In exchange for forthrightly denouncing the anti-Christian stance on abortion taken by Progressive Conservative Party leader Joe Clark, Catholic Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary has been accused of violating the sacred wall of separation between church and state. The charge, quite simply, is preposterous.
At issue is Henry’s condemnation of Clark’s “scandalous behaviour” in supporting “a woman’s right to choose,” while representing himself as a Catholic. “Practically speaking,” warned the bishop, “this may mean that Joe Clark is not going to be a welcomed personage to speak in Catholic schools in this diocese. And it may well be that should Joe Clark predecease me, he may not have the bishop burying him from the cathedral.”
In directing this vigorous rebuke at Clark, Henry has in no way transgressed the constitutional separation of church and state in Canada, because there is not, in fact, any such provision in the Canadian constitution. The separation of church and state is an United States constitutional doctrine. It refers to the injunction in the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution that: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Henry has not suggested that Parliament should enact a law forbidding Clark or any other Canadian from freely exercising the right to advocate heresy. The bishop insists only that neither Clark nor any other Catholic can promote abortion on demand while remaining a Catholic in good standing.
On the subject of abortion, the Catechism of the Catholic Church could not be clearer. It states: “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.”
On November 4, Pope John Paul II admonished a gathering of political leaders at the Vatican that, “a law which does not respect the right to life from conception to natural death of every human being, whatever his or her condition — healthy or ill, still in the embryonic stage, elderly or close to death — is not a law in harmony with the divine plan. Consequently, Christian legislators may neither contribute to the formulation of such a law nor approve it in parliamentary assembly.”
Note that the Pope referred not just to “Catholic,” but to all “Christian legislators.” And rightly so. Until about 40 years ago, virtually every denomination in Christendom, Catholic and Protestant, deplored suicide, euthanasia and procured abortion.
Meanwhile, most leaders of the mainline Protestant churches in Europe and North America have conformed their thinking to the pattern of the secular world. In contrast, most leaders of the Catholic and Evangelical Protestant churches have stood firm in upholding the universal principles of both Judeo-Christian morality and the natural moral law that applies to all peoples.
Why, then, is Henry’s statement so unusual? Why have not all the Catholic bishops of Canada denounced Clark as well as Prime Minister Jean Chretien; Health Minister Allan Rock; former prime ministers Pierre Trudeau, John Turner, Brian Mulroney; and all the other prominent Catholic politicians and judges who have defied their church, by promoting the legalization of abortion?
Part of the explanation may be that the Catholic bishops of Canada are reluctant to jeopardize the Church, by standing alone in defending the sanctity of human life from political attack. After all, how many leading evangelical Protestants and Orthodox Jews have publicly denounced the pro-choice views of a powerful Canadian politician? The answer, alas, is precious few.
To break this shameful silence, Campaign Life Coalition, the political arm of the pro-life community in Canada, should undertake to persuade every pro-life minister, priest, rabbi and lay leader in the country, regardless of denomination, to sign a petition that rebukes by name every leading politician and judge who abets the profound immorality of abortion on demand.
Nothing less than such a concerted national effort is ever likely to persuade the majority of our politicians and judges that they should uphold the sanctity of human life and fulfil their sworn duty to abide by the declaration in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that, “Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.”