REGINA, Saskatchewan, February 3, 2011 ( – Two more Canadian bishops have joined their voices with that of Calgary Bishop Fred Henry in condemning a Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruling that denied marriage commissioners the right to refuse to perform same-sex “marriages.”

In a new pastoral letter, Archbishop Daniel Bohan of Regina, Saskatchewan has challenged the government to work protect freedom of conscience rights.

“The threat of loss of one’s job and employment certainly raises the spectre of coercion upon a person if it is demanded of that person that he or she do something that they believe to be wrong in order to keep their livelihood,” Archbishop Bohan wrote. “It will take skillful action on the part of our government leaders to guarantee the freedom of conscience of its citizens.”

On the heels of the court ruling, the Saskatchewan government announced that commissioners who refuse to “marry” same-sex couples will be fired.

While Archbishop Bohan agreed with the court’s statement that “freedom of religion is not absolute,” in that society “has every right to defend itself against possible abuses committed on the pretext of freedom of religion,” he reiterated the principle that government must not only maintain “good order and true justice,” but also guarantee the legitimate pursuit of religious freedom and conscience.

“As Catholic people we understand and respect the power of government and the courts and their rights,” the archbishop wrote. “However, also of supreme importance is the necessity of guaranteeing a Canadian’s freedom to act in accord with their conscience.

“It is the belief and teaching of the Catholic Church that in everything we do as a people, we are bound to follow our conscience in order that we may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that no person may be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor must anyone be prevented from acting according to one’s conscience, especially in religious matters.”

Bishop Donald Bolen of Saskatoon joined Archbishop Bohan in expressing concern. The bishop directed readers to a reflection by Fr. Paul Donlevy, Chancellor of the Diocese of Saskatoon, on the implications of the court decision.

“The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruling … raises larger questions about conscience rights in our society,” Fr. Donlevy stated.

Fr. Donlevy attended the Court of Appeal during the review process earlier this year, representing the diocese of Saskatoon as an intervener. “I was disappointed in the decision of the judges, but I was not surprised,” he said.

“The reason we were intervenors was because of a bigger issue than that facing marriage commissioners,” Fr. Donlevy explained. “The heart of the issue is: where does the conscience or the free practice of religion fit for those who are in public service? Do they leave their conscience at the door when they enter into public service? What are the protections for the rights of conscience, whether a religious conscience or a secular conscience, for that employee?”

Fr. Donlevy stressed that the question is particularly pertinent when it comes to life issues – for instance for all those in the medical field who must deal with issues related to abortion, the “morning after pill,” and sterilization.

“We can see it just looking down the road as we question ourselves as to where we will be going with assisted suicide and euthanasia,” Fr. Donlevy added. “This is a hugely important question.”

“There are several rights guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but all of them are equal, and one does not trump another,” said Fr. Donlevy. “When there is a conflict, the court is called upon to find a way for the least egregious damage to be done to either of the parties.”

“The court decision has raised important questions,” Fr. Donlevy concluded. “The role of conscience, the role of religious conscience and the practice of religion in the public square: we have to look at these questions more deeply.”

Archbishop Daniel Bohan’s pastoral letter is available here.

Fr. Paul Donlevy’s letter is available here.

Saskatchewan government contact information:

Justice Minister Don Morgan
Room 355, Legislative Building
2405 Legislative Drive
Regina, Saskatchewan S4S 0B3
Phone: (306) 787-5353
E-mail: Use this form.

The Honourable Brad Wall
Premier of Saskatchewan
226 Legislative Building
Regina, Saskatchewan S4S 0B3
Phone: (306) 787-9433
E-mail: [email protected]