Among groups which have let Canadian society and the Catholic community down, the politicians stand out. The Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau and John Turner which legalized abortion in 1969 was in majority Catholic (245 out of 34 Cabinet Ministers). As pointed out over ten years ago, this makes Canadian Roman Catholics the only group in their Church to have this dubious distinction.
Conservative politicians such as Prime Ministers Joe Clark in 1979 and Brian Mulroney since 1984, have adopted the same attitude. Politicians on the provincial level are no better, witness the current Liberal governments in Quebec and Ontario, both supporting a full slate of government-funded abortions and abortuaries without so much as a peep of protest from their large contingents of elected Catholic representatives. As for the NDP, some Catholics joined the party thinking it to be the political embodiment of Christianity. They have made no dent in its officially promulgated pro-death abortion platform.
Yet one cannot wholly blame the politicians themselves, at least not as long as there remain clerical spokesmen who seem to be almost as blind as they are on this subject. Take last year’s federal election campaign when the Ontario Bishops Conference addressed the abortion issue. The Bishops’ statement wasn’t a ringing declaration but it conveyed the message, although it started rather weakly with the phrase “Among the principal issues concerning Canadians is abortion.” The remainder of the statement made it clear that in the eyes of the bishops abortion was more than just one of many issues.
The text of this statement was never published in the daily newspapers. What did get publicity, in Toronto’s biggest daily, the Star (October 12, 1988), was an interview with Fr. Angus MacDougall, the secretary of the Ontario Bishops. The bishops, he stated, give neither a blanket endorsement of the pro-life candidate nor a blanket rejection of a pro-choice candidate. “We are trying to be a little more nuanced than that,” he was quoted as saying. This he followed up with:
“We don’t want to make the election a one-issue thing. That’s not fair, really. If a candidate is excellent is nine points out of ten, you can’t damn a person like that. But you could raise with that person the seriousness of the pro-life option.”
When I phoned Father MacDougall it became quickly evident that he stood by the interview.
Now if a politician were fine on nine points but would also be anti-Semitic, the newspapers would howl for his scalp and Fr. MacDougall, I am sure, would advise us not to vote for such a person. If a politician were fine on nine points but would also be a racist, everyone including Fr. MacDougall would, I am sure, want to denounce him. But let a politician be fine on nine points and also think that killing unborn babies is a matter for a woman and her doctor to be provided for by the state, and we are advised that this shouldn’t prevent us from voting for him or her. After all, “you can’t damn a person like that.” This we are told twenty years into controversy. So with opinions like that nobody should be surprised that many Catholic politicians remain indifferent to the issue.
The Church teaches that Christians have a duty to take part in public life.
The recently published follow-up document on the 1987 Synod o the Laity recognizes two modern temptations for the faithful: to be so strongly interested in Church affairs as thereby to neglect their responsibilities in the political, cultural, and professional world; and to adopt an unwarranted separation of faith from their lives in various situations in the world. The document encourages a change in both attitudes. Our concern centers on the second temptation.
Twenty-five years ago, in 1963, Pope John XXIII had noted the same trend when he stated in Pacem in Terris, his encyclical letter Peace on Earth, that “it is no less clear that today, in traditionally Christian nations, secular institutions…not infrequently are but slightly affected by Christian motivation or inspiration. It is beyond question that in the creation of those institutions many…contribute who were believed to be and who consider themselves Christians; and without doubt, in part at least, they were and are. How does one explain this?
“It is our opinion that the explanation is to be found in an inconsistency in their minds between religious belief and their action in the temporal sphere.” (paragraphs 151-152).
In a 1980 lecture at Regina’s Campion College, Father Colin Campbell, a political science professor at York University, stated that Canadian Catholic civil servants have the same value system as others. He did allow that “more Catholics than non-Catholics register wider horizons in their view of public service,” especially by a willingness to consult ore with business, unions and ethnic, religious and citizens’ groups. But a survey of 92 senior officials in five of Canada’s key bureaucratic departments, he said, found that the 35 Catholic “mandarins” among them viewed public service as a patriotic, professional and secular commitment. In analyzing their responses he found that “personal faith plays no explicit part in our respondents’ views of their work.
Of some interest is the fact that this finding was in contrast to a similar survey done among bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. There the political scientist did find a number of top people who had taken concrete steps toward “a more conscious application of personal values to their work,” mostly by involving themselves in regular prayer and discussion groups.
The situation of civil servants is considerably different from that of politicians. They have less scope for radical policy changes, for example. Nevertheless, there are many decisions of a bureaucratic nature which also carry great weight in maintaining a just society. The fact that civil servants now see their task as one which has no bearing on their Christian faith is sad. Nothing is more needed today than conscious, deliberate, patient reflection on the issues of the day from within the Christian tradition.
I am not referring merely to quoting from the Bible. There is a 2000-year-old Christian history of religious, philosophical, theological, political, cultural experience. This includes the appropriation and incorporation of much of the best the human mind has produced outside Christianity. Despite all that is said to the contrary, Christianity has been and remains the creative force in the building of the world as we know it today.
Indeed, the Christian faith is absolutely necessary to maintain a well-ordered world. The more “secular” the world has become, the greater the disasters it has had to endure. Beginning with the totalitarians regime of the French Revolution (1789 ff.), which first appropriated and then tried to demolish Christianity, secularism has come to hold ever wider sway until it reached its triumph in the horrors of the first world war and then in the Lenin-Stalin-Marxist and the Hitler-Nazi regimes of the twentieth century.
Well, one may say, Hitler is gone and the Marxists are about to change. Meanwhile, our societies in the West are doing well with stable democratic traditional and reasonably good government. What more do we want?
The whole point of this epistle is the observation that our society is not doing well; on the contrary, it is involved in a massive slaughter of unborn innocents and about to being another one of the elderly and the unwanted handicapped.
For years Catholic Canadians and others have pointed accusing fingers at the supposed failures of German Catholics in dealing with a rising tide of anti-Semitism and Nazism in the nineteen twenties and thirties. But when we examine the parallel cases of Germany in the thirties and Canada in the eighties ever so briefly, the judgment is more against Canadian Catholics today than against the German Catholics of yesterday.
Anti-Semitism was certainly virulent in the Germany of the twenties. After 1933 and the coming of Hitler its first consequences were soon noticeable in the form of firings, imprisonments, expulsions and discrimination. But its full horror was neither implemented nor revealed until ten or more years later. By that time Hitler’s thousand year Empire was already in its death throes.
The Catholic Bishops experiencing the enmity of the Hitler regime in a hundred different ways never found the opportunity, or perhaps the courage, to condemn Hitler’s anti-Semitism in a formal public way. Once the war started, it was even more dangerous to do so.
In 1941, one German Bishop, Cardinal von Galen, plucked up his courage and from the pulpit denounced the new euthanasia program for the physically and mentally handicapped. It halted further killing, though perhaps the main task had been accomplished already, with over 100,000 so-called “useless eaters” having been exterminated.
If Hitler’s Reich had extended beyond its allotted 12 years, von Galen surely would have paid for his audacity with his life. As it was, he lived to tell about it.
Parallel with Canada
What German Catholics could not or would not do under severe hardships and a regime of terror and death, Canadian Catholics have failed to do in a period of affluence, under affable governments full of pleasantries.
While Germans feared for their lives if they opened their mouths, Canadians stand to lose nothing at all. Yet, or perhaps, because of it, they don’t even seem to know that they ought to stop the slaughter. The whole world is doing it, the feeling seems to be, so why should we be any different.
While Hitler (protected by state-wide propaganda, clever ruses and a vicious secret police) executed his death dealing anti-Jew policies in secret during a period of less than five years, disapproving Canadians have watched the extermination of over one million pre-born babies over a period of 20 years with eyes wide open, in perfect freedom. We seem to fear the frowns of politicians and the displeasure of the media more than losing our own integrity, faith and perhaps even sanity.
There are some people who believe that nothing ought to be done. James MacLean of the Religious Studies Department at Memorial University in St. Johns, Newfoundland, who writes a column for the Catholic monthly The Monitor, thinks the present situation is perfectly acceptable. In December 1988, he noted in his column that: “today no institution provides a set of beliefs and morals that command universal assent.” Exaggerating the situation by writing of “a cacophony of conflicting moral claims,” he then states that:
“A society, such as ours, based on technological and bureaucratic efficiency, does not need the kind of moral cohesiveness of traditional societies in order to function.” (emphasis mine). Indeed, “moral considerations can often be an impediment to…economic progress,” he believes. He states that Christians, “must be uncompromisingly faithful to the Gospel,” yet he also thinks that “we cannot tell others that they should not practice abortion or build nuclear weapons simply because God said so.”
I see this argument as a surrender to the secularist spirit of the day. This would have us believe that it is now inappropriate to speak from a religious point of view, because all denominations are just “sects” and sectarianism is something which demeans and threatens a truly objective and rational judgment. But Christianity is not a “sect” even though a few Christian groupings may come close to fulfilling that description. The Lord Jesus is neither Buddha nor Mohammed but the son of God in whose name alone we are saved.
An all-embracing tolerance for truth and untruth alike cannot survive over time. It will cause much suffering while it lasts. Then it must collapse of its own contradictions, with society either returning to a robust religious conviction or marching on to the horrors of atheist totalitarianism.
It is Christianity which makes our world endurable. It is Christianity which still inspires Canadians, no matter what the secular rhetoric. It is Christianity, no matter how vociferous its own dissenters, which holds our solutions.
The time has come – after 20 years of prevarication and self-doubts – to reassert the strength, the rationality, the comprehensiveness of the Christian teaching as a solution to the problems of our society. Instead of giving up on our politicians, let us re-educate them – beginning with those closest to us in belief and conviction.
The author is a Catholic priest and a member of the congregation of St. Basil.