I have been a Catholic for 74 years and a priest for 47 – an interesting juxtaposition of figures! If half the things people say about me are true, I must be an “Orthodox” Catholic. Basically that means that I accept the official teaching of the Catholic Church as proclaimed by the Pope and the bishops. Obviously there is more to it than that… Bt let’s put it another way. If I do not accept the teaching of the Pope and the bishops (the Magisterium of the Church), I am not an “Orthodox” Catholic – even though I practice the faith in other areas. I think this is an important principle to lay down in view of what I have to say.
However, this principle does not extend to a conference of bishops. One can remain an orthodox Catholic while not agreeing with the particular decisions or actions or lack of actions or policies of a conference of bishops, unless those decisions, etc., are a necessary consequence of the teaching of the Magisterium. As a rule I do not find myself at odds with the deliberations of the bishops.
A recent decision – or lack of decision – on the part of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), has disturbed me more than I can express in words. It is the failure of the bishops to endorse the Mitges’ Motion in favour of the unborn.
To get the entire matter into perspective, I shall have to backtrack somewhat. The Vatican II Document, The Church in the Modern World, condemns abortion as “an abominable crime.” A 1974 Vatican document, Declaration on Abortion, has this to say on the question of law and abortions, “Whatever the civil law may decree in this matter, it must be taken for granted as absolutely certain that one may never obey an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law approving abortion in principle…”
In 1976, Archbishop Pocock withdrew the support of the Archdiocese of Toronto from the United Way as a protest against the fact that the United Way had begun supporting abortion. In 1982, His Eminence Cardinal Carter sent a personal communication to the then Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, regarding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It began with these words: “I am greatly distressed by the failure of the proposed Charter to protect, in any way, the rights of the unborn.” The Charter was not changed and remains the same today. Half a million unborn babies (a conservative estimate) have been murdered with the “blessing of its ‘rights and freedoms.’” So, the Cardinal’s reason for being greatly distressed is still valid. Politically speaking the fate of the unborn appeared to be sealed.
Then, at last, we heard a voice of courage. It did not come from our Catholic Prime Minister – or from any of our Catholic Members of Parliament. It can from Dr. Gus Mitges, a non-Catholic. Dr. Mitges proposed amendment appears to me to be just exactly what Cardinal Carter and other bishops would have hoped for in 1982.
Here is the Motion. “That, in the opinion of this House, the Government should consider the advisability of amending the Constitution Act, 1982, to include unborn human persons that the Governor General issue a Proclamation under the great seal of Canada to amend Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms so that it reads as follows: ‘Everyone, including a human foetus or unborn human being, has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.’”
The only thing that is added to the original Charter is the one sentence, giving the right to life to the unborn. Here was a glorious opportunity for the Catholic Bishops to go into action to rouse the silent pulpits; challenge the apathy of Catholics by encouraging them to flood their elected representatives in parliament with demands that they vote in favour of the unborn. But the bishops failed to grasp an opportunity.
We need explanation from bishops
The story is a sad one. Here are the pertinent parts of a letter sent by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to Members of Parliament dated February 18, 1987. Typed on official notepaper and signed by the two Secretaries General (French and English) to the CCCB, it says: “The Bishops have asked us to send you their most recent statements on abortion so that you can know that their unequivocal position is that: From conception to natural death every effort must be made to safeguard and enhance life and to promote everyone’s full human development. For this reason we oppose abortion, the deliberate taking of an innocent and most vulnerable life.”
The obvious conclusion from the statement should be something like this: “We therefore fully and unequivocally endorse the Mitges’ Motion and call on all Catholics in Parliament to vote for the amendment.” But here is the incredible conclusion in the last sentence of the letter. “However, they (the bishops) do not want their position to be understood as necessarily endorsing the constitutional amendment recommended by Mr. Mitges as the most suitable means to implement this right to life of the foetus.”
The bishops do not give any explanation – and I think we need one – for arriving at such an illogical and un-heroic conclusion. Neither do they make any suggestions as to a better means for protecting the unborn.
I, for one, cannot think of a better solution than that of having their rights enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Why would the bishops not positively endorse this Motion?
Perhaps there are political or procedural reasons, but to the ordinary reader like myself, it simply means that the Catholic Bishops have publicly refused to protect the lives of thousands unborn babies. As a Catholic, I feel let down, disappointed and ashamed.
Of course, pro-abortionist members of Parliament made ample use of the bishops’ letter to encourage their colleague’s vote against the motion. To mention two, Svend Robinson and Mr. Harry Brightwell. In a recent court case in Vancouver, a group of pro-abortion feminists quoted the letter in favour of their pro-abortionist stand in the case of a baby whose life has been save. Often the “things we do” are less harmful than the “things we fail to do.”
The use which the pro-abortionists have made and will make of this letter creates, in my opinion, an obligation on the part of the authors to explain why it was written.
In the meantime, in the immortal words of Pontius Pilate “Quod scripsi, scripsi.” And let the chips fall where they may. After I had written the above, I received a copy of a press statement issued by Archbishop Plourde of Ottawa and apparently sent to all parishes in his Diocese. Significantly, it is dated some two weeks after the letter which I have quoted above from the CCCB office. The Archbishop says:
“Dr. Marion Powell recently recommended that our Provincial Government allow hospitals to make abortions more easily obtainable. Statistics reveal that over 65,000 human beings die each year because of abortion. Can the principal causes of death such as cancer, heart attacks, or highway accidents, taken individually, claim as many victims? Shall we accept with lightness of heart that abortion becomes ‘Enemy Number One’ of human life in Canada?
“Furthermore, our Canadian Government is currently studying legislation (Private Member Bill: Motion M37), which if passed, would officially recognize the right to life of a child from the moment of conception. In conscience, we cannot remain passive or indifferent when confronted with these two recommendations.
“I therefore invite all those who strive for the respect of human life – whether it be for the child in the womb or for the handicapped, the sick, the poor, the marginalized or for all human beings, to let their convictions be know in terms of their opposition to the Powell recommendations and their support for Motion M37, by writing to their elected representatives and/or Prime Minister and Premier.
“Those who have opted against life are perhaps counting on the complacency or apathy of those who opt for life in order to attain their goals. We must unite to protect and defend life.”
It is certainly encouraging to know that all the bishops did not agree with the last sentence of the CCCB letter.