Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 5, 2004
Catholics must speak out -- Henry
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Catholics should not be afraid to speak out about what governments do or fail to do, says Bishop Fred Henry, the outspoken bishop of Calgary.
"In Canada everyone has a right to speak up about issues that affect our community. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees us that right."
Henry led two workshops on social justice at the 2004 Catholic Conference at Shaw Conference Centre March 27. Some 80 out of the 500 people attending the conference showed up for each of its two workshops on Politics in the Pews.
He noted secularists often use the separation of Church and state concept to shut down people of religious faith who attempt to speak on issues of social concern.
But he said the concept is simply misunderstood because it places limits on the state, not on the Church.
The concept goes back to the constitution of the State of Virginia and was written by Thomas Jefferson. A latter version can be found in the first amendment of the constitution of the United States.
It says, "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion or preventing the free exercise thereof.
"Nothing is said here concerning the Church's position; it simply limits the government from establishing one or another Church as the official religion," Henry explained. "The separation of Church and state is first of all a limitation on government, not a limitation on the churches' ability or right to speak."
Canada does not have an equivalent governing statement neither in the British North American Act nor in the Constitution Act of 1982.
"What Canada does is guarantee every one of its citizens freedom of religion and conscience," Henry said. "And in Canada, the freedom of religion means that the numerous churches and religious bodies are free to speak about what governments do or fail to do."
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada protects the right of individuals, communities, religious bodies to speak out without government interference, without favour-itism or discrimination, the bishop noted.
"Our nation is truly enriched and our tradition of pluralism is enhanced, not threatened, when religious groups contribute to public debate.S
"We may not always have the rest of the citizens agree with us, but we represent a unique perspective that has to enter into the dialogue. And there must be people who are prepared to do that."
The Catholic community does not seek to impose any kind of sectarian doctrine, but to act on its moral convictions, to share in the experience of working with the poor and the marginalized, and to participate in the dialogue of our common future, Henry clarified.
"When you actually look at Church teaching and Church's social justice teaching in particular, our moral framework does not easily fit the ideology of the right or the left not the platform of any political party.
"Our values are often not politically correct and we have to function, I believe, if we live out the Gospel and our faith, as the conscience of the community. And we have to keep testing public policy and platforms by the values of Sacred Scripture and the principles of Catholic social teaching. . . .
"Catholic teaching constantly urges us to speak up for the voiceless, to empower them to speak for themselves."