Divisions among Catholics
over church sponsorship continue

By Paul Tuns
The Interim

The World March for Women 2000, a feminist event that has caused tremendous controversy within the Catholic Church in Canada, wrapped up its activities Oct. 15-17. The Canadian march committee led a demonstration on Parliament Hill and presented a list of demands to the Prime Minister, while the global contingent marched on the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Participants in the Oct. 15 parade in Ottawa displayed signs with radical feminist slogans such as “Vagina Power” as well as support for organized labour, nationalized daycare, affirmative action, homosexuality, and abortion. Afterward, seven representatives of the March, including five pro-abortion feminists, met with Prime Minister Jean Chretien and demanded an end to poverty and violence against women and support for abortion and lesbian “rights.”

Over the past eight months, Catholics have been divided over participation in the event. Pro-lifers have criticized the support the March received from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, the Canadian Women’s League, and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, because among the Canadian and international demands were calls for abortion and the acceptance of homosexual behaviour.

Six Catholic Bishops participated in a Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral where anti-Catholic bigots held obscene signs about the Pope and faith in general. The bishops were Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais, Calgary Bishop Fred Henry, London Bishop John Sherlock, Moncton Bishop Ernest Leger, Edmonston, N.B. Bishop Francois Thibodeau, and Sault Ste-Marie Bishop Paul-Andre Durocher.

Jakki Jeffs, a life member of the CWL and president of Alliance for Life (Ontario), told The Interim’s on-line news service, LifeSite, that the CWL leadership had committed to support the March without consulting the CWL membership. Many grassroots CWL members have raised the issue with local councils and regional meetings and several local affiliates have withdrawn their support. Two parish groups have withdrawn from the CWL as a result, and at least three more are considering doing so.

CWL executives want to avoid further discussion of the issue, and CWL Toronto president Karen Lawless cancelled the seven regular fall CWL meetings in her area, claiming she feared opponents of the March would cause disruptions. The issue, however, is not going away – all eight Toronto priest-spiritual advisors wrote to Mrs. Lawless pleading with her to reconsider her support for the March.

Moreover, CWL national president Vivian Bosch has increased tensions by threatening in an Oct. 10 letter to revoke Jakki Jeffs’ life member status. Ms. Bosch said that Mrs. Jeffs’ public objections to the CWL’s participation in the March had brought Mrs. Jeffs’ “loyalty” to the CWL into question. Ms. Bosch reminded Mrs. Jeffs that the national president is “the sole spokesperson for the Catholic Women’s League of Canada,” and claimed some other life members were “embarrassed that one of their sisters would allow herself to publicly convey personal opinions which contradict those of the national president, the national executive and national council.”

In response, Mrs. Jeffs explained that she has spoken publicly on the issue “because it has been made clear to me by the numerous communications I have received from CWL representatives and spiritual advisors at parish, regional, diocesan and provincial levels across Canada that they have been crying out to be heard by the national president, the national executive and the national council. Their claims are that they have not been heard or that their concerns have been rejected and as a result they feel betrayed by their duly elected national officers, a feeling that I share.”

CWL leaders say their support of the March is limited to its goals of ending violence against women and poverty. But Fr. Tom Lynch wrote in the Oct. 2 Catholic Register the March “does not allow for our voices to be both heard and properly distinguished in regard to seeming to agree to immoral positions overtly supporting and promoting violence against the unborn and homosexual privileges.”

Several Canadian bishops – including Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic of Toronto, Vancouver Archbishop Adam Exner, Hamilton Bishop Anthony Tonnos and Yarmouth, N.S. Bishop James Wingle – have expressed opposition to the March. Archbishop Gervais, however, told pro-lifers that they should not shun the March, but take part and highlight abortion as a form of violence.

Responding to Archbishop Gervais’s challenge to present a pro-life message at the March, eight members of the pro-life committee of Holy Redeemer Church in Ottawa created a 12-foot banner to carry in the March, and rented an airplane to display the message “Stop the Violence from Womb to Tomb” while the March participants were gathered on Parliament Hill.

Betty Smith, one of the organizers, told The Interim they thought the message was consistent with the anti-violence goals of the March. “Many people came up to us and thanked us for our presence but others were not so happy to have us there,” she said.

Smith stressed it was not a counter-demonstration, that the groups took part in the March. She said they were “Pleased that we got the message out,” calling it “balance” to the overwhelming pro-abortion message, including signs from Catholics for a Free Choice. The efforts of the pro-lifers from Holy Redeemer got extensive coverage in the local Ottawa media.

While Archbishop Exner was among the strongest opponents of Catholic participation in the March, he appeared to soften his stance last month when he announced he would go ahead with his diocese’s annual contribution to the CCODP, which donated $135,000 to the March. Earlier he had withheld Vancouver’s contribution in protest; but the archbishop explained that he was satisfied abortion and homosexuality no longer figured prominently in the Canadian March demands.

Unfortunately, however, it was the international demands specifically which the Catholic groups endorsed, and those demands have not been changed. Moreover, the Canadian demands still include strident references to abortion on demand and lesbian rights. The Canadian March committee’s preparation of a list of 13 immediate demands for the federal government – which did not mention abortion or homosexuality – made it look to some as if the overall agenda had changed.