This article was amended on Sept. 24, 2012 to clarify comments made by Jim Hughes.

OTTAWA - A statement by Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller that supports Catholics who campaign for “gestational legislation” to limit abortion has helped calm growing tensions within the pro-life movement.

Miller wrote it is “morally licit” for Catholics to support legislation that sets limits on abortion rather than immediately banning it outright. The archbishop’s statement, quickly endorsed by Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins and posted on the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CCCB) web site, urges co-operation in the pro-life movement but stresses: “Co-operation does not always mean unanimity regarding a given strategy; open and civil debate about the wisdom of any specific strategy is healthy.”

Over the past year, support in pro-life circles across Canada has grown for a law that would prohibit abortion at later stages of pregnancy or gestation. Campaign Life Coalition, the national political arm of the movement, however, has remained staunchly opposed as have several other groups that believe incremental legislation of this type will not result in an eventual ban on abortion.

Each side has accused the other of not being Christian or Catholic enough — either for not protecting those babies that might be saved through some restrictions on abortion, or for not sending a strong enough message about the value of all human life from conception.

But Miller said that both positions, for or against gestational legislation, are morally licit.

Miller wrote it is acceptable to support gestational legislation (i.e. legislation that would allow abortion in the early weeks of the unborn child’s development) as an incremental step that would reduce the harms of “an unjust legal regime that permits abortion.” But such law should be regarded “as a step along the way to the eventual full legal protection of the right to life of all unborn human beings.”

“At the same time, it is also morally licit to withhold support for gestational legislation — and other incrementalist legislative strategies intended to limit access to abortion — if, after prudent reflection, one is convinced that it is an unwise legislative strategy,” he said.

The Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF), co-sponsored by the CCCB and the Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus, welcomed Miller’s intervention.

“The division within the pro-life movement is very preoccupying, especially when leaders and members of pro-life groups point at each other and criticize each other’s approach to protecting the unborn,” said COLF director Michele Boulva. “All this hinders our chances of obtaining a law that would protect the most vulnerable of Canadians — its unborn citizens.”

She applauded the bishops’ taking leadership in the pro-life arena.

“As Catholics it is essential that we turn to our bishops when confusion arises regarding the Church’s teaching. Christ has empowered them to teach in His name.”

Based on Blessed John Paul II’s teachings in Evangelium Vitae, “legislation which intends to limit the harm done by a pro-abortion law is not itself co-operation with unjust law but rather ‘a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects,’ ” the archbishop wrote.  

The absence of any law restricting abortion in Canada is a “de facto legal regime that permits abortion with almost no restrictions,” the archbishop said.

“Legislation intended to restrict access to abortion would not create a new legal situation in Canada which would authorize abortions, but instead would intend to limit the number of abortions already authorized under law,” he said.  

He also reiterated Catholic teaching against abortion at any stage, noting that “no law can claim to legitimize abortion.”

Two major pro-life groups on either side of the issue welcomed Miller’s statement.

Campaign Life president Jim Hughes said the archbishop makes it clear we have a de facto law by having no restrictions on abortion.

“I thought Archbishop Miller laid the case pretty well,” he said. "Although I and many others would not necessarily agree with his opinion on a de facto law.”

The most important part of his statement “points out that gestational legislation may or may not be the way to go,” said Hughes, who remains wary of the gestational legislation approach.

Priests for Life Canada is among the many pro-life groups that would support gestational legislation. Priests for Life board chairman Fr. John Lemire, a parish priest based in New Liskeard, Ont., said he is pleased the archbishop’s statement has “supported the idea that a Catholic, a Catholic politician, can in good conscience support gestational legislation.”

The archbishop’s letter may have helped shore up some of the unity within the pro-life movement that has been fragile since its inception, Hughes said. The movement is made up of political, educational and pastoral groups that counsel and support mothers with unexpected pregnancies.

“Campaign Life Coalition has been accused of being ‘all or nothing’ and that’s not true,” Lemire said, noting that since its first questionnaire in 1978, it has “always had an incremental question as part of its strategy.”

The key, said Hughes, is in the wording of any legislation.

“I’m not in favour of ‘we need any law,’ ” Hughes said.

He is opposed to the gestational approach because the experience of countries with gestational laws in place have “so many exceptions” the laws are “virtually useless.” There are many other forms of incremental legislation that would restrict abortion — such as defunding it, or informed consent laws, that Campaign Life would support, he said.

“As the political branch of the pro-life movement we have been battling over 30 years,” he said. Campaign Life has also worked closely with counterparts in other countries who have said “gestational limits are not the way to go.”

Hughes’ objection to gestational legislation extends beyond doctrinal concerns to practical matters, he said. Campaign Life has focused on identifying and supporting individual pro-life candidates in both the Conservative and Liberal parties at the grassroots level. He noted that there are presently 60 pro-life MPs in Parliament. A gestational bill would not have the votes to pass, he said. In addition, Prime Minister Steven Harper remains unwilling to reopen the abortion debate.

Hughes said momentum on the issue has been shifting towards the pro-life movement, but a focus on gestational legislation risks sidetracking it.

The role of the Priests for Life, Lemire said, is to work with all the groups, to “try to be a bridge builder and bring about some dialogue and conversations” not only among groups but with bishops and people in dioceses.

That does not mean Priests for Life agrees with every tactic, he said. But he stressed people who might not be comfortable in an activist role could be great counselling a young expectant mother, or doing any number of tasks that need to be done to create a culture of life.

Published in Canada

TORONTO - The complexity, heartbreak and bitter politics of the endless Palestinian-Israeli conflict are no reason for Christians to either settle for easy answers or to throw up their hands in despair. The situation calls for Christian charity and solidarity, Cardinal Thomas Collins told a packed theatre in Toronto Sept. 5.

Collins was on hand for the Toronto premiere of the Salt + Light TV documentary Across the Divide. The full-length documentary takes a close look at Bethlehem University — the only Catholic post-secondary institution in the Holy Land — and the trials of fourth-year commerce student Berlanty Azzam. Azzam was caught up in a maze of Israeli military security procedures that saw her detained and prevented from returning to Bethlehem to finish her degree.

Azzam's detention by Israeli forces while she was on her way to a job interview in Ramallah became an international incident in 2009. The case blew up while Salt + Light producer Kris Dmytrenko and a crew were on the Bethlehem University campus making a film about the Christian Brothers and their 39-year-old university just outside Jerusalem.

If the Church has to pick a side, it chooses to stand with the poor and the refugees, said Collins in a panel discussion after the screening. Collins was a participating bishop in the Synod on the Middle East in 2010.

"We have to help them," said Collins, who has spearheaded efforts by Canadian dioceses to sponsor Iraqi refugees displaced by the turmoil in their homeland. "We would prefer, of course, that they can flourish in their home."

The whole point of Bethlehem University is that it is a means for Palestinians — Chistians and Muslims — to flourish where they are, said Robert Smith, the university's vice chancellor. The university's student body is about 70 per cent Muslim and 30 per cent Christian.

"They (graduates) will be trained and professional and committed to build a nation as well as a Church," he said.

Dmytrenko, co-director of Across the Divide, warned against the temptation to name good guys and bad guys in the conflict.

"There's a lot of people suffering on both sides," he said. "It's not a case of who is suffering more."

"People think that all Muslims are terrorists trying to get rid of all Christians. That's not true," said Catholic Near East Welfare Association Canada director Carl Hetu.

As a Maronite Catholic from Lebanon, it was important to Mona Dagher to be at the documentary's premiere.

"I would hope that people will at least know what is going on there," said Dagher.

She praised the film for accurately depicting the lives of Palestinian Christians.

Ajax high school teacher Deanna Wilson said she plans to show the movie to her Grade 12 World Religions class.

"We have an obligation to open our lens to other religions and realities," she said.

She hopes particularly that her comfortable, suburban teens are moved by Azzam's struggle to get an education.

"There are a lot of details I wasn't aware of," said Danny Ferguson at the end of the evening. "It's important to understand the political environment."

"This gets the word out. This gets out the truth and the fullness of the truth," said Smith.

"Our purpose in making this documentary was not to convince. It was simply to tell a story," Salt + Light CEO Fr. Tom Rosica told the audience.

Rosica said he's received calls from committed advocates for both sides in the conflict — Palestinians, Jews and their allies — all equally unhappy with the film. But rather than buying into the rhetoric of the conflict the film strives to accurately fill in the political, economic, social and religious reality Bethlehem University struggles with daily.

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

TORONTO - Ten years ago, Chris Lemieux sat amidst a crowd of Catholics listening to the vocation stories of a group of young men on the brink of entering the priesthood. Though it was only a few months after his baptism, he knew then that he was being called to religious life.

So on March 6, it was only fitting that Lemieux would follow in the footsteps of those men and become one of this year's four priestly candidates to share their stories with a crowd of more than 1,900 at the 22nd annual Ordinandi Dinner. Serra International, an organization promoting vocations to Catholic religious life, hosted the evening, which was held at the Pearson Convention Centre in Brampton, Ont.

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

TORONTO - Like the prophet Jonah, Catholics need to become “boldly engaged” in a society that at times can seem “distant and antagonistic” to our faith, Cardinal Thomas Collins urged at a Pontifical Mass of thanksgiving in honour of his recent elevation to the College of Cardinals.

“We need engagement. Bold engagement,” said Collins, adding we can all learn from Jonah, “the reluctant prophet” sent by God to preach to the ancient pagan city of Nineveh.

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

TORONTO - Young people today often have misconceptions of what a Catholic should be and it is up to the older generation to show them what the faith truly means, said Sr. Inmaculada.

Sr. Inmaculada, 28, is one of the driving forces behind this year’s youth weekend hosted by the Institute of the Incarnate Word (IVE). This annual event on March 10-11 offers opportunities for Catholics, both lay and religious, to share their faith experiences with youth through talks about topics ranging from sexuality to theology to the sacraments along with fellowship, games and sports.

Published in Youth Speak News

TORONTO - Cardinal Thomas Collins was big news over the two weeks leading up to his elevation to the College of Cardinals.

Every major news organization in Canada covered the event in Rome with news reports, analysis, feature interviews, photos, videos and live blogging. Canada’s largest newspaper kicked its coverage off with a two-part profile of Collins that ate up pages of precious newsprint.

“It was acres, wasn’t it?” said Toronto Star associate editor Alison Uncles. “It was thousands of words.”

Published in Canada: Toronto-GTA

ROME - Canada’s newest cardinal, resplendent in shimmering scarlet vestments, was still adjusting to his new look on Feb. 18 when he arrived at a reception in his honour. Barely two hours earlier he had become His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Collins after Pope Benedict XVI welcomed Toronto’s archbishop into the College of Cardinals on a sunny Saturday morning.

“These robes are very bright,” quipped Collins. “I’ll certainly stick out in a crowd.”

Published in Editorial

ROME - For the first time in its 100-year history, St. Patrick’s Irish National Church in Rome has a Cardinal Protector who is not Irish. But in Cardinal Thomas Collins the congregation figures it has been blessed with the next best thing.

“He has Irish roots,” said Fr. Tony Finn. “So there’s still an Irish connection. We’re delighted.”

When the Pope welcomes new members into the College of Cardinals they are made a titular pastor of a church in Rome. As such, they are entitled to vote in a papal conclave in keeping with  the centuries-old tradition that the clergy of Rome elect the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. Collins learned that he was awarded St. Patrick’s a few days before the consistory but was sworn to secrecy until the Pope’s announcement.

Published in Editorial

ROME - The first thing that went through the minds of Catherine and Patricia Collins when they saw their little brother in the full regalia of a cardinal was: “Wow, he really stands out now!”

They said that with love and pride shortly after Pope Benedict XVI made His Eminence Thomas Cardinal Collins the 16th cardinal in Canadian history. The sisters were at their brother’s side at several events during the days leading up to the Feb. 18 consistory, but nothing topped the moment when Collins joined the College of Cardinals.

Published in Editorial

VATICAN CITY - Attending a consistory for new cardinals is something of an ambivalent thing. On balance it is a positive experience, a festive occasion to be sure. Yet there is also an uneasiness, for there are touches of worldliness about it which ought to make a Christian disciple wary.

A consistory is truly a celebration of something particularly Catholic, namely the Roman and Petrine dimensions of the Church. Such occasions of pride and joy strengthen the faith, as they reinforce the bonds of affection that unite Catholics with the successor of St. Peter. The link between the local bishop created a cardinal and the Bishop of Rome is evident enough, and it highlights the communion of all local bishops with the See of Rome, and therefore the unity of the Church universal.

Published in Fr. Raymond de Souza
February 22, 2012

A cardinal’s joy

Cardinal Thomas Collins is a happy person by nature but there was something particularly joyful about him during his journey to Rome to become a cardinal.

Many people commented on it. He was seldom without a smile, without a quip, without infectious exuberance.

A couple days before he received his red hat, Collins was asked how he was feeling. “Imminently eminent,” he replied, with a broad smile. The next day, wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, he hammed it up for a photographer in St. Peter’s Square, resulting in a picture of pure happiness and contentment.

Published in Editorial

ROME - Roman traffic is chaotic. The speed limit is established by the pace of the car ahead. Stops signs mean ease up a bit on the gas. Signalling a turn is for sissies. Except at major intersections, a red light means look both ways before proceeding.

Published in Editorial

VATICAN CITY  - Leaders and members of the Catholic Church do not have the authority to determine its teaching and structure but are called to ensure its fidelity to Jesus and to the faith passed on by the apostles, Pope Benedict XVI told the 22 new cardinals he created.

"The Church is not self-regulating, she does not determine her own structure, but receives it from the Word of God, to which she listens in faith as she seeks to understand it and to live it," the Pope said in a homily Feb. 19 during a Mass concelebrated with the new cardinals in St. Peter's Basilica.

Published in Vatican

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI and the 22 new cardinals he created yesterday concelebrated Mass this morning in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The pope used Bernini’s sculpture of the Chair of St. Peter to illustrate his homily since the Mass marked the feast of the Chair of St. Peter, a liturgical solemnity that highlights Jesus giving Peter the authority to lead the church in love. The statue is topped by a window with a stained-glass dove representing the Holy Spirit.

Published in Vatican

VATICAN CITY - More than 10,000 friends, family and supporters bore chilly morning temperatures, pressing crowds and long lines to get a chance to see Pope Benedict XVI place a red hat on their favorite cardinal. Only a few thousands got to see it happen in person.

“We arrived at the main gate at 6 a.m. just like good little pilgrims, in the freezing cold,” said Annette Zaralli Parsons from Richmond, Va.

But then they opened a different gate to let people into St. Peter’s Basilica for the Feb. 18 consistory to create 22 new cardinals from 13 countries “and so the people who had gotten in line later got in. So you should make your headline read: ‘Pilgrims freeze, miss consistory,’” she told Catholic News Service.

Published in Vatican