{mosimage}It is a settled issue. At least, that is what politicians and opinion leaders have been saying about abortion for the past 20 years in Ottawa.

So why then did the issue of abortion result in not only a heated debate in Parliament March 23 but also cause the leaders of the two main political parties to face a caucus revolt? I would argue it is because the issue is not settled at all.

According to a Harris-Decima poll for the Manning Centre 74 per cent of Canadians find abortion morally wrong (60 per cent strongly agreeing, 14 per cent somewhat agreeing). When politicians say the issue is settled, it is to avoid discussion of what abortion really is and explanations of why they support or oppose Canada’s current status quo of zero limit on abortion right up to the moment of birth.

Since Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced his plan for lowering mortality rates for mothers and children in the developing world there has been fierce lobbying from the pro-life and pro-choice sides on whether a “full range” of family planning options, including abortion, should be included. While the Conservative government received heat from pro-life activists to keep it out, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff answered calls from Action Canada and the International Planned Parenthood Federation to put it in. The issue came to a head with a vote, and public humiliation for Ignatieff, in the House of Commons.

As Canadian politicians twiddled their thumbs and denounced their opponents for most of an unproductive winter — in the process alienating voters even further from the political process — I recalled a different kind of politician, a man who entered politics not from personal ambition but from conviction, an MP of the British Parliament who chose to quit politics rather than compromise his principles.

That unlikely politician was novelist, poet, essayist and Catholic apologist Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953).

Born of mixed parentage (English and French) at La Celle Saint Cloud, about 20 km outside Paris, Belloc loved both France and England (particularly East Sussex). He was educated at Cardinal Newman’s Oratory House; his precocious intellect enabled him to carry off academic prizes in several subjects. One such prize was a signed copy of Cardinal Newman’s The Dream of Gerontius, which Belloc later had to pawn when his finances were precarious.

Following a year of French military service, Belloc went up to Balliol College, Oxford, where he excelled academically and was elected president of the student union. A contemporary, E. C. Bentley, thus described him:

“When Belloc came to Oxford . . . a fresh spirit began to work in the intellectual life of England. His immense personal magnetism, his cascade of ideas, of talk, of fervid oratory, his exuberant and irreverent humour, his love of bodily activity and adventure, carried all before them.”

For a temperament as bellicose as Belloc’s, Parliament was a natural outlet. In 1906 he ran as Liberal candidate in the marginal South Salford constituency where the electorate was overwhelmingly Protestant and Belloc’s Catholicism was considered an insurmountable political liability. The Conservative incumbent, J. Greville Greeves, was a wealthy brewer whose family owned a hundred pubs within the constituency. Belloc countered Greeves’ advantage by pointing out that people had died from drinking impure beer; if elected, Belloc promised a Pure Beer Bill. He made good on his promise, but his bill was defeated in parliament.

Urged by his campaign manager to make no mention of religion, Belloc began his first election speech in typical pugnacious fashion:  “Gentlemen, I am a Catholic. As far as possible, I go to Mass every day. This (taking a rosary out of his pocket) is a rosary. As far as possible, I kneel down and tell these beads every day. If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God that He has spared me the indignity of being your representative.”

After a shocked silence, there was applause. Belloc won.

He proved a prickly parliamentarian. So frequently he voted against the government that he was sometimes mistaken for an opposition member.  When a minister proposed “compromise and moderation” over a bill dealing with Catholic education, Belloc rose to say: “I cannot too emphatically point out that those two words are absolutely meaningless when the House of Commons is dealing with the Catholic faith.”

What a contrast Belloc is with our sorry string of ostensibly Catholic prime ministers — Trudeau, Turner, Chretien and Martin — who first initiated, then extended, abortion access until Canada became unique among countries of the Western world in having no legislative restriction on abortion.

Belloc served two terms (1906-1913) but finished up at odds with his party and constituency, the latter because they spurned his proposal to run as an independent. To a close friend Belloc wrote: “I can no longer stand the House of Commons. I see little object in it. It does not govern; it does not even discuss. It is completely futile.”

What would Belloc make of the bellicose barnyard which our House of Commons has become? Better not to ask.

After he left Parliament Belloc continued to lecture and write but, by 1940, the four human beings who had mattered most to him were dead: his wife Elodie, his mother, his eldest son Peter and his closest friend, G. K. Chesterton. Solitary, and increasingly senile, Belloc lived a hermit-like existence at Kingsland, his Sussex home, until July 14, 1953 when he fell out of his chair and was badly burned in the fire grate. Two days later he died.

In a sense, it could be said that Belloc foretold not only his own fate but the fate of that rare bird (probably  extinct now in Canada), the principled politician, the man who puts principle before expediency, when, as a young man, he wrote these lines:

A lost thing could I never find;
Nor a broken thing mend.
And I fear I shall be all alone
When I get to the end.
O who will there be to comfort me,
O who will be my friend?
(Ian Hunter is Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Law at Western University.)
{mosimage}For more than 40 years Canadians have been fortunate to have the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace rolling up its sleeves on their behalf to deliver aid to some of the poorest regions on Earth. But somewhere along the way D&P seems to have lost its way.

How else to explain a bizarre D&P document recently leaked to the public that is rife with misrepresentation and distortion as it disparages the respected Catholic pro-life organization Campaign Life Coalition? How else to explain the hypocrisy of D&P itself resorting to an ugly smear campaign when just a year ago the overseas development agency was crying foul over alleged assaults on its integrity that, they cried, were fuelled by slander and unfounded accusations?

A recent verdict in Italy against executives of Google raises concerns for online media operations around the world. A Milan court convicted three Google Inc. executives Feb. 24 for violating the privacy of an Italian boy with Down’s Syndrome by letting a video of him being bullied be posted on the site in 2006.

Google will appeal the six-month suspended jail terms and said the verdict “poses a crucial question for the freedom on which the Internet is built,” since none of the three employees found guilty had anything to do with the offending video.

{mosimage}Thousands of words have been written and spoken in recent days about Pope Benedict XVI and the latest child-abuse scandal sweeping Europe. Much of it originates from a secular media that, in the Internet age, too often seems driven by a nudge-nudge, wink-wink modus operandi. The challenge, then, is to separate fact from fiction.

To his credit, the Pope has never tried to hide from the modern tragedy of the church: the sexual abuse of children at the hands of priests. On the contrary, prior to recent events he has earned praise even from church critics for his up-front handling of an ever-widening tragedy that continues to plague Europe and North America.

A recent decision by the Quebec Court of Appeal that placed the state’s interest ahead of parental rights should be on the radar of everyone interested in preserving Catholic education.

The case involved Catholic parents from Drummondville who sought a court order to exempt their two sons from attending a classroom program called Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC). ERC was launched in 2008 and is compulsory in Quebec from Grades 1 to 11 in both private and public schools, including Catholic schools. The program was created to help foster harmony between cultures and religions and, to that end ERC examines multiple world religions, moral codes and belief systems and treats each with equal weight and merit.

In the developed industrial societies of the West, superficiality is among the great scourges of the age. Our prosperity and freedom, and the best values we have inherited from the past, are blighted by a mass culture that trivializes everything, from politics and entertainment to sexuality and social morality.

Movies, TV and advertising constantly reinforce the notions, for example, that sexual licence is just a normal part of growing up, that living together outside the exclusive terms of marriage is even desirable in the circumstances of our era. The bombardment of highly eroticized entertainment hollows out the personal depth and resonance that can come with sexual commitment.

{mosimage}Faith can move mountains but can it move a church? An American pastor believes so.

Fr. David Dye is overseeing an ambitious and novel project to save an historic church in downtown Buffalo by dismantling it stone by stone and reassembling it in an Atlanta suburb 1,500 kilometres away. The process is being called “preservation through relocation” and, if successful, presents intriguing possibilities for Canadian dioceses facing tough choices about the future of old, underused, sometimes historic, city churches.

{mosimage}He was a small man, poor, sickly, uneducated and with no discernible skills or talents. He had little more than the clothes on his back and his faith when he showed up at the door of the Congregation of Holy Cross in Montreal some 140 years ago. At first, he was turned away, but later told to come inside.

That simple act of welcome set in motion an unlikely life of healing and service that culminated in the Feb. 19 announcement by Pope Benedict XVI that Blessed Brother André (born Alfred Bessette) will be canonized Oct. 17 in Rome. He follows St. Marguerite d’Youville as just the second Canadian-born saint.

{mosimage}In Charity in Truth Pope Benedict XVI described charity as “love received and given,” and as the 2010 ShareLife appeal is launched the pontiff’s words are being put to action.

In the archdiocese of Toronto a parishioner who has donated anonymously in the past stepped forward on the eve of this campaign with a pledge to match up to $500,000 in new money collected by ShareLife. Not only will every dollar from first-time donors be matched, but every dollar above last year’s contribution by previous donors will also be doubled by this nameless benefactor.

If there is one subject that provokes more complaints of media bias than religion, it would probably be abortion. From the time of the legalization debates in the 1960s, most pro-life groups have believed their message has been suppressed or misrepresented, and I would not be surprised if some pro-choice groups have felt the same way.

But one thing about the debate that has changed is the addition of a free-speech component to the moral and religious issues.