A clearly-worded motion demanding protection for the unborn child was unanimously endorsed by 90 Catholic Bishops attending an annual Plenary Assembly held at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa in late August.
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The motion urged the federal government to “enact legislation which will effectively protect the lives of the most vulnerable – the unborn.”
It also called for respect for “life in all its states” and stated that having no law with respect to abortion “effectively allows abortion on demand.”
The Toronto Star drew attention to the fact that the bishops had a different motion before them at the start. The original motion, obtained by The Interim, included the words:
“We are fully aware of the efforts of the present government to introduce legislation governing abortion. We understand the difficulty of responding legislatively to such a serious issue in a pluralistic society. Difficulty, however, is not an excuse for inaction. We plead for action not because the issue is easy, but because it is important.”
Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais, newly elected President of the Canadian Catholic Conference of Bishops (CCCB), asked for the deletion of the section. According to the Toronto Star, Gervais said that pro-lifers could find in the deleted section “a lot of ammunition to discredit the bishops.”
The Archbishop clearly had it right. Pro-lifers are not out – and never have been – to “discredit the bishops.” But the notion that pluralism is some kind of excuse for not protecting basic human rights in legislation has been anathema to them since the debate began in the late sixties.
This deletion is more puzzling because all polls do in fact show a majority of Canadians opposed to “unrestricted” abortion. The vast majority of Canadians do not wish abortion used as birth control, as it is now.
Also, Bishop Robert Lebel, the outgoing CCCB President stated in his report that contacts have been made by the CCCB with pro-life persons and groups to “encourage understanding and collaboration.”
He cited specifically a recent meeting with Alliance for Life. However, it appears that this meeting was held at the request of the Alliance and did not deal with legal and political affairs. The pro-life organization covering that area is Campaign Life Coalition which has never been contacted by the CCCB since it’s founding in 1977.
Such contacts may still lie in the future.
Despite the above, abortion was only discussed briefly in a series of minor points. Much of the five-day conference focused on social justice and sexual abuse.
Almost two days were devoted to the topic of social-economic justice, partly in commemoration of the one-hundredth anniversary of the Labour encyclical of Pope Leo in 1891, Rerum Novarum. Rotating workshops on native peoples, unions, poverty, refugees, militarism, human rights, free trade were conducted by a variety of “social justice” experts of the kind which have dominated the CCCB’s public activity over the last 25 years, including of course, Bishop Remi De Roo.
However, the Canadian media were not interested in these issues about which they have heard so much in the past from the CCCB. They wanted to hear about the sex crimes committed by priests. The bishops’ committee on sexual abuse, chaired by Most. Rev. Roger Ebacher, Archbishop of Hull, states in one of its interim conclusions that the scandals are largely to be attributed to a general lack of moral values.
Responding to a question from the Ottawa Citizen, committee member Adam Exner, Archbishop of Vancouver, said that “priests and brothers convicted of sexual assault somehow failed to integrate moral teaching into their lives, and there may be a need to improve the teaching of moral values in seminaries.” He also stated that studies indicate that sexual abuse is not related to celibacy. It can and does appear among a wide variety of professional groups, he said.
The committee’s interim report was prepared by three bishops, a nun, a priest and two lay people. Its final report is not expected to be presented until next spring.
Moral or social causes?
Although a large proportion of attention was given to the issue of sexual abuse, there was not discussion of pederasty and pedophilia, nor of the homosexual ‘lifestyle’ promoted these days as normal behaviour.
Although the sex abuse committee cited a lack of moral values to be found amongst certain priests, a new kit designed to address sexual abuse will focus on social solutions and causes.
In this upcoming report, the committee will cite factors such as friendlessness, alienation and isolation of priests as partial explanations for sexual abuse problems.
The report will recommend changes in how seminarians are selected and formed. In addition, diocesan committees will be “established to welcome victims, to hear their stories, and to access healing and therapy for them.”
The extend to which the sex abuse scandal is being used in an attempt to restructure the Catholic Church along secular and feminist lines was strongly in evidence in a letter sent to the bishops from the Coalition of Concerned Canadian Catholics (CCCC).
The letter, obtained by The Interim, was signed by Patrick Donohue and Joanna Manning. Mrs. Manning resigned as the editor of Religious Education Guidelines for the Archdiocese of Toronto two years ago, but continues as head of Religious Studies in her Toronto high school.
In the letter Donohue and Manning attack the Church’s past “evangelization of native people,” citing “attitudes of superiority which provided the excuse for a white colonial oppression utterly at odds with the Gospel message.”
Mrs. Manning, like the authors of the Winter commission Report who studied the Mount Cashel (Newfoundland), sex scandal, condemns the Catholic Church as “patriarchal” and “authoritarian” and therefore somehow naturally prone to give comfort to sexual attacks by adults on children.
Much of what was said in the letter was republished in an article under Manning’s signature in the Toronto Star (August 26/91). The article appeared just as the bishops meeting was getting under way.
Besides a personal attack on Archbishop Aloysius Ambrozic of Toronto, the Manning article contained an accusation that in promoting “the feminine virtue” of humility, the Catholic Church is echoing the views of mass murderer Marc Lepine!