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Bishops face threat to freedom.

In March 2004, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) summoned two representatives--one Evangelical and one for the Catholic Bishops--to warn them that any "partisan" political activity might cost them their charitable status. "Partisan" politics, a media relations officer later explained, means taking a stand on such issues as abortion and same-sex "marriages" (see CI., October 2004, p. 35). Strangely enough, promoters of these controversial issues--including charitable groups such as the United Church, the Anglicans, Planned Parenthood and government financed groups like Egale and LEAF--were not called in.

Seven months later at the mid-October, 2004, annual general meeting of some 80 Canadian bishops held in Cornwall, ON, Bishop Frederick Henry, bishop of Calgary and Southern Alberta, drew the attention of fellow bishops and the media to his experience with the CRA during the election. As part of his episcopal responsibility, he had issued a pastoral letter calling attention to the fact that certain Catholics, including the Prime Minister, were publicly contradicting the teaching of the Church. The June 6 letter issued to all parishes pointed out that Mr. Paul Martin, often described in the media as a "devout Catholic," in fact holds positions on abortion, embryonic stem-cells and same-sex relations which contravene Catholic teaching. The bishop described Mr. Martin's stand as reflecting a "moral incoherence," and said his position was "a source of scandal to the Catholic community."

The letter was quoted by the media throughout Canada. Shortly thereafter the bishop received a phone call from a Calgary CRA representative who informed him that the pastoral letter had crossed the line prohibiting partisan political activity. Asked to withdraw the letter from the diocesan website, the bishop refused. The CRA bureaucrat ended the 20-minute conversation by indicating that he would report the matter to his superior.

The Agency's regulations state, "A partisan political activity is one that involves direct or indirect support of, or opposition to, any political party or candidate for public office" (Globe, Oct. 22). Bishop Henry points out that he wrote the letter as a clarification to parishioners on the role of a Catholic politician, it did not recommend for whom they should vote and named no political party. It did name, of course, Paul Martin.

The March and June incidents reveal how far the Liberal government is willing to go to marginalize--and even silence--religious voices. Licia Corbella, editor of the Calgary Sun, agrees as she notes that the case of Bishop Henry epitomizes the ongoing struggle for freedom of religion and expression in Canada (Oct. 21, Oct. 22, 2008). It also clarifies the tactics of secularists who claim that moral and ethical issues such as abortion which become state issues are from then on political only, denying religious people their civic rights.

It is not surprising that at the Cornwall meeting the Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Luigi Ventura, felt it necessary to draw attention to the unfolding struggle. "I look at the theme of the redefinition of marriage," he said in his October 19 address. "This remains a subject of major preoccupation for us all. It touches not only the deep meaning of marriage, but also the exercise of religious freedom." The underlying cause of the new threats, he said, consists of the "obligatory and general relativism of values with, as [a] consequence, the accusation of intolerance against those who object." The Gospel, he continued, is seen as counter-cultural and those who refer to it in public become "objects of marginalisation."

Fortunately, the bishops concluded their meeting by repeating their call to Catholics to deepen their understanding and "appreciation for marriage as a life-long commitment of a man and a woman ... necessary for the survival of society and culture." They also invited "all Catholics and other Canadians ... to continue calling on government and society to protect marriage" (as described above) and to insist that it has a right to "specific and categorical legal recognition by the state."

Questions

One question that needs to be answered is: by whose authority has the Canada Revenue Agency become an electoral watchdog? Another one is, who has made the decision that moral issues such as abortion are now political issues about which charitable institutions may not express an opinion in public without being penalized?

A third question is why only opponents of the above controversial issues are warned, while promoters are allowed to air their views freely?

Most significantly, the issue touches the right to apply Christian principles to political involvement. Canadians are not about to give that up. On the contrary, Catholics are called to become fully responsible in public life. As for the bishops, upholding Catholic teaching, says the Catholic Civil Rights League (Oct. 26) is their "moral duty, not a political activity. It's high time CRA learned the difference."
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Title Annotation:opponents of abortion and gay marriage stand to lose tax exempt status
Author:de Valk, Alphonse
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Dec 1, 2004
Words:787
Previous Article:Beyond Belief: the Secret Gospel of Thomas.
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