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Conservative MP Garnett Genius, left, and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.

Peter Stockland: Religious bigotry born of ignorance

  • November 15, 2019

Alberta MP Garnett Genuis was right when he blamed “anti-Catholic bigotry” for the current attacks on Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.

Paradoxically, his Opposition counterparts appearing with him on CTV’s Question Period were also on the mark when they insisted the pummelling of Scheer has nothing to do with religion.

How could both claims be right when they appear so contradictory? 

Well, Genuis stated as pure a fact as ever dropped from a politician’s lips when he called the assaults bigotry, which is by definition intolerance of others whose opinions differ from one’s own. Given that the intolerance arises from Scheer’s status as a very public Catholic, anti-Catholic bigotry it must logically be. 

Yet Liberal MP Mona Fortier and the NDP’s Jack Harris were correct, perhaps in a way neither realized, by saying it’s not about the Conservative leader’s actual faith. It is about the appalling, indeed pitiful, ignorance of that faith on the part of journalists, much of the political class and large swathes of the Canadian public. It is an ignorance that breeds and feeds the bigotry Genuis pinpointed.

Such ignorance was manifest in CTV reporter Mackenzie Gray asking Scheer if he believes homosexuality is a sin. Gray has taken knocks for even posing the question. That’s wrong. Reporters are free to ask whatever they like.

What must be criticized is the abysmal religious illiteracy Gray’s question demonstrated, and the bigotry it perpetuates. My fellow Register columnist and former National Post religion writer Charlie Lewis articulates this well. He has long argued a reporter covering, say, the Toronto Raptors, should do at least minimal research to know the basketball is the round, orange thing, not the pigskin pointy thing. 

Likewise, a Parliamentary reporter seeking to appear clever or hard-edged by fusing politics and (something that sounds like) religion with a question about sin should have at least a minimal grasp of what sin actually means. 

This wouldn’t require an RCIA course. Tapping on a keyboard brings up the Catechism’s definition of sin “as an offence against reason, truth and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbour caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity….” 

Any reporter could instantly recognize two things, both of which expose the utter empty-headedness of asking Roman Catholics for personal opinions about homosexuality as a sin. Sin, in the Catholic Church, is not a matter of individual, subjective understanding. It has a substantive definition. It has a test. 

By the definition, and by the test, homosexuality, in and of itself, cannot be a sin because, as the Catechism phrases it elsewhere, it is an “inclination” or, as we would say in common parlance, an orientation. Indeed, a previous version of the Catechism had the explicit words: “It is certainly not a choice.”

Here the question put to Scheer becomes evidently devoid of any attachment to the religion to which he adheres. It is not a matter of his religion. It is a question of intolerant, flagrantly erroneous opinion vaguely directed at something only fuzzily resembling that religion. In other words, it is the very definition of bigotry. Anti-Catholic bigotry, to put a point on it. 

If one opinion, cloaked as a question asked by a relatively green and uninformed TV reporter were the issue here, it could be easily dismissed. It’s not. The bigotry it exemplifies now permeates Canadian society. We saw it in the election campaign. We have seen it from the Supreme Court in the Trinity Western decision. It was in the previous federal cabinet’s support for the scandalous Canada Summer Jobs debacle. 

During Question Period, Garnett Genuis vowed to push back against it, which is right and good. A first step for Catholics must be constant education, in charity, of the ignorant. After all, that’s not our real religion they’re all attacking. 

(Stockland is publisher of Convivium.ca and a senior fellow with Cardus.)

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