Pro-Abortion Catholic Wins Canadian Federal Vote

OTTAWA — Paul Martin, the latest Canadian Catholic prime minister to openly defy Church teaching on abortion and homosexual marriage, led his Liberal Party to a minority election victory June 28.

Martin, a regular communicant described routinely as “devout” in news reports, was condemned as a “source of scandal” by Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary in a June 6 pastoral letter.

In an earlier newspaper column, Bishop Henry went further, echoing recent Vatican pronouncements by Cardinal Francis Arinze and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger by declaring that any “dissident Catholic leader [who] obstinately persists in opposing fundamental Church teaching” should “be turned away” from Communion.

Martin's bishop, Archbishop Marcel Gervais of Ottawa, has declined to be drawn into the controversy. He had a private conversation with Martin shortly before the election but refused comment afterward. Neither Martin's office nor Bishop Gervais' returned telephone calls from the Register after the election.

Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops spokesman Sylvain Salvas said the conference “won't comment on any particular politician.” He added, however, “Our position is clear: for life.” He referred to the CCCB's pre-election statement, which reiterated Church teaching on abortion and marriage.

Salvas also noted that the CCCB has formed a subcommittee to “reflect” on the duties of Catholic politicians.

In contrast, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has recently delivered some concrete reflections on these duties. In a statement issued June 18 during the bishops' spring meeting in Dallas, they declared, “Those who formulate law…have an obligation in conscience to work toward correcting morally defective laws. “

And while the U.S. bishops stopped short of specifying that Communion must be denied to pro-abortion politicians, they delivered an implicit rebuke to Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry and other pro-abortion Catholic legislators. “The separation of church and state does not require division between belief and public action, between moral principles and political choices,” the bishops said, adding that dissenting Catholics “should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

Liberal leader Martin claimed repeatedly during the campaign that his main rival, Conservative leader Stephen Harper, an evangelical Protestant, was against abortion. Harper and his party responded that they too support a “woman's right to choose.” Harper did suggest, however, that he would permit a “free vote” on abortion in the federal parliament at some time.

Another issue mirrors a current U.S. debate — that of same-sex unions. In 1999, Canada's Parliament overwhelmingly rejected homosexual “marriage.” Martin voted with the majority. Now, after court rulings ordering its legalization in Canada's three most populous provinces, Martin has changed his mind. He explained to the CBC, “What tipped the balance was clearly when the courts said this is a [Constitutional] right. I really believe that a nation of minorities…cannot allow minority rights to be infringed on.”

Canada's Supreme Court has not yet ruled on homosexual “marriage,” although it is expected to uphold the lower court verdicts. Martin pledged to abide by such a decision, while Harper said his party would ensure Parliament had the final say.

Basilian Father Alphonse de Valk, editor of Toronto-based Catholic Insight magazine, is distressed by Martin's victory, but pleased that “the number of pro-life members of Parliament seems to have increased by nine.” (There are now close to 100 pro-life MPs in the 308-seat legislature, including substantial numbers in both the Conservative and Liberal caucuses.)

Father de Valk notes that as the governing Liberals are now in a minority, “Martin is going to have to count on every one of his MPs, which gives them that much greater say.”

Kevin Michael Grace writes from Victoria, British Columbia.