John Westen

Who is Pope Francis talking about? ‘Obsessed’, ‘self-absorbed’, ‘sourpusses’

John Westen
John Westen
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In-Depth Analysis

VATICAN CITY, December 3, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The 220-page Apostolic Exhortation, entitled “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel) released last week gives the world  the first solid glimpse into the heart and mind of Pope Francis, as it comes by his own pen rather than that of a journalist.

The picture that emerges is of a faithful man who loves Christ and His Church. “How good it is to stand before a crucifix, or on our knees before the Blessed Sacrament, and simply to be in his presence!” he writes, for example.

Yet at the same time, as often in his interviews, we find a man whose words lend themselves easily to misinterpretation. His remarks can at times seem hurtful to faithful Catholics – those most committed to proclaiming and defending the truths of their faith, and could even, arguably, be dangerous insofar as they might inadvertently impede those efforts.

Yet clearly this is not his intention. As he himself writes in the text: “If anyone feels offended by my words, I would respond that I speak them with affection and with the best of intentions, quite apart from any personal interest or political ideology.”


Not a ‘Pope of the Left’

When read carefully and fully, The Gospel of Joy completely undermines the paradigm of Francis as the ‘Pope of the Left’, as concocted by the liberal media and Catholic dissidents hoping against hope for a dramatic new direction in the Church especially on key moral issues.

For example, one of the sine qua non causes for liberal Catholics is women priests, yet Pope Francis states unequivocally that that’s “not a question open to discussion.”

Likewise, he firmly shuts the door on campaigns to change Church teaching on the liberal media’s two great cultural fixations: abortion and marriage redefinition.

On abortion, the Pope writes: “The Church cannot be expected to change her position on this question. I want to be completely honest in this regard. This is not something subject to alleged reforms or ‘modernizations’.” And on marriage, he criticizes the notion that it is “a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will.”

“The indispensible contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple,” he writes.

 
Is the Pope a Liberal?

While Pope Francis offers some of his clearest comments to date on abortion and homosexual “marriage” – emphasizing, for example, that the unborn are “the most defenceless and innocent among us” and deserving of “particular love and concern” – within the context of the document those issues come across as much lesser concerns compared to fighting poverty and environmental degradation.

The Pope focuses on “two great issues” that, he says, “will shape the future of humanity.” “These issues are first, the inclusion of the poor in society, and second, peace and social dialogue,” he writes.

Yet even though these are often taken as ‘liberal’ causes, his approach to these issues is hardly in line with the typical liberal Catholic.  There is a taste of what was often seen from Pope Benedict XVI – a truly Catholic and evangelistic interpretation of these stereotypically liberal notions (see, for example, Pope Benedict’s frequent appeals for a ‘human ecology’).

Take for instance the exhortation’s approach to poverty.  Liberal Catholics have worked for decades to distance the Church from its traditional approach to charitable works, which, while tending to the poor, gave first priority to sharing the the Good News of the Gospel. 

The modern liberal Catholic approach seeks rather a far more worldly approach. It seeks to change political, social and other “structures” allegedly the cause of poverty and places little, if any emphasis on religious evangelization. It includes often, if not preferably, working through organizations which would undermine or have no appreciation for Catholic moral teaching as long as they satisfy the material needs of the poor.

But Pope Francis instead emphasizes the spiritual needs of the poor. “I want to say, with regret, that the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care,” he writes. “The great majority of the poor have a special openness to the faith; they need God and we must not fail to offer them his friendship, his blessing, his word, the celebration of the sacraments and a journey of growth and maturity in the faith.” 

“Our preferential option for the poor must mainly translate into a privileged and preferential religious care,” the Pope concludes. Many liberal “social justice” clergy, especially among Francis’s brother Jesuits, would vehemently disagree with this pronouncement.

He is also turning the progressives’ own notions against them when it comes to abortion.  Speaking of “unborn children,” he says, “Frequently, as a way of ridiculing the Church’s effort to defend their lives, attempts are made to present her position as ideological, obscurantist and conservative.” He adds: “It is not ‘progressive’ to try to resolve problems by eliminating a human life.”

Whereas the liberal would wish to prevent religious conviction from gaining standing in the public square, Pope Francis says the voice of faith must be rigorous. “No one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society,” he writes.

“This would represent, in effect, a new form of discrimination and authoritarianism,” he adds. “The respect due to the agnostic or non-believing minority should not be arbitrarily imposed in a way that silences the convictions of the believing majority or ignores the wealth of religious traditions.”


And what of doctrine?

At the same time, the Pope offers strongly-worded criticisms against “defenders of orthodoxy” that appear directed at faithful, tradition-minded Catholics.

The exhortation repeats the phrase from the famous Jesuit interview about avoiding being “obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed.”

Further, Francis writes: “A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying.”

Yet it is clear from a full reading that he means to stick to the doctrines of the Church.

For instance, the Pope makes his own the observations of the US Bishops, noting that “while the Church insists on the existence of objective moral norms which are valid for everyone, ‘there are those in our culture who portray this teaching as unjust, that is, as opposed to basic human rights.’” He adds, “’Such claims usually follow from a form of moral relativism that is joined, not without inconsistency, to a belief in the absolute rights of individuals. In this view, the Church is perceived as promoting a particular prejudice and as interfering with individual freedom.’”

“In response,” says the Pope, “we need to provide an education which teaches critical thinking and encourages the development of mature moral values.”


Francis the Pessimist?

Another disturbing example is the soon-to-be-famous first-ever use of the term ‘sourpusses’ in a papal document.  “One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, ‘sourpusses’,” he writes.

The line could easily be taken to be directed at tradition-minded Catholics, as they are often falsely caricatured as ‘defeatists’ by dissidents and opponents of Christianity whenever they present a realistic appraisal of the rampant moral corruption in today’s world.

But such appraisals are most often offered in hope rather than pessimism. These Catholics’ fidelity, especially found in the pro-life and pro-family movements, allows the most ordinary persons to do extraordinary things for the benefit of society and the Church. These faithful also tend to have far larger families, resulting in much joy and active involvement in their civic and Church communities.

In fact, that same realistic observation of moral decay in the current world that would lead to the castigation of faithful Catholics as pessimists and defeatists can be found in The Gospel of Joy itself.

Pope Francis expresses a deep concern about what he calls “veritable attacks on religious freedom or new persecutions directed against Christians.”

He laments: “New patterns of behaviour are emerging as a result of over-exposure to the mass media. … As a result, the negative aspects of the media and entertainment industries are threatening traditional values, and in particular the sacredness of marriage and the stability of the family.”

“The process of secularization tends to reduce the faith and the Church to the sphere of the private and personal,” he says.  “Furthermore, by completely rejecting the transcendent, it has produced a growing deterioration of ethics, a weakening of the sense of personal and collective sin, and a steady increase in relativism.”

The Pope recognizes that “the family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis,” which, he notes, “is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children.”

And in The Gospel of Joy, Pope Francis decries abortion, saying that “a human being is always sacred and inviolable, in any situation and at every stage of development. Human beings are ends in themselves and never a means of resolving other problems.”

Francis warns:“Once this conviction disappears, so do solid and lasting foundations for the defence of human rights, which would always be subject to the passing whims of the powers that be.”

If that’s not strong enough, he warns also of Divine retribution because of abortion.  “Reason alone is sufficient to recognize the inviolable value of each single human life, but if we also look at the issue from the standpoint of faith, every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offence against the creator of the individual.”


What about all that judgment and condemnation?

The Gospel of Joy was penned by the same Pope who famously said “Who am I to judge?” when speaking about “a person [who is] gay and seeks God and has good will.”  And for that reason many will marvel that the exhortation has quite a few uncomfortable references that seem to judge harshly and even condemn faithful, or traditional Catholics.  Here’s a sampling:

Spiritual worldliness, which hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the Church, consists in seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory and personal well-being. It is what the Lord reprimanded the Pharisees for…

Since it is based on carefully cultivated appearances, it is not always linked to outward sin; from without, everything appears as it should be. But if it were to seep into the Church, it would be infinitely more disastrous than any other worldliness which is simply moral.

… the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past.

In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time.

For defenders of orthodoxy are sometimes accused of passivity, indulgence, or culpable complicity regarding the intolerable situations of injustice and the political regimes which prolong them.

So many and so strong are his condemnations of a particular type of Catholic it seems almost as if the Pope had someone particular in mind as he was penning his words.

Perhaps the most common question asked in response to the pope’s harsh criticisms of this type, is “Who is he talking about?” Many faithful Catholics and Christians of other denominations are confounded by these statements castigating persons or groups unknown to them, wondering what would justify such strong emphasis.

One clue comes courtesy of Professor Scott Nicholson, of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy, an Ontario Catholic college renowned for its faithfulness to Catholic teaching. It is to be remembered that in the same city as the Pope’s own former Archdiocese of Buenos Aires was located a seminary of the schismatic traditional Catholic group the Society of St. Pius X. Moreover, the rector of that seminary duing Archbishop Bergoglio's time was none other than Bishop Richard Williamson. 

Yes, that same Bishop Williamson who, according to many, scuttled Pope Benedict’s attempts at uniting the SSPX into the Catholic fold. The same one who made controversial statements to the media that led to his being accused of denying the Jewish Holocaust, for which the SSPX expelled him from the Society and the Government of Argentina urged his departure.

Despite appearances, it’s clear that the Pope’s condemnations are not directed at faithful, tradition-minded Catholics because his descriptions of his target include key factors that eliminate them. Those whom he is condemning, he writes, are not “really concerned about Jesus Christ or others” and have a “self-centredness cloaked in an outward religiosity bereft of God.”

However, it seems rather obvious that Pope Francis would benefit from more personal experience with faithful, tradition-minded Catholics of many varieties. Those who, while having a desire for orthodoxy in doctrine and liturgy, also naturally have a great love for Christ and their fellow man, and live their whole lives with that love as their primary motivation.

That he may have a substantial misperception concerning faithful or traditional Catholics would not be surprising considering his very-likely disturbing experiences in Buenos Aires. Adding to this would be many distorted perceptions he has received as Pope from the more liberal bishops around the world who disdain Catholics who are enthusiastically and uncompromisingly pro-life and pro-family.

One further consideration in all this is Pope Francis’ native language of Latin-American Spanish which has a tendency to the superlative, to exaggerated expressions or hyperbole.  

 
So what exactly is he saying?

One of the primary messages that reads loud and clear from Pope Francis is he feels the need for the Church to express her teachings, especially her moral teachings, in a positive light. 

“As for the moral component of catechesis, which promotes growth in fidelity to the Gospel way of life, it is helpful to stress again and again the attractiveness and the ideal of a life of wisdom, self-fulfillment and enrichment,” he says. “In the light of that positive message, our rejection of the evils which endanger that life can be better understood.”

This is a message we can all take to heart, although, as witnessed by the life of Christ and all the saints, there is also a constant need for the proclamation of truth that some will always see as being deeply offensive and negative despite the love behind the message. All parents are familiar with this syndrome.

The pro-life movement, particularly in North America, has shown the way on the effectiveness of  loving, positive approaches in responding to personal crises related to abortion.  The focus on loving the mother and child, on providing aid unconditionally to women in crisis pregnancy situations, and even being there to pick up the pieces after the tragedy of abortion, are an awesomely powerful and positive witness to love and truth.

But in the other main moral battle of our day, namely same-sex ‘marriage’, we still may have a way to go before getting to that positive point.

Sadly, the typical response to homosexual activists offered by Catholic and pro-marriage leaders comes off as lacking any true concern for the men and women immersed in the homosexual lifestyle.

We are often confronted with the argument: ‘How can you be against the love between me and my same-sex partner?’

And the typical response from Catholic bishops and pro-marriage organizations completely ignores the homosexual desire for love, and focuses rather on the wonderfulness of natural marriage and how same-sex “marriage” would be bad for heterosexual married couples, children, and society.

There is a much more effective response, however. One which is rarely heard in this debate.

The response should be that we love our brothers and sisters actively involved in the homosexual lifestyle enough to let them know, no matter what the cost, that the sexual behaviours they engage in are deadly to their body, mind and soul.  We fear for them. We are ready to suffer ridicule, unpopularity, and one day perhaps even loss of freedom because this message of love must be preached and acted upon.

Perhaps that would be Pope Francis’ way of confronting same-sex ‘marriage’.  He seems to be a person who would disregard any personal cost to himself and would most willingly embrace the Cross in order to save others with the truth.

Back in his native Argentina, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio fought a same-sex ‘marriage’ proposal by telling religious, "Let's not be naive, we're not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God." He added, “We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God."

While that may be read as harsh by some, we must recognize that he was speaking to protect “the children of God,” which includes also those who are in homosexual relationships. He was expressing his concern for their welfare and the confusion of the devil that would lead them to heartbreaking self-destruction.


My hope for Pope Francis

Pope Francis has the heart of a liberal, and this time I’m not speaking here of ‘liberal’ in the pejorative sense, but in the positive sense - a generous and child-like heart.  With this heart and his mandate to care for souls, Pope Francis can perform miracles, even the miracle of halting the downward spiral of the Catholic Church in the West.  It will take radical action to achieve that miracle, and it is just such a heart that is needed to take such radical action.

In addition to having the heart for action, realistic perception is required, to see the varied needs and realities of the Church all over the world. Those who advise the Pope on the status of the situation globally aid in this monumental task.  This role is principally, but not exclusively, taken up by clergy from all parts of the globe who have regular meetings with the Pope to advise him.

However, it seems that he has had some very questionable advice. Let us pray for good advisors to the Pope so that he might discern what is best for the Church and how he can best use his influence for the good the whole world. 


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Quebec groups launch court challenge to euthanasia bill

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By LifeSiteNews staff

As announced when the Quebec legislature adopted Bill 52, An Act respecting end-of-life care, the citizen movement Living with Dignity and the Physicians’ Alliance against Euthanasia, representing together over 650 physicians and 17,000 citizens, filed a lawsuit before the Superior Court of Quebec in the District of Montreal on Thursday.

The lawsuit requests that the Court declare invalid all the provisions of the Act that deal with “medical aid in dying”, a term the groups say is a euphemism for euthanasia. This Act not only allows certain patients to demand that a physician provoke their death, but also grants physicians the right to cause the death of these patients by the administration of a lethal substance.

The two organizations are challenging the constitutionality of those provisions in the Act which are aimed at decriminalizing euthanasia under the euphemism “medical aid in dying”. Euthanasia constitutes a culpable homicide under Canada’s Criminal Code, and the organizations maintain that it is at the core of the exclusive federal legislative power in relation to criminal law and Quebec therefore does not have the power to adopt these provisions.

The organizations also say the impugned provisions unjustifiably infringe the rights to life and to security of patients guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. They further infringe the right to the safeguard of the dignity of the person, which is also protected by the Quebec Charter.

In view of the gravity of the situation and the urgent need to protect all vulnerable persons in Quebec, they are requesting an accelerated management of the case in order to obtain a judgment before the Act is expected to come into force on December 10, 2015.


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Colorado baker appeals gvmt ‘re-education’ order

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By LifeSiteNews staff

A Colorado cake artist who declined to use his creative talents to promote and endorse a same-sex ceremony appealed a May 30 order from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to the Colorado Court of Appeals Wednesday.

The commission’s order requires cake artist Jack Phillips and his staff at Masterpiece Cakeshop to create cakes for same-sex celebrations, forces him to re-educate his staff that Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act means that artists must endorse all views, compels him to implement new policies to comply with the commission’s order, and requires him to file quarterly “compliance” reports for two years. The reports must include the number of patrons declined a wedding cake or any other product and state the reason for doing so to ensure he has fully eliminated his religious beliefs from his business.

“Americans should not be forced by the government – or by another citizen – to endorse or promote ideas with which they disagree,” said the cake artist’s lead counsel Nicolle Martin, an attorney allied with Alliance Defending Freedom. “This is not about the people who asked for a cake; it’s about the message the cake communicates. Just as Jack doesn’t create baked works of art for other events with which he disagrees, he doesn’t create cake art for same-sex ceremonies regardless of who walks in the door to place the order.”

“In America, we don’t force artists to create expression that is contrary to their convictions,” added Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco. “A paint artist who identifies as homosexual shouldn’t be intimidated into creating a painting that celebrates one-man, one-woman marriage. A pro-life photographer shouldn’t be forced to work a pro-abortion rally. And Christian cake artists shouldn’t be punished for declining to participate in a same-sex ceremony or promote its message.”

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In July 2012, Charlie Craig and David Mullins asked Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, to make a wedding cake to celebrate their same-sex ceremony. In an exchange lasting about 30 seconds, Phillips politely declined, explaining that he would gladly make them any other type of baked item they wanted but that he could not make a cake promoting a same-sex ceremony because of his faith. Craig and Mullins, now represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, immediately left the shop and later filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Division. The case now goes to the Colorado Court of Appeals as Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Craig.

“Jack, and other cake artists like him – such as those seen on TV shows like ‘Ace of Cakes’ and ‘Cake Boss’ – prepare unique creations that are inherently expressive,” Tedesco explained. “Jack invests many hours in the wedding cake creative process, which includes meeting the clients, designing and sketching the cake, and then baking, sculpting, and decorating it. The ACLU calls Jack a mere ‘retail service provider,’ but, in fact, he is an artist who uses his talents and abilities to create expression that the First Amendment fully protects."

Celebrity cake artists have written publicly about their art and the significant expressive work that goes into the artistic design process for wedding cakes.


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Prisoner of conscience Mary Wagner appeals her conviction

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By Tony Gosgnach

TORONTO -- As promised, Mary Wagner has, through her counsel Dr. Charles Lugosi, filed a formal notice of appeal on numerous points regarding her recent, almost two-year-long court case that ended on June 12.

Justice Fergus O’Donnell of the Ontario Court of Justice rejected every application made by the defence – including for access to abortion center records, public funding, standing for a constitutional challenge and for expert witnesses to be heard – before he found Wagner guilty and sentenced her to five months in jail on a charge of mischief and four months on four counts of failing to comply with probation orders.

He further levied two years of probation, with terms that she stay at least 100 metres away from any abortion site. However, because Wagner had spent a greater time in jail than the sentence, she was freed immediately. She had been arrested at the “Women’s Care Clinic” abortion site on Lawrence Avenue West in Toronto on August 15, 2012 after attempting to speak to abortion-bound women there. She then spent the duration of the trial in prison for refusing to sign bail conditions requiring her to stay away from abortion sites.

Wagner is using the matter as a test case to challenge the current definition of a human being in Canadian law – that is, that a human being is legally recognized as such only after he or she has fully emerged from the birth canal in a breathing state.

Wagner’s notice states the appeal is regarding:

  • Her conviction and sentence on a single count of mischief (interference with property),
  • Her conviction and sentence on four counts of breach of probation,
  • The order denying public funding,
  • The order denying the disclosure of third-party records,
  • The order denying the admission of evidence from experts on the applicant’s constitutional challenge concerning the constitutional validity of Section 223 of the Criminal Code,
  • The order denying the admission of evidence from experts concerning the construction of Section 37 of the Criminal Code,
  • The probation order denying Wagner her constitutional rights to freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion on all public sidewalks and public areas within 100 metres of places where abortions are committed,
  • And each conviction and sentence and all orders and rulings made by O’Donnell.

In the notice of appeal, Lugosi cites numerous points on which O’Donnell erred:

  • He denied Wagner her constitutional right to make full answer and defence.
  • He denied Wagner her right to rely on Section 37 of the Criminal Code, which permits “everyone” to come to the third-party defence and rescue of any human being (in this case, the preborn) facing imminent assault.
  • He decided the factual basis of Wagner’s constitutional arguments was a waste of the court’s time and that no purpose would have been served by having an evidentiary hearing on her Charter application because, in the current state of Canadian law, it had no possibility of success.
  • He misapplied case law and prejudged the case, “giving rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias and impeding the legal evolution of the law to adapt to new circumstances, knowledge and changed societal values and morals.”
  • He accepted the Crown’s submission that it is beyond the jurisdiction of the courts to question the jurisdiction of Parliament legally to define “human being” in any manner Parliament sees fit.
  • He ruled Section 223 of the Criminal Code is not beyond the powers of Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
  • He ruled Section 223 of the Criminal Code does not violate the Preamble to, as well as Sections 7, 11(d), 15 and 26, of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • He denied Wagner standing to raise a constitutional challenge to the validity of Section 223 of the Criminal Code.
  • He ruled that Section 223 of the Criminal Code applied generally throughout the entire Criminal Code and used it to deny unborn human beings the benefit of equal protection as born human beings under Section 37 of the Criminal Code.
  • He denied the production and disclosure of third-party records in the possession of the “Women’s Care Clinic” abortion site, although the records were required to prove Wagner was justified in using reasonable force in the form of oral and written words to try to persuade pregnant mothers from killing their unborn children by abortion.
  • He denied Wagner the defence of Section 37 of the Criminal Code by ruling unborn children did not come within the scope of human beings eligible to be protected by a third party.
  • He ruled Wagner did not come within the scope of Section 37 because she was found to be non-violent (in that she did not use physical force).
  • He ruled the unborn children Wagner was trying to rescue were not under her protection.
  • He denied Wagner the common-law defences of necessity and the rescue of third parties in need of protection.
  • He denied Wagner public funding to make full answer and defence for a constitutional test case of great public importance and national significance.
  • He imposed an unconstitutional sentence upon Wagner by, in effect, imposing an injunction as a condition of probation, contrary to her constitutional rights of free speech, freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.

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Among the orders Lugosi is seeking are:

  • That an appeal be allowed against conviction on all counts and that a verdict of acquittal be entered on all counts,
  • That Section 223 of the Criminal Code be found unconstitutional  and contrary to Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, as well as the unwritten constitution of Canada,
  • That the sentence be declared unconstitutional and contrary to Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and the unwritten constitution of Canada or that a new trial be conducted, with Wagner permitted to make full answer and defence, be given standing to make a constitutional attack on Section 223 of the Criminal Code, with the admission of expert witnesses,
  • That the Women’s Care Clinic abortion site be made to produce third-party records pertaining to patients seen on August 15, 2012 (when Wagner entered the site),
  • And that there be public funding for two defence counsels at any retrial and for any appeal related to the case.

No date has yet been established for a decision on the appeal or hearings.

A defence fund for Wagner’s case is still raising money. Details on how to contribute to it can be found here.


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