Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 13, 2002
PM's church and state 'rant' challenged
Chretien blamed for no prayers
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
Prime Minister Jean Chretien — who has referred to himself as a "good Catholic" — defended the separation of church and state at a caucus meeting May 1, but was challenged moments later by an Ontario MP who suggested the PM is a "humanist," not a Catholic.
Insiders told CCN the exchange took place at the end of the closed caucus meeting as the Liberal members of Parliament left the room. Some MPs heard Catholic colleague Dan McTeague confront Chretien, and ask, "What's your problem?" McTeague then referred to himself as a Catholic and to the PM as a humanist.
McTeague, the MP for Pickering-Ajax-Uxbridge, and a former chair of the all-party pro-life caucus, declined to be interviewed by CCN and a spokesperson said it was "a private matter" between the two men.
Chretien had told the caucus that his "best decision" was not to have a priest speak at the national memorial service on Parliament Hill last Sept. 14 for the victims of terrorist attacks in the United States.
One unnamed MP also told the National Post that Chretien went on a "rant" about the need for church and state to be separated, and referred to incidents in his home province of Quebec. The PM reportedly spoke of a Catholic man alleged to have been refused burial in a Catholic cemetery in 1870 because of his political views.
However an unidentified Liberal strategist told the newspaper Chretien was not on a rant, but was explaining Canada is a multicultural society and "we have to respect the right of all parties and sides and not to mix church and state."
But Archbishop Marcel Gervais disagreed."To assume that a multifaith culture requires that civic ceremonies be devoid of any religious references is erroneous." He noted surveys have shown that 80 per cent of Canadians believe in God.
"There are many examples of prayer services that could be used in this type of circumstance without favouring any one church or religious organization," Gervais said.
"Within a democracy, the views of the vast majority should have some influence on our political leaders."
Thomas Langan, president of the Catholic Civil Rights League, said , "It is becoming more evident from many recent experiences of government agencies and tribunal decisions that exclusion of voices of faith can be traced right to the top of the political power chain."
Langan asked, "Does our leader believe that he is protecting Canadians from faith?
"If the facts are as stated, the Prime Minister was personally responsible for the decision to exclude expressions of faith from a public mourning. The perceived corruption of power within the Quebec Church of old may have a role in this decision, but this does not justify his total denial of Canadians of faith the right to public pastoral leadership."
The federal government came under fire for not including prayers or references to God at the memorial service, attended by 100,000 people.
A few hours after the day of mourning service on Parliament Hill, Chretien and his wife, Aline, attended mass at Notre Dame Cathedral at the invitation of Gervais.