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Adoremus, Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy

Vol. VI, No. 6-7: September/October 2000

O Canada!

Year 2000 marked by conflict, confusion in Canadian Church

by David Aaron Murray

The Jubilee Year 2000, proclaimed a time of penance, debts forgiven, apologies for past offenses, and enemies reconciled, is proving to be a year of embarassing revelations and increasing conflicts in the Canadian Church.

No statement on desecration

On March 9, Our Lady Queen of the Universe Cathedral in Montreal was invaded by screaming protestors during Mass. Claiming their motive was to honor International Women's Day, they spray-painted anti-religious graffiti on the altar and exterior, threw condoms and sanitary napkins at startled church-goers and chanted anti-religious slogans. In a March 27 editorial, the Western Catholic newspaper commented that, despite the decline of the Church's influence in modern Canada,

Mary the Mother of God is still (rightly) seen as the greatest threat to radical feminism.

This sort of feminism is rooted in the modern denigration of the feminine. The modern world sees life and knowledge only in terms of power and domination, never in terms of the "feminine" principle of being and contemplation. The modern world denigrates the feminine. But these "feminists" (whose beliefs are not at all feminine) react by striving to make women full-fledged members of the patriarchy. 

"Where's the outrage?"

"Where's the outrage?" asked editorialist and retired law professor Ian Hamilton in the online National Post, commenting on the relative lack of media coverage of the incident and the fact that none of the seven arrested were charged with hate crimes or civil rights violations. Citing other instances of government and media bias, he called anti-Christianity "acceptable bigotry" in Canada.

The Canadian bishops issued no statement on the desecration. This was confirmed to Adoremus by the Rev. Mr. William Kokesch, Director of the CCCB Communications Service, who said in response to an inquiry:

Our organization could only make a statement at the request of the local bishop and such a request was not made. In addition, the Cathedral pastor commented on the matter at the time of the incident, and it was carried in the national media. In fact, he did not want more publicity on this matter, because he feared it might incite other incidents.

Doggie Communion: protests dismissed

On Sunday, May 14, a TV movie called "Our Daily Bread", made by the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) and billed as a dramatic comedy, showed an eccentric old woman breaking her Communion host in two and giving half to her dog. Protests from Catholics were met with a form letter from the CBC saying that while "It is true that a scene from the film depicts a parishioner having communion with her dog ... by no means is this event ... done in a disrespectful manner".

Bishops supporting the positive?

But dominating Canadian Church news has been the ongoing controversy surrounding official Church support for a pro-abortion, pro-homosexual women's event.

On April 2, the pro-life news agency LifeSite revealed that $110,000 dollars (Canadian) of the Canadian bishops' money had been given to the World March for Women, whose demands include "reproductive rights" and support for homosexual "marriage". The story was quickly picked up by other news organizations.

The website of the World March for Women (which is not a literal march, but a series of informational activities and events) claims the group was inspired by the successful marches of Quebec feminists -- the same group responsible for the desecration of the Montreal Cathedral. It lists the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), the (Canadian) Catholic Women's League (CWL), and the Ontario Catholic Teachers Association as sponsors. In addition, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP), the official development aid organization of the Canadian Catholic bishops, is listed on the organization's website as a "financial partner" in the "$100,000 and more" category.

The news provoked a firestorm of criticism, with protests from priests, laity and pro-life groups over the donations. The pressure led Catholic Women's League president Sheilah Pellerin to write to March organizers on April 6, asking them to drop their demands for abortion rights and lamenting that "with so much poverty and violence against women, it is unfortunate that ... the one issue that could divide us was retained".

However, as The Interim (a pro-life newsletter) pointed out, she did not say that the CWL's participation was contingent upon the removal of the language.

In contrast, the CCODP tried to insist that the Women's March was not about support for abortion. In an April 11 letter, Executive Director Fabian Leboeuf said he supported only the international demands of the March which he alleged did not include references to abortion rather than the Canadian demands, which did.

Imaginary firewall

The donor organizations posted a joint statement on the bishops' website May 16, reaffirming their support for the World March for Women.

The statement was signed by four people -- two lay women, a nun, and a priest: Susan McNamara Scott, President of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP); Sheilah Pellerin; Sister Gloria Keylor, SP, president of the Canadian Religous conference; and Monsignor Peter Schonenbach, General Secretary of the CCCB.

Many statements defending the participation of the various Church organizations attempted to build an imaginary firewall between the good and bad parts of the Women's March program. The Catholic Women's League of Canada said, "As has been done on other occasions, we accept what is positive, but vigorously reject what cannot be accepted."

In response to questions from pro-life organizations, Deacon Kokesch also insisted that it was possible to support the good while rejecting the bad in the March's agenda.

The "firewall" defense crumbled, however, in the face of evidence gathered by pro-lifers to show the obvious: that no such separation is possible.

When pro-life nurses applied to join the Women's March on December 29, 1999, they received a blunt letter from Diane Matte, head of the international Coordinating Committee of the March, saying:

[I]t was unanimously decided that the demand to have a 'pro-life' contingent at the World March is unacceptable to us, since the anti-choice position ... is in clear contradiction with the objectives pursued by the March and specifically with one of our world demands, namely, "that all states must recognize a woman's right to determine her own destiny, and to exercise control over her body and reproductive function".

Bishops divided

A story in the Catholic World Report (April 2000) noted that "a response from the bishops was slow in coming".

Bishop Anthony Tonnos of Hamilton, Ontario, did write to a member of his diocese (in a letter he released publicly):

"The CWL in the Diocese of Hamilton has already notified the national CWL office that our diocese will not be supporting this undertaking". He continued: "I have also expressed my personal dissatisfaction to Development and Peace [the CCODP] and to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops"

Pro-lifers -- "the rudest people"

On May 10, however, Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary the only bishop on the Executive Committee of the CCODP took the occasion of an address to the Alberta Pro-Life Conference to defend the donation, and to complain that pro-life activists are among "the rudest people I have to deal with".

The following week, Bishop John Michael Sherlock of London, Ontario, also criticized pro-lifers, saying, "If the pro-life people had their way, we would all be living in a ghetto, and crying about how unclean the rest of the world is".

Toronto Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic issued a statement on May 15, saying, "We need to make a clear and definite statment to disassociate our Archdiocese from this movement through [CCODP]". He directed ShareLife, the Toronto archdiocese's development arm, to withhold $110,000 from CCODP the same amount that the latter organization donated to the World March for Women.

ShareLife's letter to CCODP ending the funding said:

We must ask at what point working with a coalition in hopes of furthering good objectives edges over into condoning the active fostering of unnacceptable objectives pressed by other members of the coalition. At what point do attempts to influence in a positive manner become so overwhelmed by contrary develeopments and the appearance of being co-opted that fine distinctions are lost on those being reached by the message?

Yet a February letter entitled "Marching Together" by Bishop Gerald Wiesener of Prince George in British Columbia is still posted on the CCCB's website as of this writing. While admitting that the March features a "wide variety of approaches" to life issues, Bishop Wiesener says, "It is truly wonderful and Spirit-filled that this March is taking place in the year 2000, the year of the Great Jubilee, the Year of the Lord's favour".

Bishop "dissed" by Catholic women's group

The controversy continues to swirl, with groups involved in sponsoring the Women's March still vigorously defending their participation.

Catholic World News reported on July 6 that when Bishop Nicola de Angelis, spiritual advisor to the Catholic Women's League, objected that information packets for the March included only the positive statements from some bishops (and no objections by other bishops to the March's pro-abortion component) Betty Ann Brown, president of the Ontario Catholic Women's League, responded, "I am sorry that you promulgated your opinion without passing it by me first ... We are an autonomous women's organization in which males do not have a vote on policy".

Despite this "declaration of independence" from the bishops, Brown insists that the CWL is pro-life, but she accused "anti-abortion people", who she claims are "jealous of our influence and the fact that we are listened to by governments", of conducting a "smear campaign" against her group.

At a meeting in Waterloo on July 10th, the CWL refused to allow Bishop de Angelis's representative, Father Nino Cavoto, to speak (the bishop was in the hospital). The women announced that they had selected their own replacement for Bishop de Angelis.

A member's motion to disassociate the CWL from the March for Women showed that the actions of the CWL's leadership did not reflect the will of all its members.

After fourteen speakers had risen, Brown peremptorily cut off further debate and announced that to cut off support for the March would be tantamount to "disassociat[ing] ourselves from the care of the poor and women".

The motion to disassociate the CWL from the March failed 71 to 43 with 6 abstentions.

(Information from LifeSite, the Daily News, the National Post and Catholic World News was used in this story.)

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