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.

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.”
Gatineau Archbishop Roger Ebacher displays gifts from Sr. Clare Garcillano, a missionary in East Timor and a D&P partner.OTTAWA - A delegation with members from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia, East Timor and Sierra Leone have embarked on a tour of Ontario and Quebec cities to tell Canadian Catholics how much their nations have benefited from Canadian generosity.

Among them was the president of the National Episcopal Conference of Congo, Tshumbe Bishop Nicolas Djomo, who spoke of the work the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (D&P) has done in his country.

“Development and Peace has been helping us a lot,” said Djomo, who spoke of the work the Canadian bishops’ development agency did first in addressing emergency needs in the aftermath of the country’s civil war, and now in helping the central African nation address justice and human rights, fair elections and concerns over mining.
Anthony Sales among the 160 frames of his Philatelic Tribute to Pope John Paul II (Photo by Deborah Gyapong)OTTAWA - Anthony Sales’ childhood passion for stamp collecting has become a “Philatelic Tribute to Pope John Paul II” that tells an astonishing story of the “pilgrim pope” in stamps from nations around the world.

“He was really loved,” said Sales, who lives in Richmond, B.C. “He was a man people were just attracted to.”

Sales brought his collection to Ottawa April 1-4, which straddled the sixth anniversary of John Paul’s death, and only a month before John Paul’s beatification in Rome May 2, a circumstance Sales described as “providential.”

The exhibit had originally been slated for last October, and was moved to April before the beatification was announced.

Sales described the late pope as “a man from Galilee” because when he spoke, Sales was reminded of accounts of St. Paul in Acts speaking to the people.
Fr. Luis Arriaga, director of the of the Miguel Pro Centre for Human Rights, will no longer visit Ottawa.OTTAWA - Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J. cancelled the weekend speaking engagements of a Mexican priest amid allegations that the priest's human rights organization was allied with groups that promote decriminalizing abortion.

Fr. Luis Arriaga, director of the of the Miguel Pro Centre for Human Rights, was to visit several churches and meet with Ottawa priests and parish representatives of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace to highlight D&P's overseas work.

Last week a photograph was published online that showed Arrigia receiving an award alongside members of a Mexican pro-choic organization. Prendergast met with Arriaga upon the priest's arrival in Ottawa and, following a discussion with him and D&P representatives, cancelled Arriaga's appearances.

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins has asked Canadians interested in joining a personal ordinariate for former Anglicans to signal their intention to join in writing by May 31.

He told the Anglicanorum Coetibus Conference held in Mississauga March 24-26 he wanted to “clarify the commitment” of individuals to find out “who wants to proceed, understanding exactly what it means.”

Collins, who is the episcopal delegate representing the Holy See in the formation of a personal ordinariate for former Anglicans within the Catholic Church, stressed the importance of individual conscience and that each individual have “fully informed consent to this.”

Though May 31 is not a deadline and Anglicans can commit to joining later, Collins said he wanted to provide the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with an idea of preliminary numbers.