Trampling on rights

Something unsettling is happening when conscience becomes a dirty word in a liberal democracy. Yet most Canadians seem unfazed by the increasing tendency to treat our fundamental right to freedom of conscience as if it were some unspeakable anti-social offence.

The denial of conscience rights to marriage commissioners in Saskatchewan, the obliteration of parental rights in Quebec, the imposition of state sexual ideology on Catholic schools in Ontario — these should all be causing deep concern. In none of these cases, after all, have the aggrieved parties taken the law into their own hands. They have not shouted fire in a crowded theatre, the time-honoured test of the limit of free speech. All they have sought is their Charter-protected right to be exempted from legal or regulatory obligations that violate their deepest and most sincerely held beliefs.

Into the silence

Holy Week is not a particularly tranquil time for a priest.

In the midst of all the activity, I find Good Friday is the most resonant. My favourite service is actually extra-liturgical, the preaching of the Seven Last Words in our cathedral. It’s a two-hour service of readings, hymns and meditations, reflecting upon the seven times Jesus speaks from the cross. I have been preaching the Seven Last Words for nine years now, accompanied by the students at Newman House, who provide the music and do the readings.

Resurrecting age-old argument

There has been much fuss recently about ancient burial boxes and whether the bones of Jesus remain here on Earth.

In March, an Israeli antiquities collector was acquitted of forgery charges concerning a Roman-era burial box inscribed “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” If genuine, the ossuary could be a direct link to Jesus and His family.

And next week, Vision TV will air The Jesus Discovery, a documentary by Toronto filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici that claims to cast new light on the Resurrection. It bills itself as: “Part archeological adventure, part biblical history, part forensic science, part theological controversy, The Jesus Discovery is a story that will carry around the world.”

Quebec committee ‘manipulative’ on end-of-life care

A Quebec legislative committee’s call for legalized euthanasia might be a grave danger to Canada’s health care system. Its immediate and unquestionable menace, however, is the damage it does to democracy.

For the moment, the Select Committee on Dying With Dignity’s all-party report presented March 22 to the province’s National Assembly is in parliamentary and pre-election limbo. There is reason to hope its mad demand for legalizing doctor-administered assisted suicide in Quebec by 2013 will be lost in the dust of politicians hitting the campaign trail.

Is D&P worth donating to? You decide

The question arises because last June I wrote in this column that CCODP “has a tenuous claim on Catholic dollars because, aside from fundraising in Catholic parishes, they have a tenuous relationship with any distinctively Catholic mission. In their operations they are largely — and by their own proud design — indistinguishable from any number of peace and justice NGOs working in the developing world.”

The bishops of Canada take a different view and, in a March 22 statement, urged Catholics to redouble their generosity during the annual Share Lent campaign. In Kingston, our own archbishop sent a message to all parishes to that effect. I included it in my parish bulletin in the space usually reserved for my own message.

Catholics have the right to free speech in the public square

The issue of free speech on university campuses comes up almost every year. Over the past five years at least half-a-dozen student pro-life clubs have faced restrictions, outright bans or the threat of bans. Controversy around their speaking events, including the shutting down of speakers, is not uncommon.

In recent years presentations by conservative speakers have been cancelled or moved off campus due to “security concerns.” Meanwhile, pro-choice and other very liberal speakers are usually welcomed on the same campuses, suggesting the issue with conservative speakers is less about security than about their unpopular and presumably unwanted viewpoints.

Reconfiguring the episcopate

How do you reform an episcopate and provide new leadership for the Church in a particular nation? Canada is now the model for the Church universal on how it can be done.

The dramatic appointment of Christian Lépine as the new archbishop of Montreal, only six months after he was ordained an auxiliary bishop of the same diocese, has drawn attention to Canada as the exemplar of how an episcopate can be reconfigured for the challenges of the new evangelization.

Just 18 months ago, in the fall of 2010, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, former archbishop of Quebec City, arrived in Rome as the new prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. The prefect is the most senior advisor to the Holy Father on the appointment of bishops. High on the new prefect’s agenda was the renewal of the bishops of Quebec, with a number of retirements pending.

Firings over crucifix a wake-up call

The British government’s flagrant insult to the cross is more than a religious issue. Though it is clearly anti-Christian, it is yet another example of chipping away at Western society and the ideals that make it the envy of the world.

People from all over the world for years have flocked to Western democracies to experience freedom, raise families and live better lives. And, for the most part, the West has welcomed them with open arms. There has been discrimination, but in the larger scheme of things, rising tides lift all boats and as newcomers arrive, our society rises with them.

New heights for anti-Catholicism in America

WASHINGTON, DC - In the long history of anti-Catholicism, the epithets vomited at the Church and Catholics are numerous and colourful: Whore of Babylon, anti-Christ, mother of harlots, heretical, pagan, idolatrous, satanic, alien, ignorant, anti-intellectual, slavish and a personal favourite, the “two-horned monster of Rome,” which is how a few rabid Orthodox monks protested Blessed John Paul’s visit to Greece.

So it was a novelty to encounter another anti-Catholic image: the battered woman. Last week Catholics were told: “You’re better than your Church, so why stay? Apparently, you’re like the battered woman who, after being beaten down every Sunday, feels she has no place else to go.”

Preston Manning on the failure of right thinking

Preston Manning had an astringent warning for Canadian conservatives at the annual gathering sponsored by his eponymous think-tank.

“For conservatives, being right must mean more than just being right of centre. It must mean doing the right thing. There is no substitute for rock solid personal integrity,” he told the large “C” and small “c” faithful at the recent Manning Centre conference in Ottawa.

Though the words were delivered with Manning’s characteristic personal geniality and intellectual charity, their sting was palpable, particularly among those Conservative Party members still writhing after being flayed by National Post columnist Andrew Coyne. Coyne had carved the Conservative government’s political, policy and ethical failings with the surgical scrupulousness of an assembly line sadist handling the Friday night crowd at Mistress Cheri’s House of Pain and Shame.

A winding road to unity

VATICAN CITY - In the days after the hoopla of the consistory for new cardinals left town, a smaller but more historic group of pilgrims was making its way to the tomb of the apostle Peter and the seat of his successor.

A pilgrimage of thanksgiving arrived from Britain — some 100 members of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, the new “diocese” set up for former Anglicans who are now Catholics, but with the special task of preserving their Anglican cultural and liturgical patrimony. Some two years after Pope Benedict XVI made it possible with his document Anglicanorum Coetibus, the new structure is established in Britain and more recently also in the United States. The arrival of new Catholics from Britain, small in number but fervent in faith, was experienced as a “homecoming” by them, and a tiny step toward healing the breach of the divisions of the 16th century.