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 - As Caravaggio’s personal life unravelled, his paintings became more deeply spiritual, perhaps due to his need for mercy, says an art historian and expert on the 17th century Italian master.

The more sorrow he experienced, the more spiritual his work became, said University of Vienna art historian Sebastian Schütze at a June 15 preview of the National Art Gallery’s international loan exhibition Caravaggio and His Friends in Rome that will be in Ottawa until Sept. 11.

As the hot-tempered artist became “the bad boy on the run” after having killed someone in a duel, his work became richer and more reflective and less inclined to show off his technical virtuosity Schütze said.

The painting that closes the exhibit, St. Francis contemplating a skull, was painted around the time that the artist fled from Rome, and shows a deep sense of spiritual reflection.

The artist’s short life did not reflect a one-on-one correspondence between a virtuous life and great art, but 400 years after his death at the age of 38 in 1610, Caravaggio remains one of the greatest painters of all time and the most topical of the great masters today, said Schütze.

OTTAWA - Children yearn to have a close relationship with their biological parents and they thrive when they are raised by their own mom and dad, an American sociologist told a family conference.

Contrary to popular belief, the gender of parents is relevant to a child’s outcomes in life, he said.

“Everything I have to say would have been common sense to my grandma,” Brad Wilcox from the University of Virginia told the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada annual conference.

“Now we have elaborate social science to prove grandma was right.”

Wilcox, a marriage and cohabitation researcher, said children do best when both parents participate in child rearing. He describes that as a counter-cultural and sometimes controversial statement in a society that endorses several different parenting models.

OTTAWA - Cultural changes in recent decades have caused marriage and fertility rates to plummet, according to an American professor.

University of Texas at Austin professor Mark Regnerus told the recent Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) conference that young people are told “there’s no rush,” and that one must “be your own person” before marrying.

As a result, marriage rates have dropped in all age groups, but precipitously in the younger age groups. The percentage of men aged 20-24 who have never married “has just exploded” since 1970 when only 35 per cent of men in that age group had never married. Now almost 89 per cent have not married. The next age group, 25-29, has also jumped from 10.5 per cent never married in 1970 to 62 per cent.

Among men who marry under the age of 24, religion is “most important” to 44.7 per cent  and “very important” to 25.1 per cent, he said. Fidelity and monogamy are also rated highly.

Regnerus noted the ages of 20-29 are years of peak fertility for women.

OTTAWA - The NDP passed a number of resolutions at its 2011 policy convention that could appeal to voters who care about social justice, say two of the party’s Catholic MPs.

“I think there’s so much of the NDP that was founded in the social Gospel,” said NDP MP Charlie Angus, now the Official Opposition ethics critic. “People think we came out of labour, but we came out of the churches as well, the fight for social justice.”

The NDP wound up its convention in Vancouver June 17-19 fresh off an historic win in May that saw the party shoot past the Liberals to become the Official Opposition. Despite the NDP’s support for abortion and same-sex marriage, Angus contends there’s a lot for Catholic voters to like about his party.

In every speech, NDP Leader Jack Layton talks about a Canada where “no one is left behind,” said Angus, who represents the Ontario riding of Timmins-James Bay. “I think that’s something that people in the pews understand in their heart. They know we are in a very rich country, but something’s not working.”

OTTAWA - The Conservative Party has given a ringing endorsement to traditional marriage, to family life and the rights of parents to raise children according to individual conscience and beliefs.

At its 2011 policy convention, held June 9-11, the Conservatives resolved to support legislation “defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” They also stressed that Parliament, not the courts, should determine the definition of marriage through a free vote.

“This is a party that’s not afraid of being conservative,” said Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, a Catholic, in an interview.  “It’s a dramatic change from the days of the old Progressive Conservative Party where social conservatives were not made to feel welcome.”

The party passed a resolution on family and marriage that affirmed the family unit is “essential to the well-being of individuals and society, because it is where children learn values and develop a sense of responsibility.” The resolution also stressed “the right and duty of parents to raise their own children responsibly according to their own conscience and beliefs.”

OTTAWA — The June 3 Throne Speech reiterates modest campaign promises and the June 6 budget is virtually identical to the budget tabled Mar. 22. However, these little changes could have a huge impact on Canadian society, observers say.

Though the 400-page budget document emphasizes stability, a think tank concerned about a flourishing civil society says the Conservative government is “preparing for a coming storm in Canadian politics: one which they intend to shape and survive.”

That storm involves the aging of Canadian society that will see 2.5 workers for every retiree, up from the present 4.7 workers per retiree; a coming health care crunch that has not been publicly addressed; and the ways an increased free trade environment might hurt some sectors of the economy, Cardus warns.

“The increased emphasis on expenditure review and the advanced targets for returning to surplus are just two indicators that this budget is really about battening down the hatches and rolling out the foundations for shaping tomorrow’s social architecture,” said an analysis by Cardus, a think tank that now incorporates the former Centre for Culture Renewal.

OTTAWA - The newly-elected Speaker of the House Andrew Scheer, 32, made history June 3 as the youngest MP to be elected to this coveted role that comes with huge responsibilities and accompanying perks.

But Scheer’s victory has also sent a message to politicians everywhere that one does not have to separate a robust Catholic faith from public life.

The father of four represents Regina-Qu’Appelle which he first won in 2004, but he grew up in Ottawa. His father, Jim Scheer, is a permanent deacon at St. Patrick’s Basilica and his mother Mary is an active member of the parish. His parents and his wife were in the gallery during the vote.

Scheer's Catholicity has got him in the spotlight on Parliament Hill in the past. Last spring, Scheer remained cheerful and unfazed when Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe and NDP MP Pat Martin tried to make a political issue out of his hosting a luncheon for MPs, Senators and Hill staff featuring a talk by Opus Dei Vicar Msgr. Fred Dolan. The luncheon prompted Duceppe to accuse the Conservatives of being influenced by the “fundamentalist religious right,” and Martin to describe Opus Dei as “creepy.” The attacks coincided with the release of Marci McDonald’s polemical book The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada that asserted fundamentalist Christians held too much sway in the Harper government.

OTTAWA - Quebec’s ban on God, prayers, songs to Jesus and religious instruction in subsidized day cares discriminates against religious believers, says the Catholic Civil Rights League.

The League has expressed support for Jewish and Catholic parents who are appealing to the Quebec Superior Court on grounds the ban violates the constitution by infringing on religious freedom.

“Quebec is leaning toward suppression and discrimination against believers of any religion,” said Jean Morse-Chevrier, the Quebec director for the League and chair of the Association of Catholic Parents of Quebec.

The ban is similar to Quebec’s mandatory Ethics and Religious Culture program (ERC), she said.  

“In effect, in the name of respect for diversity, the government is abolishing true diversity more and more in educational programs.”

OTTAWA - It’s rare for an outspoken, socially conservative Catholic to host a prime time news and opinion program on a mainstream media network, and Sun Media’s Brian Lilley is not wasting his moment.

When his 9 p.m. (ET) program Byline launched April 18 on the new Sun News channel, Sun Media’s senior parliamentary reporter waded right into one of the most politically incorrect subjects inside the Ottawa Queensway — abortion.

“I like a good debate, so I jump right in and say, ‘let’s talk about this,’ ” said Lilley in an interview in the conference room of Sun Media’s brand new newsroom and studio in Ottawa.

“It’s assumed that a lot of these issues are settled. The abortion issue is settled and we don’t need to ever discuss it. That is the prevailing view. And then it’s discussed in the dying days of every election campaign as an issue to scare people,” he said, noting none of the major political parties are pro-life.

OTTAWA - The funeral service for a Grade 12 student killed in a shop accident at Ottawa's Mother Teresa Catholic High School will be held June 3.

The service for 18-year-old Eric Leighton is scheduled for Ottawa's St. Patrick's Church.

Leighton died when an explosion ripped through an auto shop at Mother Teresa High School May 26. Five others were injured. 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.