This article was amended on Sept. 24, 2012 to clarify comments made by Jim Hughes.

OTTAWA - A statement by Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller that supports Catholics who campaign for “gestational legislation” to limit abortion has helped calm growing tensions within the pro-life movement.

Miller wrote it is “morally licit” for Catholics to support legislation that sets limits on abortion rather than immediately banning it outright. The archbishop’s statement, quickly endorsed by Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins and posted on the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CCCB) web site, urges co-operation in the pro-life movement but stresses: “Co-operation does not always mean unanimity regarding a given strategy; open and civil debate about the wisdom of any specific strategy is healthy.”

Over the past year, support in pro-life circles across Canada has grown for a law that would prohibit abortion at later stages of pregnancy or gestation. Campaign Life Coalition, the national political arm of the movement, however, has remained staunchly opposed as have several other groups that believe incremental legislation of this type will not result in an eventual ban on abortion.

Each side has accused the other of not being Christian or Catholic enough — either for not protecting those babies that might be saved through some restrictions on abortion, or for not sending a strong enough message about the value of all human life from conception.

But Miller said that both positions, for or against gestational legislation, are morally licit.

Miller wrote it is acceptable to support gestational legislation (i.e. legislation that would allow abortion in the early weeks of the unborn child’s development) as an incremental step that would reduce the harms of “an unjust legal regime that permits abortion.” But such law should be regarded “as a step along the way to the eventual full legal protection of the right to life of all unborn human beings.”

“At the same time, it is also morally licit to withhold support for gestational legislation — and other incrementalist legislative strategies intended to limit access to abortion — if, after prudent reflection, one is convinced that it is an unwise legislative strategy,” he said.

The Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF), co-sponsored by the CCCB and the Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus, welcomed Miller’s intervention.

“The division within the pro-life movement is very preoccupying, especially when leaders and members of pro-life groups point at each other and criticize each other’s approach to protecting the unborn,” said COLF director Michele Boulva. “All this hinders our chances of obtaining a law that would protect the most vulnerable of Canadians — its unborn citizens.”

She applauded the bishops’ taking leadership in the pro-life arena.

“As Catholics it is essential that we turn to our bishops when confusion arises regarding the Church’s teaching. Christ has empowered them to teach in His name.”

Based on Blessed John Paul II’s teachings in Evangelium Vitae, “legislation which intends to limit the harm done by a pro-abortion law is not itself co-operation with unjust law but rather ‘a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects,’ ” the archbishop wrote.  

The absence of any law restricting abortion in Canada is a “de facto legal regime that permits abortion with almost no restrictions,” the archbishop said.

“Legislation intended to restrict access to abortion would not create a new legal situation in Canada which would authorize abortions, but instead would intend to limit the number of abortions already authorized under law,” he said.  

He also reiterated Catholic teaching against abortion at any stage, noting that “no law can claim to legitimize abortion.”

Two major pro-life groups on either side of the issue welcomed Miller’s statement.

Campaign Life president Jim Hughes said the archbishop makes it clear we have a de facto law by having no restrictions on abortion.

“I thought Archbishop Miller laid the case pretty well,” he said. "Although I and many others would not necessarily agree with his opinion on a de facto law.”

The most important part of his statement “points out that gestational legislation may or may not be the way to go,” said Hughes, who remains wary of the gestational legislation approach.

Priests for Life Canada is among the many pro-life groups that would support gestational legislation. Priests for Life board chairman Fr. John Lemire, a parish priest based in New Liskeard, Ont., said he is pleased the archbishop’s statement has “supported the idea that a Catholic, a Catholic politician, can in good conscience support gestational legislation.”

The archbishop’s letter may have helped shore up some of the unity within the pro-life movement that has been fragile since its inception, Hughes said. The movement is made up of political, educational and pastoral groups that counsel and support mothers with unexpected pregnancies.

“Campaign Life Coalition has been accused of being ‘all or nothing’ and that’s not true,” Lemire said, noting that since its first questionnaire in 1978, it has “always had an incremental question as part of its strategy.”

The key, said Hughes, is in the wording of any legislation.

“I’m not in favour of ‘we need any law,’ ” Hughes said.

He is opposed to the gestational approach because the experience of countries with gestational laws in place have “so many exceptions” the laws are “virtually useless.” There are many other forms of incremental legislation that would restrict abortion — such as defunding it, or informed consent laws, that Campaign Life would support, he said.

“As the political branch of the pro-life movement we have been battling over 30 years,” he said. Campaign Life has also worked closely with counterparts in other countries who have said “gestational limits are not the way to go.”

Hughes’ objection to gestational legislation extends beyond doctrinal concerns to practical matters, he said. Campaign Life has focused on identifying and supporting individual pro-life candidates in both the Conservative and Liberal parties at the grassroots level. He noted that there are presently 60 pro-life MPs in Parliament. A gestational bill would not have the votes to pass, he said. In addition, Prime Minister Steven Harper remains unwilling to reopen the abortion debate.

Hughes said momentum on the issue has been shifting towards the pro-life movement, but a focus on gestational legislation risks sidetracking it.

The role of the Priests for Life, Lemire said, is to work with all the groups, to “try to be a bridge builder and bring about some dialogue and conversations” not only among groups but with bishops and people in dioceses.

That does not mean Priests for Life agrees with every tactic, he said. But he stressed people who might not be comfortable in an activist role could be great counselling a young expectant mother, or doing any number of tasks that need to be done to create a culture of life.

Published in Canada

OTTAWA - The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) issued a Sept. 18 statement affirming support for the sacredness of all human life from conception to natural end as Motion 312 comes to its second and final hour of debate in the House of Commons.

Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth's private member's motion would review the Criminal Code's definition of a human being in the homicide section that declares: "a child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother."

The statement was signed by CCCB President Archbishop Richard Smith. It is posted on the CCCB web site (www.cccb.ca) and provides a link to Motion 312's text.

"The Catholic Church holds that a human being comes into existence at conception," Smith says in the statement. "The lives of human beings are, therefore, sacred at every stage in our existence — from beginning to natural end.

"As the House of Commons prepares to debate Motion 312, the bishops of Canada invite all members of the Parliament of Canada to take into full account the sacredness of the unborn child and each human life. We also encourage Canadian Catholics, and all people of good will, to pray that our legislators be blessed with wisdom and courage to do what is best to protect and further the common good, which is based on respect for the human dignity of all."

Published in Canada

OTTAWA- A letter from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to Pakistan's High Commissioner is among many interventions being cited for the release from prison of a Pakistani Christian girl accused of blasphemy.

International Christian Voice (ICV) chairman Peter Bhatti credits the bishops' letter, among other signs of international support, for the release of Rimsha Masih on bail Sept. 7. The 11-year-old girl with Down syndrome was imprisoned Aug. 16 after being accused of burning a Quran. Since her arrest, a Muslim cleric was detained Sept. 2 on suspicion of fabricating evidence against Masih.

"She just came out from bail," said Bhatti, the brother of Shahbaz Bhatti, the assassinated former Minorities Minister and first Christian in the Pakistan government's cabinet. "Her case is not finished yet, and we're not sure how long it will go."

In the meantime, she and her family continue to need protection from extremists who have threatened to burn the family alive and also threatened her 1,500-member Christian community, most of whom have gone into hiding, he said.
"I would like to thank the Canadian Catholic bishops' conference for intervening in this issue," Bhatti said.

The CCCB's human rights committee chairman sent a letter Aug. 31 to the High Commissioner of Pakistan expressing concern for Masih.

"This serious situation has prompted the President of Pakistan, His Excellency Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, to call for an investigation," wrote Bishop Francois Lapierre to High Commissioner Mian Gul Akbar Zeb. "We welcome this gesture, given the circumstances not only of the girl herself but also of Pakistan's religious minorities, including Christians, who are regularly the target of fundamentalist groups, in particular regarding anti-blasphemy laws.

"This year marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption by all States in 1992 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons from National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities," Lapierre wrote on behalf of the human rights committee. "In view of this declaration and the initiative of the president of Pakistan, we ask your government to take the necessary measures to find a solution that ensures this girl's freedom, peace and security."

A copy of the letter was sent to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird who has also publicly expressed concern for the girl's plight as well as those of others targeted through the blasphemy laws.

Bhatti said he was thankful for the interventions not only of the bishops and Baird, but also Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and many other Members of Parliament who have continued to put pressure on Pakistan to repeal its draconian blasphemy laws.

Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated in 2011 for his opposition to the blasphemy laws and now his brother Paul Bhatti, an eye surgeon, has been serving as National Harmony Minister in Pakistan's government as well as chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, which put up the bail for Masih.

ICV is holding a fundraiser in Toronto Sept. 14 to raise money for Masih, her family and members of their community. For information e-mail info@internationalchristianvoice.com.

Published in International

OTTAWA - The Holy Father may have moved to his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, but that has not stopped announcements of new episcopal appointments as the Catholic Church in Canada enjoys the dog days of summer.

On July 16, the Pope also accepted the resignation of Keewatin-Le Pas Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie and appointed Fr. William Stang as apostolic administrator. Stang has been serving as vicar general and chancellor of Keewatin-Le Pas and confirmed that health reasons are the reason behind Lavoie's resignation.

Published in Canada

OTTAWA - Canada’s bishops have expressed dismay over a B.C. Supreme Court decision June 15 to strike down Criminal Code provisions against euthanasia and assisted suicide.

“I strongly urge the government to appeal this extremely flawed and dangerous ruling,” said Vancouver Archbishop Michael Miller in a statement released the day of the decision.

The government has until July 16 to file a notice of appeal.

Published in Canada

OTTAWA - A call by an influential Saudi sheikh to destroy all churches on the Arabian Peninsula has led the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Human Rights Committee to voice its concern to the government of Saudi Arabia.

In a May 30 letter to Saudi Ambassador Osamah Al Sanosi Ahmad, Bishop François Lapierre, chairman of the CCCB’s Human Rights Committee, referred to a March 12 statement by Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, who said: “only one religion,” Islam, “should exist in the Arabian Peninsula” and thus “it is necessary to destroy all churches in the region.”

Published in Canada

OTTAWA - A looming humanitarian crisis in West Africa’s drought-ravaged Sahel region has prompted Canada’s Catholic bishops to join forces with the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace in an appeal for donations.

D&P executive director Michael Casey called the growing food shortages “a major crisis,” but one that has received little to no media attention.  

“The needs are extensive and will only increase,” he said.

Published in Canada

Rarely is St. Thomas Aquinas a hot topic. The 13th century Angelic Doctor has been out of the news for some time.

But when Canada’s bishops recently issued a pastoral letter to remind “men and women of good will” about the centrality of conscience to the very idea of freedom, they were channelling St. Thomas via two of the Second Vatican Council’s most important declarations — Gaudium et Spes and Dignitatis Humanae.

Issued on May 14, the bishops Pastoral Letter on Freedom of Conscience and Religion defends the right of religious freedom and expression in the public square while affirming the right of conscience and conscientious objection. It urges believers to never compromise their faith “even if they must suffer for it.”

Published in Features

Canada’s bishops have called on Catholics to become courageous defenders of freedom of conscience and religion.  They call these rights inalienable, universal and precious, and urge Canadians to profess and safeguard them with the steadfast fidelity of Thomas More.

Their message needs to be heard and heeded.

Published in Editorial

OTTAWA - Canada's Catholic bishops have published a defense of freedom of conscience and religious freedom as these universal rights come under increasing threat around the world.

The Catholic community and other religious groups are "experiencing a worrisome erosion" of these freedoms, said Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops president Archbishop Richard Smith in an open letter introducing the "Pastoral Letter on Freedom of Conscience and Religious freedom" published May 14 at www.cccb.ca.

(Right-click and save-as to download the letter as a PDF)

Published in Canada

OTTAWA - The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has launched a new “Life and Family” page at the cccb.ca web site that promotes a multi-year initiative for rebuilding a culture of life and family and promoting the new evangelization.

The information is meant as a resource for dioceses, lay movements and associations to help them participate in the initiative, which has been underway since January.

The vision proposes strengthening the family as “the domestic church” and making it a vehicle for evangelizing not only its members but the wider society.

Published in Canada

Canada’s Catholic bishops are pulling out of a national interfaith dialogue they helped establish.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has informed the Canadian Council of Churches it will not participate in an ongoing interfaith conversation with representatives from major Christian churches and non-Christian faith bodies.

The CCC’s interfaith conversation began as the Interfaith Partnership in the run-up to the 2010 interfaith leaders’ summit in Winnipeg. That body was established to engage with world political leaders coming to Canada for the G8/G20 summit. Parallel faith leaders’ summits have been a feature of G8 meetings since 2005.

Published in Canada

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Bishop J. Faber MacDonald, who served a number of Maritime dioceses over the years, passed away at the age of 80 in Charlottetown.

A Prince Edward Island native, Bishop MacDonald was ordained a priest for the diocese of Charlottetown at the age of 31. On Jan. 11, 1980, just nine days before his birthday, Pope John Paul II appoint the priest from P.E.I. bishop of the diocese of Grand Falls, Nfld. A little more than two months later he was ordained at St. Dunstan's Basilica in his home province.

Published in Canada

OTTAWA - Archbishop Richard Smith is inviting Catholics to open their hearts to those in need by contributing generously to this year’s Share Lent campaign.

The annual fundraising campaign kicks off Feb. 22 and runs through April 7. It is the major fundraiser for the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, the Canadian bishops’ development agency, accounting for about 30 per cent of its annual budget.

Published in Canada

OTTAWA - The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) has launched a new webpage that traces the relationship of the Catholic Church in Canada and its First Nations’ peoples.

The site sketches the history of relations with indigenous peoples, many of whom became part of the Church and “gave much to it.” It cites Joseph Chiwatenhwa, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha and “Grand Chief Henri Membertou, who became the first aboriginal leader to be baptized by the French, as a sign of alliance and good faith in 1610.”

Published in Canada