Bring Canadian troops home now

The fact that Brigadier-General David Menard, the Commander of Canadian forces in Afghanistan, called for an inquiry into his own conduct — specifically into the circumstances in which his rifle discharged at the Kandahar airbase last March 25 — will hardly inspire confidence in the troops under his command and among the Afghan civilians they are defending.

Canada might be new to modern warfare, our generals might be rusty on how to load a rifle, but we yield to none in knowing about inquiries. Indeed, conducting inquiries seems to be the only Canadian growth industry immune to the vicissitudes of the economic cycle.

    Put the blame where it really belongs - on the abuser

    I got a call one day from a good friend who was disturbed by how some of her family and friends might respond to a television program. I did not see the program, but it was about the sex scandal in the Catholic Church.

    Here’s how I respond to well meaning friends, family and associates who try to enlighten me about the problems in the Church.

      Where's the peace and love?

      As the international Jewish community united in protest against a perceived slight spoken in a Good Friday homily by a Vatican official, I wondered why Catholics continue to remain silent amid the suffering of our brothers and sisters in faith in the Holy Land.

      This silence has been particularly baffling in the years since the erection of the towering walls that surround some Palestinian cities of the West Bank. Movement from one Palestinian city to the next — and into Jerusalem itself — is prohibited for most Palestinian Catholics. Even those few granted travel or work visas from Israel are subjected to excessive scrutiny. These restrictions prevent Catholics from worshipping in the holy sites of Jerusalem. Seminarians located in Bethlehem are unable to acquire visas to pray in Jerusalem even though it is just a 15-minute drive away.

        When shepherds grow old

        {mosimage}Jesus spoke fondly of shepherds. From the earliest days of His boyhood He would have been familiar with the roaming shepherds and their sheep. Eventually, He would give pastoral meaning to the image of a shepherd and thereby endear the hearts of His people to their God. That image would become inscribed forever as part of the universal language of the church.

        On a recent visit to Jerusalem, in the region of Galilee, I came within arms length of a flock of sheep being cared for by a leathered-skinned shepherd, crosier-like staff and all. It was an extraordinary moment that caused biblical images and meaning to spill over into my consciousness.

        The shepherd of the field and the ecclesiastical shepherd have little in common when it comes to lifestyles. But they have a great deal in common when we speak of the themes of care, responsibility, dedication and uninterrupted concern for their flock. 

          Abortion controversy is about getting the vote

          {mosimage}It is a settled issue. At least, that is what politicians and opinion leaders have been saying about abortion for the past 20 years in Ottawa.

          So why then did the issue of abortion result in not only a heated debate in Parliament March 23 but also cause the leaders of the two main political parties to face a caucus revolt? I would argue it is because the issue is not settled at all.

          According to a Harris-Decima poll for the Manning Centre 74 per cent of Canadians find abortion morally wrong (60 per cent strongly agreeing, 14 per cent somewhat agreeing). When politicians say the issue is settled, it is to avoid discussion of what abortion really is and explanations of why they support or oppose Canada’s current status quo of zero limit on abortion right up to the moment of birth.

          Since Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced his plan for lowering mortality rates for mothers and children in the developing world there has been fierce lobbying from the pro-life and pro-choice sides on whether a “full range” of family planning options, including abortion, should be included. While the Conservative government received heat from pro-life activists to keep it out, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff answered calls from Action Canada and the International Planned Parenthood Federation to put it in. The issue came to a head with a vote, and public humiliation for Ignatieff, in the House of Commons.

            Hilaire Belloc and being principled in politics

            As Canadian politicians twiddled their thumbs and denounced their opponents for most of an unproductive winter — in the process alienating voters even further from the political process — I recalled a different kind of politician, a man who entered politics not from personal ambition but from conviction, an MP of the British Parliament who chose to quit politics rather than compromise his principles.

            That unlikely politician was novelist, poet, essayist and Catholic apologist Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953).

            Born of mixed parentage (English and French) at La Celle Saint Cloud, about 20 km outside Paris, Belloc loved both France and England (particularly East Sussex). He was educated at Cardinal Newman’s Oratory House; his precocious intellect enabled him to carry off academic prizes in several subjects. One such prize was a signed copy of Cardinal Newman’s The Dream of Gerontius, which Belloc later had to pawn when his finances were precarious.

            Following a year of French military service, Belloc went up to Balliol College, Oxford, where he excelled academically and was elected president of the student union. A contemporary, E. C. Bentley, thus described him:

            “When Belloc came to Oxford . . . a fresh spirit began to work in the intellectual life of England. His immense personal magnetism, his cascade of ideas, of talk, of fervid oratory, his exuberant and irreverent humour, his love of bodily activity and adventure, carried all before them.”

            For a temperament as bellicose as Belloc’s, Parliament was a natural outlet. In 1906 he ran as Liberal candidate in the marginal South Salford constituency where the electorate was overwhelmingly Protestant and Belloc’s Catholicism was considered an insurmountable political liability. The Conservative incumbent, J. Greville Greeves, was a wealthy brewer whose family owned a hundred pubs within the constituency. Belloc countered Greeves’ advantage by pointing out that people had died from drinking impure beer; if elected, Belloc promised a Pure Beer Bill. He made good on his promise, but his bill was defeated in parliament.

            Urged by his campaign manager to make no mention of religion, Belloc began his first election speech in typical pugnacious fashion:  “Gentlemen, I am a Catholic. As far as possible, I go to Mass every day. This (taking a rosary out of his pocket) is a rosary. As far as possible, I kneel down and tell these beads every day. If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God that He has spared me the indignity of being your representative.”

            After a shocked silence, there was applause. Belloc won.

            He proved a prickly parliamentarian. So frequently he voted against the government that he was sometimes mistaken for an opposition member.  When a minister proposed “compromise and moderation” over a bill dealing with Catholic education, Belloc rose to say: “I cannot too emphatically point out that those two words are absolutely meaningless when the House of Commons is dealing with the Catholic faith.”

            What a contrast Belloc is with our sorry string of ostensibly Catholic prime ministers — Trudeau, Turner, Chretien and Martin — who first initiated, then extended, abortion access until Canada became unique among countries of the Western world in having no legislative restriction on abortion.

            Belloc served two terms (1906-1913) but finished up at odds with his party and constituency, the latter because they spurned his proposal to run as an independent. To a close friend Belloc wrote: “I can no longer stand the House of Commons. I see little object in it. It does not govern; it does not even discuss. It is completely futile.”

            What would Belloc make of the bellicose barnyard which our House of Commons has become? Better not to ask.

            After he left Parliament Belloc continued to lecture and write but, by 1940, the four human beings who had mattered most to him were dead: his wife Elodie, his mother, his eldest son Peter and his closest friend, G. K. Chesterton. Solitary, and increasingly senile, Belloc lived a hermit-like existence at Kingsland, his Sussex home, until July 14, 1953 when he fell out of his chair and was badly burned in the fire grate. Two days later he died.

            In a sense, it could be said that Belloc foretold not only his own fate but the fate of that rare bird (probably  extinct now in Canada), the principled politician, the man who puts principle before expediency, when, as a young man, he wrote these lines:

            A lost thing could I never find;
            Nor a broken thing mend.
            And I fear I shall be all alone
            When I get to the end.
            O who will there be to comfort me,
            O who will be my friend?
            (Ian Hunter is Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Law at Western University.)

              Pius XII - Examining the Catholic-Jewish divide

              {mosimage}The last time Rabbi Roy Tanenbaum and Redemptorist Father Paul Hansen shared these pages they discussed the idea of Jesus as Torah . With the help of Christian-Jewish Dialogue of Toronto we’ve invited them back to discuss the controversy surrounding the possible sainthood of Pope Pius XII, who was pontiff during the Holocaust.

              The Vatican moved Pius closer to possible beatification by declaring him “venerable” in December.

                Don’t repeat Quebec’s error in English Canada

                Working within the beauty of the Ottawa Valley I see many cars pass by from la belle province with license plates emblazoned with the motto je me souviens. 

                These words are a declaration by the majority Francophone population to always  “remember” the struggles of la révolution tranquille (the Quiet Revolution), which transformed Quebec society into a modern secular state. Sadly, it is a state in which French Quebecers turned a deaf ear to the Catholic Church to heed instead the siren cry of the modern secularist project.

                  Flight 253 and Nigeria's growing radical Islamism

                  {mosimage}The botched terrorist attempt on an American airliner by 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has raised serious questions about airport security and terrorism. It has also raised concerns about the rights and dignity of innocent and law-abiding travellers in light of new security measures.

                  More troubling, however, are the unanswered questions about the role radical Islamism in Nigeria played in creating the environment for Abdulmutallab and future young African terrorists like him.

                    Lots of work needed to save vulnerable

                    {mosimage}Rimbocchiamoci le maniche is something my Italian father always says when there is much work to be done. Literally, it means to roll up one’s sleeves, but the idea behind it is to prepare ourselves for the hard work ahead. This could well be what we are being asked to do as Christians at the close of the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen.

                    Depending on whom you ask, the accord that came out of the climate summit could be considered “realistic,” as maintained by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, an “essential beginning,” as stated by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, or “a weak and morally reprehensible deal,” according to the Catholic Church through its international development agencies CIDSE and Caritas Internationalis .

                      Changing government priorities close the door on KAIROS

                      {mosimage}Canada’s International Development Agency (CIDA) has cut off funding to KAIROS, Canada’s main ecumenical social justice group which, for decades, had maintained a stable and respectful relationship with CIDA. KAIROS brings together 11 national churches and faith-based organizations that collectively represent 18 million Canadians. But due to CIDA’s abrupt about face the future existence of KAIROS is now in doubt.

                      The decision to wholly terminate a long-standing program relationship (a four-year cost sharing arrangement worth about $9 million, of which CIDA contributes  about $7 million) means KAIROS must make sharp funding cuts to more than 20 ecumenical and citizens’ organizations around the world. CIDA says that KAIROS was just not a “fit” with the agency’s emerging priorities. But those who watched this story unfold think KAIROS was a victim of CIDA’s moving goal posts.