Catholics need to move beyond just casting a ballot in elections to being part of the political process and become fully engaged, said John Milloy, right. Milloy, a former Ontario cabinet minister and advisor to former prime minister Jean Chretien, will release a new book Sept. 1 titled Politics and Faith in a Polarized World. Photo from Elections Canada

Catholics challenged to take politics seriously

  • August 27, 2021

Canadians have a lot to think about before the Sept. 20 election. But for Catholics, it’s getting harder to be political and to contribute to public debate, says the author of a brand-new book about faith and politics in Canada.

From reconciliation with Indigenous Canadians to family and life issues, Catholics carry a special burden, John Milloy, former Ontario cabinet minister and advisor to Jean Chretien, told The Catholic Register days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dissolved Parliament.

Milloy’s new book, Politics and Faith in a Polarized World, A Challenge for Catholics, amounts to a 114-page plea with Catholics to take politics seriously. The Novalis book launches Sept. 1.

Milloy laments that too many Catholics have reduced politics to the minimal, perfunctory act of casting a ballot.

“The fact is that we should be, particularly as Catholics, interested in public policy,” Milloy said. “We should be interested in what’s going on at Queen’s Park and on Parliament Hill and at City Hall all the time. That’s part of our calling. It doesn’t mean that you vote and forget about it and sort of be proud of yourself.”

Milloy regrets that Canadian Catholics who want to contribute to national debates aren’t getting a lot of help from their leaders right now. Canada’s bishops seem unable to publicly explain what they’re doing or why they’re doing it when it comes to the legacy of Indian residential schools, among other things, he said.

“There are some wonderful bishops out there and some incredible priests. But as a whole, I think they have to get their act together,” Milloy said. “Obviously in terms of reconciliation, but on a host of other issues.

He compares what comes out of the contemporary bishops’ conference with the bold statements of Pope Francis.

“You read Fratelli Tutti. You read some of what Pope Francis is saying. Good grief, he knows his stuff. The world needs change. He’s addressing the big picture and we’re not doing that in Canada,” he said.

Catholics should not feel overwhelmed by the complexity or breadth of the issues Canada is facing in the upcoming election, said Catholic Conscience executive director Brendan Steven. The Catholic faith and politics organization is gearing up with a variety of tools to help Catholic voters, he said.

From online, one-on-one interviews with party representatives to summaries of party platforms, Catholic Conscience is there “to make it really easy for Catholics to think about and to discern their vote in light of their faith,” Steven said. “They can go (to and they can look at the parties’ various policies in light of Catholic social teaching, and do so in a holistic way.”

Steven wants to abolish the image of Catholics as single-issue voters. Instead, he believes Catholic voters need to be discerning voters.

“The less important thing is the outcome of the discernment,” he said. “It’s actually recognizing the shared starting point that we all have as Catholics. … Two faithful Catholics who are thinking about their politics and what they believe about culture can start from that same position of Catholic social teaching and faithful Catholicism and they can discern their way to two very different outcomes, supporting two very different political parties.”

Catholic Conscience will sponsor a novena for nine days of rosaries praying for Canada going into the Sept. 20 vote.

“We want to create a prayerful space in this election where Catholics can come together,” Steven said. “At the very least, we could unite around prayer. We can pray together and share that. Hopefully, that creates a bit of a more charitable starting point for Catholics engaged in politics.”

In Milloy’s view, there’s nothing more Catholic than politics.

“We have a call to build a common life together with those we like, those we don’t like and those we can’t stand. That’s the call of Christianity,” he said. “The whole idea of seeing the image of God in someone else, that’s powerful. That’s unbelievably powerful.”

Even if no party is going to try to put abortion back in the criminal code — “there’s not a single political party that would touch it with a 1,000-foot pole,” Milloy said — there is a lot of scope for Catholics to be pro-life in their politics, said the former Liberal political operative.

“When you start to worry about the environment, when you start to worry about poverty, when you start to worry about women in crisis who are pregnant, when you start to worry about not just being pro-birth but being clearly pro-life, you start to create the type of society that we’re called to build. Then we’re answering that pro-life call,” he said.

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