Bishop to Canadians: Vote Your Faith

Bishop Fred Henry knows a lot is at stake Jan. 23.

That date isn’t just the March for Life in America — it’s the day voters cast ballots in Canada’s federal election (see National News, page 3).

The Calgary, Alberta, bishop hopes voters repeal the same-sex “marriage” legislation passed last year by the country’s Liberal government under the leadership of Prime Minister Paul Martin.

Bishop Henry spoke about the election Jan. 10 with Register Contributing Editor Tom McFeely.

What issues should Catholics consider as paramount in this election campaign?

Obviously for Catholics, some of the issues that pertain to human life are always uppermost in terms of needing to be addressed during an election campaign. So you have of course the question of abortion.

In this particular campaign I think some of the outstanding issues are what are the candidates’ stands on marriage — on traditional marriage in particular — and on issues connected to the family, artificial reproductive technology, human cloning, embryonic stem-cell research. And one that is probably going to become a major issue is the issue of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Those life issues are obviously very much to the fore and ought to be in terms of anybody making a considered decision as a Catholic, in terms of exercising their voting franchise and their right to do so.

Do you think that it’s up to bishops and priests to take the lead on life and family issues in the political context, or is this an area where lay Catholics should be shouldering more of the responsibility for advancing Church teachings?

I certainly think it is incumbent on the laity to become very vocal. I mean, they are supposed to be salt and light in the world, and this is their area of competence. And I think they ought to be supported by the bishops, but I don’t think they should be simply sitting back waiting for their bishops to lead.

I’ve thought this particularly with respect to the whole issue of marriage and family life. My goodness, marriage is their sacrament; it’s not mine. And I would expect that they would be in the forefront of defending traditional marriage.

And similarly, the whole concept of life and respect for life from the very beginning. This is their area, and I have been sometimes very disappointed at the general apathy of some of our laity.

We used to talk about “the emerging laity.” Well, I think they’ve got to emerge, and they’ve got to be in the forefront on these issues. And they have to make their opinions known to those who legislate and those who judge particular policies and bring about the existence of new laws.

They’ve got to make their opinions known, and we simply cannot be apathetic in this regard.

Prime Minister Martin has made his support for same-sex “marriage” a fundamental element of his party’s campaign in this election. In the last election in 2004, he also made his support for abortion a campaign issue. Is it acceptable for a Catholic politician to do this?

No, it’s not. Such people are obviously trying to please a wide variety of constituencies and are suffering from what I call “spiritual schizophrenia,” in which they are attempting to separate their personal spirituality from their public life. And that’s not an option that is open to them.

As a consequence Mr. Martin is off-side with respect to support of these particular issues. He’s been warned and told about this sort of thing and the morally incoherent position that he’s advocating. And if he were to present himself, for example, in the diocese of Calgary for Communion, I would have to refuse him and simply give him a blessing.

That question — refusing Communion to pro-abortion and pro-homosexual “marriage” politicians — has not been prominent in this election, unlike the U.S. presidential election in 2004. Why do you think this matter has been less prominent in Canada?

Well, it’s a very difficult decision to come to. Obviously, as an individual bishop this is your call, in terms of your particular diocese, in terms of how you see things impacting.

But I’m very concerned about the scandal factor that is involved and the basic fundamental contradiction where someone says, “Hey, I am a devout, practicing Catholic, but …” and then proceeds to exclude themselves from the body of believers.

And I think that this is sufficiently serious and is persistent in this particular regard, therefore you have to make a judgment call. And in my estimation this is so important that I would refuse [Paul Martin] Communion if he were to present himself for Communion.

Why other bishops have not taken this particular stance, you would have to ask them. I’m not prepared to judge them or say what their reasoning is. All I know is, when I have to give an account for my stewardship before Almighty God, I don’t want to sit on my hands and say, “I’m sorry but I passed the buck on that one.”

I think it’s a call that has to be made, and so I’ve made it. You’d have to ask others as to what their particular stance is. I know that for example Archbishop (Marcel) Gervais in Ottawa, who is Paul Martin’s pastor during the time in which he’s in Parliament, disagrees with me on this matter and responds in another manner with respect to this issue. We have agreed to disagree with one another.

Why is Canada more pro-abortion and pro-homosexual “marriage” than the United States, at least at the political level?

I think one of the things that Canadians have kind of always patted themselves on the back for is being a very tolerant society. And I think our tolerance has gotten way out of hand, to the point right now that really we are existing in a state, I believe, of moral disarray. I think that relativism reigns supreme in our country.

We are bumping up against the reality that there don’t seem to be any boundaries with respect to what’s appropriate conduct anymore. Our Supreme Court decision recently, regarding “swinging clubs,” is another indication of this, where there are apparently no absolutes or guiding principles.

[The court Dec. 21 legalized commercial clubs that feature group sex and spouse swapping.]

It’s simply pragmatism, and almost an anything-goes type of society. And I think we’ve gone way too far and I think that we have something to learn from our brothers and sisters in the United States, that there comes a time in which you cannot compromise on principles and you must stand up and be counted.

I’m afraid that sometimes we’ve just bowed down in front of the god of tolerance and are prepared to accept almost anything in terms of a lifestyle. And that’s just not appropriate for a believer.

So I don’t know how we’ve gotten to this particular point, other than that we’ve bought into a false-tolerance gospel.

Do you think the Canadian bishops have been sufficiently clear on providing guidance to Catholic voters in this election campaign?

The permanent council [of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops] did issue a letter. It really wasn’t very specific. It just encouraged people to use the optic of their faith in terms of evaluating candidates and the various issues. But it was very brief and I think some of us found it a little disappointing.

I think the bishops did emphasize life and family issues through COLF [the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, which is co-sponsored by the Canadian bishops’ conference and the Knights of Columbus]. I would have appreciated the permanent council being a little stronger in its statement.

But once again, when you are at that particular level, you are dealing with a point of consensus, trying to bring together all the various regions of the country. And for whatever reason they decided this was a sufficient statement to make.

Tom McFeely writes from

Victoria, British Columbia.