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March of Women: Part III.

What is meant by violence and poverty?

Catholics, above all, must go out of their way to maintain unity among themselves. As St. Paul puts it, "make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4,3). But Christ also wants the Church to feed the faithful, as He fed the crowds when they were hungry. This spiritual feeding must centre on the truth which is indispensable to unity itself. Yet truth is not always easy to discover.

In Part II, my first observation was that the obvious disagreement among us about the World March of Women is not a matter of faith and morals, therefore, not a question of heresy or excommunication. This sets us free to disagree without excommunicating one another and provides us with the freedom to look into the matter more deeply.

Nevertheless, the disagreement is very important. This is clear 1) from the spontaneous revolt and anger among grassroots CWL members and pro-lifers; 2) from the snide and distasteful remarks about the pro-life movement, together with the hard-nosed resistance to acknowledge the validity of the criticisms by the CCCB, CWL, CCODP executives; 3) and from the strength of the arguments put forward by the "dissenting" bishops (Anthony Tonnos, Aloysius Ambrozic, Adam Exner, James Wingle and Nicola De Angelis). Bishop De Angelis (Auxiliary in Toronto) made the important observation that the statement of Bishop Wiesner, president of the CCCB, of February 17, and again the clarification of May 16, "was a personal statement which was not meant to, and could not speak on behalf of all the bishops of Canada." This deflates the argument for the omnipotence of CCCB authority.

The attacks on pro-life and the language used reveal the uneasy relations with pro-life on the part of some, which have ramifications of their own but which must be left to a separate article. Here we must deal, as briefly as we can, with the central question: Is cooperation with the March of Women desirable, useful and this case, even legitimate from a Catholic point of view? Indeed, the question of "legitimacy" puts it across the border, back into the field of Catholic morality.


Much has been written and considerable research has been done since mid May; this has been useful to me for these remarks. This includes analyses by Msgr. Vincent Foy, Diane Watts for Women for Faith, Family and Life, Nicholas Burn, Jakki Jeffs, Deacon Daniel Dauvin, Teresa Buonafede and a list of letter writers too long to mention individually.

As we saw in Part II, for Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary the matter was clear-cut. He said that with respect to society there is a choice of withdrawal, revolution, or involvement. Pro-lifers, he charged, choose withdrawal, while he himself opted to get involved. That too was, more or less, the message of Bishop John Sherlock of London and Archbishop Marcel Gervais of Ottawa.

Bishop Henry's observation was clearly not too well thought out, because it immediately led him into a position of having to denounce his own Calgary predecessor as well as the bishops of three other large dioceses as isolationists, for withdrawing from the United Way when that body opted to found Planned Parenthood in their respective cities. The logic of the argument could lead to the ludicrous conclusion that we must give up our "separate schools; or remove restrictions on non-Catholics for receiving Holy Communion, etc."

A more proper approach to the question is to be found in Pope John Paul's 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae, the Gospel of Life, section 74. Here he discusses the issue of cooperation for legislators facing unjust legislation and so he recalls some general principles concerning cooperation in evil actions.

The question is, of course, whether WMW (World March of Women), is good or bad. Bishop Wiesner, et al, readily assumed that WMW was a good thing. When WMW's support for abortion and lesbian equality was brought up, they hurriedly distanced themselves from those two issues while reiterating their support for the two main issues, violence and poverty. These, they thought, were noble issues and Catholic women surely should be seen to support them, while at the same time witnessing to the pro-life cause.

The practicality of the second point, that of witnessing to the pro-life cause among WMW organizers, is highly unrealistic. The CWL's entry into the March, for example, is itself hidden under the entry of WICC, the (Canadian) Women Inter Church Council, a Council dominated by anti-Catholic sentiments. One of the very first items on its website is an attack against the Vatican by you-know-who, Joanna Manning. As far back as 1990 Mrs Sheila Howard objected to WICC and thereby lost her position on the CWL's National Council. The Council was determined to be with it, to be ecumenical, no matter what the nature of WICC. Ironically, today one can be thankful that CWL's name does not appear separately among WMW's list of what are mainly pro-abortion, anti-Catholic feminist organizations.

Violence and poverty

But what about the two "noble" goals of opposition to violence and poverty? What do we mean by them? More to the point, what does WMW mean by them?

There is a parallel here with the days of the Cold War when the Soviet Union would surreptitiously organize various peace forums, or peace congresses in Western countries, where they would denounce the West and praise the Soviet Union. They practically acquired a monopoly over the word "peace", so that whenever you heard it, you knew the leftists were at it again. Something similar has happened to the words 'violence' and 'poverty' and we had better know what people mean by these words before we join them.

One may find the answer in a detailed letter of June 15, by Women for Life, Faith and Family (WLFF) to Bishop Wiesner. Under the heading "Violence has many faces," they note that the World March demand to end violence is very selective. "While feminists march to eradicate violence against women, they champion violence against their unborn children as a prerequisite for what they call liberation and equality with men. If the marches were serious about ending domestic violence they would promote marriage." However, the word "marriage" is never to be found in feminist influenced documents unless it is linked with "violence".

So there it is. WLFF points out that March organizers do not just support abortion in itself, but see it as a keystone to their interpretation of "rights". Christians see abortion as an act of violence. Feminists see it as a noble act of emancipation. They demand, says WLFF, quoting their words, "that custom, tradition, or religious considerations should be subordinated to human rights and fundamental freedoms". They ask that "our governments dissociate themselves from any authority--political or religious--that aims to control women and girls and denounce any regime that violates our rights." Like the early marxist socialists, they see religion as the opium of the people and the Catholic Church as an instrument of oppression.

The same selectivity is true for their understanding of poverty. They march against poverty to "bring down the patriarchy". Men are the enemies of women; traditional families are oppressive and thwart female autonomy and economic self-sufficiency and, therefore, must be destroyed. This leftist undermining of family and marriage has now been adopted throughout the world, through atheistic secularism in China and elsewhere, through agnostic, hedonistic secularism in the West. Contrary to what Bishop Henry wrote in the Calgary Sun (July 30), the leading issues of the March do not harmonize with Catholic social teaching.

Is this what the CWL aims to achieve by supporting WMW's two main demands? One presumes not. And yet, when the organizers deliver their message to Ottawa and to the United Nations, they can point out that they carry the approval of the Catholic Women of Canada and of WUCWO, the World Unions of Catholic Women's Organizations.

Is this a case of cooperation in evil action? St. Alphonsus, patron of moral theologians, teaches that "cooperation is formal which concurs in the bad will of the other, and it cannot be without sin; that cooperation is material which concurs only in the bad action of the other, apart from the cooperator's intention. Material cooperation is only licit when the goods to be obtained outweigh the evils to be avoided.

The proponents of cooperation do not intend formal cooperation; they have already rejected the bad will of the WMW. Their call to join the March, however, is a form of material cooperation. Because they have misjudged the evil character of the organization as well as the ability of Catholic women to counter-witness on behalf of truth within the context of this March--which for all practical purposes is nil-this material cooperation is in fact, illicit.
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Author:Valk, Alphonse de
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Sep 1, 2000
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