Charlottetown. ON January 11, the front page of the Charlottetown Guardian featured a large, full-colour picture of three persons: a man in a military uniform, an infant, and a young woman.
The accompanying caption explained that he was returning to his fiancée from military duty in the Persian Gulf and meeting his young son for the first time.
A local Roman Catholic priest, Fr. George Gilliland, gently chided the editor, pointing out that young people could easily conclude that this is an acceptable situation and the teachings of the Church and parents are outdated.
“How many couples who save their sexual commitment for marriage ever make it to the front page of The Guardian?” he asked. “There is a right way and a wrong way to go about things.”
He pointed out that the majority of Islanders, no matter what their faith, acknowledged the value of marriage and commitment. “You have a responsibility to acknowledge the morality of the people on our beloved island,” he said, and he urged the paper to both recognize and support the community’s commonly held values.
Father Gilliland carefully avoided expressing any judgment about the people involved, yet he was immediately condemned and ridiculed by local liberal commentators for his narrow views, rigid morality and judgmental ‘holier-than-thou attitude.’
“The only offensive thing is your incredibly narrow-minded nit-picking,” said one.
Another speculated that if only those who fulfill his moral ideals were permitted to grace the pages of our papers, Fr. Gilliland himself would not appear, and went on to wonder if he would ever allow the couple and child in the church.
One stated unequivocally, “The opinion he has expressed is illogical and insensitive, and does not represent the view of other clergy or members of the Roman Catholic Church.”
People of all faiths quickly came to the defence, commending his courage.
One letter quoted the Desert Fathers of the Church: “The time is coming when people will be seized by madness and will behave like madmen. And if they see anyone acting reasonably, they will rise up against him saying, ‘You are mad.’”
They said things like “You cannot excuse a sin by saying it looks nice in a picture.”
“We have a responsibility to recognize sin and teach our children the difference between right and wrong.”
“Wake up! The real war is not in Iraq, but for the souls of the people of the world.”
They said they want their clergy to give guidance and direction. “Our spiritual leaders have every right to speak out on this moral issue. Not to do so would be just another of the many ways of denying God,” said one.
And they blamed the media, which “appears to delight in displaying such situations.”
“With the media and TV,” a parent said, “We have our work cut out for us to bring up our children to honour marriage as a sacrament.”
Others pointed out that by unnecessarily drawing attention to the unmarried state of the couple, the paper was making its own statement of moral values.
In the end, Fr. Gilliland’s supporters greatly outnumbered his critics. In the process, many people who had never before done so – including some who had never expected to defend a Catholic priest – had spoken out publicly in defence of virtue and morality.