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The Catholic rebellion: politicians and Communion.

In our June edition I presented a survey of how the Catholic community dealt with the same-sex marriage" issue from the fall of 2003 till late spring 2005 and concluded with the question of why nothing was being done about the anti-Catholic behaviour of Paul Martin. We decided to issue a press release on June 10.

Why a press release?

We all know there are no adequate channels whereby members of the Catholic community can make their views known to the hierarchy. Even the Constitution of the Church, approved by the Vatican Council Fathers in 1964, merely assumed that such channels already existed when, in fact, they did not. Till this day there are no such channels. Consequently, these things have to be discussed publicly in the press.

"Paul Martin, not a 'faithful parishioner'"

"Catholic Insight magazine is asking Archbishop Marcel Gervais of Ottawa to deny Prime Minister Paul Martin the status of faithful parishioner' and to deny him access to Holy Communion.

"Father Alphonse de Valk, editor of the national magazine, states in his forthcoming July editorial that bishops cannot remain silent about Catholic politicians who publicly favour replacing marriage between man and woman for a union between any two persons.

"De Valk quotes Pope Benedict as saying: 'Gay marriage is a fake' and 'an expression of anarchic and false freedom.' Bill C-38, therefore, is fraudulent.

"Paul Martin, a Catholic, is the chief instigator of this fraud. He cannot be considered a faithful parishioner, as Archbishop Gervais had said last March. Martin also publicly rejects Church teaching on abortion--which the Church insists is murder.

"Bishops, including Cardinals, cannot remain silent, the priest says, when the beauty and holiness of the Eucharist is at stake.

"Please see editorial on the internet:

"For background, see 'Catholic community battles Same-Sex 'Marriage,' Catholic Insight, June 2005, pp. 32-44, or"

The June 9 Press Release was sent out by the Canada Newswire Group to all daily newspapers in Canada. I was disappointed when there seemed not a trace of it here in Toronto or, as far as we knew, anywhere else. Ten days later, the CNW group informed us that our Press Release ranked in the top ten accessed files for that day, for a total of 469 times. They sent us a golden label TOP TEN.

Meanwhile, we had some evidence that our Press Release faxed to 35 radio stations had been heard on various channels late at night and early in the morning. When we checked our own website tracking system, we found a total of 187 hits for June 9 and 10 together, at least twice as many as for any other normal two days. So it did make news somewhere.


Correspondence with Archbishop Gervais

On the next day, June 10, I sent a letter to Archbishop Marcel Gervais of Ottawa. Here is the text:

"Your Grace,

"I trust this letter finds you well. May the Lord bless your endeavours and may the Holy Spirit be with you.

"Yesterday afternoon I issued a press release requesting that you and the other bishops put an end to the scandal of so-called Catholics--often referred to in the daily press as devout Catholics--publicly rejecting Catholic teaching and then attending Mass and receiving Communion.

"In a press release last March you referred to Prime Minister Paul Martin as a faithful parishioner.' Bishop Fred Henry, on the other hand, has made it clear that the Prime Minister is nothing of the kind. On June 2 he once more explained that Paul Martin's politics clash so severely with the Church's teaching that the two cannot be reconciled.

"As you know, Bishop Henry's approach is shared by at least a dozen bishops and archbishops in the United States (2004 election), by Cardinals Arinze and Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict), lately too by Cardinal Cipriani of Peru and, no doubt, others.

"Meanwhile, Mr. Martin's ruse in claiming that SSM, is a right under the Charter of Rights, and that religious freedom is not threatened, are both blatantly false. Only yesterday Mr. Cotler, the Justice Minister, acknowledged that Ottawa cannot ensure religious protection.

"The Catholic community cannot put up with the split Church personality the bishops now present. Priests, including myself, have to look after our own consciences. A number of us will not give those politicians Holy Communion.

"There is a Synod on the Eucharist in October. One of the most important aspects to be resolved is the reception of Holy Communion by people who are not properly prepared, let alone those who publicly mock the Church's teaching.

"With kindest regards, "Yours in Christ,

During the next week and a half, we sent all bishops in Canada the texts of the Press Release, the Letter to Archbishop Gervais, and the July/August Editorial by regular mail. Our Online Newsletter 4, issued on June 22, did the same for our e-mail Newsletter subscribers. We also sent a copy of the June edition to each of the ninety Catholic members of Parliament listed in the June edition on page 16.

Financial concerns

The press release, the newsletters, the mailings, the photocopying, the mailing of the magazine itself to the MPs, all cost money, which Catholic Insight itself can ill afford. That is why we entrusted the whole matter to the Society for Catholic Life and Culture which has undertaken to finance this sort of thing as part of its evangelical apostolate. The Society does issue charitable tax receipts for its work. Donations are always welcome. It can be most easily reached via Catholic Insight.

Readers with internet access are invited to visit our website, To subscribe to the free newsletter and provide feedback, click on "Newsletter" and complete the online registration form. As for correspondence, we cannot guarantee responses, because of the lack of personnel on our part.

More letters

The Archbishop replied on June 23, acknowledging that there was "a great deal of debate over the position of the Catholic politician," saying,

"If the issues were very clear, as they were when Thomas More was executed, or when Bonhoeffer was killed, we would not be having the same debates as we are today. Henry VIII wanted to replace the Pope in England and Bonhoeffer wanted to stop the killing of the Jews. I feel that on such issues most of our Catholic politicians would stand firm in their faith."

The Archbishop then repeated his March 2005 statement that "refusing communion to a leader of Parliament is serious to the extreme.... I would not entertain such a thought without the backing of my brother bishops, or without prior communication with the Holy See.... Mr. Martin is, to me a faithful member of my Cathedral parish."

A week later, June 30, I replied to the Archbishop as briefly as I could. First, I asked whether the dialogue with the other bishops on what to do with Catholic politicians who publicly contradict important Church teaching was now underway Secondly, I ventured the opinion that the comparison with More and Bonhoeffer was not a happy one. More had to defend the Papacy at a time when it was in ill repute; Bonhoeffer took his stand in World War II when his fellow Protestants had deserted his cause en masse. Both, therefore, had a more difficult time explaining why they remained faithful to their convictions than anyone would today. Today's Canadians know exactly where the Church stands on so-called same-sex marriage; her position is crystal clear. Yet out of 90 Catholic MPs, 56 supported its legalization (not counting the bulk of Quebec MPs who also voted in favour).

I did not receive a reply from the Archbishop but I did get indirect answers from two sources. An Ottawa correspondent (P.P. Phelan) had put a similar question about Paul Martin to the Archbishop. He sent me the Archbishop's brief reply, stating, "My answer to Fr. de Valk's basic question is: If the Holy Father asks me to excommunicate Mr. Martin, I will do so."

Also, LifeSite News of June 29 reported that Mr. Martin, on Vancouver's CKNW radio while pressing for same-sex "marriage", had said, "I am actually a very strong Roman Catholic." On checking with the Ottawa Chancery, the Communications Officer, Gilles Doucette, repeated that the Archbishop's stand vis-a-vis Mr. Martin remained unchanged. So, that ended this effort.

Is there a chance that the Prime Minister, being so extremely busy, first as Finance Minister, then as Prime Minster, would not know where the Church stands on SSM? Perhaps he never sees any of the letters Catholics have sent him? The answer is, "No." How do we know this? The Prime Minister attended Mass at Niagara-on-the-Lake's St. Vincent de Paul church on June 18, where the parish priest, Fr. Paul McDonald, not knowing the PM was there, gave a homily on, "Who is worthy to receive Communion?" He included specific references to Cardinal Ratzinger's July 2004 Memo to the American bishops (Text in C.I., September 2004, p. 23) about Catholic politicians who reject Catholic teaching (LifeSite News, June 21, 2005).

What about my first question: whether a dialogue about this subject was ongoing among Canadian bishops? An enquiry with the Ontario Catholic bishops' conference confirmed that the subject is not being discussed, other than perhaps informally. However, all bishops will meet as a national group on September 16-19; the Ontario bishops will meet on September 26-28. Perhaps it could be placed on their agendas, if the laity apply some pressure to start dealing with these issues.


The controversy goes public

Diocese of Timmins: Charlie Angus

Meanwhile, the debate about censoring "anti-Church-teaching Catholic politicians" had broadened. First, the denial of Holy Communion to MP Charlie Angus (NDP-Timmins-James Bay) by his parish priest, Father John Lemire of Cobalt, ON, last February, drew the attention of the Ottawa Citizen and, subsequently of other papers, when Angus complained about it publicly in early July. The National Post, for example, sided with the diocese (Editorial "Angus bad beef," July 11, 2005). The important point for our discussion is that Ft. Lemire's action was supported by Timmins Bishop, Paul Marchand, who thereby became the second Canadian bishop to take this position.

Perhaps it should be noted here that refusing to give Holy Communion is not the same as excommunication. Divorced Catholics remarried outside the Church, for example, are also forbidden to receive Communion but are still encouraged to attend Sunday Mass.

As for MP Charlie Angus, he resolutely rejected the censure by telling the Ottawa Citizen, "As a legislator, I have to represent the Catholics and the non-Catholics. I have to represent the bigger picture and I can't be taking my orders from the pulpit." He did not explain how he knew the majority in his riding favoured same-sex "marriage"--presumably the reason for him voting in its favour.

Angus admitted that he had thought long and hard about C-38 before finally sending letters to his diocese, the bishop, and the Catholic school board where he is a trustee, affirming his commitment to the SSM legislation (O.C., July 6, 2005). On CFRA Ottawa radio he repeated the accusation that the priest was illicitly using his role for political pressure, thus blaming the Church, not himself.

Diocese of London: Joe Comartin

In London the initiative to censure a local politician came from the bishop. On July 6 Bishop Ronald Fabbro issued a letter to all 149 parishes in the diocese to be read on Sunday, July 10, that MP Joe Comartin (NDP-Windsor-Tecumseh) had forced his hand to take action against him. On the day Bill C-38 passed third and final reading in the House of Commons, June 28, Comartin spoke in the House, explaining that he teaches in the marriage preparation program at his parish. He then stated,

"One of my visions is that some day my church will allow those couples [in marriage preparation] to not only be heterosexual but also to be homosexual. My vision says to me that some day this will happen. The Roman Catholic Church in this country and across the globe will follow the precedents that the United Church, the Quakers, the Metropolitan Church and any other number of Christian denominations have taken. This is about love; we will guarantee within our religious services that all couples will be treated equally" (Hansard, June 18).

The bishop's comment: "I have decided that Mr. Comartin is not to give marriage preparation sessions within this diocese, and that he is not to engage in any liturgical ministries; for example, minister of the Eucharist or reader.... My decision will remain in effect until Mr. Comartin has changed his mind."

In his letter, Bishop Fabbro also denied that Bill C-38 was necessary as a remedy against discrimination; that marriage cannot be anything than what it is, a union between a man and a woman; that this is not something "religious" but knowable by the light of natural reason; and that it is wrong to think that in a secular state the ethical values of religion are to be relegated to the private realm.

Mr. Comartin declared himself "deeply hurt and saddened." He was not present in his Holy Rosary parish church when the letter was read, but some two dozen people used the occasion to walk out of the church. This demonstration made headlines in the Windsor Star the next day. The following Sunday, July 17, Comartin was present, this time in the front pew with his family, with people shaking his hand or embracing him. Parish priest Fr. Gerry Campeau, who earlier had noted that Mr. Comartin was "an excellent parishioner" and that both the bishop and the MP (my emphasis) "had to do what they had to do," now welcomed him back, saying that Catholics must "forgive and love" (Windsor Star, July 8). There had been no sign of repentance on the part of the offender.

"Comartin's return to mass welcomed," headlined the Windsor Star (July 18). Comartin, who also supports the NDP's pro-abortion stand, who voted for the reproductive technologies Bill C-13 in October 2003, and for Bill C-205 adding 'sexual orientation' to the Hate Crimes Act in September 2003, for his part immediately after Mass joined Windsor's "Gay Pride" Day. As deeds speak louder than words, one may assume that this was his answer to the bishop. The vicar for the Windsor region, Father Jim Roche, meanwhile, had said that Comartin would still be able to receive Communion (W.S., July 9).

From July 13 to 30, the Windsor Star published 72 letters (32 favouring the bishop, 38 Comartin, and two favouring both), plus one cartoon ridiculing the Church, one editorial (for both) and three other articles not on the side of the bishop. The reader should note that one can only be for both the bishop and the MP on this issue on the presumption that same-sex "marriage" is not harmful, and that both parties are "following their consciences," with right or wrong having no role to play.

One long article by Dalson Chen ("MP faces test of faith," July 16) consisted of pro-"gay" statements by activists, including two former Windsor priests (Joe McParland and William Cardinal), one suspended priest (Tim Ryan of Toronto), together with the views of some other Comartin sympathizers. Comartin himself pooh-poohed the whole issue "as the Church's pre-occupation with issues of minor importance" when it should be devoting time to fighting poverty, AIDS and war. This was also the view expressed in a Ottawa Citizen article by Christopher Duncanson-Hales, a Catholic doctoral student in theology at St. Paul's University, Ottawa. He called for support for Charlie Angus (O.C., July 12). The Comartin-Hales view is ironic when one recalls that as a collective body the Canadian bishops through the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) in Ottawa, pursued economic social justice as the all-important issue from 1967 to 2000, publishing some 1,600 statements.


One theme that appeared in "letters to the editor" of many newspapers was the charge of "inconsistency" against the bishops as a whole. The inconsistency refers not to their doctrinal stand but to the differences in discipline of various dioceses. This was also the subject of an article by Windsor Star reporter Monica Wolfson ("Discipline of MPs inconsistent: survey," Windsor Star, July 16). It included such items as a Quebec priest telling MP Frances Bonsant (BQ-Compton-Stanstead) that as long as "she voted her conscience, "everything was OK."

The article also informed the reader that Cardinal Ambrozic of Toronto had sent letters to Catholic MPs, because Catholic Liberal MP Maria Minna was quoted as saying "she received a letter from the Cardinal advising her against gay marriage. She voted in favour of the bill and hasn't heard from the church since." [My comment: perhaps she will, one day.] Another Catholic MP who complained about "all this threatening of the church" was Hedy Fry (Lib, Vancouver Centre), who is outspokenly "pro-choice" and pro SSM.

Other journalists, too, commented on the phenomenon. Ted Byfield of Edmonton in a July 23 Sun column entitled "Special Exception for prime ministers?" asked, "If poor Charlie Angus is out, why is Paul Martin still in?" Ottawa Citizen columnist David Warren had especially harsh words for the bishops, calling "most" of them "cowards." They "run away from almost any opportunity to defend the faith they were entrusted to defend. They will act, grudgingly, when they get instructions directly from Rome, but then they let everyone feel their pain." (July 26, 2005).


Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Quebec City

The London controversy received further media publicity because of comments made by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec City and Primate of Canada, after his presentation on behalf of the CCCB to the Senate Committee on July 13. The brief was excellent; the comments were somewhat confusing, this for two reasons: first, because the news reports from the three agencies--Sun, West Can and CP--emphasized different aspects; second, because the Cardinal's remarks were answers given to specific questions, which themselves did not cover every aspect.

The Sun reported that Cardinal Ouellet had told his questioners: "You do not lose your right to belong to a community because you do not vote the right way." The Cardinal added that "those MPs who backed bill C-38 should go to confession before taking communion." The reporter then editorialized (i.e. gave her own opinion), saying, "Ouellet fell short of supporting the sanctioning of NDP MP Charlie Angus, who was refused communion after voting in favour of legalizing same-sex marriage." She continued by quoting the Cardinal again: "I think there should be dialogue but not necessarily public punishments" ("Church: go easy on MPs," Stephanie Rubec, Toronto Sun, July 14).

Alexander Panetta of the Canadian Press repeated essentially the same words, though again his own editorializing created the illusion that the Cardinal was condemning the Timmins case and only supporting Bishop Fabbro. Panetta first recalled how MP Charlie Angus had been denied Communion. He then placed the Cardinal's remark, "You do not lose your right to belong to a community because you do not vote the right way," immediately underneath it. The Cardinal continued with "We are all sinners in one way or another, so we have to be welcoming for all our members. We are a community of stoners." Panetta went on to say, "Ouellet had a different take on the case of MP Joe Comartin...."

We get a better view of what the Cardinal meant by adding to the above the CanWest News report by Tim Naumetz (National Post, Windsor Star, July 14). He focused on the London case but dwelt more on what the Cardinal said about repentance. "[He] also said Catholic MPs who supported the legislation should make amends through church confession before being allowed to take part in the sacrament of communion." Naumetz then mentioned the Cardinal's support for the actions of Bishop Fabbro with respect to Comartin.

The reporter continued: 'Asked if he would withhold Communion for an MP who voted in favour of the bill, [he] replied: "If he went to Confession before, he can receive Communion, so I would not say that he is banned from the community because he has not voted the way that I would have expected." Confusing as this part may be, it can only mean one thing: the MP has committed a grave sin and until he has gone to Confession he cannot receive Communion again.

I summarize the Cardinal's remarks as follows:

The Cardinal emphasizes that there should be dialogue. Well, in the Timmins case there was dialogue until Mr. Angus announced he was going to do his own thing, i.e, vote for C-38. Then, and only then, did his parish priest tell him he could not receive Communion.

The Cardinal--speaking about MPs after they had voted for the bill--insists they must go to Confession. Confession is asking God's forgiveness for sins committed. Having the purpose of amendment--that the sin will not be committed again--is an essential part of Confession. In other words, the Cardinal is disagreeing with Catholics who think that an offending MP can just walk back in and go to Communion without repentance. In short, neither Angus nor Comartin can receive Communion until they repent. This is the case after the event, but it must also be so before the act, when the MP has publicly announced that he or she rejects the Church's teaching.

In my opinion, the Cardinal's remarks really contradict the views of Mr. Comartin's parish priest, Father Gerry Campeau, and perhaps also those of the Windsor regional vicar, Fr. Jim Roche. Father Campeau, as we recall, welcomed back an unrepentant Comartin. This, the Cardinal says, is not acceptable. In this respect, then, the Cardinal is going beyond Bishop Fabbro's letter. The bishop had said nothing about going or not going to Communion. The Cardinal did indeed say something about that; namely, that they cannot receive without repentance.

Finally, the Cardinal's views, as reported, are incomplete. They do not reflect on the public character of the offence. Some 56 Catholic MPs (and probably an additional equal number from Quebec) have publicly voted, publicly spoken, and publicly defied solemn Catholic teaching, a good number of them after they were individually informed by their own bishop that their stand was sinful. Confession, therefore, is a first step. However, Confession is a private matter and does not resolve the public scandal given by the MP. Hence, it seems necessary that it be followed by some kind of public acknowledgement of wrongdoing in order to end the damage of a Church scandal.

That, in the end, is the reason why I do not understand the decision of Archbishop Marcel Gervais to designate Prime Minister Paul Martin as "a faithful member of my Cathedral parish," and from there on in treats this issue as if it were a private matter only.


The Vatican and Synod

So, where do we stand? It takes time for a unified approach to disciplinary matters to develop when so many bishops are involved and when in other continents this, perhaps, is not an issue.

1) The question of homosexuality as an important public issue is of relatively recent origins. The Vatican began to respond in 1973, more fully about the nature of homosexuality in 1986, and about the proper attitude towards aggressive homosexuals seeking equality in 1990. In 2003 it confronted the new issue of same-sex unions (Considerations) and also spoke on the role of Catholic politicians in a democracy. The 2004 American election led to the first serious debate among Catholics at large about Catholic politicians defying Church teaching. Bishops became involved. This has carried over into Canada.

Why this is not (yet) an issue in Europe is too complicated to relate here. But in general, in Europe parties are traditionally much more ideologically divided than used to be the case in Canada (but in Canada this appears to be changing). In Spain, therefore, the ruling Socialist party, which passed SSM legislation in June, probably has few Catholic members, if any.

2) Individual Cardinals in Rome and elsewhere have begun to take positions. We already know about Cardinal Ratzinger's strong Memo of July 2004 in support of those American bishops who, led by Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, argued that Canon Law 915 dealing not only with those excommunicated, but also with those who "obstinately persist in manifest grave sin," is to be taken seriously when it states that they "are not to be admitted to Holy Communion."

Other Cardinals are also speaking out. The most prominent one is Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacrament; in other words, the person most directly involved in this controversy affecting the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. In a February 11, 2005, interview for an EWTN television broadcast, the interviewer questioned the Vatican Cardinal, saying: "Last year, you were asked at a press conference whether a politician, a Catholic politician who supports abortion publicly should be permitted to the Communion rail should be permitted to receive Communion publicly. What is your response to that?"

Cardinal Arinze responded, "The answer is clear. If a person says I am in favour of killing unborn babies, whether they be four thousand or five thousand, I have been in favour of killing them. I will be in favour of killing them tomorrow and next week and next year. So, unborn babies, too bad for you. I am in favour that you should be killed; then the person turns around and says, "I want to receive Holy Communion." Do you need a Cardinal from the Vatican to answer that?" Similarly, the Cardinal ruled out Communion for homosexual activists (LifeSite News, Feb. 16).

On April 23 the same Cardinal was asked whether unrepentant Catholic politicians should be denied Communion. Answer: "If they should not receive, then they should not be given" (, May 13). On July 25, speaking at a dinner in Pittsburgh, he again repeated his Feb. 11 answer.

Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, has designated "gay marriage" as "a crime which represents the destruction of the world. It inflicts a deep moral wound on the Christian faith" (LifeSite News, May 3).

On June 6, Pope Benedict condemned same-sex unions as "anarchic pseudo-matrimony."

The upcoming Synod

As noted, the Canadian bishops as a group do not seem to be discussing the "politician-Communion" issue on a formal level. Yet, the upcoming International Synod of Bishops in Rome, October 2-23, has the "Eucharist" as its topic.

Section 73 of the preparatory document (Lineamenta), deals with the "Eucharist and the moral life." It states the following:

"Some Catholics do not understand why it might be a sin to support a political candidate who is openly in favour of abortion or other serious acts against life, justice and peace. Such attitudes lead to, among other things, a crisis in the meaning of belonging to the Church and in a clouding of the distinction between venial and mortal sin."

The text also says: "Some receive Communion while denying the teachings of the Church, or publicly supporting immoral choices in life such as abortion, without thinking that they are committing an act of grave personal dishonesty and causing scandal" (Zenit, July 8/05).

So the issue will be (and should be) discussed. Canada, as usual, is sending its own delegation. Please encourage these bishops to familiarize themselves with the subject. Their names and locations are as follows: Bishop Gerald Wiesner, O.M.I., of Prince George; Bishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Alexandria-Cornwall; Archbishop Thomas Collins of Edmonton; and Bishop Clement Fecteau of Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatiere. Bishop Louis Dicaire, the Auxiliary of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, and Bishop Richard Grecco, Auxiliary Bishop of Toronto, were chosen as substitute delegates and will also participate in preparations for the Synod.

Furthermore, let us remember that the CCCB statement, issued July 20, 2005, states: "Unfortunately, there are also some Catholics who have promoted the redefinition of marriage, including politicians who have voted in its favour. In this regard, they are in dissent from the teaching of the Church as enunciated by the Holy Father and the Bishops. This is a serious and problematic matter."

The CCCB statement adds that the debate over the redefinition of marriage "is far from over" and "will be a significant issue in the upcoming federal election." This, too, should motivate everyone to give further thought to this dilemma about the Eucharist.

"Fr. Alphonse de Valk, C.S.B. is a priest of the Congregation of St. Basil and the editor of Catholic Insight magazine.
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Title Annotation:denying Communion to Paul Martin
Author:de Valk, Alphonse
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 1, 2005
Previous Article:Martin's obsession with power.
Next Article:Paul Martin: party or Church?

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