Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News

Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News

Deborah Waters Gyapong has been a journalist and novelist for more than 20 years. She has worked in print, radio and television, including 12 years as a producer for CBC TV's news and current affairs programming. She currently covers religion and politics primarily for Catholic and Evangelical newspapers.

OTTAWA - An explosion ripped through an auto shop at Ottawa's Mother Teresa Catholic High School May 26, killing Grade 12 student Eric Leighton, 18, and injuring five others.

Police reported the students had been cutting through metal making barbecues when residue in a 55-gallon drum exploded.

Leighton was found "without vital signs" at the scene but paramedics "initiated advance resuscitative measures" and by the time he reached hospital, he had regained a pulse.  Leighton, however, died in hospital later in the day, according to police.

Paramedics assessed four other students and a 33-year old teacher at the scene.  They were sent to hospital for monitoring of possible concussive injuries.

OTTAWA - The Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments May 18 in a religious freedom case that pits parental rights against Quebec’s mandatory Ethics and Religious Culture program (ERC).

The case was brought by a Roman Catholic couple from Drummondville, Que., who requested their two children be exempted from the ERC. Their name is protected by a publication ban.

Mark Phillips one of the two lawyers representing the parents, said the government insists the ERC is “about teaching tolerance and diversity.” The parents have nothing against those objectives, he said, but they say the course is “a form of indoctrination,” seeking to cultivate worldview and a framework for ethics that is different from their Catholic faith.

Co-counsel Mark Pratt told the court “the state has no right to program people” in arguing for the prior rights of parents to educate their children and to choose how that education is delegated. Many of the questions from the bench concerned whether the onus should be on the parents to prove harm, or whether the state had the onus to prove its course was neutral on religion.

OTTAWA — Bishop Raymond Lahey pleaded guilty to the importation of child pornography May 4 and went directly to jail after he asked the judge to be incarcerated while awaiting his sentence hearing.

The former Bishop of Antigonish, N.S., faced two child porn charges, but the Crown and defence counsel agreed to drop the more serious charge of possession of child pornography for the purpose of transmission. Lahey's lawyer told the court there was no distribution involved.

Lahey faces a minimum mandatory sentence of one year in jail and possibly up to 10 years.

He also faces dismissal from the clerical state, or defrocking as it was once known, from the Vatican. In a statement yesterday, the Vatican restated its condemnation of sexual exploitation in all its forms, particularly crimes against minors.

"Although the civil process has run its course, the Holy See will continue to follow the canonical procedures in effect for such cases, which will result in the imposition of the appropriate disciplinary or penal measures," said the statement.

OTTAWA - When the producer of the pro-life movie Bella saw a video of police handcuffing Ruth Lobo and four other students and pushing them into a police wagon, he wept.

Lobo, who heads up Carleton Lifeline, the university’s pro-life club, her fiancé James Shaw and three others were arrested for trespassing last fall on Ottawa’s Carleton University campus after trying to mount a Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) display of photographs comparing abortion to genocide.

“When I saw that officer just ignore the rule of law, I began to cry,” said Jason Jones, who spoke April 30 at a fundraiser for Lobo, Shaw and the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform at Notre Dame Cathedral. The Calgary-based pro-life organization created the GAP project

Jones produced the acclaimed film Bella, a small budget film that drew rave reviews when it was released in 2008. It also took the People’s Choice Award at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival. The film tells the story of a young unmarried waitress fired from her job after she becomes pregnant and the cook who commits to helping her and ultimately convinces her to have the baby.

Conservative Party leader and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper scored a goal that had long eluded him, leading the Conservatives to the majority government he had failed to obtain in the last t hree elections. (CNS photo/Andy Clark, Reuters)OTTAWA - English-speaking Catholics helped ensure a Conservative majority in the May 2 federal election, but the historic surge in Quebec by the NDP signals a preference of state over church in French Canada.

The NDP won a record-breaking 58 seats in Quebec, leaving the Bloc Quebecois with just four MPs, well below official-party status in the new Parliament. This triumph by the NDP “sends a signal that Quebeckers still strongly believe in the state” and put their focus on government rather than “the grassroots organizations of civil society,” said McGill University historian John Zucchi.

The Conservatives swept to a majority with 167 seats. The NDP will form the official opposition with 102 seats, compared to 34 Liberals, four BQ and one Green Party seat.  

The anti-church trend in Quebec sets it apart from much of the rest of Canada. An Angus Reid poll released April 22 indicated 59 per cent of English-speaking Catholics who attend church weekly intended to vote Conservative. Half of other Catholics also said they would vote Conservative. Those preferences seemed to stand up on election day and reflected a trend identified in the last two elections in which the Liberals saw erosion of two main pillars of support: Catholic and ethnic voters.  
A Christian man shouts while holding an image of Christ during a Jan. 4 protest in Cairo. Angry protesters battled police as they demanded more protection following a New Year’s Day bombing at a Coptic Orthodox church. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised to fight religious persecution abroad. (CNS photo/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany, Reuters) OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s promise to fight religious persecution abroad has won applause from religious freedom advocates, but some would like to see more attention paid to religious freedom on the home front.

In Mississauga April 23, Harper told a diverse crowd that included many who came to Canada after fleeing religious persecution that he would establish an Office of Religious Freedom to ensure the defence of persecuted religious minorities remained a priority of foreign policy.

“While we are thankful in a country that spares us such tests, we must not let our comfort be an excuse to shirk our commitment to the cause of freedom,” he said.

Harper praised the memory of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Roman Catholic Pakistani minister of religious minorities who was assassinated March 2 for his defence of Christians unfairly targeted by that country’s blasphemy law. 

“This is very good for the religious minorities of Pakistan and around the world,” said Peter Bhatti, the founder of International Christian Voice and older brother of the slain Pakistani minister. “This office will highlight and monitor the situation of what is happening to religious minorities.” 

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff also supports taking on religious persecution on foreign shores.

OTTAWA - When Bishop Raymond Lahey goes to trial on child pornography charges May 4, the anticipated news coverage will reopen wounds caused by the worldwide clerical sexual abuse, regardless of the trial’s outcome.

But observers say the pain provides an opportunity for needed renewal.

The former bishop of Antigonish was charged with possession and distribution of child pornography in October 2009. Lahey’s arrest followed the seizure of his laptop and other electronic equipment at Ottawa’s airport by a Canadian Border Service agent.

“The first thing is that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty and we should not jump to conclusions,” said Fr. Frank Morrisey, a canon lawyer who has advised the Canadian Church on the clerical abuse crisis.

Fr. Joe LeClair of Ottawa's Blessed Sacrament parish

OTTAWA - The Ottawa archdiocese confirmed it had launched an audit of the finances of Blessed Sacrament parish “some weeks” before two front-page stories appeared in the Ottawa Citizen April 16-17 raising questions about the lifestyle of its popular pastor.

The Citizen reported that Fr. Joe Le Clair had cash advances from the Lac-Leamy Casino across the Ottawa River in Quebec of more than $137,000 in 2009-2010, and incurred a credit card debt of more than $490,000 in that time period. It reported Le Clair had repaid Visa $424,000. 

“How he could afford to repay that much is not known, other than the fact that as a Church pastor, Le Clair earns a net salary of $24,400,” journalists Meghan Hurley and Andrew Duffy wrote.

Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J., in a statement issued April 16, said stories about Le Clair’s “lifestyle” were brought to the attention of diocesan authorities in late 2010 and early 2011. He instructed his Vicar General, Msgr. Kevin Beach, to “clarify the issues raised by the stories.”

Shahbaz Bhatti, who had called for changes in the country's controversial blasphemy law, was shot dead in Islamabad, March 2.OTTAWA - The family of assassinated Pakistani Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti remains committed to its Catholic faith and the fight to improve the plight of persecuted Christians.

Though Bhatti’s family knew of the death threats their brother faced as an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s blasphemy law, his March 2 assassination still came as a shock, said his older brother Peter Bhatti, who lives in the Toronto area. The immediate reaction was a sense there is no place for us to live, and no hope, he said.

But his mother blessed him at the funeral service and told him, “Don’t worry, he lost his life for Jesus Christ. He chose a faith which our Jesus Christ chose. He is a martyr.”

Bhatti’s mother asked Peter and other family members to “please continue in his service and mission so our people will not lose their rights and be able to live in dignity and honour,” he said.
This  election  campaign, political parties are offering a variety of  incentives for  middle-class families. (Photo courtesy of  iStockphoto.com)OTTAWA - Pro-family groups are delighted to see a focus on family issues in the election campaign platforms of all three national parties.

But some social conservative leaders have expressed disappointment that Stephen Harper refuses to reopen the debate on abortion or marriage even if the Conservatives win a majority.

Past elections have seen the “odd snippet” of platform policy directed at family issues so it’s encouraging to see the major parties addressing family matters in this campaign, said Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) executive director Dave Quist.

“It’s good,” he said. “It’s time they looked at the foundation of our society and that is the family.

“We may disagree on the solutions, that is what democracy is all about, but it’s important that we be discussing these things.”