Archbishop Collins denounces Order of Canada for Morgentaler

  • July 2, 2008

TORONTO - Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins is leading a battle to prevent abortion doctor Henry Morgentaler from receiving an Order of Canada.

In a July 1 statement, the archbishop called on all Catholics in Toronto — and “all people of good will” — to write to the Governor General, to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and to members of Parliament to ask that the decision be revoked.

Morgentaler, whose legal battles paved the way for abortion on demand in Canada, was awarded the Order of Canada in a July 1 announcement from Governor General Michaëlle Jean.

“Canada's highest honour has been debased,” said Collins. “We are all diminished.”

The archbishop said that “a community's worth is measured by the way it treats the most vulnerable, and no one is more vulnerable than in the first nine months of life's journey. No person may presume to judge the soul of Henry Morgentaler, but it cannot be denied that the effect of his life's work has been a deadly assault upon the most helpless amongst us.”

Collins also declared Sunday, July 6, as a special day of prayer across the archdiocese of Toronto for an end to abortion.

Morgentaler began his crusade for the legalization of abortion in the 1960s. He opened his first abortion clinic in Montreal in 1969 and was charged under then abortion laws in 1970. Eventually, his case wound up before the Supreme Court of Canada which, in 1988, ruled that Canada's abortion law was unconstitutional as it violated a person's right to “life, liberty and security of the person.”

Since that time, Canada has had no law limiting abortions. Almost 100,000 abortions are performed each year in the country and the issue continues to cause deep division in public opinion.

In Ottawa, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J., said he was deeply saddened by the news.

“While he’s been a notorious person in the public domain, from the defence of life perspective he’s not a hero at all. I think it’s a shame.”

“We Catholic Christians have to affirm life,” Prendergast added. “We can’t stand by when things like this happen.”

“We are shocked and disappointed that our nation’s highest civilian honour would be granted to its best-known champion of the culture of death,” said Catholic Civil Rights League executive director Joanne McGarry. “We do need to remember that the damage Morgentaler helped unleash is bigger than one person.”

McGarry said were Morgentaler’s views not widespread, “our population would now be several million larger,” and sex selection abortions might not be taking place in some communities.

“It’s a black day for Canada,” said Campaign Life Coalition President Jim Hughes. “To honour him with an Order of Canada is appalling. It is laughing in the face of every individual who made solid contributions to the growth of this country.”

“I regard the Order of Canada as a disgrace and not an honour because of this,” said McGill University religious studies professor Douglas Farrow. “Basically, what’s happened today is the Order of Canada has been reduced to a political football, a plaything and a disgusting, shameful one at that.”

Even more troubling for Farrow is the fact that Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin chairs the awards committee. Farrow said her presence on the committee is “inappropriate” and “injudicious.”

“How she can hope to sit as an unprejudiced and unbiased party in the weighing up of legislation which must someday be brought to the court is not entirely clear,” he said.

He said in effect this committee has settled the abortion issue “extra-judicially even when it hasn’t been settled.”

Prendergast criticized the intrusion of the “secularist viewpoint into the courts and public domain,” saying he hoped Harper would do something about the award.

“They shouldn’t wash their hands on it,” he said, noting the prime minister names not only the Governor General, but also Supreme Court justices. “I think he needs to exercise leadership himself in the cause of the unborn.

Ethicist Margaret Somerville, the founding director of McGill University’s Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, said that even for those who think abortion should be allowed in some circumstances, it is “terrible to say it’s a non issue,” spiritually, morally and psychologically, and a “nothing procedure like cutting your toenails.”

While some of the reaction has described Morgentaler as “evil” and called him a “baby-killer,” Somerville makes a distinction between the man and the work he’s done, which she called “profoundly wrong.”

“I don’t think he’s an evil person, I really don’t,” she said, noting that people can admire his courage and his attempt to lead an authentic life according to beliefs he was being compassionate to women, even if they believe these actions were “profoundly misplaced.”

Morgentaler, who is in his mid-eighties, is rumoured to be very ill, perhaps approaching death. Somerville noted that should he die soon, he will receive a nationwide wave of sympathy, making it all the more important for those who oppose the award to be temperate in their response.

Farrow predicted some political fall-out, especially for the minority Conservative government He said some Tories and some Liberals will oppose the award on principle, others will oppose it “because they don’t want the political hot potato warmed up again.”

He doubted there would be any fallout for the chief justice, however. “There is simply far too much support for abortion in the upper reaches of Canadian society. It doesn’t matter that on the ground people are against it.”

Editor's note: For Archbishop Thomas Collins complete statement on the decision to award an Order of Canada to Dr. Henry Morgentaler, go to

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