Toronto trustees should step up or get out

Toronto school board voteMany parents are exiting Toronto’s all-candidate Catholic school-trustee meetings feeling angry and frustrated that their voices are not being heard. And who can blame them?

In too many cases, as Ontario’s Oct. 25 municipal elections draw near, discussions at these meetings are being deliberately diverted from the years of flagrant misspending, self-serving decision making and sad-sack management by members of Toronto’s dysfunctional Catholic board.

    Brother André: Celebrating Canada's newest saint

    Brother AndréOn October 17 Brother André, founder of Montreal's St. Joseph's Oratory, will become just the second Canadian-born saint when he is canonized at a Vatican ceremony presided over by Pope Benedict XVI. To celebrate the event, The Catholic Register has produced its own homage to the life of this remarkable man.

    In a series of articles and photos, we have examined the life and legacy of Brother Andre, a poor, illiterate, orphan who, after moving between several menial jobs, was accepted by the Congregation of Holy Cross in Montreal where he lived a remarkable life of faith, hope and charity until his death in 1937. He is credited with hundreds of miraculous healings and, through his determined efforts, became the driving force behind construction of the spectacular St. Joseph Oratory atop Mount Royal in Montreal.

      Unfortunate ruling on prostitution laws

      In striking down three prostitution laws an Ontario judge sparked a firestorm of debate about various legal and safety issues related to the so-called world’s oldest profession. But, at heart, prostitution is a moral issue and until society stops running from that fundamental truth no court decision or legislative amendment will make the streets safer for the women trapped in this dehumanizing lifestyle.

        Cardinal Newman’s intellectual integrity inspires us today

        It’s called the dies natalis — the day of birth. For saints it refers to their birthday in heaven or, in the eyes of the world, the day of their death upon Earth.

        When assigning feast days to saints, the Church usually chooses the dies natalis; for example, the feast day of soon-to-be canonized Brother André is Jan. 6, the day of his death in 1937, even though that day is also the great solemn feast of the Epiphany of the Lord.

          A Noble Debate over a Nobel Prize

          Science and Religion collide a lot these days, though clearly the tension between what Stephen Jay Gould referred to, as the Two Non-Overlapping Magisteriums, has existed for centuries. When the collisions occur it is the result of conflicting values as well as on theological grounds. This was made abundantly clear this week with the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Medicine to Dr. Robert Evans, one of the co-creators of In Vitro Fertilization. On the one hand reaction around the world seemed of a note, sheer excitement and congratulation. On the other hand, Catholic teachings and the ‘wisdom’ of the Nobel Committee slammed into each other. The Church’s clear stance on IVF and Robert Evans socialist politics have both long been rumoured to being behind what many expected to be a much earlier awarding of the prize.

          Clearly the Church is not indifferent to the pain experienced by couples incapable of conception but as the International Federation of Catholic Medical Association made clear “As Catholic doctors," we at FIAMC "recognize that pain that infertility brings to a couple, but equally we believe that the research and treatment methods needed to solve the problems of infertility have to be conducted within an ethical framework which respects the special dignity of the human embryo, which is no different from that of a mature adult with a brilliant mind."

          None of this can be discussed without reference to the growing number of cases involving ‘mix-ups’, mistakes or possibly worse when it comes to the identity of the babies born of IVF. Recent Canadian cases are making news in Ottawa, and the problem is clearly not confined to individual doctors or to Canada and the ethical problems of IVF are compounded by this growing list of ‘mistakes’.

          Nor as even the Indian newspaper The Hindu reports are the problems as simple as any of can imagine, “the widespread use of such methods has created new ethical issues. For example, ‘rent-a-womb tourism' has become a thriving business in India, with wealthy couples from abroad paying poor women large sums of money to carry IVF embryos to full term.”

          As this report from ABC news makes clear that Catholics are not alone in considering the Nobel winning tachnology to be a win win: “The bewildering array of options due to the IVF revolution -- from the morality of making "designer babies" to exploitation of poor women as surrogate mothers -- has created much concern and many debates among secular ethicists as well.”

          Arthur Caplan, a noted American Bioethicist told the Washington Post "In exploring the fundamental mechanisms of how human reproduction actually works, Edwards unleashed a social, ethical and cultural tsunami that he could not have predicted and I don't think anyone at the time could have anticipated. It opened so many doors that I'm not sure we even fully appreciate it today."

            Add me to the anybody-but-Ford slate

            Toronto mayoral hopeful Rob Ford first appeared on my political radar screen late last spring, when I chaired an all-candidates meeting on the topic of architecture and urban design. Held at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the session was sponsored by the Pug Awards people, who celebrate artistic achievement in our city’s built form.

            Ford’s performance that evening was remarkable. While the other candidates at least took stabs at the questions I asked about urban planning and the quality of the city’s architectural environment, Ford ignored both the questions and every attempt on my part to get him to answer them. Instead, he relentlessly repeated the mantra that has characterized his whole campaign: cut costs, cut staff, cut the size of city council — cut, cut, cut.

              Benedict’s UK shows how far Church has come in dealing with abuse

              It used to be the only news. Apparently it is now old news. But there was something new when Pope Benedict XVI visited Britain.

              The issue is sexual abuse by priests. In the run up to the papal visit to the United States in April 2008, it dominated the commentary. What would the Pope do? What would the Pope say? The Holy Father addressed the issue forthrightly on the plane en route, spoke about it a half dozen times in his formal addresses, and then met with a group of victims in a private, prayerful and emotional meeting. He did the same thing in Australia later that summer. His approach was well received by most.

                Religion vs. agnostic know-nothings

                Not long ago I was invited, along with half a dozen other men, to debate the proposition: “Resolved: That agnosticism is the only honest religious position.”

                It was an old-fashioned evening — shades of the 1860 debate between Bishop Wilberforce and Thomas Huxley when Huxley said he would rather be descended from an ape than from a bishop (alas, an often sympathetic position) — but it was enjoyable all the same. Afterwards, one participant remarked: “I didn’t know people met to discuss serious questions.”

                Each participant got five minutes to state his position without interruption. When all had finished, everyone could intervene freely to probe or comment upon what others had said. Then followed a free-for-all discussion. The format worked well. After precisely two hours, we shut off debate, had a cup of tea, and departed into the night.

                I contended that the proposition that agnosticism is the only honest religious position, while useful to provoke discussion, suffered three basic flaws: it is an oxymoron; it is contrary to human experience and therefore likely to be false; and  it is a placebo for the spiritually timid.

                The Oxford English Dictionary defines agnosticism as the belief that nothing beyond material phenomena can possibly be known.

                Given that definition, the proposition is an oxymoron. It refutes itself. If nothing about religion can reliably be known, then it cannot be known whether anything about religion can reliably be known. If it is impossible to decide the truth or falsity of religious claims, then it is impossible to decide whether agnosticism is a preferable religious claim to even the narrowest or most fanatical religious prejudice.

                  Keep our word

                  maternal healthWith much fanfare a decade ago, international leaders unveiled a noble 15-year blueprint  to reduce world suffering. The ambitious plan, named Millennium Development Goals, heralded significant reduction in poverty and hunger, expansion of primary education and gender equality, investment in child and maternal health and HIV/AIDS, and achievement of environmental sustainability.

                  It was a bold undertaking launched before 9/11 sent many richer nations to war and before international financiers sent the world into recession. Without those crises, the challenge was daunting. With them, it became Herculean.

                    He came so Britons might hear the Gospel

                    LONDON, ENGLAND - As per usual, it went better than expected. For veterans of papal travel, the routine is now well known. In advance of one of Pope Benedict’s trips, there is much wringing of hands about how badly things will go, how difficult things will be, how hostile a particular country is. Then the Pope arrives with his shy gestures and kindly manners, no one is frightened and everything is pronounced a success.

                      End the debate

                      euthanasiaQuebecers have seldom felt obligated to be in step with the rest of Canada, so the road show currently marching across La Belle Province is no surprise.

                      The Quebec government has been holding public hearings across the province on euthanasia and assisted suicide. Ostensibly, this is a fact-finding tour but the name of the committee betrays its true sentiment. It is called the “Dying with Dignity Special Commission,” implying, of course, the odious notion that euthanasia and assisted suicide bring dignity to death.