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
October 11, 2012

Reigniting faith

Initially, it seemed odd when Pope Benedict XVI declared the Church would celebrate a special Year of Faith. Aren't followers called to be joyful witnesses to Christ every year? For the baptized, isn't faith already the fabric of daily Christian life?

The answers to those questions, of course, are yes. At least they should be. So in that sense the Year of Faith, which launched on Oct. 11, is preaching to the converted. But none of that diminishes the foresight of the declaration or the duty to heed its call.

The coming year is designed to usher the Church into a period of reflection and rediscovery of faith and, by extension, into a revival of Christian values. The Pope has long worried that faith, particularly in the West, is being battered by cultural and political forces that are causing a "profound crisis of faith" in society. His Year of Faith is the Church fighting back.

He wants to entice lapsed Catholics back to church and to introduce the faith to non-believers. To achieve those goals the Pope intends to stoke the fires of evangelization in all Catholics by en- couraging a deeper understanding of Scripture and Church teachings, and then urging all Catholics to proceed with authority and joy to give public witness to faith.

"We want this year to arouse in every believer the aspiration to profess the faith in fullness and with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope," the Pope said.

He calls the Year of Faith a time to study, profess and demonstrate faith. It is a year for Catholics to re-learn their faith and connect proactively with others whose devotion has lapsed or by example to others who have never found God.

There are many ways to accomplish this — through the sacraments and prayer, meditation and study, retreats and pilgrimages — but some practical activities are particularly recommended. These begin with studying the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which just turned 20. It is the training manual for Catholics and the first source to learn or re-learn the faith.

Catholics are also encouraged to read the documents of Vatican II, to memorize the Nicene Creed and recite it daily, to attend adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, to study the lives of saints and to participate in parish workshops that explore Scripture and Church teaching. Pilgrimage is also important, not necessarily to distant locales like the Holy Land, but to closer sites such as the Martyrs' Shrine in Midland, Ont., or St. Joseph Oratory in Montreal, or St. Michael's Cathedral in Toronto.

The Year of Faith is focussed on the laity, "who should not be considered collaborators of the clergy, but people who are co-responsible for the Church," said Benedict. It is about them becoming proud Catholics and Catholics that others can be proud of.

Published in Editorial
September 26, 2012

Family society’s rock

New data from Statistics Canada that shows the traditional family is in decline comes as no surprise but that doesn’t make the findings any less troubling.

Canadians who live alone now outnumber couples with children. Fewer people than ever are getting married and they’re having even fewer children. Single parenting is rising, as is common-law and same-sex parenting.

It is premature to declare the traditional family structure as dead, far from it, but it’s certainly suffering. From 2006 to 2011, the number of children living in either common-law or single-parent households shot up by 22 per cent. One-third of Canadian children are now living in non-traditional family households, compared to about 10 per cent 50 years ago. That gap between traditional and non-traditional parenting will only become more narrow as young people continue to reject marriage to live common-law, as high divorce rates and pre-marital births create more single-parent homes and as same-sex parenting increases. The data has been moving in that direction since the 1970s and nothing indicates the trend will change.

What is surprising, however, is the nonchalant reaction of Canadian society to this radical reconstruction of family. Studies have found that stable, loving, two-parent (mom and dad) families make for a healthier society. Indeed, many studies suggest society suffers when traditional families and the values they instill are replaced by alternate child-rearing arrangements.

Families are the bedrock of civil society. They are the primary teachers of right and wrong, the place where values and morals are instilled and the foundation is laid for good citizenship. They are the place where children learn to love, give, co-operate, compromise and pray. It is also where they learn how to be good moms and dads.

Children raised in traditional families are less likely to fall into drug or alcohol abuse, criminal activity, depression, promiscuity, and they are less likely to grow up in poverty. They have better success rates in school, work and marriage, and they tend to become better parents themselves.

Catholics further recognize the sacredness of family as rooted in Scripture and promulgated by the saints and Church leaders. Speaking recently to a group of French bishops in Rome, Pope Benedict called family the foundation of society but said the foundation is threatened by “a faulty conception of human nature.”

“Marriage and family are institutions that must be promoted and defended from every possible misrepresentation of their true nature, since whatever is injurious to them is injurious to society itself.”

So the prudent reaction to the decline of the traditional family would be a thorough evaluation by society of this worrisome trend. To blithely accept it as an inevitable, even commendable, evolution of society is something we do at our peril.

Published in Editorial
September 19, 2012

Emissary of hope

As war raged in Syria and an anti-Muslim film ignited violence across the Arab world, Pope Benedict calmly arrived last week in Lebanon as a “pilgrim of peace.”

The 85-year-old pontiff would have been excused if, citing age and security concerns, he’d postponed this trip. During his three-day stay, 25 people were injured and a man killed in Lebanon’s second largest city, Tripoli, during protests aimed at an American film that mocks Islam. The day after he left, missiles from Syrian jets hit Lebanese territory. The region, habitually unsafe, is particularly dangerous right now.

The purpose of the trip was to officially endorse the Apostolic Exhortation that was drafted following the 2010 Synod of Bishops for the Middle East. That task could have been accomplished in the Vatican, of course, and transmitted live worldwide by video-conferencing and Internet technology. Yet the Pope dismissed that option.

Instead, he made the right and courageous decision to stand beside the Christians of the region and, by his physical presence, acknowledge the hardships they endure by living in nations that are often hostile to Christianity. That simple act alone says much about the Pope. Then, addressing some 20,000 young people from several Middle East countries, he urged them to be the vanguard to keep Christianity alive in the lands of its birth.

Middle East Christians, facing social and economic discrimination and seeking safety for their families, have been emigrating in droves to Europe and North America. At the current pace, Christianity might virtually disappear from the region in a generation. It is asking much of young Christians to endure financial and religious hardship, but that is exactly what the Pope implored. To be effective, the message had to be delivered in person.

“I am aware of the difficulties you face daily, on account of instability and a lack of security, and your sense of being alone and on the margins,” he said. But, he added, “You are meant to be protagonists of your country’s future.”

The Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation lays a common-sense framework for Middle East Christianity to endure. It emphasizes dialogue, respect, equality, tolerance and forgiveness among Christians, Muslims and Jews, while denouncing secularism and fundamentalism. The Pope urged young people to never be afraid or ashamed of being Christian and he affirmed their right to religious liberty, to live publicly as Christians and to participate fully in civil life.

The Pope arrived in Lebanon as a pilgrim of peace but departed as an emissary of inspiration and hope. He ignored the latest regional upheaval and chose boldly to stand among the anxious Christians to let them know in person that he will not abandon them. That may have been the most important message of all.

Published in Editorial
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