Four leading Catholic bishops have spoken out against Justin Trudeau’s announcement that individuals who hold pro-life views will be banned from running as candidates for the Liberal Party, a policy that does not apply to sitting pro-life Liberal MPs. The bishops have chastised Trudeau for excluding faithful Catholics from seeking elected office under the Liberal banner, promoting abortion while presenting himself as a Catholic, and misrepresenting the reality of abortion in Canada.

On May 14, Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto issued an open letter to Trudeau, expressing his deep concern that pro-life individuals would be considered “not acceptable as candidates in your party.”

Cardinal Collins noted that if Pope Francis, “as a young man, instead of seeking to serve in the priesthood in Argentina, had moved to Canada and sought to serve in the noble vocation of politics, he would have been ineligible to be a candidate for your party, if your policy were in effect.”

He said that Catholics are members, supporters, and candidates of all political parties, but he implied that they would have difficulty countenancing Trudeau’s policy. “It is not right that they be excluded by any party for being faithful to their conscience,” Cardinal Collins said.

Noting that party leaders have the right to demand some level of party unity, he chastised Trudeau for extending party discipline to areas of “conscience and religious faith.” He insisted that “political authority is not limitless” and “does not govern all aspects of life.” He said no political leader should exclude “people of integrity, no matter how challenging they find their views.” He urged Trudeau to reconsider his policy of not allowing pro-lifers to run as Liberal candidates.

Trudeau spokesman Kate Purchase said the cardinal “has the freedom to express his deeply held beliefs” but that the Liberals will not change their policy. In a May 19 open letter to Liberal Party supporters, Trudeau said he understood many people disagreed with his decision but also launched an online petition in support of his own policy.

Trudeau has not directly answered the criticism of Cardinal Collins or any other Catholic Church leader. Three other bishops have publicly criticized Trudeau’s new policy and aggressive promotion of abortion.

Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast issued a pastoral letter on May 16 directing priests to make it available to parishioners to provide “guidance” to “the faithful in Ottawa.” In the letter entitled “Being in Communion with the Catholic Church on Moral Issues,” Archbishop Prendergast reiterated Catholic teaching that “one may not dissent from these core teachings on life issues and be considered a Catholic in good standing.”

He also wrote, “the position of the Catholic Church in favour of life at all stages is clear and unchanging,” and that “a person who takes a position in contradiction to the teaching of the Catholic Church on the value and dignity of human life from the moment of conception to the moment of a natural death, and persists in this belief, is not in communion with the Church’s values and teaching, which we believe faithfully transmit for today the teachings of Christ.”

He told the Catholic Register, “we can’t simply put our faith under a bushel basket.”

But he stopped short excommunicating Trudeau or announcing he would deny the politician communion. Archbiship Prendergast told the Catholic Register it would be premature to excommunicate Trudeau or deny him communion until he or a priest talked to the Liberal leader. “I have to presume that person is right before God unless there is evident signs that’s not the case,” but “if there are persistent signs of a resistance to hold the Church’s teaching, there would seem to be an incompatibility between what the Church understands and what the person is professing.”

Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton offered perhaps the strongest criticism in a column in the Edmonton Journal on May 21. He condemned Trudeau’s “use of one’s Catholic identity to justify a pro-abortion stance” because it “would mystify anyone familiar with the Catholic Church’s unshakable commitment to the protection of all human life, beginning with the child in the womb … our God-given human dignity is a bedrock principle of Catholic moral and social doctrine.”

In his letter to party supporters, Trudeau had invoked his faith and upbringing as part of the reason for his new policy on future candidates. “I had an extraordinary example in a father who had deeply, deeply held personal views that were informed by the fact that he went to church every Sunday, read the Bible regularly to us, and raised us very, very religious, very Catholic,” Trudeau wrote. “At the same time he had no problem legalizing divorce, decriminalizing homosexuality, and moving in ways that recognized the basic rights of the people.”

In that letter, Trudeau reiterated his oft-repeated claim that abortion is protected by both the Charter of Rights and the Supreme Court’s 1988 Morgentaler decision.

Archbishop Smith said Trudeau was wrong because the Charter of Rights does not mention abortion and the Court in Morgentaler acknowledged the right of Parliament to legislate abortion limits. Archbishop Smith said, “what we have in our country is not a constitutional right to abortion, but a failure of political leadership to address the matter.”

In a column on the diocesan website and reprinted in the Calgary Sun on May 17, Calgary Bishop Fred Henry said Prime Minister Stephen Harper and New Democrat leader Thomas Mulcair are comparable to “tweedledum and tweedledee,” meaning there is little difference between them in their refusal to acknowledge or engage the abortion debate. Bishop Henry went on to call Trudeau, “tweedledum-dumb” for his hypocritical pronouncement future Liberal candidates must support abortion despite the leader’s pledge that Liberal nomination races would be open and decided locally.

Bishop Henry said “regrettably our Members of Parliament are content to play a political game with life refusing to even discuss the question.”