The Catholic Register's weekly editorial appears here online (http://www.CatholicRegister.org/opinion/editorial) and in our print and digital editions.


Readers Speak Out

You can also write to the editor.

Write to The Editor:

Catholic Register, 1155 Yonge St., Toronto, Ontario M4T 1W2
FAX: (416) 934-3409
E-mail:editor@catholicregister.org

Letters should be brief and must include full name, address and phone number (street and phone number will not be published). Letters may be edited for length.

Also, speak to us digitally via Facebook (facebook.com/TheCatholicRegister) or Twitter (twitter.com/CatholicRegistr)

The Catholic Register offers its readers dependable information and opinion as a joyful servant of God's pilgrim church.

The birthplace of Jesus will be quieter than usual this Christmas. Many Christians who had planned pilgrimages to Bethlehem cancelled their trips when war flared last month between Israel and Hamas. Bethlehem was spared the rockets, but many missiles were aimed at nearby Jerusalem and so, unlike a year ago when Bethlehem had 140,000 December pilgrims, the lineups will be shorter this week at the Church of the Nativity.

Overhaul overdue

By

The United Nations reports there are 10.5 million refugees in the world. These are homeless, often stateless, mostly impoverished people displaced for many reasons, but frequently due to war and persecution.

Leadership based on character, Collins tells business leaders

By

Strong leadership is founded on character but can be undermined by ego, Cardinal Thomas Collins told a room full of Toronto business leaders.

Faithful charity

By

Engaging in charity is central to the mission of the Church or, as Pope Benedict says, “an indispensable expression of her very being.” For 2,000 years, charity has been such an obvious aspect of Christian identity that it was never expressly established in Canon Law as a duty of the bishops. There was no need. It was simply acknowledged by all as being a fundamental teaching of Christ and therefore essential to the practise of the faith.

That changed on Dec. 1 when the Pope issued an apostolic letter to formalize regulations to govern the Church’s charitable activities. He did this, he said, because there was a need to fill a lacuna, the gap between what was being enthusiastically practised but without a legislated framework.

His document will be warmly received by generous Catholics who’ve expressed concern about their donations sometimes going, directly or indirectly, to causes that conflict with Church teaching. In Canada, the most public of these cases involve a small number of agencies affiliated with Development and Peace. Even today, D&P continues to hear occasional suggestions that, despite tighter controls, some of its money finds its way to groups that support abortion.

Benedict’s welcomed decree is a succinct reflection on the essential nature of charity and its integral place in the Church. It’s a call for charities to exemplify Christian life, for the laity to engage in charitable activity and for bishops to provide firm leadership and strict oversight.

Most striking, though, is the Pope’s unequivocal edict that Catholic charities always act in accordance with Church doctrine.

Without exception, they “are required to follow Catholic principles in their activity and they may not accept commitments which could in any way affect the observance of those principles,” he said. He has also prohibited these charities from accepting financial support from groups that contravene Church teaching.

Additionally, dioceses and parishes are instructed to prohibit publicity for charitable organizations that contravene Church teaching. The Pope makes it the duty of bishops in particular but also pastors to “ensure that they (charities) are managed in conformity with the demands of the Church’s teaching and the intentions of the faithful.”

These are welcomed words. When Catholics support a Catholic charity they have every right to expect their money is supporting causes that align with their faith. For many years, everyone assumed that was the case. Several recent incidents, however, suggest that has not always been so.

The Pope has now decreed that being faithful is more than merely expected of Catholic charities. It is mandatory. These charities are obligated to strictly adhere to Church doctrine and bishops are formally required to ensure that charities comply.

It’s all about ensuring that Catholic charities are, in every respect, truly Catholic.

Keys to peace

By

As this editorial is being written, the guns are silent in Israel and Gaza. But for how long? Hours, days, weeks? Maybe months, at best?

Truly universal Church

By

When Pius XII became Pope in 1939 the college of cardinals had token representation from Latin and North America, one cardinal from the Middle East and none from the rest of Asia or from Africa. It was 89 per cent European.

By the time Pius died in 1958, the college had welcomed cardinals from Africa, India and China, Latin American representation had tripled and European membership was just 64 per cent of the total. The internationalization of the Vatican had begun.

But the journey has been slow since then even though European Catholics as a percentage of the worldwide Church have been in steady decline, if not outright free fall. So it was welcomed news last month when Pope Benedict announced a “little-consistory” for Nov. 24 to create six new cardinals who come from six non-European countries.

In doing so, history of sorts is being made. This is the first consistory in a thousand years of cardinal making in which Europe and North America are outnumbered by new cardinals from the developing world. In addition to one American, red hats are going to bishops from Lebanon, India, Nigeria, Colombia and the Philippines. Together they reflect the changing face of a Church in which two-thirds (and growing) of its members live in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The Church continues to evolve. Announcing the consistory last month, Pope Benedict called it recognition that “the Church belongs to all peoples, speaks all languages.” In a reference to Europe, he said the consistory confirms “it is not the Church of one continent but a universal Church.”

Last February, the Pope added 18 new elector cardinals at a consistory that raised eyebrows for being European-heavy, naming just three new cardinals from the developing world. Africa, despite having the world’s fastest growing Catholic population, was completely shut out. Adding five non-Westerners now doesn’t even things out but it puts a welcomed dent in the imbalance and foreshadows the future.

The newest cardinals are relatively young. Two are in their 50s, the oldest is 73 and the average age is 63. In addition to helping select future popes, they will sit on various Vatican committees and exert influence for many years to come.

Also, these additions bring the college to its full complement of 120 electors for a new pope, and lowers European votes to 51 per cent of the total. That’s not much different from when Benedict became Pope in 2005. What continues to change, however, is the demography of the world’s one billion Catholics. The Church is projected to be 75 per cent non-Western within the lifetime of many of the new cardinals.

How that impacts the Church will be watched closely, particularly so for the papacy, an institution that has been mostly Italian and always European for the last 12 centuries.

Preserving roots

By

Once civilization’s most important language, Latin has been on life-support for decades. That it retains even a faint pulse is due to the persistence of academia but primarily due to the Church.

To reverse the decline, Pope Benedict XVI has established a Vatican-based academy to encourage Latin studies and the promotion of Latin culture. He hopes not only to restore the prominence of Latin as a common language within the Church but to encourage all of society to honour Latin’s important place in human history.

That’s a tall order. Latin is not anyone’s first language and is seldom even a second or third choice in a shrinking world in which Mandarin classes are filling up. But the Pope should be commended for applying CPR to an ancestral language of the Church at a time when a rapidly modernizing, techno-crazy world seems increasingly less mindful of the past.

“The Latin language has always been held in high regard by the Catholic Church and Roman pontiffs,” the Pope wrote. “After the fall of the western Roman empire the Church of Rome not only continued to use Latin, but in a certain sense also became its custodian and promoter in the theological and liturgical fields, as well as in education and the transmission of knowledge.”

Latin became a central language of the Church during Roman times and remains the Church’s universal language today. But since Vatican II it has been in decline, in the liturgy, of course, but also in the seminary and Catholic education in general. Yet no serious study of Church theology, history or canon law can occur without fluency in Latin because Latin is the language of most source documents in Vatican archives and other museums and universities.

Through the Middle Ages Latin was also the common language of scholars, diplomats, poets, traders and nobility. From Latin evolved the romance languages of French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. More than half the English vocabulary has Latin roots, and Latin words and phrases remain prominent in medicine, law and science. It’s part of our cultural DNA.

“There is therefore an apparent pressing need to encourage commitment to a greater knowledge and more competent use of Latin in the ecclesial environment as well as in the world of culture at large,” the Pope said.

The Pope’s Latin initiative, however, is bound to cause some grumbling among those who believe connecting more intimately with the past means losing touch with the modern world. But promoting Latin is a forward-looking strategy. Society is poorer when it cuts off its roots. Building new bridges to the past ensures that the Church’s rich teachings, history and traditions can be carried into the future.That’s a noble objective, no matter how you say it.

Save our chaplains

By

Chaplaincy has always been a cornerstone of the Canadian prison system.

Long before governments introduced things like professional counselling, therapy, education and job training to rehabilitate inmates, 19th-century priests and ministers brought faith to jail cells to help convicts find their way back into society.

It was understood by wardens and pastors alike that lessons in moral, ethical and civic behaviour required a spiritual grounding in faith to be truly effective. Although the years have brought considerable evolution in how prisons operate, the transforming role of faith has never changed. Inmates, more than most, need the hope and healing that is reflected in the faith of their chaplains.

So there is reason to despair over a government decision to eliminate 49 part-time chaplains from Canada’s federal prisons. Effective April 1 next year, prisons across the country will become a little more soulless for the sake of saving $1.3 million.

Canada’s 80 full-time prison chaplains will remain employed but their services will be spread thinner than ever. Particularly striking is that of those 80 chaplains just one will be non-Christian, an Iman. Of the 49 part-timers being let go, 31 are Christian and 18 currently serve non-Christian inmates.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has offered the naive suggestion that the spiritual needs of non- Christians can be served by Christian chaplains or by volunteers. But asking a Catholic chaplain to be a spiritual advisor to say, a Buddhist, is like asking a hockey coach to mentor an ice fisherman because both sports involve ice.

Equally unrealistic is the notion of replacing paid chaplains with volunteers. In addition to concerns about their qualifications, volunteers are often managed by the very part-time chaplaincy offices that are closing. Expecting full-time chaplains to assume this overseer role would only take them from other duties and further diminish their overall effectiveness.

Beyond that, there is a fundamental unfairness in a policy that denies all prisoners equal access to faith-specific chaplaincy services. Canadians are guaranteed the right to freely practise their religion. This right has been broadly respected for as long as prisons have existed here. To now virtually choke off that right for non-Christian inmates seems discriminatory and a potential spark for a Charter challenge. It’s all so unnecessary.

Society is obligated to provide prisoners with humane care. That includes spiritual nurturing. It’s in everyone’s best interests to inject faith into jails because discovering God or reconnecting with Him is often an important step in rehabilitiation.

Of course, prisoners can no more be forced to embrace faith than they can be forced to clean their plate at suppertime. But they are entitled to have access to spiritual nourishment. That should apply to prisoners of all faiths. Equally.

Rewarding courage

By

The values Canadians most cherish include democracy, peace, equality and freedom. So if the purpose of awarding Diamond Jubilee Medals is to honour significant contributions to Canada, then Linda Gibbons and Mary Wagner have every right to wear their medals proudly.

The pro-life crusaders are among 60,000 Canadians being honoured under a program to mark the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Their names were submitted by Saskatchewan MP Maurice Vellacott and approved by the Chancellery of Honours in the Governor General’s office. As Governor General David Johnston said last February in announcing the program, nominees were sought who “have dedicated themselves to the well-being of family, community and country.”

By that definition, Wagner and Gibbons are worthy winners. Canada currently lacks both an abortion law of any kind and a mainstream political party willing to discuss drafting one even though polls show that most Canadians support some type of legislation. Gibbons and Wagner, despite court orders and injunctions against them, and despite much public vilification, have been relentless in their peaceful, prayerful protest against what Pope Benedict has called a crime against society.

For this, both women have been repeatedly jailed. Gibbons has spent almost 10 of the past 20 years behind bars for maintaining her sidewalk vigils. Wagner has spent less time imprisoned but is currently jailed for trespassing after taking her cause inside a private clinic.

The two women are serial dissenters and, due to their criminal convictions for what amounts to civil disobedience, their inclusion on the honours list was widely criticized. The objections, mainly from those intent on silencing pro-life voices, ignore the long and important history of civil disobedience and peaceful protest in Canada. Equality rights for racial and religious minorities, women and the disabled all have roots in peaceful protest.

Gibbons and Wagner are pro-life crusaders first but they are also unwitting defenders of the fundamental Canadian rights of lawful assembly, peaceful protest and religious freedom. For that, they have been repeatedly imprisoned when their courage and resilience should warrant gratitude from not only pro-life advocates but from all Canadians.

When someone like Gibbons asserts a democratic right to pray and protest peacefully for the unborn, and then is arrested for it, all of society should be indignant. Canadians are guaranteed the freedom of conscience and religion, and freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. When one person confronts authority to peaceably express those rights, regardless of their particular cause, they’re advancing a fundamental right important to all Canadians.

Bravely, Gibbons and Wagner have been doing exactly that for years, and that’s why they’ve earned a Diamond Jubilee Medal.

A saint for today

By

It took 128 years from the launch of her sainthood cause for Kateri Tekakwitha to be canonized. That’s a long wait even by Church standards. But when Pope Benedict proclaimed St. Kateri on Oct. 21, the timing seemed perfect.

Kateri’s life of virtue and holiness was lived more than 400 years ago, but perhaps there has never been an era when her story was more relevant — or more important. In many respects the 17th-century heroine is ideally suited for these times.

Orphaned, disfigured by smallpox, ostracized for her beliefs, Kateri committed her life to works of charity and to Christ. Despite facing constant hostility, her faith was steadfast.

As we begin the Year of Faith, Catholics are being called to become proud and joyful disciples who give public witness to faith. In an era when Western culture is widely cynical about religion, Catholics are asked to re-connect with Church teaching and re-embrace Catholic values. They’re asked to confront an increasingly secular world with courage and conviction, to promote Catholic truths and to resist the secular forces of conformity.

Just as St. Kateri did.

“May her example help us to live where we are, loving Jesus without denying who we are,” Pope Benedict said at the canonization ceremony.

In particular, Kateri, who died at age 24, can be a model for Catholic youth. Young people need
a counter influence to offset a pervasive media culture that constantly dismisses traditional morality in favour of hedonism and materialism. Kateri’s life demonstrated the virtue of living a life guided by prayer, sacrifice and charity.

She also showed that it’s not how you look, but how you live that’s important. Society today places perverse value on personal appearance. Looking good is a multi-billion-dollar industry that targets teens and young adults with an often-harmful message. Kateri’s story is a counter message that professes that true beauty is emitted from the heart, not reflected in a mirror.

Her face scarred and her eyesight damaged at an early age by small pox, Kateri stands as a symbol of strength and comfort for anyone persecuted or bullied because they are different. That message is important at a time when technology is making bullying easier than ever and when teen depression and suicide are rising. Kateri faced her tormentors. She refused to abandon her beliefs but instead answered a call to chastity and embraced Christ, even though it made her an object of scorn in her village.

As Quebec Archbishop Gerald Lacroix said, Kateri is an excellent role model for young people of how to live a “simple life, faithful to the Lord, in the midst of hostility.”

Kateri lived her faith proudly and proclaimed it joyfully. It’s a message worth spreading.

Won’t be silenced

By

“Defending the voiceless is our mission.” Cardinal Thomas Collins, addressing a packed house at the annual Cardinal’s dinner on Oct. 11, couldn’t have been more blunt in delivering that pro-life message to the Ontario government. Catholic schools largely exist to impart the teachings and moral values of the Church. On the issue of life, Church teaching is unequivocal, just as the cardinal’s position is immovable.

His comments came a day after Education Minister Laurel Broten made the outlandish claim that being pro-life was tantamount to misogyny and therefore pro-life activities were unwelcome in Catholic schools because, she suggested, advocating misogyny contravenes Bill-13, the province’s new anti-bullying law.

“Taking away a woman’s right to choose could arguably be considered one of the most misogynistic actions that one could take,” she said.

Catholic educators have every right to bristle at the minister’s rhetoric. She apparently believes that when Catholic teachers use the catechism to profess that life begins at conception and abortion is immoral, they are teaching Catholic youth to hate women. The suggestion is ludicrous and reflects the very intolerance that prompted the minister’s own anti-bullying laws. A minister serious about confronting misogyny would investigate the rise in Canada of sex-selection abortion that targets females. Catholic education is not the problem.

Catholic students are taught to respect life and love all. Catholic teachers are hardly women haters — they’re mostly women! To label them misogynists is as absurd as accusing ministers who send their kids to Catholic schools of being anti-Catholic.

The cardinal’s other point was to underline again that Catholic education rights are enshrined in Canada’s Constitution and are protected in the provincial Education Act. The soon-to-be-retired premier or his education minister have no authority to make Catholic schools less Catholic by coercing them to abandon a core mission. Also, parents have a constitutionally protected right to send their children to publicly funded, faith-filled school environments that promote Catholic morals and values.

“Both the Constitution and the Education Act make it clear that the Catholic identity of the school must be respected,” Collins said. “It is our mission to speak up for all those who suffer, and especially for those who are voiceless.”

After using Bill-13 to force Catholic schools to accept gay-straight clubs, Broten now seems poised to use the bill to trample other religious freedom rights. That is very troubling. Will a pretext be devised to muzzle Church teachings on, say, divorce, same-sex marriage, contraception, chastity and fidelity? The bill was sold as a means to subdue bullies, not crush Catholic education.

Broten repeatedly says she supports Catholic education. But it’s becoming increasingly unclear if she even knows what that is.