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Cardinal grants Catholic state-funeral to Canadian politician with key role in legalizing abortion

Commented one pro-life leader: 'The whole thing is a scandal on the part of the bishops of Canada, and it’s a scandal on the part of Cardinal Collins'
Wed Oct 7, 2020 - 1:43 pm EST
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State funeral for John Turner in Catholic Church, Toronto, Ontario, Oct. 6, 2020. CTV News / video screen grab
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Cardinal Thomas Collins, archbishop of Toronto, speaks on Parliament Hill at the 2013 National March for Life. SOURCE: Patrick Craine / LifeSiteNews

TORONTO, October 7, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins granted a Catholic state funeral, amidst fanfare and accolades, to John Turner, who as Liberal justice minister oversaw the passage of the 1969 bill that legalized abortion in Canada and opened the floodgates to the slaughter of some 100,000 preborn children annually. 

Turner’s funeral took place on Tuesday at St. Michael’s Cathedral, where Collins, who attended the event, serves as Archbishop. Turner died at home September 19 at age 91.

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State funeral for John Turner in Catholic Church, Toronto, Ontario, Oct. 6, 2020. SOURCE: CTV News / video screen grab

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation live-streamed the event, which included four eulogies before the Mass, the first delivered by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, arguably Canada’s most pro-abortion prime minister.

“John shared a vision with my father, and that is what led him to completely transform the Criminal Code,” said Trudeau. This may have been an oblique reference to the infamous Omnibus Bill that Turner tabled as justice minister in 1969 under Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau. 

Originally drafted by Trudeau in 1967 when he was justice minister, the bill passed on May 14, 1969. It kept abortion in the Criminal Code, but permitted it under certain circumstances, notably when two doctors agreed the pregnancy threatened the life or health of the mother. The bill also decriminalized homosexuality and contraception. The Supreme Court struck the law down as unconstitutional in 1988, and Parliament has since passed no legislation on abortion, which is currently allowed during all nine months of pregnancy in Canada. 

‘Whole thing is a scandal’

That Cardinal Collins allowed Turner’s state funeral to take place at the Cathedral is a “scandal” but not unexpected, said Jim Hughes, retired president of Campaign Life Coalition, Canada’s national pro-life political lobbying group.

“We could say we’re not surprised. Nothing surprises us in regard to this,” given the history of the bishops and the Liberal Party, he said.

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John Turner announcing Liberal candidacy c. 1968. SOURCE: Library and Archives Canada

That history known to pro-life advocates has been documented in Paul Litt’s 2012 biography of Turner “Elusive Destiny: The Political Vocation of John Napier Turner.”

In 1969 Turner met with the executive of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) to obtain advice on the Omnibus Bill, and he told the bishops that the law was the best his Liberal Party could do, Litt wrote.

According to Litt, then-CCCB president Bishop Alexander Carter responded, “Gentlemen, I think John has convinced us. Let’s have a drink.” 

Turner also consulted St. Michael’s University College theological faculty members, including Rev. Robert W. Crooker, who advised that while a Catholic should oppose the abortion bill, Turner also had responsibilities to his government, relates a review of Litt’s book by Interim editor Paul Tuns.

Turner received a similar opinion from an unnamed “Dominican theologian from Universities Laval” in Montreal, who also said that Catholic legislators must not impose their morals on others. 

But while Litt cast Turner as struggling with his conscience, Tuns suggested that the justice minister might well have “cherry-picked” theologians to get the answer he wanted.

What Turner believed, or thought, or was given to believe, “the bottom line is, there is right, and there is wrong,” pointed out Hughes.

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“And what John Turner did was wrong. Whether he was led to believe it was right or not, it was the wrong thing,” he added.

“And the fact that some people say you can separate your personal side from your public side is a total crock.”

Canadian Catholics are left with the legacy that some of their bishops and academics are implicated to an extent in the legalization of the killing of unborn children in Canada, which may have a bearing on the decisions bishops make today, Hughes pointed out.

And the laity will be further confused by Collins allowing Turner a “state funeral at St. Michael’s Cathedral, the bedrock of the faith in Toronto,” because they “trust the Church,” he said.

“The whole thing is a scandal on the part of the bishops of Canada,” he told LifeSiteNews.

 “And it’s a scandal on the part of Cardinal Collins.”

While his Catholic advisors and the acquiescence of the bishops likely played a role in Turner’s course of action, so did his political aspirations, suggested Gwen Landolt of REAL Women of Canada.

“It was a bad, bad era in the sixties, and the Church was as faulty as anyone for not standing up,”  she told LifeSiteNews.

At the same time, Turner was “a very, very ambitious man … I think his ambition overcame his conscience, to put it mildly.”

The state funeral could have been held at Turner’s parish, Landolt noted. 

It was “understandable” that Collins allowed it at the Cathedral, “but I don’t know whether it really should be acceptable.”

What Turner did as minister of justice “led to the death of thousands and millions of babies.”

Turner praised at funeral for work on 1969 pro-abortion bill

During the funeral service, Trudeau praised Turner for “getting young people to invest in our democracy” and devoting a “great deal of his time to protecting the environment.”

If Trudeau did not explicitly mention the Omnibus Bill, the second eulogist, Richard Alway, did so in such a way that it appeared he regarded it as an accomplishment.

“And it was to John Turner, with his pragmatic, conciliatory style, and capacity for fostering relationships, that Pierre Trudeau as prime minister turned to deal with premiers in the run-up to the Victoria Charter on the Constitution, to shepherd the Omnibus Justice Bill through Parliament, and to sell official bilingualism to the Western premiers,” said Alway.

“He was, by any measure, a serious Christian and Catholic, ecumenical in outlook, who considered the priesthood well into his 20s,” added Alway, former president of the University of St. Michael’s College, and current president of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.

“His own effort to reconcile a strong religious faith with public service in a secular and pluralistic society was a constant theme throughout his political career and family.”

Msgr. Samuel Bianco, also a friend of Turner’s, celebrated the Mass, and in his homily compared the former Liberal politician to the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.

“John Turner heard the call of Jesus and his grace, and he knew he had freedom and gifts, and he put them together to try to do the best he could to build a better community for Canada and the future,” said Bianco, now retired.

“Jesus did the same thing.”

Bianco quoted the book of Hebrews: “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts; harken to His voice.” 

Turner “heard that call of Jesus. Jesus himself heard it,” said Bianco.

“If you and I harken to the voice, the call of grace and of freedom, of worship and of service, we will build a community. We will build a better community. And we praise and thank God that John Turner used all his gifts to so do. May we do the same.”

The reception of Holy Communion was not televised; the cameras focused on the Cathedral’s interior, stained glass windows and exterior while two choir boys sang. Well-known Canadian tenor John McDermott also sang three hymns, accompanied by a guitarist during the two-hour event.

Born in the U.K., Turner served as Canada’s 17th  prime minister in 1984 for 11 weeks after winning the Liberal Party leadership when Trudeau retired as party leader. He is survived by his wife, Geills, their four children, and eight grandchildren. 

Due to coronavirus protocols, attendance at the funeral was limited to guests selected by the family. The approximately 160 masked and socially distant attendees included Toronto Mayor John Tory, writer Conrad Black, former Liberal minister Ralph Goodale, former governor general Daniel Johnston and other dignitaries.

State funerals are rare in Canada, according to the CBC, with only 31 held since Confederation in 1867, “including 12 for prime ministers, seven for governors general and eight for cabinet ministers.” 

To respectfully express your views, contact:

Cardinal Collins
1155 Yonge Street
Toronto, Ontario M4T 1W2
Phone:416-934-0606, ext. 609
Email: [email protected]

LifeSite’s Anthony Murdoch contributed to this report.


  abortion, canada, catholic, hypocrisy, john turner, justin trudeau, pro-abortion politicians, thomas collins

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