Archbishop sends message
But a number of Catholic MPs thumb their noses at his warning
Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast set off a media storm over the responsibilities of Catholic politicians when he answered a question at a Feb. 19 Theology on Tap talk in Ottawa. He said that Catholic politicians who “obstinately persevere” in supporting abortion could be denied Communion. He reiterated this Catholic teaching during an interview on Ottawa radio station CFRA on March 12.
Prendergast said he had not intended to court controversy, “But when people ask me, am I following the teachings of the church, I believe I have to uphold that. I have to remind people that they have a serious concern for other people, including the life in the womb.”
The Catholic church, he said, teaches that abortion is a “grave sin” and, “So for a politician to promote this is, in a way, to be complicit in that.” He said he is following canon law, which provides that those who “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin” should not receive Communion. He called upon his fellow church leaders to remind politicians of their responsibility to end the tragedy of “millions of lives lost in abortion” and said that Catholic clergy must tell the elected to “examine themselves as Paul the apostle says.”
The archbishop said that clergy should talk to politicians who support abortion before denying them Communion to ensure they know what they are doing is morally wrong. “You have to teach them,” he said on CFRA. If pro-abortion politicians persist in their immoral support for abortion, he said, “then I would have to say you’re not in communion with the church. That’s what taking Communion means. It means, ‘I believe in what the church believes.’”
Many Catholic politicians did not like the archbishop raising the issue and attacked the prelate’s comments as imposing Catholic morality on society.
Pro-life Liberal MP Paul Zed (Saint John) told the Ottawa Citizen he was pro-life, but added, “I also think that these guys (bishops) should mind their own business.” He criticized Prendergast for entering “the political fray” and said, “It’s disrespectful of them to impose a rule without understanding why politicians are making decisions that are different.”
Liberal MP Mauril Belanger (Ottawa-Vanier) said he would not let the Catholic church make up his mind as an MP. “I still believe it’s a matter of human rights and I vote accordingly on that issue,” he said. Another Liberal, Maria Minna (Beaches-East York), said the possibility of being denied Communion “wouldn’t change my thinking at all. And I don’t think it would for the majority of people who are ‘pro-choice.’ I think it’s something that people have worked out in their own hearts and minds a long time ago.”
Liberal Hedy Fry (Vancouver Centre), who is pro-abortion, said the archbishop was trying to “blackmail” MPs, adding: “The church is interfering in the duty of a member of Parliament or a legislator to do their jobs … That is totally unacceptable to me. The church should not behave like a bully.”
Fry said the archbishop’s comments were akin to the Catholic church treating its members like “small children,” claiming that, “The church is not there to watchdog everyone’s individual conscience and everyone’s individual morality.”
Pro-abortion Liberal MP David McGuinty (Ottawa South), brother of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, told the Citizen if the archbishop is interested in a “dialogue,” then he would explain to him “how I’ve arrived at the position I’ve arrived at and how I believe in the separation of church and state, how I believe in the Charter” of Rights and Freedoms. He is apparently unconcerned that his position is at odds with the teaching of the church to which he professes to belong.
Last year, the Ontario premier made it clear that he, too, did not think the teachings of the Catholic church applied to his role as the political leader of Canada’s largest province. he said he “divided” his personal faith and his public responsibilities.
The Citizen’s Don Butler noted that three NDP MPs (Charlie Angus, Joe Comartin and Tony Martin) refused to be interviewed for the story, noting that their support for same-sex “marriage” led to various reprisals at the parish level.
Other MPs, however, defended the right of Prendergast to uphold Catholic teaching.
Liberal MP Tom Wappel (Scarborough Southwest) said the archbishop’s position was “entirely reasonable.” He explained: “He’s not trying to tell people how to vote. He’s simply saying if you call yourself a Catholic, these are the beliefs of the Catholic church.”
Conservative MP Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle) said the Catholic church is allowed to make up its own rules: “It is the church that determines who has access to Catholic sacraments.” His Conservative colleague, Pierre Lemieux (Glengarry-Prescott-Russell) concurred, saying the Catholic church “has the right to say that those who are not publicly in communion with the church shouldn’t be receiving Communion.”
Fr. Alphonse deValk, editor of Catholic Insight magazine, told The Interim the Catholic church is not interfering with political decision-making, but rather is “defending and upholding the teachings of Jesus Christ in the face of the onslaught of relativism and spiritual cowardice.”
He applauded the archbishop’s comments, noting that few other Catholic prelates (Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary being another) have raised the issue of the responsibility of Catholic politicians to uphold the church’s teachings in their public lives. He said he hopes Prendergast can convince politicians to “put their own salvation over temporary political glory.”
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