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Catholic bashing seems to always be fair game

The recent call by Cardinal Marc Ouellet and Archbishop Terrence Prendergast for government to provide aid to pregnant women who want to keep their babies was widely ignored. A week earlier, comments by Ouellet on the issue of abortion provoked a venomous political and media response.

There was nothing startling in either of the remarks, but one was shrugged off and the other drew an unusual degree of vitriol, highlighted by one columnist wishing the cardinal  “a slow and painful death.” It was an extreme comment, but not exceptional in its derision.

In researching 25 years of anti-Catholic media hostility, I’ve been struck by how often Church participation in debates on the moral issues of the day spark such prejudice. The reaction is probably strongest on abortion, but also colours discussions about the re-definition of marriage, euthanasia, faith-based schools and bioethical research. No one minds too much when the Church tells us to help the poor, but statements about when life begins or what is meant by family are often lightning rods. Nor is prime time entertainment immune; while the Church is mostly ignored, script writers know they can always count on the Catholics when they need a tireless charity worker, a backdrop for sacred art and music or a deranged person to bomb an abortion clinic.

How I found the furnace of love of the Catholic Church

Conversion from a Protestant church to the Catholic Church, such as mine 12 years ago, usually has complicated results. It often makes the people left behind angry and bewildered. So you try to explain what happened, what made conversion necessary and inevitable — only to find quickly that words do nothing to ease the hurt and confusion others feel.

But words and images and gestures are the only things we possess to communicate our experiences to others. So I am using what I have, and will try to put into words what happened to me 12 years ago at the Marian shrine at Lourdes.

I do so because I have been asked, once again, to explain myself. This time the request came from a Christian acquaintance, appalled at the narrative of my conversion that appeared in The Globe and Mail on Holy Saturday. You may recall the op-ed piece. Its occasion was the sex-abuse accusations rocking the Catholic Church. Asked by The Globe whether these shocks had ungrounded my Christian faith, I tried to explain in the article why they had not.

The religious voice is one that needs to be heard

At a recent conference on religion and the media, a colleague from the Toronto Star announced his paper was getting rid of its full-time religion beat. That should have been a grand moment for me and the National Post, the paper I write for.

When he told the assembled group of about 50 esteemed representatives from various churches of the Star’s decision, it was a perfect opening for me to discuss how the Post was putting an even greater emphasis on religion. It was hard not to crow.

Don't fear faithful

fearThere is an unfortunate trend in Canada to try to deny religion its rightful place in the debating rooms of the nation.

We’ve seen this tendency manifest recently in the publication of an alarmist book about the so-called Christian right’s influence in Ottawa, in attacks on Cardinal Marc Ouellet for affirming Church teaching and, most recently, in shrill reaction after the head of Opus Dei accepted an invitation to dine on Parliament Hill with MPs.

Palmsonntag, a deeply biblical vision

The beautiful installation called Palmsonntag (Palm Sunday), by German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer, is the most brilliant, deeply original Christian artwork I have ever seen on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Readers interested in art should catch this show before it leaves Toronto on Aug. 1

Like some Baroque depiction of a saint’s martyrdom, Palm Sunday refers immediately to an occasion that lies largely beyond the margins of the work, in this case the liturgy for the Sunday before Easter.

If we can’t save the dolphins, what hope do we have ?

“Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.” So wrote Scotland’s bard, Robert Burns, nearly three centuries ago. Today, thanks to a DVD called The Cove, man’s inhumanity to dolphins is making countless thousands protest. Online petitions against the senseless slaughter of dolphins that occur annually in a cove at the Japanese village of Taaji have embarrassed the Japanese government — particularly after The Cove won the 2010 Oscar for best documentary.

Each September dolphins are driven towards a cove on the Japanese coastline by fishing boats that lay down a “wall of sound” that serves to terrify the dolphins, which have acute hearing. Fleeing from the noise, the dolphins can effectively be herded into one small, secure cove at Taaji, where they are penned in by nets. Marine museums and commercial aquariums come to Taaji to select specimens for a lifetime of captivity. The dolphins that are not selected are slaughtered and their meat marketed through Asia, often misleadingly labelled as whale meat. The dolphins contain worrisome — indeed sometimes toxic — levels of mercury.  Nevertheless, until recently dolphin meat was a staple in the compulsory lunches that Japanese schools provide to students.

Ethics and purpose must be returned to world finance

Is it okay to endanger the economy of a country by aggressively backing financial instruments then bet against them?

It appears that American banking giant Goldman Sachs thinks so and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernacke isn’t sure. Yes, the Security and Exchange Commission has charged Goldman Sachs with fraud, but this is not the first time an investment institution has been raked over the coals, usually with very little result. Business as usual is not to be stopped.

Let there be light

Ottawa Peace TowerWhen children want to become magicians they are taught to say hocus pocus. When adults want to become politicians they are taught to say transparency and accountability. In both cases, the audience eats it up. Children, though, grow up to realize that people aren’t fooled by hocus pocus alone, while politicians never seem to learn.

Our elected representatives, regardless of party, are forever calling for  government to be more open and transparent. They understand that voters want to know what their government is doing, how it is doing it and what it costs. Simple, really.

Leadership lacking in pro-life movement

Cardinal Marc OuelletWhat a difference a year makes.

The 2009 National March for Life in Ottawa drew a record 12,000 enthusiastic supporters but was virtually ignored by the media. Twelve months later, the annual March attracted roughly the same number of pro-lifers to Parliament Hill but this time earned national TV coverage and front-page headlines in some large dailies.

The great Canadian Christian right conspiracy

Marci McDonald is a conspiracy theorist who thinks she has zeroed in on a conspiracy that threatens everything Canadians love about Canada but one that the rest of us are wilfully blind to notice, except of course for those intimately involved in the conspiracy.

I know this because she tells me so for 432 pages in her new book The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada. Tells me so repeatedly with varying degrees of emphasis and alarm. She knows this conspiracy exists because she discovered it while everyone else in the media was too lazy, too smug or too indifferent to notice what was going on all around them. The problem with being a conspiracy theorist is that you tend to see the conspiracy everywhere and the fact that others don’t see it is just further proof of how insidious and effective the conspiracy is.
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Non-violence is the only path to peace

The news from the frontier between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories is seldom good, and usually awful. Headline after headline in the mainstream media confirm the popular (and hardly inaccurate) view that the border is a place of violence and danger, where Israeli soldiers daily face death and injury from suicide bombers and armed militants, and Palestinian citizens are constantly liable to harassment and arrest.

Against this baleful backdrop of discord and suffering, however, a new and more hopeful story has begun to emerge.