Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
December 11, 2006
'Steady Eddie' rooted in Catholicism
Ed Stelmach becomes Alberta's first Catholic premier. Stelmach's faith was never a topic of interest or controversy in the lengthy campaign for the Progressive Conservative Party leadership. But for Catholics - even though we are rarely so tribal as to prefer a candidate of our religion to a better candidate of another faith - Stelmach's election must be a source of some solace.
It is a sign that the fires of old-style anti-Catholicism are virtually extinguished in this province. Stelmach did not, a la the Americans' John Kennedy, have to make a speech saying the Church does not speak for him on public issues. It wasn't a concern.
By all accounts, Stelmach is a man of virtue who is likely to acquit himself with honesty, integrity and humility in his new responsibility. If he does, it will speak well of the formation he has received through his farm upbringing, Ukrainian heritage and Ukrainian Catholic faith.
Like the federal Liberals' new leader, Stephane Dion, although in very different ways, he is something of an anti-politician. The night before his election, instead of scheming ways with his cohorts to get out the vote, he was fixing the broken furnace in his home.
But if Stelmach escaped the anti-Catholicism of the past, the other Catholic candidate on the final ballot, Ted Morton, was besieged by the secular anti-Catholicism of today. One need not subscribe to Morton's policy proposals to be appalled by the reporter who asked him in the televised debate, "As leader, will you push your personal principles down the throats of Albertans or will you compromise your own beliefs to reach out to those with more moderate views? Which is it?"
Many failed to see bigotry in reporter Mia Sosiak's apparently equating Morton's opposition to same-sex marriage (not even a provincial responsibility) with pushing "your personal principles down the throats of Albertans."
A politician can take a stand in favour of the Kyoto Accord, a national child care program or even medicare without being accused of ramming his or her views down people's throats. But take a stand against abortion (which neither Morton nor Stelmach did) or same-sex marriage, and you are convicted of advocating theocratic fascism.
The only theocratic event of the week in Canada passed without much comment. That was the election of the Bloc Quebecois' Father Raymond Gravel to the House of Commons. Gravel is in favour of same-sex marriage and so, despite the fact that he is a priest doing a layperson's job, the spectre of theocracy was not raised.
For the record, the Second Vatican Council taught that "the political community and the Church are mutually independent and self-governing."
The Church's Compendium of Social Doctrine, quoting Pope John Paul II, says, "'The Church respects the legitimate autonomy of the democratic order and is not entitled to express preferences for this or that institutional or constitutional solution,' nor does it belong to her to enter into questions of the merit of political programs, except as concerns their religious or moral implications" (no.424).
The term "moral implications" does cover a lot of territory. But even there, the Church's role is one of advocating basic principles of natural justice, not imposing religious beliefs. We oppose abortion or poverty, for example, not simply because God tells us to but because, by any measure of natural justice, these ought to be seen as moral travesties.
Those principles of natural justice are the principles by which Premier Stelmach ought to be held to account by the political community and by the Church. Many Catholic politicians in the past have fallen short of that mark.
With a Catholic as premier, the bishops or the Vatican will not be covertly calling the shots. We are pleased that a member of our faith community has been given this role.
But, like others, we will challenge him to live up to the principles of natural justice.
- Glen Argan
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