Tuesday November 25, 2008

Text of Tom Wappel Address to Catholic Clergy Luncheon

Toronto, November 19, 2008

TORONTO, Ontario, November 25, 2008 ( – Recently retired Liberal Member of Parliament Tom Wappel gave the following address to a group of Catholic clergy at a luncheon for archdiocese of Toronto clergy organized by Campaign Life Coalition.

See also “Leading Canadian Pro-Life MP Relates Shocking 20 Year Lack of Support From Catholic Clergy”

To hear the actual audio of Tom Wappel’s complete talk:

Jim Hughes Introduction: It is my great pleasure to introduce our second guest, all the way from Ottawa, a man who has been called by the people on the other side of the House the man who is the Dean of the Pro-Life movement on Parliament Hill. For 20 years, he served as well as an out-spoken pro-life Member of Parliament. We are going to miss him like crazy because he decided not to run in the last federal election, but without further ado – a man who has made many sacrifices for the unborn and for the issue – please give a warm welcome to Mr. Tom Wappel.

Tom Wappel: What I thought I would do is just talk a little bit about myself – particularly in relation to my experience with Catholic clergy. This is what I really what I want to talk about since this is a Priests for Life meeting. So, I want to talk about my experiences over 20 years – or lack thereof – with Catholic clergy in a variety of settings. And then I want to take my own advice, when I was a chair of Parliamentary committees I used to tell people, “Don’t just come and complain about a piece of legislation, offer some constructive advice about how to make it better.”

I am going to go through 13 recommendations that I am going to ask you – and the hierarchy – to consider and they are recommendations that, if I were a priest and I am not so I can’t walk in those shoes – these are the kinds of things, on the life issues that I would be doing or trying to do. That might be a naïve statement and I will let you be the judge of that because you are the clergy.

My experience with the Catholic clergy in my political life over 20 years – for the most part, one could say would be the equivalent of my experience with clergy in other denominations be it Jewish, Muslim or other Christian denominations. To me, I am a little surprised at that – I am a Catholic. It was well known many years ago what my positions were. I was, if I may say so, publicly espousing classical Catholic doctrine with respect to life issues. So, I would have expected that, in general, there would have been more interaction between myself and the Catholic clergy than there has been over the last 20 years.

Let me explain. In my riding, I retired one month and 5 days ago, not that I am counting, so in my former riding there are 6 Catholic churches and two Catholic high schools and I will use those as examples. I represented the area for 20 years and in that 20 year span, and my memory does fade from time to time so I stand to be corrected.

I believe I was asked to speak at those 6 Catholic churches – in 2 of the 6, twice, and in 4 of the 6, never. In 20 years. There are two Catholic high schools in the riding, Cardinal Newman and Neal McNeil – In 20 years, I was asked to speak at Cardinal Newman, twice and Neal McNeil – a total of zero times. This is despite the fact that I belong to Toronto council 1388 of the Knights of Columbus and, at the time that I joined, the chaplain was from the Spiritan Fathers and their headquarters were at Neil McNeal. Over many years, Fr. Gossin and others asked the principal and others at Neil McNeal to ask me to a graduation or invite me to a class on politics or civics or whatever. The various grand knights of 1388 spoke to the various principals and specifically asked them to invite me periodically.

Never was I invited to Neil McNeal Catholic High School. I did make a point of going if I had a public forum or something of that nature. But, I always found it strange that, given the kinds of things that I was standing for in the public arena, that I would never have been invited to one of the Catholic high schools in the riding.

I never had, to the best of my recollection, ever a meeting with any bishop in Toronto at any time. I did meet with Bishop Tonnos in Hamilton on a number of issues but I found this strange because I thought we were working on the same side.

Before I go any further, I should issue the caveat, please don’t shoot the messenger – it is not going to get better as we go along but I am hoping that I give you something to think about and take back and discuss with your colleagues.

I think it is fair for me to say that, in my 20 years as a member of parliament, I never received an encouraging letter from anyone in the clergy above the rank of Monsignor.

I went to Mexico City as a Canadian delegate with Roseanne Skoke, who was an MP at that time from a central, northern riding in Nova Scotia on the Pontifical Institute of the Family. There were cardinals there from Mexico, South America, the United States – that is where I got an opportunity to hear Cardinal O’Connor address us – what a wonderful man he was and what a man of faith as far as I could judge and certainly an inspiration to me.

I was shocked and disappointed to find that there was absolutely no clergy from Canada above the rank of Monsignor. There was no explanation as to why there was no bishop, auxiliary bishop, – there were all kinds of cardinals from all over the place, but not from Canada. I wrote to the Holy Father about this when I returned from Mexico – offering him some suggestions. I don’t know if that did any good – it is possible.

Now for the other clergy. Once, I did speak to the Muslim church – the Imam invited me and I had the opportunity to speak, after the service, to speak to those who wanted to come and hear me. Once I went to a Baptist church in my riding and was asked to address the Congregation – during the service. Remember – this was over 20 years and this is what I would say would be a person who was well-known as out-spoken on the life issues. I can honestly say that in the 20 years that I was a member of Parliament, in my own riding – I spoke once I believe to one Catholic women’s group – one time, and I don’t think I was ever asked to speak to any Knights of Columbus group in my riding.

All of this to me was baffling but I kept doing what I was doing. That is in my riding but what about on the Hill.

I want to remind people when they say, – “our MP’s should be doing this”, “our MP’s should be standing for that” – “our MP’s should be saying this” – I want to say, “Well, why should we be if no one else is? Why should we be knocking our heads against a brick wall if no one is noticing, if no one is listening, if no one is offering encouragement, or appears not to be offering encouragement.”

So, please don’t be too critical if you think that Members of Parliament in general are weak on the life issues. They need help. They need encouragement. They need prayers. They need validation that what they are saying is actually believed by people – that people actually appreciate what they are saying and then they are encouraged to say these things. When there is no communication from the clergy then it is no surprise that there is no communication from the flock – at least not to me.

In 20 years, on Parliament Hill – I have never had a meeting with the CCCB although I suggested it numerous times on a variety of issues that came up over the last 20 years that it might not be a bad idea for the CCCB to sit down – with not just me – but a number of Members of Parliament and talk strategy and talk about what is going on up there – what is the thinking like and how can things be achieved. Notwithstanding my offers, to do that – it has never come about.

On the other hand, you have the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada which actually maintains an office in Ottawa, has an Executive Director, does come around and speak to individual members of Parliament – has spoken to me numerous times, does take an active part on a daily basis.

We have something called the Christian embassy in Ottawa – it is a protestant denomination coming out of Universities. There is a person there by the name of Jerry Sherman – he is the executive director of the Christian embassy. He makes a point of visiting members of Parliament. He visited me numerous times – prayed with me and prayed for me numerous times over my 20 year span as a Member of Parliament.

The Salvation Army – and their head person there comes to see me. Did any Catholic clergy come to see me in Ottawa? No. Why? I don’t know the answer for that. Why has there been no chaplain for parliamentarians been appointed by the Catholic Church. Soldiers have a chaplain – why don’t parliamentarians have one. Not everyone is going to allow a chaplain to come and see them – or maybe not more than once but so what. There would be many who would be happy to receive a visit over a period of time – to receive encouragement – to receive prayers. To let them know that they are not alone , that they are not playing at these battles for life and family, for traditional marriage, to prevent euthanasia, that they are not battling these things alone.

I have no answer to the question as to why there is no chaplain but I wish someone would think about it and appoint someone who could come around and, over the period of Parliament, visit with the member of parliaments and give them some spiritual guidance and pray with them and pray for them, as others do.

So, here are my 13 suggestions – from 13 to number 1 as to what I am recommending, that you, as priests for life, consider and that you take to the hierarchy if you are allowed to do such a thing.

I have often reflected, if I were ever a priest, I suppose being the kind of guy that I am – I guess this automatically disqualifies me to be a priest – I would have hankered to be a bishop or something like that. I think I would never have made it because I simply would not have towed the line – I would have insisted on doing things my own way and possibly, the wrong way. That is hubris and I have certainly fallen in my career on more than one occasion but, thanks be to God, I have been picked up and rehabilitated, I hope.

Number 13 – Engage the congregation to think about there faith. I mean – people are sitting looking at you as you begin your homily at Sunday Mass. Ask the people why they are sitting there. Are they sitting there because that is what you are supposed to do on Sunday or are they sitting there because that is what their parents did and they have nothing else to do or are they sitting there because it is right to be there – it is right to celebrate the life of Christ?

Do they believe that the Catholic Church is the church that Jesus founded? If they don’t, what are they doing there? If they do, do they believe the doctrines of the Faith are and if they do – then how can you speak in favor of the freedom to “choose” for example, or same-sex marriage or some type of euthanasia?

Use the Socratic method – asking questions to bring people around to recognizing whether or not they are there just because they have nothing better to do or are they there because they believe in the Catholic church and it’s doctrines and if you do believe in the Catholic Church then you have to respect that faith. At least it will get them thinking – you will see some squirmers and that is to be expected.

Number 12 – have educational meetings at the Church, I would recommend, once a month. Invite speakers on issues such as abortion, marriage, euthanasia, and publicize it well – put it in the bulletin, mention it in a homily, have people calling and publicize the event and encourage people to attend and then the next week – summarize what happened.

Number 11 – invite the local member of Parliament, the local member of provincial parliament and the counselor to these meetings. Advise the people in attendance at these meetings, who was invited, by name and what the response was. Some people will be busy, “I am sorry I can’t come – the House is in session on a Wednesday night” – others will not even answer you. “We invited Tom Wappel, he didn’t even bother to answer me. I called the office to make sure he got the invitation – yes he did and he did not answer.” It is important for the people in attendance to know what the response is from the people they voted for, in some cases.

Number 10 – Encourage the Catholic Women’s League and the Knights of Columbus, if you have them in your parish, to seek meetings with the local MP’s about the life issues and have them report back on those meetings.

Number 9 – Encourage parishioners to be engaged in public policy debate. Encourage them to write to their representatives when they run across issues that they feel strongly about – express their opinions. It is your duty as a citizen, actively – to be involved. Have them attend public forums or opportunities where there is an opportunity to interact with your representative and then interact with them.

I am not talking about the parish priest here – I am talking about you encouraging your flock to do that. There is nothing more intimidating than a priest getting up a public meeting but if an ordinary person gets up at a public meeting – and I say ordinary as in you are not identified as a priest and there is not a pre-conception as to what the question is coming from. This will open up the opportunity for debate amongst the members of the audience and it will also flush out the answer of the public representative, whoever it maybe.

Have your parishioners, wherever possible, get involved in the public life of the country. It is not a dirty thing to be involved in the public life of your country. If you and Catholics are not involved, then your life will be run by others, whether you like it or not. It does not matter if 50,000 people vote in a riding or 5 people vote in a riding – someone is going to be elected and someone is going to be speaking for you and your parishioners for a period of time – why not interact with them.

Number 8 – Talk to the principals and staff, if you are allowed to do so, at all the Catholic schools in your parish and walk them through the issues – as you do the parishioners.

As long as I live, I will never forget being in Yellow Knife North West Territories in February of 1990. I was running for the leadership of the Liberal party of Canada in those days, there were 5 candidates – Jean Chretien, Sheila Copps, Paul Martin, Tom Wappel, and Jean Chretien. We were in North West Territories.

I was invited by a local Catholic superintendent of schools who was a supporter of mine in the leadership – to attend a Catholic high school question and answer period. I went. This is a Catholic high school, and remember, I was talking about things like respect for life. I wasn’t really talking about marriage in those days because 18 years ago, that hadn’t really come up yet. But I was talking about abortion and euthanasia and things of that nature.

To this day, 18 years later, one of my greatest regrets and tragedies – that, that was my worst experience as a politician in any school that I ever went to across this great country – and it was a Catholic high school. I felt, and I still feel in my recollections today, I felt like a piece of meat that was dangled over a pool of sharks and that is how I was treated by students and staff alike on these issues.

OK, if I was in a public high school, I might have expected it but not at a Catholic high school. I could not believe the vitriol that came from these students and their teachers at a Catholic high school. I was shocked, and I might say, so was the superintendant of schools that invited me. Not only was he shocked but he was embarrassed to the point of speechlessness. That sort of things should not be happening.

Why is it that Catholic high schools – and I hope I am not making a generalization – certainly, in that one, have that kind of an atmosphere. Someone has to tell these people that they are off on the wrong tangent. I would suggest that it should be the clergy – it should be the shepherd of the flock. That is what I would recommend.

Number 7 – engage with the students at all levels about the life issues. It is never too young, in my opinion, to talk about a respect for life. You don’t have to talk about a respect for life of human beings – no one wants to see a puppy killed, no one wants to see a cat drowned. You can talk about a respect for life in a very simplified manner until the children get a little bit more engaged.

Talk to the teachers who teach religion and find out what they are teaching. Find out what “inclusiveness” means and where is this definition coming from. And then go in and speak to the students periodically and ask them to dialogue with you. Try to arrange, or help to arrange knowledgeable speakers. Directly challenge unorthodox views held by kids – not with threats of punishment but with logical arguments which destroy their wrong ideas. This can be done.

Number 6 – encourage your fellow priests and pastors of other denominations, because I know in my riding – I was told that, once a month, or once every two months there were interfaith meetings periodically in my riding. By the way, I have never been invited to one of those either, in 20 years. But, at those meetings, talk about these issues – I am not suggesting that the local United church ministers are going to agree with you necessarily but it is worth a dialogue. It is worth talking about. It is worth going to see your representative, particularly if your representative represents your values so that you can encourage them to do so.

Number 5 – encourage and, indeed, if I may use this word, insist that the Bishops institute these kinds of practices nation-wide in an organized manner so that we don’t encounter shark pits like Yellow-Knife NW Territories.

Number 4 – in my opinion, the CCCB should meet with the representatives of the Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus, and there is such a beast – a Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus and there are members of the Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus in most parties and they meet monthly. I am suggesting that the bishops meet with them periodically.

In the time that I have been involved in the pro-life movement on Parliament Hill, we did meet once with Bishop Gervais of Ottawa and we had a very nice dialogue with him, we met with Rabbi Rueven Bulka – a nice dialogue with him but that is about it. Where is the CCCB – why didn’t they sit down with us and say, “Look guys – what can we do? We know we can’t solve the problems of the world.” Never mind that, where is the CCCB when people are attacked and ridiculed.

I will never forget – I could handle it because by that time my skin was thick – but when we got into the first of the many issues around sexual orientation which was to put the words ‘sexual orientation’ into the Human Rights Code. Roseanne Skoke was a new Member of Parliament, a female, a lawyer, a devout Roman Catholic. She was instantly pilloried for her views, she was made fun of on the front page of all kinds of newspapers and nobody in the Catholic hierarchy, that I am aware of, came to her defense – publicly or other-wise. That is a tragedy. Why should people go through that? Why should they be required to go through that kind of fight without some kind of help. Luckily, she had her Faith.

Anyway, I would suggest that the bishops, in addition to hob-knobbing with ministers, maybe once in a while consider hob-knobbing with the ordinary members of Parliament and talking to them and encouraging them as to what to do. Figure out strategies that can be used to advance a pro-life and pro-family agenda – not at 11:59 pm on the Parliamentary clock of some piece of legislation – but at the beginning of the day so that there is lots of opportunity to make changes.

We can forget, for the most part, for example, about same-sex marriage but you know what is coming down the pipe in this Parliament and others – euthanasia. It is coming – the Justice Department is already doing discussion papers on euthanasia and there are private members that are bringing forward Bills to allow euthanasia in this country – all cloaked under the right to die with dignity – and who is against somebody’s rights – that is how same-sex marriage came about because it was someone’s right to be married. And who is against rights?

That one is still on the back-burner but that is coming up and I don’t want us to be asleep at the switch and to be doing with euthanasia what we did with same-sex marriage – which is far too little, far too late. Now is the time to engage with parishioners. Now is the time for the leadership of the Church to engage with the public decision makers and work towards solutions that will prevent this kind of completion of, what I call, the unholy trinity – abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia.

Number 3 – provide your parishioners, at all times, and in particular during an election campaign, with specific sources where they can accumulate information about candidates. You are not telling them what to do. You are not telling them who to vote for. You are not telling them who not to vote for. But, how can a person read a guidance from the bishops during an election and then do that duty if you have no way of knowing where the candidates stand on the important issues.

You and I both know that most people aren’t going to bother Googling 6 or 7 candidates in their riding – they are not going to be bothered to do the investigation for the most part. But if you can direct them to the source or sources where they can get that information right after they go home from church – that is help to them. That is guidance to them. That is some way that they can say, “Father suggested that we go to CLC’s website”, for example – to pick our host – “and look and see where the candidates stand on the issues.” Here are the telephone numbers to the campaign offices – where do they stand on these issues?

Let the parishioners do it – but they need some guidance. Most people don’t know how to do it so I would recommend that you educate yourselves, particularly during an election campaign, as to where the parishioners can get the information that they need to make a reasoned decisions on their choices. And then, of course, encourage them to make a reasoned decision.

There is no reason why we have low voter turn out except pure apathy. We should be encouraging people to educate themselves and then get out and vote. During an election campaign, I would say that that message should be repeated over, and over, and over and people should be reminded of the advance polls and their duty to be engaged in the public life of their country so that they can help their fellow men. Talk about any knowledge you may have about any particular candidate – any particular pieces of information that you think would be important for parishioners to know.

Number 2 – is controversial. Advise parishioners on the exact positions of the candidates on the life issues. That means you have to educate yourself and stress that as people of faith, that it is their duty to act as people of faith in a way to support the faith that they profess to believe. It is not right to say, “I am a practicing Catholic, I believe in the doctrines of the Catholic Church but I am voting for a person who consistently votes pro-abortion, pro-same-sex marriage and pro-euthanasia.” That is inconsistent logic and that should, in my view, be brought up and mentioned to parishioners.

Finally, the number 1 thing – during the prayers for the faithful – I would ask that the entire congregation, pray to God that God would rekindle the fire of faith of those whose faith has been extinguished, stoke the smoldering embers of faith of those who are losing their faith and fan the flames of those whose faith is strong.

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