Church leader challenges Prime Miniter Chrétien on upport for abortion

In a homily delivered May 31, Ottawa’s Roman Catholic Archbishop Marcel Gervais issued an unprecedented challenge to the Liberal Party of Canada and the government of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, for their support of abortion.

The homily was given at a Mass for the Feast of the Visitation, in which Catholics commemorate Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth while both women were expecting, as recorded in the first chapter of St. Luke’s gospel. The archbishop’s words received warm, spontaneous applause from the congregation, and the homily is being received across the country as one of the most outstanding pro-life spiritual addresses in recent memory.

Members of Ottawa-area pro-life groups were specially invited to the Mass, and the archbishop encouraged them not to lose hope in their work.

The archbishop also referred to a feature article in The Citzen’s Weekly, a supplement to The Ottawa Citizen on May 28, which detailed the work of Toronto pro-life sidewalk counsellor Linda Gibbons. The article, while written from a “pro-choice” perspective, was remarkably fair in considering the implications of the Ontario government’s injunction prohibiting peaceful pro-life activity outside abortion clinics in the province. The article also included the testimony of women who have been helped by sidewalk counsellors with the Toronto pro-life agency Aid to Women – something which until that point was unheard of in the mainstream press.

The text of Archbishop Gervais’ homily is as follows.

We have all heard this beautiful story [of the Visitation] many times. In hearing it, in allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by the joy of the meeting of these two cousins, it is easy to forget how difficult these times were generally and how both of these women faced extremely trying circumstances.

It is wonderful that we should know that Mary overcame what shame was associated with her pregnancy. In this happy scene with Elizabeth, we tend to forget that Joseph was shocked when he heard that Mary was pregnant and that he thought of dismissing her, for they were not yet married. God took the initiative and informed Joseph that it was his intention that this child should be born. Without this intervention by God, Mary would have suffered tremendous embarrassment, possibly even public persecution. Joseph protected her.

Elizabeth was also with child – she was very old. We do not know how old she was exactly, but thirty seven would have been considered very old in those days to have a child. However, far from rejecting this late pregnancy, Elizabeth saw it as a blessing from the Lord, a liberation from shame. When the two women met, they were so happy that the children in their wombs jumped for joy.

Did you see The Citizen last Sunday? It had the longest newspaper article I have ever seen on abortion, the whole question of the right to life and the pro-choice lobby. In my opinion, the article presented the pro-life position very well, even though the subject matter is so troubling. I was particularly disturbed by the concluding paragraph. If you haven’t read it, here it is for you to ponder:

“There is a little known book about abortion called In Necessity and Sorrow, written some years ago by Dr. Magda Denes, a psychology professor at New York University. Dr. Denes became pregnant unexpectedly at 37 and she recalls what went through her mind the day of the abortion: ‘I have two young sons, whose small faces are the most moving arguments I have against going through with this.’ The book is a collection of interviews Dr. Denes conducted afterward, in her capacity as a psychologist, with other abortion patients and the staff at the same hospital. Dr. Denes terminated her own pregnancy and emerged from the experience still a defender of abortion rights. But she also came to recognize the evasions – ‘multifaceted, clever and shameful’- that this commitment requires of us.”

We all see the contradiction in her position – a woman who feels not only that she has the right to have an abortion, but that, in a way, she is obliged to do so. We sympathize with her, but we cannot agree with her. With all the medical care and resources that are now available – and have been available for some years now – there is no reason why she should have had that abortion.

It is so much easier to “terminate a pregnancy” than to kill a child in the womb; the most helpless of children. We remove them from their nesting place, in the safety of the womb.

Articles such as this most recent one in the Citizen give us pause. On the one hand, it is extraordinary that such an article should appear with such an ample treatment of the pro-life position. However, it ends on such a negative note, recognizing the right of a parent to kill a child in the womb.

You may or may not have heard what our Prime Minister said on March 17 of this year, at a Liberal Party of Canada convention? He almost seemed to brag that one of the great accomplishments of the Liberal Party is the right of women to choose.

I quote: “Canadians do not want a right-wing party in this country. They do not want a party that does not support women’s right to choose.”

What does this statement mean? That the Liberal Party is now officially pro-choice?

In his encyclical Evangelium vitae [The Gospel of Life] John Paul II recognizes the difficult situation politicians can find themselves in and how they sometimes have to choose the lesser evil. But from there to actually saying that a party is pro-choice? I think that this is a lamentable state of affairs. I have written to the Prime Minister about it, but have not heard back from him.

When we see others around us closing their hearts or allowing their hearts to harden, it is difficult not to become discouraged.

Let me read you a text written by an opponent of the pro-life movement, who was moved by the integrity of the people campaigning against abortion. He wrote: “They prayed, they supported each other, they sang hymns of joy and they constantly reminded each other of the absolute prohibition against violence. They prayed for unborn babies, for the confused and pregnant women, and for the doctors and nurses in the clinic. They even prayed for the police and the media who were covering the event. And I wondered: how can these people give of themselves for a constituency that is (and always will be) mute, invisible and unable to thank them?”

The man who wrote these words is Bernard Nathanson, a man who had his own child aborted. He was also a doctor, an abortion provider. Through the witness of pro-lifers and new technology, he finally recognized that it was a child in the womb and his heart changed. By the time he came to this realization, he had killed 75,000 babies.

In recent years Bernard Nathanson has stopped performing abortions and is now a well-known advocate of the pro-life cause in the United States. Instead of performing abortions, he is now saving babies. What changed his mind? The witness of people like you.

Do not lose heart. You may not always see the fruits of your efforts, but they are there. The civilization of life that John Paul II talks about can come into being.

People can change. There is hope. I repeat, do not lose heart.

I commend you for the many initiatives which are taking place here in order to help parents-to-be choose life instead of death; and for the many ways you are presently supporting our families.

I am currently obtaining information about a very promising program started by Cardinal Winning of Glasgow, Scotland. In three years, 207 babies have been saved by helping the single mothers, the couples and families faced with an unwanted pregnancy. Perhaps there is something in this program which we could implement here?

Let us not lose hope. Where there is life, there is hope.