Alberta bishops' boycott of local March for Life could have national repercussions

  • March 23, 2011

The annual March for Life in Ottawa on May 12 could be affected by the Alberta bishops’ decision to not take part in the Edmonton version of the march the same day. (Photo by Deborah Gyapong)

OTTAWA - Campaign Life Coalition has expressed disappointment at the Alberta bishops’ decision to forgo participation in the Edmonton March for Life.

The march takes place May 12, the same day of the Campaign Life-run National March for Life in Ottawa.  

“They should be there, supporting, participating and leading,” said Mary Ellen Douglas. 

But she noted that the fact the Alberta bishops were also involved in organizing the march might have been part of the problem. A pro-life march is not a Catholic event, as such, so it should not be run by bishops, she said.

Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith said the bishops made the decision because organizers could not guarantee no one would show pictures of aborted babies at the gathering. Smith finds the pictures offensive “because they do not honour the dignity of human remains and the dignity of the human person.”

Smith had said the graphic pictures had begun to dominate the Edmonton march and because the bishops were involved in organizing the event, they had to withdraw because the signs conflict with the more positive pro-life message the bishops wish to convey.

The Alberta bishops’ decision could have an impact on Ontario and Quebec bishops’ participation in its national counterpart.

“It may be that the Alberta bishops’ decision will have an impact on attendance by Ontario and Quebec bishops here in Ottawa but the issue has not been brought to my attention by bishops thus far,” said Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J., who has invited bishops to participate in the national march.

“Personally I’m not sure the graphic signs help, so I just look away,” said Prendergast. “But the national march is a big umbrella gathering organized by lay people, and they have many approaches to defending life.

“I believe that the bishops’ support is important and each bishop, like each individual Catholic, needs to make a personal decision about how and in what circumstances to stand up for life, and whether they are compromised by one or other aspect of the march, including, for example, whether they are comfortable with the heckling of the counter-demonstrators,” he said.

While Campaign Life distributes signs that go with the theme of the march, which this year is “Abortion kills a human being,” it does not use graphic imagery. Douglas said she does not like such images shown where children are present. But an independent group called Show the Truth has displayed several large signs of aborted and dismembered babies near the Morgentaler abortion facility ever year. 

“They are not part of our organizing,” she said. “We can’t prevent them from doing so.”  

Prendergast said he had not received many replies to his invitation to bishops, except from those who immediately sent regrets due to previous commitments. He expects to hear from more bishops when he sends out a follow up invitation next month, closer to the May date. Among those who have confirmed they will attend are Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins and Archbishop Gerald Cyprien Lacroix of Quebec.

The Alberta bishops’ decision opens up an ongoing debate within the pro-life movement over tactics and the role graphic pictures have in furthering the cause.

“We can’t seem to face the reality of what happens to a baby in the womb as a result of an abortion,” Douglas said. “I think some people like to sanitize it in order not to have to take action.

“It’s very important for some people to see the photographs; some people, not everyone.”

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