In the October issue, the concluding part of the Sexual Revolution, feminism and the Churches series began with a more detailed examination of the stand and attitudes of the Canadian Catholic Bishops on abortion. It opened with Cardinal Carter’s claim that, with respect to abortion, the Catholic bishops of Canada have done as much as anyone can reasonably expect. The article proceeded by showing the notable differences in attitude which exist between the Popes, individual Canadian Bishops and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, the CCCB. It concluded by explaining two characteristics peculiar to the Canadian Bishops as a group. First, it took them four years before they publicly recognized that the 1969 Charter of Rights had fully legalized abortion. After which they relapsed into a ten year silence. Second, at no time have the Canadian Bishops publicly challenged Catholic politicians about their initial and continued support for an intrinsically evil law.
The following section broadens the subject from abortion to issues of sexual-family morality in general. The reader, meanwhile, should maintain a proper perspective of the context of the times. Among the religious minded, the R.C. Bishops stood alone in their opposition to abortion. The United, Anglican and Presbyterian Churches, for example, had welcomed the legalization of abortion, with approving briefs in 1967. Among the populace at large, Catholics faced the ridicule of the secular media, academics, politicians and feminists who together, for example, lionized Henry Morgentaler as a champion of intellectual and social progress in society.
A third characteristic on abortion was announced in the same May 1972 letter of the Ontario bishops which introduced the cautions about protesting too much. Under section 10 they underlined the following,
“We must not become known as a Church which had aroused itself against a single social evil while ignoring all the rest. Our indignation and our energies must also be directed against poverty, unemployment, exploitation, discrimination, and every for of injustice and human misery.”
This statement, taken in isolation from it’s context, is true and appropriate. The church as a whole must have a balanced approach. One of the reasons the Church is called Catholic, states Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386), “is that it teaches fully and unfailingly all the doctrines which ought to be brought to men’s knowledge, whether concerned with visible or invisible things, with the realities of heaven or the things of earth.”
Said Saint Ignatius of Antioch (martyred 107): “Justify your episcopal dignity by your unceasing concern for the spiritual and temporal welfare if your flock…”
However, in the atmosphere of the late sixties and early seventies, the Ontario caution also reflects something else, a new spirit in the Church which much prefers to emphasize involvement in political and economic questions than standing fast on matters of sexual/marital morality.
This climate of opinion includes priests and laity who talked themselves into believing that economic issues were far more important than the pill, divorce, or abortion. Indeed, while these issues came to be regarded with embarrassment, social justice became almost a stick with which to beat pro-lifers over the head.