How the Catholic Church helped Canada elect its most pro-abortion prime minister in history
OTTAWA, November 4, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – On a warm July night in 2001, a slender, 29-year-old, tousled-haired man paused to pray before taking the stage at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square as thousands of young people wildly cheered.
“I am Justin Trudeau,” he announced. “I am Catholic.”
Thirteen years after this appearance at a kick-off event to the Catholic World Youth Day, Trudeau made another announcement, now as leader of the Liberal Party: Anyone opposed to abortion could not run as a Liberal candidate. And henceforth, Liberal MPs would be expected to vote “pro-choice.”
In defending his unilateral and controversial edict, the eldest son of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau invoked his patrimony.
“I had an extraordinary example in a father who had deeply, deeply held personal views that were informed by the fact that he went to church every Sunday, read the Bible regularly to us, and raised us very, very religious, very Catholic,” he wrote in an email to supporters.
“But at the same time he had no problem legalizing divorce, decriminalizing homosexuality and moving in ways that recognized the basic rights of the people.”
Trudeau, 43, was sworn in Wednesday as Canada’s 23rd prime minister – and by any reasonable measure, the most pro-abortion the country has elected in its history – after leading the Liberals to an unprecedented comeback majority on October 19.
The fact is that this sad reality may never have come about were it not for the support given by the Catholic Church, sometimes implicit and other times very open, as one of her most public sons flouted her basic moral teachings and did so even in the name of the faith.
‘The first manifestation of a dynasty’
Revealing the Church’s attitude to one of her most famous Canadian families, when Trudeau père died aged 80 on September 28, 2000, the Montreal archdiocese arranged what the New York Times billed “the largest state funeral in Canada’s history” for the man who legalized abortion in 1969.
Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte celebrated a requiem Mass attended by 3,000, including Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, and, in violation of church norms prohibiting eulogies at funeral masses, there were three – including one by Justin Trudeau.
The emotional and much-ballyhooed eulogy was the 28-year-old’s public debut, fuelling speculation about his political future, as typified by Quebec politician Claude Ryan’s remark: “It occurred to me that perhaps this was the first manifestation of a dynasty.”
Ten months after his father’s funeral, Trudeau headlined at the 2001 lead-up to World Youth Day, where the Vancouver-based high school teacher urged the youth to reject “old men with old ideas.”
Thereafter Trudeau popped up at countless Catholic events including numerous appearances at Catholic schools. Lay Catholic lawyer Geoff Cauchi said it was nothing short of “scandalous, that for years Catholic schools would invite him in to give talks” and to “encourage Catholic students to ignore their faith.”
Moreover, the Ottawa Citizen revealed in 2013 that five Catholic school boards, OECTA and the Ontario Catholic Trustees Association had paid the rising political star a total of $82,500 for speaking engagements between 2006 and 2010.
When Catholics raised alarm ahead of one particular school appearance in Sudbury in December 2012, the local Sault Ste. Marie bishop, Jean-Louis Plouffe, defended Trudeau even though he had earlier that year added to his already extensive dossier of dissent by stating Quebec should separate if the Harper Conservatives moved to alter the status quo on abortion or same-sex “marriage.”
Plouffe insisted that Trudeau was “a practicing Catholic, married in the Church with two children. He is not estranged from the Church in any way.”
‘Appalling’ response to Trudeau’s abortion edict
Although Trudeau’s possible estrangement from the Church came up after his May 2014 “immoral, anti-democratic edict” banning pro-lifers from his party, the bishops’ response to his action was “appalling,” says Campaign Life Coalition’s Jack Fonseca.
Of 87 English and French bishops, only six – that he knows of – publicly rebuked Trudeau.
“Why were the other 93 percent of Canada’s bishops silent? Didn’t they realize that their silence would be perceived by those in the pews as, ‘Oh well, Justin’s policy can’t be that earth shattering. Even the church isn’t making a big stink about it.’”
Of the six prelates who spoke out, Ottawa’s Auxiliary Bishop Christian Riesbeck opined that Canon 915, which states that those who are “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion” could be invoked in “the case of a pro-abortion Catholic politician who is extremely vocal about his position.”
And Ottawa’s Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, whose public letter denouncing Trudeau’s action stated that “one may not dissent from these core teachings on life issues and be considered a Catholic in good standing,” told the Catholic Register that he needed to speak with Trudeau before any decision on denying him Communion. The two had a confidential meeting in 2014.
Edmonton’s Archbishop Richard Smith and Calgary’s Bishop Fred Henry denounced the edict, while Quebec’s Cardinal Gerald Lacroix said he supported Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins’ open letter urging Trudeau to change his mind.
Collins referred to St. Thomas More, the Catholic lawyer and one-time chancellor of England who was martyred because he refused to acknowledge King Henry VIII as head of Church.
“The king claimed control over his conscience, but Thomas was ‘the king’s good servant, but God’s first’,” Collins wrote. “Political leaders in our day should not exclude such people of integrity, no matter how challenging they find their views.”
Cauchi also pointed to Henry VIII, noting that his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, continued to persecute Catholics. Faithful or “recusant” Catholics were given a boost when Pius V excommunicated the queen and declared her a heretic. “If he hadn’t done that, maybe they wouldn’t have fought hard enough to maintain the faith in England.”
Canada’s bishops could “consider excommunicating” Trudeau, and other Catholic politicians “who refuse to take their Catholic faith into the legislature” because “they’re scandalizing the faithful,” says Cauchi.
They could “seize on” the Vatican’s 2002 “Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life,” to do so. And the laity should study that document as well before heading to the ballot box, Cauchi said.
Moreover, now that Trudeau is prime minister and the head of the government, his edict has even greater significance. “He is sending a terrible signal, that Catholics are second-class citizens,” Cauchi said. “Is that acceptable in a free and democratic society, for the prime minister to basically say that Catholics are second-class citizens?”
Where were the Catholic voters?
Trudeau’s victory is, on the face of it, a stunning reversal of a voter shift that started with the 2006 election, six months after the Liberals under Paul Martin legalized same-sex “marriage.”
According to CLC’s Fonseca, that’s when Catholics, Evangelicals and visible minorities – all traditionally Liberal voters – started to switch to the Conservatives, while the Liberals lurched further and further leftward under leaders Stéphane Dion, who supported “taxing the air we breathe,” and Michael Ignatieff, who pushed for abortion in Africa, and supported the transgender rights bill.
The shift culminated in Stephen Harper’s 2011 Conservative majority and an attendant Liberal collapse.
Reduced to a 34-member caucus, the Liberal Party hardened its anti-life stance, voting in 2012 to make abortion access a priority (and to legalize pot), electing Trudeau, known champion of abortion and “gay” rights, as leader in April 2013, and adding legal euthanasia and assisted suicide as a party plank in 2014.
And on October 2015, it seems, traditional Liberal voters returned to this Liberal Party in droves.
While election demographics aren’t yet available, Fonseca suspects that Catholics went back to the Liberals “more so than any group,” citing an Angus Reid poll released late in the campaign in which 55 percent self-identified “practicing Christians” said they intended to vote against the Conservatives.
Fonseca bases his assertion on several factors, one being the “powerful” Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA), which lobbied hard via its influence and “aggressive robo-calling, to encourage its 45,000-plus teacher members in vote-rich Ontario to vote against the Conservatives.”
He also points to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “disastrous Federal Election Guide that largely reads like the campaign platform for the Liberals and NDP,” and “assiduously avoided saying the word ‘abortion’.”
By including such criterion as pay equity, poverty reduction, and migrant workers’ rights, the guide gave the impression that these are morally equivalent to abortion and euthanasia, which, Fonseca stressed, is simply not true.
Indeed, as pointed out by Pope St. John Paul II, a call for human rights is “false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition of all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.”
Thus, that their society protect human life from conception to natural death is a non-negotiable moral principle for Catholics. The aforementioned 2002 Vatican Doctrinal Note states that, “A well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or individual law that contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals.”
But “nowhere” did the bishops’ guide say that endorsing abortion or euthanasia disqualifies a candidate, Fonseca says, even though bishops and priests have “a moral and spiritual obligation” to “be relentless in pounding the drum about these moral evils” to their flock.
That is especially true during an election and in light of the “moral gravity of 100,000 slaughtered babies every year, plus who knows how many more state-sanctioned euthanasia killings at our doorstep.”
“And they could’ve done so without risking their charitable tax status, by simply not going so far as telling people whom to vote for,” Fonseca emphasized.
Liberals and Catholics: a history
Though the younger Trudeau rebuilt the Liberal Party after its crippling loss in 2011, he owes much of his win on October 19 to the historic success of the Liberal Party in Canada, and his father’s popularity. And those, unfortunately, came about in part through the influence of Catholic leaders.
“The Church has been supporters of the Liberal Party ever since I can remember,” says Jim Hughes, president of CLC, and historically, the allegiance extends to the hierarchy.
Hughes cited Paul Litt’s 2012 biography of John Turner, which describes the Catholic Liberal justice minister under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau meeting the CCCB executive in 1969 for advice on the Omnibus Bill. Drafted by Trudeau when he was justice minister in 1967, the far-reaching legislation included decriminalizing homosexuality and legalizing abortion.
Litt wrote that Turner told the bishops it was the best the Liberals could do. CCCB president Bishop Alexander Carter thereupon responded, “Gentlemen, I think John has convinced us. Let’s have a drink.” The Omnibus Bill was passed on May 14, 1969.
Some dozen years later, Carter’s brother, Toronto’s Cardinal Emmett Carter, withdrew his opposition to Trudeau’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms that CLC fought tooth and nail, warning it would open the door to a disastrous era of judicial activism, Hughes said.
Trudeau privately assured Carter that the Charter would not affect abortion, and that he would invoke the notwithstanding clause if the Supreme Court struck down the abortion law.
Liberal MPs saw Carter’s approval as a green light to support the Charter, Hughes recalled, and it was entrenched in 1982. Six years later, the Supreme Court struck down the abortion law.
And now, his insistence on upholding a non-existent Charter “right” to abortion undergirds Justin Trudeau’s abortion extremism.
Liberal pro-life MPs ‘all caved’
Christian Elia, executive director the Catholic Civil Rights League, also invoked St. Thomas More when he pointed to those MPs in Trudeau’s caucus identified as pro-life at the time of the edict: Lawrence MacAulay, Cardigan PEI; John McKay, Scarborough-Guilwood; and Kevin Lamoureux, Winnipeg North.
MacAulay, the only one of the three known to be Catholic, was sworn in Wednesday as minister of agriculture and agri-food. He tweeted shortly after Trudeau’s May 2014 edict that “Despite my personal beliefs, I understand that I will have to vote the party position should this issue ever come up in the House of Commons.”
(Pro-life Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis had resigned a month before Trudeau’s edict, and is now a Toronto city councillor.)
“How many of them left the party? None of them did. They all caved. We have to actually hold them a little bit accountable,” Elia told LifeSiteNews. “Thomas More had to die. In Canada you don’t have to die. It means you have to leave politics and make more money in the private sector.”
Elia also faulted Catholics for being typical of Canada’s tepid political culture, in which people deflect uncomfortable conversation.
When politicians like Trudeau lay down decrees, he said, “we sort of say, boo hoo, but everyday Catholics make these things taboo issues, where they are not talking about it even within their own group of friends and their own families.”
Catholics “have to normalize certain conversations,” he contended, and to engage the secular culture “using reason. Faith and reason are not mutually exclusive, which was, of course, a fantastic constant theme of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI.”
An appeal to reason could convince Canadians “how crazy the concept is of abortion, how crazy the concept is of euthanasia, of physician-assisted death, as they wish to call it, which is a reality we are staring down literally right now.”
As for the bishops, “of course, they bear responsibility, but then again, it works both ways,” Elia observed. “We crave to see them stand out and stick their necks out a little bit, but if we acted more, and if more lay people did the same thing, we would in turn embolden them.”
Perhaps it’s worth noting that when Henry VIII broke from the Church of Rome, only one bishop resisted: St. John Fisher, who was martyred for his courage.
A poorly catechized laity
CLC’s Fonseca, however, insists the bishops have the greater spiritual responsibility. “They, after all, are the shepherds sworn to protect the flock from wolves. Not the other way around.”
The laity, he conceded, is obliged “to encourage (or correct) a lax bishop who has perhaps forgotten that his role as spiritual leader is greater than his role as manager or administrator,” and he echoed Elia’s point that “many bishops might be more courageous themselves in preaching truth if they see it in the example of the laity all around them.”
But, he added, “we can’t be naïve about the state of spiritual disrepair in many, many parishes across Canada.”
In his former parish, for example, an RCIA leader told Fonseca that “she tells new converts preparing to enter the Church that contraception is morally permissible, if their own conscience tells them so,” and “another influential lay leader who is associated with the parish’s Development & Peace group, wrote a letter to our pastor and associate pastor, criticizing the Church’s defense of biblical marriage.”
“With dissidents and heretics in key positions of influence in parishes across the country,” he said, “it becomes difficult and intimidating for other faithful Catholics to stand up for their faith.”
Elia agrees that many Catholics are so poorly catechized they may not even believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, nor attend Mass regularly.
This is a consequence of “decades and decades of poor religious education as opposed to catechism,” he told LifeSiteNews. “Anyone who’s gone through a publicly funded Catholic school system has received religious education, and if you were to ask them what basic tenets of our faith are, they would not be able to tell you.”
“This is a major problem and a major disconnect that can only be solved through intense prayer, en masse re-conversions, if you will, to the faith and much better catechism.”
A culture of death
Perhaps if that happened, lay Catholics would have the wherewithal to battle what Pope St. John Paul II famously called “the culture of death” which is “the most fundamental problem,” in the words of Basilian Father Ian Boyd, one of the original co-founders of Campaign Life in 1978, and editor of the Chesterton Review.
Fr. Boyd’s brothers, all medical doctors, remember a time when the abortionist was a reviled and discredited individual. By contrast, abortionist Henry Morgentaler received the country’s second highest civilian honour, the Order of Canada, in 2008. (Cardinal Turcotte returned his in protest, during that year’s election campaign.)
“It wasn’t that people were more virtuous forty years ago, but the culture was healthier, and therefore, all people then borrowing their views from a healthy culture were pro-life,” Boyd observed.
“Now as the culture has become more toxic, it’s corrupted the people in it. Hence, we have to work out tactics for evangelizing the culture, as well as individuals.”
That does not preclude political engagement, far from it, he said. “We can work for a political solution, and I think by doing so, we help restore health to the culture too. It’s part of the renewal that comes from the activity of concerned citizens.”
And right to life issues are human rights issues, he says, and pro-life work is most properly the work of the laity. “The danger of relying on the bishops is that it might make it seem as if this were a kind of sectarian issue, that only religious, Catholics or evangelicals, are interested in and that plays into the hands of our enemies I think.”
Pro-lifers’ most effective tool still, he believes, is to tell politicians that support for abortion is not a single issue for them, but a disqualifying one. “I think that terrifies a politician.”
“And the other thing, of course, is prayer,” he said. “That’s the most effective action of all.”
Elia said much the same. “First of all what can we do, within our communities and within our own groups and in our families, we have to pray, pray, pray. That always comes first.”
“We can pray for, and we can say we hope for Justin Trudeau to come back and to publicly live out his Catholicity,” he said. “But a pastor, if he has the opportunity, has to try even harder to take him by the hand, and, as difficult and as ludicrous as that might sound, to bring him over.”