Father Greene spoke to CLC about Freedom and Democracy, his close relationship to Fr. Ted Colleton, Linda Gibbons, and spending the day with Mother Teresa
Father Robert Stuart Harvey Greene, served as a warehouse operator and gunner in a tank crew with the 5th Armoured Division of Lord Strathcona’s Horse serving in England, North Africa, Italy, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Germany. Following the war, Greene returned to Canada where he studied Arts and Theology and eventually became an Anglican Priest. He and his wife Marion have been married for over 60 years.
Campaign Life Coalition: How did you get involved in the pro-life movement in Canada?
Canon Robert Greene: Some of my pro-life sentiments come from some of my wartime experiences. I came to a position that war was bad, capital punishment, euthanasia, abortion, the whole list. That probably became part of my thinking and philosophy after I returned from overseas and so I carried that out by getting very involved in the pro-life movement in Calgary in the late 1960s and ‘70s when abortion was still illegal, and I blossomed forth in Winnipeg when I was one of the founding members of ‘Pregnant in Distress’ led by Mrs. Paul Adams. When I got to Toronto, Ian Gentles, one of my wardinates in St. Bartholomew’s church in Regent Park where I was from 1977-1993, was very strongly pro-life.
CLC: You had a great relationship with the late Fr. Ted Colleton?
Canon Greene: When I got to Toronto, that was probably my closest involvement with Linda Gibbons and Fr. Ted Colleton where we picketed many times the various abortion facilities in town. Fr. Ted … I have some very fascinating stories about him.
One time, Fr. Ted was saying his rosary in the back door of the Morgentaler clinic and a young cop arrested him and put him in the car. I was furious, so I went over and I said, “officer, what are you doing arresting this harmless priest in his 70s? If you want to justify your existence, come over to Regent Park and I can show you where they are selling crack cocaine to 12 year old kids 50 yards from the front door of my rectory house.” The guy got so nervous, he put the car into forward and drove into a pole.
I can hear Fr. Colleton in the car with the officer saying, “now officer, don’t worry, we’ll be there in no time at all,” (speaking of 14th division). So I got into my car and followed him. Now I’m a canon in the Anglican church which is like a monsignor in the Roman Catholic church, and I very rarely use my title, but when I went into the 14th division headquarters, I said, “I’m Canon Greene and I want to speak to the inspector in charge” and so I was taken to his office and I said, “inspector, I’m here to pick up Fr. Colleton, perhaps you would like to know what’s going on out on the street?” And I said, “we have a video of your officers who have locked themselves out of one of their cruisers trying to get inside, and then right after that, one of your officers drove into a pole.” The inspector is getting really antsy at this point and can’t wait to get me out of there, so he processed Fr. Colleton and I picked him up and drove him out to the priory out on Kingston Road.
Fr. Colleton was great picketing on the lines, he was hilarious, he had all kinds of jokes and card tricks and everything like that, and had everyone eating out of his hands, and it was a joy just to walk with him. Yeah, he is one of my heroes. Not only was he extremely pro-life, but he wasn’t angry, he was happy about it. Even with the cops and everything, he never had an angry bone in his body.
CLC: Were you ever arrested with Fr. Ted?
Canon Greene: No, I always chickened out at the last minute. Mind you, I was rector of St. Bart’s in Regent Park and that was right next to 51st Division, right next door, so I knew all the cops. I remember once outside the abortuary at Parliament and Gerrard, they were bringing in a girl from the west detention for an abortion, and I was there trying to prevent it. If I was anybody else, the cops would certainly arrest me and toss me in, but they all knew me because I supported them in much of their work in Regent Park in all their drug situations, so I was a difficult person for them to lay hands on.
CLC: You met Mother Teresa. Tell me a bit about that experience.
Canon Greene: One year, Mother Teresa came to Toronto, it was quiet and wasn’t publicized at all. Her chaplain who was a friend of mine, Fr. Sheehy, came to the police station and said we want Mother Teresa shown around Regent Park which was the most depressed part of the city, and they said Father Greene would be a good person to do it. So I had Mother Teresa for the whole afternoon. I took her to the crack house, I took her to a place where there was a 24 hour drunk, I took her to all of the worst places around. It was hilarious. I took her into one house, where a 75 year old parishioner was looking after a 50-year-old alcoholic in a wheelchair and they couldn’t navigate the stairs, so I warned Mother Teresa that when she goes in there, that these people are very kind, but you will not sit down or take a chair, because you will have to watch for bed bugs, lice, roaches and every other creeping thing. Well the nuns that were in with me were so overtaken by the place, a few days later they came and cleaned the whole place up. One day we arranged for the nuns to go down to the Don Jail, and so I picked them up from their priory down in Parkdale. I was a bit late, so I was burning a bit of rubber on the corners, and a quiet little voice in the back of the seat, said, “Father, do you mind if we say the rosary?” I said, “Sisters be my guest, we have it in our parish every Friday night.” So in somewhat of a reduced rate of speed we got across town and got to the Don and they became involved there. They are just a fabulous order.
CLC: What is your take on Justin Trudeau’s recent statement on abortion and not allowing Liberal MPs and candidates to be pro-life?
Canon Greene: Well I think he is in the same boat as his father, the sinking boat. He is a self-professed Roman Catholic. All of the abortion legislation in Canada has been enacted by either a Roman Catholic prime minister or minister of justice. Fred Henry, the Roman Catholic Bishop in Calgary has got enough guts to say that these political people are not welcome in any of the schools of the Diocese of Calgary and if (Justin Trudeau) died, he might not get a Roman Catholic funeral. Coming back to your question, I hope that Justin Trudeau has slit his throat on that one, you know, really, the Liberals are just trying to get votes away from the NDP, it’s a political move.
CLC: The bishop in Ottawa has made a public invitation to meet with Trudeau but the meeting hasn’t happened yet…
Canon Greene: If I were Justin Trudeau, I don’t think I would want to go to such a meeting. Anyway, I think it’s tragic. Look at Tom Wappel and all the years he was a Liberal MP. And his main stance was pro-life, he must be really cringing now.
Years ago, when the Queen came to town, (former Alberta Premier) Ralph Klein had a dinner that the province put on for 300 people, but 25 of us were selected to meet the Queen personally. In the room was Paul Martin, who was the prime minister at that time – and he’s not my favourite Canadian – and so we were suddenly thrust together, and I said “Mr. Prime Minister, how can you, a card-carrying Roman Catholic, be in favour of this same-sex ‘marriage’ and these various things like that?” “Human rights” he says (like) that trumps anything that the church or God might teach eh?
CLC: Are Canadians losing their democratic rights?
Canon Greene: I think all the things we fought for are going down the drain right now, all these things that all of my buddies gave their lives for, have just gone by the board.
CLC: What advice would you give to pro-lifers?
Canon Greene: When I speak on November 11 (Remembrance Day), I say, you know, it’s not just waving the flag at those of us who are veterans, do something in your own life. If you’re going to be a teacher, volunteer to go to a third world country in Africa or Asia, to teach for a couple of years, or if you’re a nurse, do likewise, or a doctor, do likewise. When I go to high schools, I generally try to line up a nursing home and I say it’s nice for you to come out on November 11th and wave your flag, but do something positive in your life. I would like for some of you to get in touch with this nursing home so that you can go and speak to these old people, some of whom have no relatives, and read to them. That’s what I always tell them, if you really want to say thank you to those of us who gave you the freedoms you now enjoy, do something about it in your own lives, and make it worth it.
CLC: What do you do nowadays?
Canon Greene: I do a lot of speaking, especially around Remembrance Day. The tank regiment I served in, there were 50 WWII vets after the war and we’re now down to just two, and the other guy is immobile, so I’m the only one. I’m flying down to Toronto on November 2 and I will be speaking that week with Memory Canada. They asked me to speak three times a day, so I carry a bomb nose with me and pictures of our tanks and the bullets I dodged (four of them), certainly would’ve killed me in normal circumstances, so I’m grateful for having come through. So when I speak to kids, I tell them that I’m very anti-gun, very anti-violence and that life is sacred.