A popular advocate, lecturer and teacher in the areas of family and human life issues laid out a blueprint for the way forward in the struggle to protect human life and the family during the Catholic Civil Rights League’s Spring Dinner in Toronto June 10.
Father Tom Lynch has an extensive resume in order to be able to speak on the topic. He has been a member of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops Project on Bioethics, and ethics consultant for the Archdiocese of Toronto and the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops, an ethics committee member at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Peterborough, Ont., a lecturer in moral theology at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto and continues to teach on theology, bioethics, sexuality, marriage and social justice.
He was recently named the new national director of Priests for Life Canada, succeeding the late Father Jim Whalen, who died suddenly last Feb. 24.
Lynch began by noting that if the pro-life, pro-family movement wishes to get anywhere, it first needs to identify where it wants to go – something neither it, nor the Catholic church, have done adequately to this point in time.
“This is one of the biggest problems we have within our struggle, in general. What do we really want to accomplish within our society? … Ideals are such that, unless they’re given concrete, definite form, will never be able to be achieved.”
Lynch said this process begins by taking a cold, steely-eyed look at reality.
“Most bishops are very, very reluctant to face up to some incredibly hard facts,” he said, noting that two-thirds to 80 per cent of formerly active Catholics have quit practising. Meanwhile, the Catholic school system serves – and in many cases is administered by – “baptized pagans,” while the people who put money in the collection plate are dying off as their children and grandchildren don’t go to church and “really don’t care.”
“Most bishops are not aware of the fact that, for instance, a large minority of so-called Catholics no longer care to be married in the church and are, by and large, not getting their children baptized out of sheer indifference,” said Lynch. “The concept of a Catholic marriage is pretty well foreign to the vast majority of people getting married in our Catholic churches. The very large majority of them are living together and don’t see that as wrong. The very large majority of them have had a wide variety of sexual experiences – most of them have had at least two longer-term sexual relationships.”
In addition, most Catholics are not really aware of the teachings of the church and if they are, regard them as something more or less optional.
“Most of our parishes are basically dysfunctional, as are most of our dioceses … Most of the parishes and dioceses … are so hard done by just to keep the lights on, they have a hard time understanding what their role is in either promoting the culture of life, promoting Catholic culture or engaging in any type of new evangelization. That’s the hard reality that’s in front of us.”
Lynch added the clergy and hierarchy have made the mistake of thinking that if they just inform the people, that will be enough.
“When the cultural tsunamis of the late 20th century hit, we were not ready … Things went wrong in the 1950s, not just the 1960s and 1970s, because we had not prepared our laity in such a way that they would be ready, not just to react to the cultural upheavals … but, instead, be able to properly engage and direct those changes.”
Lynch said the Second Vatican Council’s call to the laity was “incredibly important,” but people have to recognize what it means to have a vocation in the world, not just in the religious life.
““It is not just information that our laity need … but it is formation … to see oneself truly as an agent of change … to be able to engage the world and thereby, change the world … It will cost … in time (and is) a formation that is not being done now.”
While temporal tactics are being employed, Lynch stressed that the spiritual side must never be neglected.
“It is a long, long battle … We will never, never be able to survive the battle, and definitely not be able to win it, if we are not very clear that the sources of strength upon which we draw will be spiritual sources of strength.”
Lynch said an important way forward is to get away from the usual pro-life, pro-family pattern of doing “so much with so little for so long.”
“One of the problems we have in the midst of our work is that we’re always broke … It is also true that we are the wealthiest society the world has ever seen … How is it that we can be able to access that money?”
Lynch counselled that people be encouraged to set up large numbers of family foundations in order to bring forth ideas.
“We do not have ideas coming forth … We need to have well-funded think tanks in one form or another … It’s not enough to expect bishops to do everything … We need to have people who are thinkers.”
Ideas that might be generated by such entities include thinking outside the box in terms of media usage.
“Why are we weeping and wailing over something (the mainstream media) we will never control?” asked Lynch, adding that that empire is collapsing anyway. “Who really listens to CBC news? … Nobody … We need to recognize how people are communicating one to another. Don’t ask me about Facebook, but it works.”
Lynch said another example of new thinking is the holding of sessions called “Theology on Tap,” where spiritual lectures and discussions are held in a pub atmosphere. At one session he spoke at, 60 young people were present.
“We are to be part of the building up of the civilization of life and love in practical, concrete and definite way,” Lynch concluded. “We cannot do it in isolated fashion … We need to build up effective collaboration.”
CCRL president Phil Horgan opened the dinner with a “state of the league” address in which he painted an ominous picture of where Canada is headed towards, especially in light of recent human rights cases.
He rhymed off a list of them: Susan Comstock; Orville Nicholls, Scott Brockie, Maclean’s magazine, Catholic Insight magazine, Ron Gray, Chris Kempling, pro-life groups on university campuses, the Advertising Standards Council of Canada rejecting pro-life ads and, perhaps most significant, the Stephen Boissoin case.
“We are moving into a different time and space when a pastor is no longer going to be allowed to speak against homosexual behaviour and/or homosexual advocacy, even from the public space of his pulpit,” said Horgan.
In terms of the CCRL’s workload, “These cases don’t stop,” he said. “There’s always another one coming around the corner. Don’t be concerned, because there will be another one coming after that as well. Part of the challenge for all of us is to … awaken people to the reality of what’s going on in Canada today.”
A bright spot, said Horgan, is the backlash that has been forming in recent months against some of the more extreme examples of human rights persecution.
Also at the dinner was the presentation of the Archbishop Adam Exner Award for Catholic excellence in public life, which this year was presented to Dr. Andrew and Mrs. Joan Simone, the founders of Canadian Food for Children.
The couple started CFFC in 1985 after almost 10 years of divesting themselves of most of their assets and donating heavily to charitable ventures. From humble beginnings, CFFC now ships more than five million kilograms of food and other necessities per year to children in some 30 countries worldwide for distribution by local missionaries.
The Simones are members of the Order of Canada and recipients of the Papal Cross, Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, as well as the Christian Stewardship Award, St. Anthony’s International Award for Solidarity with the Poor and the William Kurelek Award.