Left to right: Charles Lewis, Alexander MacDonald, Phil Horgan, Tonia Granic, Christian Elia and Dr. Robert Walley.

Robert Walley (right) receives the Adam Exner Award from the Catholic Civil Rights League, represented by board members (front from left ) Charles Lewis, Alexander MacDonald, and Tanya Granic, and CCRL president Phil Horgan (back left and executive director Christian Elia (back right).

Former religious freedom ambassador discusses the public square

The Catholic Civil Rights League presented its 2017 Archbishop Adam Exner Award for Catholic Excellence in Public Life was presented to Robert Walley, the British-born Newfoundland physician who founded Matercare International, an organization that aides women in Africa who receive inadequate maternal health care.

CCRL president Phil Horgan told The Interim that in a year in which Ottawa committed $650 million over three years to promote abortion and “reproductive health” abroad through foreign aid, it was a good time to recognize Walley’s life-saving work.

Horgan told the nearly 200 people in attendance at the June 19 annual CCRL dinner, “in the many years of the work of MaterCare International, Dr. Robert Walley has been a shining light, and a true ambassador for Christ and His Church. MaterCare International has developed maternal and infant care projects in numerous developing nations, building hospitals and maternal care centres.”

Walley said MCI provides medical care to improve the health and lives of mothers and newborn and preborn babies. Walley explained, “where one or two would die in Canada per 100,000 live births, there about 790 per 100,000 would die.” He said his own work, as well as that of Matercare, is guided by “the ethic that all babies and mothers matter.”

Walley, who was trained in England before moving to Canada and teaching at Memorial University in St. John’s, said mothers are dying of preventable causes in the developing world and providing basic maternal care would go a long way to saving the estimated 300,000 mothers who die each year. Walley called the Trudeau government’s $650 million plan to fund abortion and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, “waste and nonsense, complete obstetrical nonsense.” Walley said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is saying “if you want to stay alive, mother, kill your baby.” He said such a choice is “medical rubbish” and that with the correct interventions, both mother and child can be saved in most circumstances.

Matercare has not received Canadian taxpayer money for their life-saving, life-affirming work in the field.

Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes and REAL Women president Gwen Landolt, both past Exner award winners, said Walley was a worthy recipient. Landolt  told The Interim, “his work juxtaposes with Trudeau’s promotion with abortion,” noting both the doctor and prime minister are Catholics.

Andrew Bennett, Canada’s first ambassador for religious freedom and former head of the Office of Religious Freedom, was the keynote speaker. He spoke about the “proper disposition” of Christians in the public square. He said that all Christians must work “for the common good and human flourishing.” He said the state fosters the common good and pursuit of justice and that for individuals “to be in the service of the state is an idolatry.”

Bennett defended freedom of religion and freedom of conscience as foundational rights. He said that “thought precedes action” and that violating freedom of religion and conscience threatens the thoughts that should inform the actions of the faithful. Bennett said that increasingly the public square has become “a gated community” keeping out certain viewpoints, most notably religious ones. He called the result an “illiberal pluralism that dictates secularism.”

Bennett said Christians might bear some responsibility for this state of affairs. He warned against self-censorship: “we must not be afraid to profess our faith outside our homes and churches.”

The former ambassador who is now a fellow at Cardus, said both citizens and legislators must not put their faith in princes, need to talk forthrightly about what they consider right and wrong, and speak “without fear and in charity.”

Most of all, Bennett urged Christians to avoid the sin of despair, saying our age needs the message that “everyone has dignity because we bear the imprint of the incarnation.