Lawmakers must bear witness to Gospel, Prendergast tells Red Mass

  • September 28, 2011

OTTAWA - Catholic judges, lawyers and politicians must never divorce their Catholic faith from their public duties, Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast told a group of civic leaders that included Supreme Court Justice Louis LeBel.

In a homily given Sept. 22 at the annual Red Mass for the legal profession, Prendergast said lawyers and lawmakers must bear witness to the Gospel in the public square and urged them to infuse the rule of law with the rule of faith.

“On matters of who is entitled to live or die, on the status of marriage and the family, on the critical issue of religious liberty, the totalitarian impulse is not absent from Canada,” he warned.

The restraint on this impulse is the rule of law, grounded in transcendent principles, he said.

“There are no worlds in which the Christian can set aside the faith — or to be more accurate, can set aside Jesus,” Prendergast said. “The Christian lawyer, the Christian judge, the Christian parliamentarian, the Christian police officer, the Christian prison guard — all these must bear witness to the Gospel as a fundamental and essential requirement of discipleship.”

Prendergast acknowledged Christian witness is not easy in a secularized society “when there are many voices which say it is somehow out of bounds for Christians to behave as such in the public square.” But he said doing so is possible through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

“Let me put it to you more strongly still: If those who enjoy prestige and power in our society — judges, lawyers, Members of Parliament and Senators — give a weak witness to their faith, what model does that offer for the many others who look up to you and aspire to follow you?”

Prendergast stressed the need for faith in the public square.

“Politics and the law need the contribution of the world of faith, and in our Canadian context, the particular contribution of the Christian vision of the human person,” he said. “The rule of law needs the world of faith.”

Red Masses were held in Toronto and Vancouver on the same day. They are co-sponsored by Thomas More Societies in honour of Thomas More, who was martyred for opposing King Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic Church.

At a reception following the Ottawa Red Mass, hosted by Senate Speaker Noel Kinsella and House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer, both Catholics, LeBel said that judges must take into account the values of a broad society.

“We face the challenge of justice in a secular age,” the Supreme Court justice said. “As judges we are very aware that we do not render justice solely on the basis of the values of a church.

“The law that we apply is a law that is secular. We render justice with a will to respect all and to be open to all.”

LeBel noted More lived in the last days of a “society when the people and the Church were one,” and “the last years when the Church, the law, the lawyers, the judges were one.”

Contemporary society presents great differences about not only the idea of the law but what should be the nature of the law, the nature of the rules, he said. These disagreements spring from the fact that many believe in different ways, and some have no belief in God at all.

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