Catholic bishops complicit in scandalous sabotage of the pro-life cause in Canada

September 01, 2015
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By Lea Z. Singh |

Image of infant baptism
How much did we do to protect your unborn life?
Has the Catholic Church in Canada been knowingly sabotaging the efforts of the pro-life movement and cozying up to political leaders who support abortion? According to Steve Jalsevac's brief history of the Canadian pro-life movement, as posted by blogger Vox Cantoris last week, the shocking answer is yes.

Steve Jalsevac knows what he is talking about. One of the founders of North America's most widely read pro-life news source LifeSiteNews, he spent decades in leadership positions within the Canadian pro-life movement. As historic events unfolded, his vantage point was often the epicentre.

Last week, Jalsevac sent a private email to Vox Cantoris which was later made public upon his consent. His email makes for disturbing reading. Jalsevac accuses individual bishops and the whole Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), of "deliberate undermining" of the work of Canadian pro-lifers. Jalsevac calls this "one of the great scandals in the Church in Canada."

Jalsevac backs his claims with the following evidence:

  • "As the result of a massive (that is no exaggeration), united effort by all the major pro-life organizations in Canada, we were extremely close to winning protection for the unborn in the Charter of rights. However, this was suddenly lost at the last minute because of Cardinal Carter's betrayal via a secret agreement with Pierre Trudeau that ensured public funding for Ontario Catholic Schools. We were devastated by Carter's betrayal. Grown leaders were in tears."

  • "The omnibus bill that legalized abortion, divorce and more in Canada was quietly given approval to John Turner in a private meeting with the CCCB executive before the vote while the pro-life movement across the nation was vigorously opposing the bill. It was years before we learned of this betrayal."

  • "The CCCB seriously undermined the huge, united effort of the entire Canadian pro-life movement to pass the motion proposed by MP Gus Mitges to amend the Charter to include the unborn, which had a good chance of succeeding."

  • "The CCCB also actively undermined the efforts of the pro-life movement to defeat the Reproductive Issues Bill C-13 because of serious flaws in the bill."

  • "It took several years for more than one retired bishop to come to the March for Life in Ottawa."

  • "Distributing flyers simply noting the positions of the various local candidates on the life and family issues is almost universally forbidden by bishops in Canada, whereas such distribution is very common and encouraged in many dioceses in the United States. So a crippling handicap that the Canadian pro-life movement has had all along has been roadblocks put in our way to prevent the most natural pro-life voting base from becoming well informed at election or even nomination times."

  • "Worse, most of the bishops have been strong Liberal Party or NDP supporters, no matter what the position of the candidate on the life issues."

  • "It was Catholics who supported and elected lesbian Kathleen Wynne as an MPP. Friar Rick of St. Bonaventure's parish took her around door to door to homes in his riding promoting her election."

Is Jalsevac right? My experience at the CCCB

Jalsevac makes some very serious allegations about the Catholic Church's destructive role in the battle against abortion in Canada. Is he right?

As someone who worked at the CCCB headquarters for five years from 2005-2009, and had an inside view of the CCCB as Assistant Director of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, I suspect that Jalsevac is shedding light on a real and scandalous problem with the Canadian Catholic Church.

While I believe that the bishops remain pro-life in their convictions, it is evident that the past actions of some individual bishops and the CCCB as a whole have been misguided at best, and truly destructive at worst. Many reasons have combined to produce this sad result. Here are some of them:

The permanent sulk

Most people are not aware that the CCCB holds a petty adolescent grudge against Campaign Life Coalition and its news organization, LifeSiteNews - Steve Jalsevac's employer.

This grudge was one of the first things that I noticed when I first joined COLF in the summer of 2005. For instance, I was (unofficially) discouraged from circulating LifeSiteNews stories by email to the Bishops and Secretariat, or referencing LifeSiteNews as a source in internal documents. LifeSiteNews was considered extreme and lacking in credibility, and there was distrust towards the leadership of Campaign Life.

Considering that Campaign Life is Canada's largest pro-life organization and the organizer of the March for Life, and LifeSiteNews is Canada's number one pro-life news source, the suspicious and negative attitude by the bishops is not only extremely odd but also prevents their full cooperation with pro-life efforts.

Why do the bishops have this negative attitude?

The reason is all too predictable. Over the years, LifeSiteNews has vocally exposed and criticized individual bishops and the CCCB, including their charitable organization Development and Peace, when these have acted in ways contrary to the Catholic faith.

No one likes to be criticized, and the CCCB has not been able to get over it. It remains mired in a permanent sulk.

To make matters worse, it is impossible for the CCCB to "forgive and forget" because new criticisms just keep coming (it's called "freedom of the press", but to the CCCB, it appears like an unholy desire for gossip and calumny). For instance, Jalsevac's email on Vox Cantoris is surely more fuel for the CCCB's antagonism.

Given this attitude, it is entirely plausible that the CCCB and some individual bishops would indeed have rationalized their way into actively opposing or undermining past pro-life efforts associated with Campaign Life. I bet those few bishops who attended the first few Marches likely raised eyebrows among their colleagues.

The trouble is that ordinary people were in the dark about all this. They had no idea that the CCCB gives the cold shoulder to Campaign Life. To most Canadians, the absence of bishops at the March for Life just seemed like weak leadership, cowardice and a snub of the pro-life cause.

The bishops finally got it. Really, they had no choice: the event grew far too large for them to boycott. Today, more bishops than ever are participating in the March for Life. The CCCB puts a positive spin on it, and their website proudly names the bishops who participate and celebrate pro-life masses at the March.

But below the surface, tensions continue.

It's all about the money

The Catholic Church in Canada lives in fear. Not of the culture of death, but of Canadian tax laws.

The Canadian Income Tax specifies that charities must cap their involvement in political activity at 10% of their total activity. The Catholic Church is a registered charity, and it makes a lot of money with that status. Many parishioners all across Canada donate to their local parishes each Sunday with the understanding that they will receive tax deductions for their donations. How many people would stop donating, or would donate substantially less, if the Church was no longer able to provide them with tax receipts?

This 10% limit on political activity has become a powerful deterrent to the Church's participation in fighting for the culture of life in the public square. Every action that could be interpreted as political activity is now a direct threat to the Church's financial survival.

No wonder that, as Jalsevac points out, "Distributing flyers simply noting the positions of the various local candidates on the life and family issues is almost universally forbidden by bishops in Canada".

After all, these flyers could be construed as political activity and endanger the Church's charitable status. Even the bishops' reluctance to participate in the March for Life could, perhaps, have something to do with their fear of appearing to engage in 'political' activity.

Earlier this year, the United Nations criticized Canada for the 10% cap on political activity, deeming it a crippling and undemocratic restriction. This is one of those blue moon cases where I really have to agree whole-heartedly with the UN. The Church has been completely disarmed by this one provision, which has single-handedly shackled the Church is golden handcuffs and rendered it impotent in the fight for the culture of life.

COLF as a failed experiment

As far as I could gather, the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) was originally created as the pro-life pro-family office of the CCCB, and was directly a part of the Conference.

However, once the 10% cap on charitable political activity was enacted, the CCCB spun COLF off as an independent entity without charitable status. COLF was to continue the CCCB's 'political' work without endangering the charitable status of the CCCB.

Unfortunately, this plan has been a terrible flop. COLF lacks clout. It cannot speak officially for the CCCB. All of its activity and documents are issued with the voice of just another small prolife organization that most Canadians have never even heard of.

And the CCCB has lost its leadership voice. At a time of great challenges to the culture of life, the CCCB has no pro-life and pro-family office of its own, and no employees who tackle these vital topics on an everyday basis. What a contrast to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops!

Bishops with divided hearts

As Jalsevac says, most bishops in his experience have supported Liberals or NDP. This is perhaps especially true of the powerful and large Quebec contingent of CCCB bishops, who historically exert a disproportionate amount of influence at the CCCB. Their influence still continues today.

What's more, there seem to be a number of influential bishops who are blocking attempts to oppose the "sexual identity" agenda.

For instance, I remember one incident where I wrote a memorandum to a working group within the CCCB, advising them of the threats to conscience rights and religious freedom posed by the different national and provincial developments, such as laws and regulations in favour of gay marriage, same-sex parenting, and so on. I proposed a number of actions that the CCCB could adopt to take a public stand and work to strengthen religious freedom in Canada.

I never received any official feedback on my memorandum. But I was told in the hallway (by someone who knew this directly) that my memo had not been well received by the working group. Apparently, some bishops in the working group were upset that the memo had "picked on" homosexual rights as posing a threat. In effect, the memo was accused of discriminating against gays.

My memo died a quiet death, but a few years later the CCCB did publish a document in defence of conscience rights and religious freedom in Canada. While this document specifically discusses the conscience rights of physicians, note that it is mum on the "gender identity" agenda and same-sex marriage except in the context of marriage commissioners.

Steve Jalsevac, please write a book!

Canadians deserve to know the whole truth. The Church has been notoriously and shamefully weak and quiet in this country, even as many Christian aspects of our culture have crumbled into smithereens. Yet the vast majority of Canadians would surely be shocked to discover the extent of the Church's failures of the pro-life movement.

A book on this topic would be explosive. And the public scrutiny and outrage that would be unleashed by this book might act as the Church's last-ditch defibrillator.

Just maybe, it could provoke the kind of change that is desperately needed in the Church especially now, as our culture sails full-speed into the uncharted seas of unlimited sexual license and complete commodifiaction of human life.

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