TORONTO, August 26, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - It may come as a shock to many that the late Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic who reigned as Archbishop of Toronto from 1990 till his retirement in 2006 was a staunch supporter of the pro-life cause and a donor to LifeSiteNews.  However, that fact is a good example of the complex relationship which he had with the pro-life movement.  A relationship best characterized in his own words which appear at the conclusion of this reflection.

One of the most difficult stances Cardinal Ambrozic made in support of life was to stand up publicly against Development and Peace and many of his brother bishops represented by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops over the March of Women in 2000.

Very much like the 2008 Development & Peace (D&P) scandal, LifeSiteNews had in 2000 discovered that D&P was funding a pro-abortion and pro-lesbian feminist cause known as the March of Women.  While the March was also in support of legitimate women’s rights such as relief of poverty, oppression, and discrimination against women, the organizers were decidedly pro-abortion and pro-lesbian, and included those motifs powerfully in the March of Women agenda. 

While the US bishops totally boycotted the March for those reasons, LSN was shocked to find D&P and the CCCB backing the March. However, Cardinal Ambrozic led the way for a handful of bishops to publicly object to the participation and funding of the pro-abortion March.

The Cardinal instructed ShareLife to cut funding to D&P by $15,000 in protest to the Catholic agency’s support for the March.  In a letter to all priests in the Toronto archdiocese, Cardinal Ambrozic wrote, “many of our clergy and laity have queried the involvement of Development and Peace.” The letter continued, “the association of D&P with this group is indeed unfortunate and we need to make a definite statement to disassociate our archdiocese with this movement through D&P.” 

It sure wasn’t easy though for Cardinal Ambrozic to bear the criticism he received over his leadership in this regard, especially from his brother bishops.  To indicate how severe the division was it is instructive to recall that despite his public protest, D&P and the CCCB released a public letter of reaffirmation of their support for the March of Women.

Beyond that, six Canadian bishops concelebrated a Mass for the March of Women - all at a time when only one Canadian bishop (a retired one) was celebrating the Mass for the annual March for Life in the national capital. 

Cardinal Ambrozic’s personal positions were not always shared by those within his chancery.  At times communication with the Cardinal was difficult.  He often felt pushed by pro-life Catholics to undertake difficult choices and at times tempers flared.

Back in 2002 LSN blew the whistle on the annual Toronto Red Mass dinner hosted by the Toronto Catholic Lawyer’s Guild. The annual dinner which is followed by the Red Mass - usually celebrated by the Archbishop of Toronto - was having a keynote address by former Prime Minister and Progressive Conservative Party Leader Joe Clark - a Catholic who supported both abortion and same-sex unions. 

As the date for the dinner approached various Catholic lawyers and politicians told LSN they were boycotting the dinner due to the scandalous selection of the keynote speaker.  However, organizers of the dinner were still assuring LSN that the Cardinal was to attend, and celebrate the annual Mass.  The communications office at the Archdiocese refused to answer when we queried several times to confirm.

Then, just a couple of days prior to the event, LSN received a call from Suzanne Scorsone who was at the time the communications director at the Archdiocese.  The information conveyed was that the Cardinal would not be attending the Red Mass dinner.  “He had another commitment,” LSN was told. 

The Cardinal did however say the Red Mass.  With former Prime Minister Clark sitting there front and centre, Archbishop Ambrozic unleashed a homily that likely still remains with many to this day.

Speaking of “the suffering of the babies who are being aborted,” the Cardinal said, “Somehow the people who are pro-abortion ... think that somehow they don’t feel the horrible pain that accompanies every death. I don’t know one piece of living flesh that doesn’t feel the pain when life is being gouged out of it.”

On the family front in the culture war, Cardinal Ambrozic also undertook challenging actions.  His interventions often came at the behest of pro-life activists who sometimes pressed uncomfortable nerves.

  • As early as 1999 he spoke out against a Supreme Court ruling granting spousal benefits to practicing homosexual couples warning presciently that it would “serve to undermine our traditional understanding of marriage and family, and the nature of spousal and conjugal relationships.”
  • By 2003 as the same-sex ‘marriage’ battle was in full swing he sent a letter to all Toronto parishes urging priests, “It is imperative that we speak publicly and clearly about what is referred to as the ‘same-sex marriage’.” 
  • In 2005, he wrote the Prime Minister asking for legislation to protect traditional marriage and warning that public schools would be forced to teach children that homosexual ‘marriage’ was equivalent to traditional marriage.
  • He had priests read out a message at all Masses encouraging the Catholics to take political action on the issue.
  • He backed the now famous marriage rally in Ottawa which saw 15,000 Canadians make a last ditch effort to protect marriage.

More troubling though than merely having to take part in the culture war in the public square was having to clean up the mess in-house.

Weeks after LSN revealed that a Toronto priest had filed an affidavit in support of same-sex ‘marriage’, Cardinal Ambrozic suspended Fr. Tim Ryan’s priestly faculties.

Another Toronto priest, Fr. Karl Clemens, announced on television he was ‘gay’ and thereafter attempted to run for Catholic school trustee.  Cardinal Ambrozic put out a release to Catholic voters noting that in addition to the fact that Fr. Clemens, was not permitted to say Mass in public, had no permission to run for elected office.

Cardinal Ambrozic again found himself bearing the rage of homosexual activists for refusing to confer a degree on a nun whose doctoral thesis celebrated lesbianism.

Another powerful example of the cardinal’s leadership on the life and family issues took place at World Youth Day in 2002. Cardinal Ambrozic received thunderous applause as he responded to a question on abortion in a Catechesis session. Asked about abortion and embryonic stem cell research the Cardinal said, “the Church will forever be opposed to it. I don’t feel the Church has any choice in the matter” - a response which elicited heartfelt approval from his the several hundred youth in attendance.

Responding bluntly on the issue of embryo research he said: “You don’t have to produce babies and kill them in order to experiment.” Buoyed by the supportive youth, the Cardinal made some of his most outspoken remarks calling the media “pro-abortion” for their slanted coverage of life issues.

While he may have appeared rough around the edges to many a pro-life leader, at heart Cardinal Ambrozic held them in very high esteem.  His own words, penned in 1993 give the strongest evidence of that, acknowledging too the challenges that pro-life activists were for him at times.  His contributions to LifeSite came in the form of $500 cheques accompanied by little encouraging notes, all in his own hand. 

The following is the last paragraph of the April, 1993 statement penned by Cardinal Ambrozic, titled, “Never Cowed by the Threats of the Wicked”,

Who might be closest to martyrdom in our own situation? Would it be those who struggle for the life of the unborn? They may at times be carried away in their zeal appearing to claim that “it is either their way or no way”. If it were not for them, however, our Church would be as mealy-mouthingly ineffective on pro-life issues as is many another Christian community. Our pro-life people are not daunted by the haughty disdain of the media, nor are they afraid of being branded as zealots. We may be tempted to seize upon one or another tactic of theirs as an excuse for not speaking out more often, failing to consider the possibility that our silence is forcing them to be more vocal. We ought to ask ourselves whether our “reasonableness” might be due to our fear of public opinion. Were it not for our sisters and brothers in the pro-life trenches, we, the “sensible ones”, would become the object of attack-if our politically correct media should think us worth attacking.

May God bless you Cardinal Ambrozic. We pray you rest in peace.