June 4, 2014

Keeping our word

All too often nations fail to honour headline-grabbing promises trumpeted at the conclusion of international summits. Leaders move on to other issues and other crises and hope no one remembers pledges made in previous years. 

Published in Editorial

In the powerful image shown around the world, Pope Francis is standing at the imposing wall that partitions Bethlehem from the outside world. His right palm presses the concrete, his head is bowed in silent prayer. Graffiti above him proclaims, “Pope we need some1 to speak about justice.”

Published in Editorial
May 21, 2014

A caring Church

The archdiocese of Toronto’s $105 million fundraising drive is unprecedented in the Canadian Church. But the ambitious campaign is about much more than asking parishioners how much can they give. It’s asking them how much do they care.

Published in Editorial

Just as elected officials are required to uphold the law they also have the right, and sometimes the duty, to advocate for reform. That doesn’t mean they’ll get their way — and most times they don’t — but in a free and democratic society it does mean they can follow their conscience, act on principle, voice reasonable opinions and, hopefully, not be judged for their beliefs, particularly those founded in faith.

Published in Editorial
May 7, 2014

Time to meddle

These are trying times to be a politically hopeful citizen. At almost every turn, politicians at all levels of public life are exhibiting scandalous behaviour and dishonouring what should be the honourable profession of advancing the common good.

Published in Editorial
April 30, 2014

Shame on law society

In a decision that might be unenforceable and is certainly misguided, the Law Society of Upper Canada has barred future graduates of a Christian law school from practising in Ontario. In a 28-21 vote, the law society branded aspiring lawyers from B.C.’s Trinity Western University persona non grata because students and staff agree to live by a moral code of conduct that, among other things, prohibits sexual intimacy outside of marriage.

Published in Editorial
April 25, 2013

Indifferent to life

A doctor on trial as an alleged serial killer would normally be front page news. But the case of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, on trial in Philadelphia for seven first-degree murders, has received little media attention.

Published in Editorial
April 12, 2013

Whither democracy?

Voters in large, pluralistic democracies rarely reach consensus on any substantive issue, but the opinion of Canadians on sex-selective abortion is near unanimous. They overwhelmingly denounce it.

Published in Editorial
March 28, 2013

Francis brings joy

The hope and joy of Easter have been magnified this year by the first steps of a Pope who has arrived like the blossoms of an Easter-morning lily to brighten the universal Church.

Published in Editorial
January 30, 2013

Killing is not care

The Criminal Code, Parliament and the Supreme Court have been consistent and clear on the matter of euthanasia and assisted suicide. Both offences are serious crimes as prescribed in law and as upheld in various votes by the nation’s top legislative and judicial bodies. Yet the Province of Quebec is bulling ahead with a chilling attempt to circumvent the law by decriminalizing euthanasia through a legislative sleight-of-hand.

In mid-January, the PQ government of Pauline Marois trumpeted a report suggesting doctors should sometimes be allowed to kill patients. Naturally, that is not how the report is worded. It speaks of “medically aided death” and suggests that euthanasia is just another “part of the continuum of care” provided by doctors. So on some days doctors will deliver a baby, or remove tonsils, or treat cancer, and on other days they will deliver care by killing the patient.

This is an offensive notion, of course, and it must be opposed forcefully by society in general and by the federal government in particular.

By June, Quebec is expected to propose legislation to declare euthanasia is a medical procedure and therefore strictly a provincial matter beyond the reach of the Criminal Code or Parliament interference. Assumedly, the Quebec government has lawyers who feel confident in making that argument even though it strikes most reasonable people as far-fetched to claim killing someone can be equated with providing them with medical care.

This legislative end-around follows a resounding rejection two years ago of a private member’s euthanasia bill introduced by Bloc Quebecois MP Francine Lalonde. She lost that vote 250-57. The Supreme Court had rejected euthanasia in a 1993 decision. Two years after that, a senate committee concluded euthanasia should remain a criminal offence. Although euthanasia is legal in some countries, Canada, to its credit, has consistently rejected it.

Even Quebecers are unconvinced. The “Dying With Dignity” committee crossed the province for two years hearing submissions. Sixty per cent of people or groups opposed euthanasia. Many doctors are appalled that their oath to “do no harm” could be perverted to countenance killing.

“This act is abhorrent to us as doctors and should appall Quebecers who care about social justice and building communities that care about the most vulnerable,” said Dr. Catherine Ferrier, spokesperson for a group called The Physicians’ Alliance for Total Refusal of Euthanasia.

Instead of writing laws to kill sick and suffering people, politicians in Quebec and across Canada should be increasing the number and improving the quality of palliative care centres. Euthanasia is a deplorable solution for old age, illness and infirmity. The focus should be on providing comfort and care, and building a society that treats all life with dignity and respect.

 

Published in Editorial
January 23, 2013

It’s a start

Sculpting a legacy is a central subplot in the second term of any American president. To that end, Barack Obama has started writing a key chapter to his story by squaring himself as the president who stood up to America’s powerful gun lobby.

Published in Editorial
November 21, 2012

Truly universal Church

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.

Published in Editorial
November 7, 2012

Save our chaplains

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.

Published in Editorial
October 24, 2012

A saint for today

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.

Published in Editorial
October 17, 2012

Won’t be silenced

“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.

Published in Editorial