Part 1: L’informateur catholique
The Bishop’s criticism…introduces elements of ambiguity and even contradiction.
On May 3, 1992, Ottawa’s Archbishop Marcel Gervais addressed the Human Life International (HLI) Conference during a closing liturgy. American-based HLI is the world’s largest Catholic pro-life group.
Through his homily the Archbishop, who is also the President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), hoped to reach Canadian Catholic pro-life workers in other groups as well.
The Toronto Star headlined its new report “Catholic bishop cautions pro-life group.” Canadian Catholic weeklies carried mostly brief reports, although the B.C. Catholic carried the full text, as did The Interim (June, pp. 18-19).
Only one newspaper, the biweekly L’informateur catholique (31 May – 13 June) carried an analysis.
In a full-page editorial its editor, Mr. Paul Bouchard, both welcomed and criticized the closing address under the title: “Criticisms about pro-life violence sent to the wrong address?”
Bouchard notes that the CCCB President didn’t hesitate to criticize “a particular tactic or form of rhetoric which is causing hatred, mistrust and meanness of heart.”
We are all opposed to abortion, the Bishop said. But while he allows that different strategies are needed to fight this social evil, says Bouchard, his criticism that those who battle abortion turn to approaches more peaceful and less marked by confrontation than those they are actually using, introduces elements of ambiguity and even contradiction.
On the one hand, the Archbishop admits that those tactics are justifiable, yet a little further he asks pro-lifers “to consider approaches which are more peaceful and less confrontational.”
Is the Archbishop, Bouchard asks rhetorically, referring to pro-life marches and street protests, which sometimes provoke violent reactions from pro-abortionists? Are the pro-lifers to be held responsible for this? If so, what is left for Christians to influence public opinion. Are they the only ones to be denied the right to express their point of view?
Similarly with Operation Rescues, where pro-abortionists conduct themselves violently yet go free, while prayerful, peaceful pro-lifers get hauled away and arrested. Is passive resistance to be considered violent just because pro-lifers are practicing it? Are the pro-lifers, Bouchard asks, the only people who can be brutally attacked, arrested and scandalously condemned by judges without the Church coming to their defense? From which side does the violence come? If the defenders of unborn babies have a weapon in their hands, it is most often the rosary.
In passing, Bouchard states, one wonders about the silence of the “progressive” wing of the Church before this intolerable repression of human rights? Why does one never hear from them?
The Archbishop describes the different approaches taken by pro-life groups in the struggle against abortion as a sign of creativity and vitality. Given the nature of the present crisis, he said, one can even justify recourse to methods which may seem excessive – to draw the attention of an insensitive society to the violence which abortion represents.
Yet, after this generous declaration of principle, Bouchard says, the Archbishop implies that there is a problem with violent and confrontational attitudes among pro-lifers, adding that “no strategy, no matter how brilliant, no individual, no matter how heroic his or her witness or convincing the rhetoric, can be allowed to divide the Christian community into hostile and antagonistic factions.”
Well, says Mr. Bouchard, that’s how the beautiful boat of pluralism launched on the level of principle at the start of the speech strands on the level of practicality before it even gets to sea.
In conclusion, Bouchard draws a parallel between the pro-lifers and the violent rage directed against them on the one hand, and the behavior of Jesus and the rage of the scribes and Pharisees against Him, on the other. Should Jesus have kept quiet instead, so as not to be ‘confrontational,’ he asks?
Finally, as one who admits he can’t afford to get arrested himself, Paul Bouchard congratulates those who put their own person on the line. They are witnesses, he says, that the Church – against all appearances – is still alive in our century.
Part 2: An interview with our editor
Here Interim staff asked its own editor, Father Alphonse de Valk, who spoke at this Conference and was a concelebrant at the closing liturgy, about his thoughts on this homily.
Q. How do you interpret Archbishop Gervais’ address at the HLI Mass?
A. Archbishop Gervais made a point of coming over to the Convention to greet Bishop Austin Vaughan, one of the speakers, and on the closing date he put himself out once again to come over to the hotel and preside at Holy Mass and deliver a homily. I appreciate these gestures. I see them as bridge building, hopefully pointing to a better relationship with Catholic pro-lifers in the future.
Archbishop Gervais is the first bishop to have made such a move, a big difference, let us say, from the treatment HLI received from the English-speaking bishop in Montreal in 1986. Bishop Leonard Crowley refused to attend or even say the opening prayer, but then two weeks later, he presided at the liturgy of the national convention of Dignity, a group of Catholics who promote the homosexual lifestyle in direct opposition to the teaching of the Church.
In passing I note that one of the speakers there was Father André Guindon of Ottawa, who at the start of 1992 was given a year by the Vatican to retract his erroneous teaching on sexuality, including homosexuality.
Q. Why did the Montreal bishop refuse to come?
A. In a short note to Sr. Lucille Durocher, the Canadian director of HLI, he stated that he could not “support the objectives and the manner in which this organization operates.” He mentioned an “evident lack of respect toward persons…” and the “limited perspective taken by the organization on the whole area of human life.” The “evident lack of respect toward persons” was a reference to the criticism of the Canadian bishops by HLI founder Fr. Paul Marx for lack of action on the issue.
The other criticism refers to the fact that pro-lifers restrict themselves to the moral-sexual-marital crisis of our society – of which abortion is obviously the most visible part – and cannot see their way free to also get involved in socio-economic issues such as the housing crisis or unemployment.
Q. Didn’t the CCCB’s (Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops) French-language theologian, a Father Marcel Lefebvre, say something similar in Ottawa about HLI and its public demonstrations just recently?
A. Yes, he did. The Canadian Press reported him as stating that HLI is an “embarrassment.” He went on to say, “I think they really don’t serve the movement. They make people more aggressive on the other side. Is it with this violence – verbal violence at least – that we’ll convince people? I don’t think it’s the way.”
As far as I am concerned, it is people like Father Lefebvre who are an embarrassment to the Church. He and others like him have ignored the pro-life issues for 25 years, refusing to lift a finger on behalf of the unborn, even refusing to recognize the abortion violence as a social justice issue. Now they present themselves as judge and jury.
When someone calls a spade a spade, and speaks about sodomites, for example, they recoil in horror and speak of “verbal violence.”
And being ignorant of the debate of the last 25 years, they still think the abortion issue can be solved by being “reasonable” and rational. But the decision to have an abortion and to defend abortions in debate is much more an act of the will than of reason. It is not a matter of the head but of the heart. We are facing willful evil, not an intellectual sparring match under Oxford debating rules.
The record shows that the pro-life movement has gone to extraordinary lengths to demonstrate by reason and science how wrong abortion is for the individual and society. But many Quebec theologians know little of that. Until a few years ago, they hardly knew there was an abortion issue, so completely had they come to accept it. Some others have argued that it is a woman’s issue only.
Q. Some people at the conference took offence at parts of the Archbishop’s address. Do you agree?
A. In the adjoining article, M. Bouchard, editor of Montreal’s L’informateur Catholique, speaks his mind about the Archbishop’s discussion of “anger, confrontation and violence.” I agree wholeheartedly with his observations.
Yet it also seems to me that there is another way of approaching the Archbishop’s address: not as an analysis of the past, but as a program for the future.
As a program for the future, I agree with its overall thrust. I said the same thing myself, only in greater detail, in a different context in my talk on “The spirituality of the pro-life movement,” earlier that same Sunday morning: we mustn’t be angry or divisive, instead we must reach out in love, patience, longsuffering; we mustn’t allow the violence of abortion to overcome our own hearts and souls; a variety of tactics is necessary; every person does what he or she can; don’t judge one another. All of this, of course, is easier said than done.
The overwhelming majority of active pro-lifers of whatever denomination are deeply religious people who trust in the Lord, not in themselves. That’s why they make the sacrifices they do. They all agree with the above sentiments.
However, if the Archbishop’s statement is used as an analysis of immediate past relationships between pro-lifers and the Canadian bishops, or as a judgment on pro-life behavior as violent, then it misfires completely.
This may well have been the interpretation given it by the Public Relations people at the CCCB. Their press release of the address seemed to imply this.
Q. But isn’t the P.R. department of the CCCB close to the source, especially in view of the fact that the Archbishop is the CCCB president?
A. Yes, this is true. And as mentioned, some people who heard the address also took it in that light, namely an analysis of what has happened in the past. Hence they were angry with what they regarded as an unfair and inaccurate judgment.
If the Archbishop’s statement were to be interpreted in that sense; i.e., as a judgment about Canadian pro-lifers having been wrong (in the past) about picketing, Operation Rescues, opposing the renewed legalization of abortion under the proposed Bill C-43 (defeated in January 1991), etc., I would not accept it as accurate. In a forthcoming book about Interim editorials, I will try to review these issues as briefly and succinctly as possible, especially the question of “tactics.” In my view, the differences concerned were much more than mere tactics.
One difficulty is that abortion as a political issue pertains to the jurisdiction of the laity, not to that of the bishops. The task of the bishops is to uphold and teach the Catholic position in all its strength. But they should leave the political fieldwork to the people who have made that their task. Unfortunately, in the past, instead of doing this, the CCCB personnel has directly intervened in the political process, even to the point of contradicting pro-life strategies without knowing the first thing about them, and without even the most perfunctory consultation.
Q. So what is your final view of Archbishop Gervais’ May 3 homily?
A. In general, I like it. I prefer to see it as a general exhortation to all people of good will to guard against anger, division and useless squabbles, while continuing to battle the forces of death.
I just saw a news item indicating that the CCCB is setting up a liaison office with the broader pro-life movement. We are all in favor of increased communications.