Editor’s Note: On Nov. 19, 2008, former Liberal MP Tom Wappel addressed the Campaign Life Coalition Catholic clergy luncheon and during his talk, presented 13 recommendations to help the clergy and bishops become more effective in motivating Christians to fulfill their civic obligations on political issues. This is an excerpt of that talk.
Here are my 13 suggestions – from 13 to number one – as to what I am recommending, that you, as priests for life, consider and that you take to the hierarchy if you are allowed to do such a thing.
Number 13: Engage the congregation to think about their faith. I mean – people are sitting looking at you as you begin your homily at Sunday Mass. Ask the people why they are sitting there. Are they sitting there because that is what you are supposed to do on Sunday or are they sitting there because that is what their parents did and they have nothing else to do or are they sitting there because it is right to be there – it is right to celebrate the life of Christ? Do they believe that the Catholic church is the church that Jesus founded? If they don’t, what are they doing there? If they do, do they believe the doctrines of the faith and if they do — then how can you speak in favour of the freedom to “choose” for example, or same-sex “marriage” or some type of euthanasia?
Number 12: Have educational meetings at the church, I would recommend, once a month. Invite speakers on issues such as abortion, marriage, euthanasia and publicize it well – put it in the bulletin, mention it in a homily, have people calling and publicize the event and encourage people to attend and then the next week, summarize what happened.
Number 11: Invite the local member of Parliament, the local member of provincial parliament and the councillor to these meetings. Advise the people in attendance at these meetings who was invited, by name and what the response was … It is important for the people in attendance to know what the response is from the people they voted for, in some cases.
Number 10: Encourage the Catholic Women’s League and the Knights of Columbus, if you have them in your parish, to seek meetings with the local MPs about the life issues and have them report back on those meetings.
Number 9: Encourage parishioners to be engaged in public policy debate. Encourage them to write to their representatives when they run across issues that they feel strongly about. It is your duty as a citizen to be involved. Have them attend public forums or opportunities where there is an opportunity to interact with your representative and then interact with them. I am not talking about the parish priest here — I am talking about you encouraging your flock to do that.
Have your parishioners, wherever possible, get involved in the public life of the country. It is not a dirty thing to be involved in the public life of your country. If you are not involved, then your life will be run by others, whether you like it or not.
Number 8: Talk to the principals and staff, if you are allowed to do so, at all the Catholic schools in your parish and walk them through the issues – as you do the parishioners.
Number 7: Engage with the students at all levels about the life issues. It is never too young, in my opinion, to talk about a respect for life … Talk to the teachers who teach religion and find out what they are teaching. Find out what “inclusiveness” means and where is this definition coming from. And then go in and speak to the students periodically and ask them to dialogue with you. Try to arrange, or help to arrange knowledgeable speakers. Directly challenge unorthodox views held by kids – not with threats of punishment but with logical arguments which destroy their wrong ideas.
Number 6: Encourage your fellow priests and pastors of other denominations, because I know in my riding there were inter-faith meetings periodically … Talk about these issues – I am not suggesting that the local United church ministers are going to agree with you necessarily, but it is worth a dialogue. It is worth talking about.
Number 5: Encourage and indeed if I may use this word, insist that the bishops institute these kinds of practices nation-wide in an organized manner.
Number 4: In my opinion, the CCCB (Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops) should meet with the representatives of the Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus … In the time that I have been involved in the pro-life movement on Parliament Hill, we did meet once with Bishop Marcel Gervais of Ottawa and we had a very nice dialogue with him. Where is the CCCB – why didn’t they sit down with us and say, “Look guys, what can we do?” Where is the CCCB when (pro-life MPs) are attacked and ridiculed?
Anyway, I would suggest that the bishops, in addition to hob-knobbing with ministers, maybe once in a while consider hob-knobbing with the ordinary members of Parliament and talking to them and encouraging them as to what to do. Figure out strategies that can be used to advance a pro-life and pro-family agenda – not at 11:59 p.m. on the parliamentary clock of some piece of legislation – but at the beginning of the day, so that there is lots of opportunity to make changes.
I don’t want us to be asleep at the switch and to be doing with euthanasia what we did with same-sex “marriage” – which is far too little, far too late. Now is the time to engage with parishioners. Now is the time for the leadership of the church to engage with the decision-makers and work towards solutions that will prevent this kind of completion of, what I call, the unholy trinity – abortion, same-sex “marriage,” euthanasia.
Number 3: Provide your parishioners, at all times, and in particular during an election campaign, with specific sources where they can accumulate information about candidates. You are not telling them what to do. You are not telling them whom to vote for. You are not telling them whom not to vote for. … If you can direct them to the source or sources where they can get that information right after they go home from church, that is help to them. That is guidance to them. Let the parishioners do it, but they need some guidance. Most people don’t know how to do it, so I would recommend that you educate yourselves, particularly during an election campaign, as to where the parishioners can get the information that they need to make a reasoned decision on their (political) choices. And then, of course, encourage them to make a reasoned decision … People should be reminded of the advance polls and their duty to be engaged in the public life of their country so that they can help their fellow men.
Number 2 is controversial: Advise parishioners on the exact positions of the candidates on the life issues. That means you have to educate yourself and stress that as people of faith, that it is their duty to act as people of faith in a way to support the faith that they profess to believe. It is not right to say, “I am a practising Catholic. I believe in the doctrines of the Catholic church, but I am voting for a person who consistently votes pro-abortion, pro-same-sex “marriage” and pro-euthanasia.” That is inconsistent logic and that should, in my view, be brought up and mentioned to parishioners.
Finally, the number 1 thing: During the prayers for the faithful, ask that the entire congregation pray that God would rekindle the fire of faith of those whose faith has been extinguished, stoke the smoldering embers of faith of those who are losing their faith and fan the flames of those whose faith is strong.