OTTAWA - Fr. Raymond Gravel, a Quebec Catholic priest and Bloc Quebecois MP from 2006-08, has launched a defamation lawsuit against

Gravel, who is incardinated in the Joliette diocese, is seeking $300,000 for the attack on his reputation and consequent pain and suffering, and another $200,000 in punitive damages for what he calls a voluntary, intentional and malicious attack. He said has reported that he is pro-abortion, a charge he denies.

The lawsuit, if successful, could put an end to, said its editor.

Yarmouth must sacrifice to pay for past sins

As a new round of negotiations with sex abuse victims continues, following a $1.5-million settlement shared among six victims, Halifax Archbishop Anthony Mancini has sent Catholics of Yarmouth a letter which includes a blistering assessment of priestly crimes and a bleak warning about future payouts.

“The behaviour of these priests and their failures are criminal, immoral and shameful. There is no excuse for it and there is not much that can be done to change what has happened,” Mancini wrote Jan. 24.

As archbishop of Halifax, Mancini is temporarily responsible for the smaller neighbouring diocese of Yarmouth. Yarmouth has not had a bishop since Bishop James Wingle was appointed to St. Catharines, Ont., in 2001. Wingle has since resigned his position in St. Catharines.

MaterCare seeks G8-initiative funds for Kenya hospital

MaterCare International has applied for funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) as part of the Muskoka Initiative Partnership Program, a program born out of last summer’s G8 Summit.

Under its Partners for Development Program, CIDA launched a $75-million call for projects over $500,000 “to take a comprehensive and integrated approach to address maternal, newborn and child health,” according to its web site. With its application at the end of January, MaterCare, a St. John’s, Nfld. based non-governmental organization of health care professionals aiming to reduce abortion and maternal mortality, is looking for funding for a hospital for high-risk mothers in Isiolo, Kenya.

Transgender bill passes in Commons, heads to Senate

OTTAWA - A bill that could reshape society’s understanding of human sexuality by granting protected status to transgendered and transsexual people passed a final vote in the House of Commons and has gone to the Senate.

NDP MP Bill Siksay’s private members’ Bill C-389, which would add gender identity and gender expression to the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act, passed 143-135.

Most Conservatives voted against the bill Feb. 9, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, while the leaders of the Opposition parties all supported it.

Toronto Copts fear for Egypt's future

Egypt ProtestTORONTO - As the Muslim Brotherhood spoke directly with Egypt’s government and as Christian leaders and Muslim scholars paraded together through Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Toronto’s tiny Coptic Catholic community prayed for peace and wisdom in Egypt, and for the safety of their relatives back home.

“This is our part, to collect our voice and go to God,” said Magda Megalli after Mass Feb. 6 at Holy Family Coptic Catholic Church in Toronto’s west end.

Most Holy Family parishioners send money monthly back to their families, said parish priest Fr. Bishoi Anis. The protests and street fighting that began in Cairo on Jan. 24 and the apparent end to Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule have left Toronto Copts feeling stunned and helpless, he said.

“What can you do here, here in Canada?” Anis asked.

Family juggles family, faith and demanding career

The CanningsTORONTO - The camera zooms in on new mom Lisa Canning who beams with enthusiasm as she talks about energy-efficient decor with Toronto TV host Marilyn Denis.

The 26-year-old interior decorator was one of the experts on CTV’s inaugural The Marilyn Denis Show last month.

Aside from running her own interior design business, she talks enthusiastically about how motherhood has helped her mature in her Catholic faith as she and her husband, Josh, raise their two children.

“When I became a mom for the first time, something shifted quick in me that I am completely responsible for the soul of this person. When I saw (my son) in my arms, I realized I have a huge responsibility,” she said.

Faith has been central in the Cannings’ marriage and parenthood. The Cannings are former student campus ministers at the Newman Centre at the University of Toronto. (Josh is now Newman’s chaplaincy co-ordinator.)

Assisted suicide hearings criss-cross Quebec

GATINEAU, Que. - As Quebec marked Suicide Prevention Week Jan. 30-Feb. 5, the province’s Select Committee on Dying with Dignity held hearings here testing support for legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The irony did not escape Linda Couture, who directs Living With Dignity, a grassroots, non-religious organization that has been monitoring the hearings as the committee travels across Quebec.

The committee made up of members of Quebec’s National Assembly (MNAs) has been holding public hearings in cities across Quebec since September. Couture has attended most of them. The committee wraps up its hearings at the end of February and will then work on a written report.

Egypt's protesters want their slice of the future

OTTAWA - Egyptian protesters are mostly males aged 25-34 who are highly educated, plugged into the world’s social media and networks but frustrated because they can’t find work, said Carl Hétu, national secretary of CNEWA Canada (Catholic Near East Welfare Association).

“They are now asking for their share,” he said, noting the plight of young people is similar in countries all over the Middle East.

The issue in Egypt is whether the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Islamist group, will try to appropriate the movement, he said. But the Muslim Brotherhood is not the only player, he added, noting that the elite of Egypt “will not let go” and will be faithful to President Hosni Mubarak.

Catholic vote turns tide Conservative way

Stephen HarperOTTAWA - As the Conservative Party celebrates its fifth anniversary in power, it is recognizing a major reason for the success: a swing in the Catholic and the ethnic vote away from the Liberals.

It’s quite a change. It wasn’t so long ago that the Liberals could count on the Catholic and ethnic vote overwhelmingly going its way. In fact, a 2005 study by André Blais of the Canadian Political Science Association found that in the preceding 40 years, Catholics in English Canada were 18 per cent more likely than non-Catholics to vote Liberal.

But that changed when Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives were elected in 2006 to a minority government, and returned two years later.

Justice council shows bite taken by Tories’ new prison policy

Prison graphicBuilding on an October letter from Whitehorse Bishop Gary Gordon to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Church Council on Justice and Corrections is trying to galvanize opposition to Conservative justice and corrections policies by showing how much it’s going to cost to jail people for longer periods.

The council, which includes the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops among 11 national churches, sent its own letter to Harper just before Christmas. It repeats Gordon’s argument against tough-on-crime legislation.

“Your policy is applying a costly prison response to people involved in the courts who are non-violent offenders, or to repeat offenders who are mentally ill and/or addicted, the majority of whom are not classified as high risk. These offenders are disproportionately poor, ill-equipped to learn, from the most disadvantaged and marginalized groups,” said the letter.

Canadian social change is court driven

OTTAWA - Whether it is marriage, conscience rights, parental rights to educate their children or hot-button issues like prostitution, the real battles are taking place in the courts rather than in Parliament, say those on the front lines.

Catholic Civil Rights League president Phil Horgan said that changes to social policy are no longer coming from the legislative framework where politicians persuade their fellow citizens in elections and then get the support of other legislators to pass changes into law.

When the state does enter into areas of social policy — like Quebec’s Ethics and Religious Culture course and the recent related prohibition on religious instruction, prayers or songs in day cares run by religious groups — it has become almost impossible to combat that kind of secularism in legislatures.