Pro-life member of Parliament Jason Kenney is expressing hope that church leaders in Canada and the United States take a stronger stand in instructing the faithful as to the suitability of certain politicians to represent pro-life, pro-family views in an increasingly secular society.
Kenney, the Progressive Conservative MP for the Calgary Southwest riding, was keynote speaker at the Oct. 28 annual general meeting of the Toronto chapter of the Catholic Civil Rights League. His address – “Catholic Politicians in a Post-Christian Age” – focused on the increasing pressure on Catholics and traditional Christians in political life to suppress their faith and moral convictions in the public domain.
He also decried the tendency to regard some politicians who express a clear moral position on life and family issues as less qualified to take part in policymaking decisions in a morally relative society. Pro-life, pro-family supporters have long criticized Catholic and Christian politicians who ignore church teachings on life and family issues for fear of appearing at odds with an all-embracing, but misplaced, sense of tolerance. Pro-lifers have also called on church leaders to speak out more forcefully about politicians who ignore faith teachings on such issues as abortion and gay marriage.
Kenney, however, said there is some evidence church leaders are now taking a stronger stand in criticizing certain political leaders for ignoring basic teachings of their faith. “Fortunately, the church is becoming more clear about the obligations of certain Catholics who enter public life,” Kenney said. As one example, he cited Bishop Fred Henry of the Catholic Diocese of Calgary, who recently criticized Prime Minister Paul Martin for “moral incoherence” on the issue of abortion. As well, a number of Catholic bishops in the U.S. have questioned the moral stand of presidential candidate John Kerry, who argued that he could not bring his moral views to bear in the policymaking area.
Although some church leaders have become more vocal, Kenney decried the tendency to hold Catholic and traditional Christian politicians to a higher standard than those who express no particular faith, or who argue that they have no right to impose faith values on the wider community. “The growing tendency to crowd out religious faith from the public sphere is a corruption of an authentic pluralism,” Kenney said.
He warned of an imminent “collision course” between religious believers – and the MPs who would represent them – and secularists who hold no place for religion on the public policy agenda. “It’s become apparent that only those Catholic or evangelical Christian politicians who are willing to violate the fundamental tenets of their faith are acceptable in post-Christian liberal democracies,” Kenney told CCRL supporters. “It’s almost come to the point that for modern secularists, the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic.”
Although he painted a relatively bleak picture of the clash between religious faith and politics, Kenney said there is room for optimism. He called on Catholics and members of other faith groups to re-educate themselves on the basic teachings on life, family and marriage. He also said there is an opportunity for success on moral issues, if supporters can defend life, marriage and the family from a natural law perspective, rather than allow the debate to be seen exclusively as a Charter of Rights issue.
Kenney was first elected to Parliament as a Reform party MP in the 1997 federal election. He is a founding member of the Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus, an organization of Conservative, Liberal and New Democrat MPs committed to keeping the right the life sentiment alive in Parliament.
Kenney told Catholic Civil Rights League supporters that the pro-life caucus hasn’t been overly active since last summer’s election, but that it will soon be announcing some significant initiatives.