On April 13, the Social Affairs Commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a document to help Catholic citizens of Canada make good choices in the upcoming federal election. Unfortunately, the document does not have the strength and precision that many had hoped for and that we find in the teachings of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on these issues.
The document identifies four important fields: respect for life and the dignity of the human person, support for marriage and family, the preferential option for the poor and the common good. A fundamental problem in the document is that the list of four fields lacks hierarchy. In the section about common good, the bishops talk about the importance of promoting a “just and compassionate society,” as if it were as important as defending life from conception to natural death by fighting against abortion and its legalization. In fact, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who talked so much about “a just society,” was the same one who introduced the Omnibus Bill in 1969 that opened the door to abortion, divorce and homosexuality in Canada. What precisely is a “just society”? A society where babies are aborted?
The CCCB document does not mention the word “abortion” a single time. This, however, is precisely what Catholic citizens and politicians should try to ban. This must be said clearly and we should not be afraid to talk about this abominable crime, which is committed in our hospitals every day.
Another very important issue for the next election is not dealt with clearly: the preservation of traditional marriage in Canada. The only reference is, “Marriage needs the support and protection of society. Will the upcoming election reflect that concern?” It is not written anywhere that “homosexual marriage” or “homosexual civil union” should be banned and that Catholic citizens have the duty to work to ban those immoral practices. If we are afraid to name these terrible dangers, they will be imposed on us.
The questions that the CCCB suggests we ask candidates at the end of the document are not clear. Again, there is no hierarchy. The question of abortion, or the “right to life,” in the document seems to be as important as “global peace” and the “commitment” to “decrease the growing gap between rich and poor people.” In fact, is there such a thing as a “growing gap”? I know that it is what the NDP proclaims daily, but is it the social reality of Canada? It seems that the bishops are strong on the economy and sociology – but what about morality?
The questions often contain ambiguities. About marriage, the document suggests this question: “What means will they take to maintain the definition of marriage?” The question does not evoke the importance of banning “homosexual marriage” or “homosexual civil unions.” A good small-l liberal candidate could say: “Yes, I want to maintain the traditional definition of marriage, but I want to create an alternative marriage for gays that would not necessarily be called marriage.” That would be a typical Paul Martin answer. In fact, Martin would be even more confused and heterodox than that. According to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (July 31, 2003), civil unions, on the Quebec model, are completely unacceptable from the Catholic point of view because they create a legal equality between marriage and something that is totally different: a sterile and unstable union between two men or two women.
Many questions are also disputable from a Catholic perspective. Should we really take “means to advance the social and economic aspirations of Aboriginal peoples”? Why not “the social and economic aspirations” of French Canadians or Polish Canadians? Should we really “increase overseas development assistance to 0.7 per cent of Canada’s gross national product”? I know that it is an obsession of the rock singer Bono, but should it be a main concern for a Canadian Catholic? Should we advocate more money in development to send more abortion pills and condoms to Africa through UNICEF? Sometimes I wonder about these questions. Were they written by a group of Roman Catholic bishops or by the NDP caucus?