On Dec. 2, just days after erecting a nativity scene in front of old city hall in downtown Toronto, Gethsemane Ministries founder Suresh Dominic received calls from a Toronto news website inquiring about the display’s sign mentioning that it was made possible through a donation from Campaign Life Catholic.
Since 2006, Gethsemane Ministries has erected the Christmas display featuring an infant Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and stable animals to remind the public of the meaning of Christmas but after several statues were vandalized and stolen, it had to purchase a new set. Dominic told The Interim that rather than renting the figures each year at an annual cost of $500, they sought a donor to pay $5,000 for a new set. Campaign Life Catholic arranged for a donor who requested they honor a pro-life person. That acknowledgement appeared on the sign.
Five days after the initial inquiry, Torontoist.com called again asking about the connection between CL Catholic and the lay Catholic ministry Dominic leads. On Dec. 9, other news sources, including the Toronto Star and Global TV began making similar inquiries.
Dominic told The Interim that at noon of that day, he called the permit department to see if any formal complaints were made over the sign. He was told that there weren’t. Later that afternoon, he was contacted by the department to inform him that there was a now complaint based on the so-called political nature of the sign’s message.
While the display has been vandalized, there has never been a complaint against it until now.
The Star reported in a front-page story that Doug Macdonald, a Toronto resident, complained to the city about the “political message” on the sign. He told the Star, “You’ve got an overtly political group that is getting a city endorsement of their agenda … And here we are putting their political message” on public property.
While he says he has no problem with the religious display, Macdonald’s specific problem is with the 8.5 inch by 11 inch laminated paper sign noting the display was presented by Gethsemane Ministries and that the statues were donated by Campaign Life Catholic “in honour of the efforts of pro-life hero, Fr. Ted Colleton.”
Dominic said that recognition of donors is a normal practice and there was no intention to politicize the display. He was baffled that anyone objected to honouring Fr. Ted Colleton, a former Interim columnist and long-time activist. “We were simply crediting the donor and honouring their wishes.”
Dominic said he “totally believes” the controversy – the initial media inquiries, the complaints and the follow-up media coverage – “were manufactured.”
A city official told the media that the CL Catholic acknowledgement portion of the sign was not approved as part of the permit and violated Toronto’s Human Rights Policy, although there was no elaboration how.
Dominic and his team immediately responded by removing the acknowledgment portion of the sign by cutting off the lower third. Dominic said he is hopeful that the display will be back on city property next year.
Pro-life leaders attacked the city’s decision to heed the complaint. Campaign Life Coalition national president Jim Hughes said he was upset by the “utter hypocrisy” of a country honouring the abortionist Henry Morgentaler with an Order of Canada while “fuss(ing) over a tiny recognition to an elderly priest who has done so much for Canada.”
Pro-abortionists disagreed. Rosemary Ganley of Catholics for Choice Canada told the National Post CL Catholic was manipulating the Christmas message “to promote their ideas through the sentimentality around the Christian feast.”
Yet Monsignor Vincent Foy, a leading pro-life priest and theologian who has worked closely with Fr. Ted Colleton in the past, said it was apt to honour his colleague for his pro-life work at Christmas. “The message of Christmas is the greatest Life of all coming into the world and it should be a model for all of us in promoting life.”