LifeSiteNews Defamation?

A Quebec priest is suing the pro-life web news service. Can he shut it down?

Father Raymond Gravel, seen after casting his ballot in the federal election in his home district in November 2006, is running suing the web-based pro-life news service LifeSiteNews for defamation of character.
Father Raymond Gravel, seen after casting his ballot in the federal election in his home district in November 2006, is running suing the web-based pro-life news service LifeSiteNews for defamation of character. (photo: 2006 CNS photo/Christinne Muschi, Reuters)

TORONTO — LifeSiteNews, the independent web-based pro-life and pro-family news service, is being sued by a Quebec priest for defamation.

LifeSite is headquartered in Toronto and has offices in the United States, Rome and Paris, but its audience is mostly in the U.S. and Canada. It has consistently called for Father Raymond Gravel — briefly a separatist member of the Canadian parliament — to either renounce his views on abortion and homosexuality or give up the priesthood.
Gravel has taught Bible studies and carries out pastoral ministry in the Diocese of Joliette, Quebec.

Now, Father Gravel is suing LifeSite, its five Canadian staffers, and Campaign Life Quebec and its former executive director, Luc Gagnon, for $500,000 (Canadian) for damage to his reputation and loss of his job.

“That’s our whole budget for a year,” said LifeSiteNews editor-in-chief John-Henry Westen. Added LifeSite’s co-founder, Steve Jalsevac, “Not that we expect to lose. We’re very confident of our facts. But the cost of defending ourselves could be crippling.”

Father Gravel’s statement of claim alleges that LifeSiteNews has repeatedly lied about him in claiming that he is pro-abortion and that he opposes the Church’s teachings on homosexuality and same-sex “marriage,” “wants to destroy the Church,” “has scandalized the people and Catholics of Canada for years” and “was a homosexual and a prostitute.”

Father Gravel told the Register, “I do not wish to put LSN into bankruptcy, and I am convinced that is not the case.”

But he is certain LifeSiteNews is to blame for his dismissal.

“My problems with the Vatican authorities all flow from the evil, the lies and the half-truths from LSN, such that hundreds of well-intentioned people who never bothered to check their sources wrote to Rome to get me punished.”

In his lawsuit, Father Gravel states that he proved he “has not renounced his religion,” since he “preferred to quit politics rather than religious life,” on the instructions of Rome, in 2008, after two years in parliament.

‘I Am Against Abortion’

What’s more, Father Gravel insists in his lawsuit that he “is against abortion and considers that human life is sacred and that abortion is always a tragedy in our contemporary societies and that we must do everything we can, with all due respect to the persons concerned, to reduce the number of abortions performed in Quebec and Canada.”

Father Gravel told the Register, “I am against abortion, but I am against those pro-life groups that attack women who resort to abortion. We must attack abortion, not with recriminalization but with education and with concern for the well-being of poor, abandoned and marginalized women.”

In the 2007 apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Love), Pope Benedict XVI wrote that Catholic politicians must support life and marriage with their votes.

“These values are not negotiable,” he said, listing “human life, its defense from conception to natural death, the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman, the freedom to educate one’s children and the promotion of the common good in all its forms.”

“Catholic politicians and legislators, conscious of their grave responsibility before society, must feel particularly bound, on the basis of a properly formed conscience, to introduce and support laws inspired by values grounded in human nature.”

Father Gravel also called “bizarre” the belief system of the “religious right” which is “ready to shoot doctors who perform abortions and who are for the most part supportive of the death penalty for criminals.”

And he noted that he has the support of “the very great majority of Quebeckers” as well as “many priests and bishops” and insisted “nobody in the province where I work wants to excommunicate me from the Church.”

However, he is footing his legal bill himself.

Truth Defense

In his statement of claim, Father Gravel also said that LifeSiteNews “defendants even tried to discriminate against the plaintiff regarding his sexual orientation, alleging that the plaintiff is a homosexual.”

Father Gravel, in a February 2005 interview with Fugues magazine of Montreal, told reporter Patrick Brunette he had been a homosexual prostitute from ages 16 to 24 until being beaten up by a client and experiencing a change of heart. 

“My positions on abortion and gay marriage were not well received in the Vatican,” he continued. “My bishop [Bishop Gilles Lussier of Joliette] received a letter from the Holy See saying that if I persisted in non-conformity to the Catholic Church’s doctrine, I must suffer the consequences. And can you guess who signed the letter? Cardinal Ratzinger, who before being Pope, was prefect of the Congregation for the Faith.”

As an MP, Father Gravel supported the conferral of the Order of Canada on Canada’s pioneer abortionist Henry Morgantaler, the country’s highest honor for civilians. He also voted against Bill C-484, which would have made an assault on a pregnant woman also an assault on the unborn child, had it passed.

But neither action, he insists, equates to support for abortion.

“The plaintiff does not praise Henry Morgentaler but recognizes that the abortions he performed have saved the lives and mental health, in some cases, of women who were victims of rape and completely traumatized by their unwanted pregnancies.”

Father Gravel opposed Bill C-484 not because he was pro-abortion, he said, but because he was against “recriminalizing” abortion.

He also joined other priests in 2008 in addressing an open letter to Quebec’s bishops calling on them to support same-sex marriage and oppose new Vatican regulations regarding homosexual priests.

At the end of each of its reports on Father Gravel’s controversial public statements, LifeSiteNews put the name and address of the priest’s bishop, and when that produced no results, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In Canadian defamation law, the news media can both report damaging facts and express damaging opinions if the facts are true and the opinions can be reasonably drawn from the facts.

“We claim the defense of truth,” says Westen, “and fair comment.”

Register correspondent Steve Weatherbe writes from Victoria, British Columbia.