey pointed out that the case of Maureen McTeer obviously did not fall under Canon 1398, which covers “procuring an abortion,” for which the penalty is automatic excommunication. He went on to state:
“However, there are two other areas that have to be looked at. One is the area of public sin and the other, the area of scandal. Both are relative, and these factors have to be evaluated by the diocesan bishop.
In the case of scandal (Canon 1318), he said the higher the profile of the person involved, the greater the scandal. If scandal is involved, and Father Morrissey believes there is, the bishop has a right to intervene. “He could even go so far as to prohibit the person from receiving the sacraments publicly.”
McTeer’s bishop is Adolphe Proulx of Gatineau-Hull.
As for he substance of Ms. McTeer’s position, it was all summed up by a brief letter to the editor (Star, January 31) noting:
“A practising Catholic is one who accepts the teaching of the Church … Those who hold different views from those of the Pope and the church hierarchy are not true Roman Catholics.”