CCCB president Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton

Canada's bishops say "stand up for faith"

  • May 22, 2012

Canada’s bishops have called on Catholics to become courageous defenders of freedom of conscience and religion.  They call these rights inalienable, universal and precious, and urge Canadians to profess and safeguard them with the steadfast fidelity of Thomas More.

Their message needs to be heard and heeded.

The bold call to action was issued in a pastoral letter released May 14 by the Permanent Council  of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. The council comprises 12 bishops from across Canada, led by CCCB president Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton. The bishops deserve top marks for scripting a message that is timely and refreshingly direct.

Twelve pages long, it gives unequivocal support for the right of conscientious objection “as a fundamental freedom of conscience and religion.” Catholics, say the bishops, not only have a right to be conscientious objectors in the face of laws or shifting public morals that challenge their faith — they have a duty to do so. As examples, the bishops cite abortion and euthanasia as “crimes that no human law can claim to legitimize.” They also cite cases in which civic employees are directed to participate in same-sex marriages or pharmacists pressured to provide so-called morning-after abortion pills.

“There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws,” say the bishops, adding that conscientious objection should be enshrined in law.

This is strong medicine. The bishops are urging Catholics to not only defend traditional values but to take the more forceful, more courageous, step of resisting laws deemed unjust according to a person’s religious belief and informed conscience. That stand is not novel, of course. It is stated in the cathechism and has been expressed by many Church leaders over the years. But to have it powerfully endorsed and articulated by the assembly of Canada’s bishops is new ground.

The bishops were roused by a worrisome march in much of the Western world towards a new secularism that seeks to discredit religious belief and have religious discourse erased from the public sphere. Christianity was once at the heart of Canadian civic life. But over the past generation or two it has been elbowed towards the periphery and now must contend with a belligerent secularist movement that would shove faith entirely from public view.

It is time for people of faith to push back. As the bishops rightly point out, citizens in a free society are entitled to practise their faith in private and in public, and that includes an inalienable right to follow an informed conscience. These rights are fundamental and governments are duty bound to protect them.

When governments fail to do so, as the bishops wisely point out, individuals must take a stand.

(Right-click and save-as to download the CCCB's letter as a PDF)

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