Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
June 26, 2000
Catholic political involvement
An editorial in Catholic Insight, a Toronto-based pro-life newspaper, and some comments by the archbishop of Ottawa have led to a Canadian Press report maintaining that Catholic Church leaders have "declared support for the Canadian Alliance." While the conclusion does not follow from the evidence, the report does raise the perennial issue of Catholic political responsibility.
No one should mistake Catholic Insight as an official voice of the Catholic Church. It is a voice of the Canadian Catholic pro-life movement. And the editor of such a publication certainly has the right to throw his paper's support behind the Alliance.
But although Catholic Insight is trying to get right-to-life issues on the national political agenda by endorsing the Alliance, such an endorsement should not be seen as a Catholic Church endorsement of that party.
In the past, faithful Catholics have worked through all of Canada's major political parties to win support for life issues. The right to life is so basic that all parties should endorse it wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, no major party is unequivocal in its support for the right to life of the unborn, although some candidates for the Alliance leadership do support a national referendum on abortion.
Ottawa's Archbishop Marcel Gervais raises the contrary issue - some parties are willing to compromise the right to life of unborn children by making it subservient to that of women's "right to choose." Specifically, Gervais queries whether the Liberal Party is now taking such a stand. He was disturbed by Prime Minister Jean Chretien's March 17 comments aligning the Liberal Party with a woman's "right" to choose an abortion. If the Liberals are pro-choice, that "is a lamentable state of affairs," Gervais told a May 31 Mass.
Unlike Catholic Insight, Gervais is an official voice of the Church. However, his comments are far from constituting an endorsement of any party.
Still, one might question why it has taken until 2000 to recognize an alignment of views between the federal Liberals and the abortion rights movement. After all, a Liberal government in 1969 legalized abortion, a Liberal government in 1981 refused to protect the right to life in the Constitution and a Liberal government today is content with Canada being the only country in the world with no law regulating abortion.
Unlike Catholic Insight, the Catholic Church has been exceedingly reluctant in recent decades to tell its faithful which political party to support. The source of its reluctance can be found in the Second Vatican Council's teaching that "the choice of the political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free decision of the citizens."
However, that doesn't mean that the Church is disinterested in elections. Another teaching demands that governments work for the common good. The Catechism of the Catholic Church appears to imply that citizens should not support "regimes whose nature is contrary to the natural law, to the public order and to the fundamental rights of persons" (no. 1901).
The most basic of those "fundamental rights of persons" is the right to life. The massive blood bath of unborn children in Canada certainly raises the issue of whether any citizen can in conscience support political options that do not actively challenge that slaughter.
Life issues are far from being the only issue on which voters ought to decide their preference. But if a political party or candidate is complicit with the widespread violation of the right to life, it would demonstrate that they are unworthy of voters' consideration. To be sure, one may decide that a party that does support the right to life is unworthy of support on other grounds.
Some Canadian Catholics may well decide that this is the situation in which they find themselves. We have a responsibility to be politically involved, but the most obvious paths for such involvement may all be far from ideal.
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