Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 10, 2003
CCCB still fighting same-sex marriage
By ART BABYCH
Canadian Catholic News
The Catholic Church's battle to retain the traditional definition of marriage is not over yet, says Bishop Jacques Berthelet, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB).
On Oct. 9, a five-judge panel of the Supreme Court of Canada turned down an application by religious and family groups - including the Catholic bishops of Ontario - for leave to appeal an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling June 10 that opened the door to same-sex marriage in Ontario. That ruling was followed by similar court decisions in Quebec and British Columbia.
But Berthelet told the CCCB's annual assembly Oct. 29 that "the game isn't over." Still to come are hearings by the top court on a draft bill by the federal government that would legalize same-sex marriage across Canada. "It's at that time that we will present our own arguments to the Supreme Court," he said.
The religious and family groups applied for leave to appeal the Ontario court's decision after the federal government announced that it would not, opting instead to move toward legalization of same-sex marriage across Canada.
Berthelet said that even if the government's bill wins the approval of the Supreme Court, it would still have to clear the House of Commons and the Senate before becoming law.
The outgoing CCCB president said the conference's permanent council is also looking at the possibility of separating religious marriage and civil marriage and leaving it up to the state to decide the other "forms of union" that could occur.
And he applauded the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops which, he said, has been "working in the trenches" on the issue.
Bishop John Pazak, eparchial bishop of Slovaks of the Byzantine Rite in Canada, spoke for the Ontario bishops, who believe the draft bill, which the government says will protect religious institutions from being forced to marry same-sex couples, is flawed.
"The wording would indicate that protection is being afforded on the basis of individual conscience of the priest or the minister," he said. "This does not offer any institutional protection for a Church such as ours which takes doctrinal positions about same-sex marriage."
Pazak also said protection for religious institutions is needed at the provincial as well as at the federal level. "There should be no pressure at that level (provincial) on either individual clergy or faith groups to go beyond what their own criteria for marrying people would require," he said.
"At the federal level we are charitable organizations," he said. "Is it not conceivable that the argument could be made that we are subsidized and therefore we have to follow human rights' provisions?"
Bishop Fred Colli of Thunder Bay suggested the bishops speak to Paul Martin, the former federal finance minister, who is a Catholic and the leading contender to become the next prime minister as early as next February.
"Maybe we could approach him and build a link or bridge of some kind to see if we can offer him any advice or counsel to assist him in possibly seeing other alternatives," Colli said.
Another suggestion came from Bishop Eugene LaRocque, bishop-emeritus of the Ontario Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall. "We should address the whole idea that the use of our sexuality is a right rather than a privilege that is given to us by almighty God," he said.
"The root issue goes back to (Pope) Paul VI and Humanae Vitae, that if married couples can separate the marriage act into pleasure and no children, then what leg have we to stand on when we address the whole question of homosexuality or lesbianism?"
Added LaRocque, "We have to revisit that constant teaching of the Church and start from there if we're ever going to have any success. I know how difficult it's going to be because the artificial contraception mentality has pretty well taken over our western civilization, including our Catholics."
Vancouver's Archbishop Adam Exner said the idea of objective morality and natural law is completely missing in discussions with some people who do not agree with the Church's position.
He was shocked, he said, by a survey conducted about five years ago that found that 57 per cent of Canadians believed that the only difference between moral right and moral wrong is personal preference and choice. "So by the very fact that I prefer something and choose it, it becomes right," Exner observed.
"I think we really have a crisis - an epistemological crisis: is there truth? Is truth absolute? Or is all truth relative? I think that is the underlying issue which makes discussion so difficult."