Monsignor Vincent Foy celebrated by friends and supporters

He was honoured not only for a remarkable 65 years of service to the Roman Catholic church and its people, but also for his strong and principled stand against a position taken by Canada’s bishops in 1968 that many saw as being at odds with the teachings of the Pope of the time, Paul VI.

Monsignor Vincent Foy was feted by about 225 people – including about 80 priests and bishops – at the Spirale Banquet Centre in Toronto on June 18. The event was staged by the Witness organization, a Toronto-based organization that promotes Catholic orthodoxy and adherence to authentic Catholic church teachings.

“It was an excellent evening,” said Witness president Jim Duffy. “There are not too many priests alive who have served that many years. But we were fortunate to have two of them at the head table – Monsignor Foy and Father Joseph O’Neill, who was Monsignor Foy’s classmate in seminary.”

Foy was born and raised in Toronto. He entered seminary in 1933 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1939. He was awarded a doctorate in canon law for studies at Laval University in Quebec from 1939 to 1942, then went on to perform a number of functions in the Archdiocese of Toronto, including serving as president of the Toronto Marriage Tribunal, which assessed applications for annulments to marriages and related issues. He was named a prelate of the church by Pope Pius XII.

It was in 1968 that Monsignor Foy moved to the forefront in terms of social issues and the Catholic church. In that year, Pope Paul VI released his encyclical Humane Vitae, which opposed the use of artificial contraception and, in turn, was attacked by some of the church’s more liberal elements.

The same year, Canada’s Catholic bishops met in Winnipeg and issued a statement that remains a bone of contention among Canadian Catholics to this day. In a document composed by Foy entitled “Tragedy at Winnipeg” (available on the internet at www.lifesite.net/ldn/2004_docs/tragedyatwinnipeg.pdf), it is reported that paragraph 26 claimed with respect to contraception: “In accord with the accepted principles of moral theology, if these persons have tried sincerely, but without success, to pursue a line of conduct in keeping with the given directives, they may be safely assured that, whoever chooses that course which seems right to him, does so in good conscience.”

Foy railed against that provision, noting that paragraph 26 “is self-contradictory … there is a rejection of the sufficiency of grace … it embraces the error of proportionalism … (it) opens up a world of subjective error.”

Many in the Canadian Catholic church have agreed with Foy, noting that the onset and growth of subsequent evils such as abortion had their roots in the Winnipeg Statement.

Certainly, those who attended the tribute event were in accord with Foy on that count. Like him, they have spent many of the last 26 years attempting to get the Canadian Catholic church hierarchy to recant its position on contraception. The latest effort is a petition drive launched by the lay group Rosarium and directed at the Canadian bishops.

“Monsignor Foy was ready to defend an encyclical that the Canadian hierarchy, on the whole, dismissed,” said Dr. David Dooley, professor emeritus of English at Toronto’s St. Michael’s College and associate editor of Catholic Insight magazine. “He was contending that loyalty to the Holy See was of the utmost importance. If there had been more like him, the great split in Catholicism might not have occurred. The attributes that I would emphasize are his fidelity and his persistence … He is certainly as much of a witness as we could ask for.”

Bishop Pearse Lacey praised Foy’s “deep pastoral experience” and noted that when he was appointed a bishop in 1993, it was to Foy that he turned for assistance. “It was through those encounters that I came to know and appreciate his gifts not only as a canonist, but as a father, a shepherd of his people … I wish to underline the fidelity, the faithfulness of Monsignor Foy in the divine model of the divine economy, leaving nothing unturned, nothing untried, both as a pastor and canonist, in order to help souls achieve salvation.”

Father Oliver Moloney, who met Foy in 1938 during the former’s first year of studies at St. Augustine’s seminary, commended his fellow priest for having the ability to see a problem clearly, express it properly and convince people that they must always follow the truth, the teachings of the church, in all matters of faith and morals.

“I admire the tenacity of purpose he has in seeking to do what he can to correct error and never be unkind to those in error,” he added.

Father Jonathan Robinson pointed to Foy’s intellectual integrity, courage and loyalty to the church, noting that, “Those three things don’t go easily together.” He also said Foy is a living example of how one can stand for the truth, be loyal to the church, maintain intellectual integrity and still be happy. “Thank you, Monsignor Foy, for teaching us how to laugh,” he said.

Tom Reilly, general secretary of the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops, offered congratulations on behalf of his organization, which he said is impressed with Foy’s record of service, his work, thinking and writing.

Father Alphonse de Valk, editor of Catholic Insight magazine, offered a historical perspective on the Winnipeg Statement, while Father Louis Di Rocco composed a song for the occasion, using the melody from The Rose of Allandale: “He’s a voice of faith and reason, whether in our out of season. A priest of great love, hope and joy – that’s Monsignor Vincent Foy.”

Taking the podium, Foy noted it was worth waiting 65 years for such an occasion. “At my age, it’s nice to be anywhere,” he quipped, adding that things have changed over that period of time. “My ordination suit cost $29.95. A beautiful pair of shoes, English leather, were $6 – with no GST.”

On a more serious note, he observed that when he was ordained, all priests in his graduating class knew they would be priests forever. “There was no identity crisis. We knew our model was Christ, the high priest. We all knew the necessity of devotion to Mary.”

He counted it a great privilege to be able to stand and offer the sacrifice of the Mass and gave thanks to God for a vocation he called “a great mystery – (God’s) choice in using such weak instruments to do this work.” He thanked his departed mother and father, as well as other members of his family and the Witness organization, which he said is doing great work in defending the truths of the Catholic faith.

He also paid tribute to Canada’s pro-life activists, a number of whom were present and whom Foy described as “frontline people battling for the restoration of the culture of life in Canada and throughout the world.”

As everyone filed out of the banquet hall at the end of the evening and offered his or her personal congratulations to Foy, it was understood that though he is at an advanced age, his efforts to keep his beloved Catholic church on the straight and narrow are far from over and he intends to continue to be a faithful witness in the years to come.

Some of Foy’s most recent writings can be accessed on the internet at www.lifesite.net