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An impending religious persecution in Canada?

By Pete Vere
web posted August 4, 2003

Less than two months ago, Prime Minister Jean Chretien was assuring Canadians that the legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada would not lead to religious persecution. Various religious bodies in Canada would be permitted to continue holding and teaching their beliefs. My how things changed have changed over the summer. According to a recent article in the Globe and Mail, Bishop Jean-Louis Plouffe of the Diocese of Sault Ste Marie is now under attack by some among Canada's political and social elite. Why? Because he had the audacity to take the Prime Minister at his word and clarify Catholic teaching for Catholic politicians who prefer to fudge the issue.

Bishop Jean-Louis Plouffe
Bishop Plouffe

"I don't think a man can allow himself to be divided by his convictions," the Globe and Mail quotes Bishop Plouffe as having stated. "A politician cannot be totally schizophrenic. If he is, he is not being real [...] I would expect a Catholic politician would not push away his Catholic convictions because he's a politician. I would expect him to be authentic." According to this same article, the words of Bishop Plouffe's counterpart in Calgary were much more forceful. The Prime Minister is "endangering his salvation," Bishop Henry reportedly states.

I know Bishop Plouffe. I grew up in his diocese and he confirmed me as young teenager. Under his episcopate, my father was ordained to the Catholic Church's permanent diaconate. Most Canadian Catholic commentators like myself would describe Bishop Plouffe as a moderate progressive - hardly an icon of Canada's religious right.

And yet, according to the same Globe and Mail: "The comments by Roman Catholic Church leaders have angered gay-rights activists and other religious groups. 'It's just appalling,' said Michael Leshner, who legally wed his partner, Michael Stark, in Toronto in June, Canada's first same-sex marriage. ‘It's sickening, it's obnoxious and it's got to stop.' [...] He accused the Catholic church of preaching ‘religious intolerance,' adding, 'The Charter of Rights trumps the Bible.'"

As a young Canadian social conservative, I have a few choice words for Mr. Leshner's arrogance in asserting a pan-sexual hedonistic legal positivism over the wisdom and authority of the Natural Law. However, I think I will save this response for an American publication, where at least the First Ammendment protects my freedom of religion and expression. For while some might dismiss Mr. Leshner's threats as empty, I cannot share this optimism.

Mr. Leshner is a Crown Attorney in Toronto - Canada's largest city, and one of its most politically influential ones. As such, Mr. Leshner is part of the judicial culture that usurped the role of our democratically elected legislature in bringing about the legalization of same-sex marriage. Thus in reading between the lines, I am reluctant to dismiss Mr. Leshner's threats as those of your average homosexual activist. As he has already shown, he more than capable of carrying them out in our current milieu of judicial activism.

Nevertheless, what has Bishop Plouffe done to deserve what appears to be a veiled threat of legal action? His words are nowhere as politically incorrect as those of his counterpart in Calgary. Nor is Bishop Plouffe, like Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, encouraging his flock to picket homosexual funerals with "God hates Fags" placards. Knowing His Excellency well, I am certain he condemns such religiously inspired hate, as do the majority of Catholics and Baptists. After all, Christ preaches the Gospel of Love, calling all sinners to conversion.

Rather, Bishop Plouffe simply reminds politicians claiming to be Catholic of their moral obligation to behave as Catholics in Canada's legislative assemblies. According to the Second Vatican Council, this is one of the three main functions of the Catholic episcopate, namely, to teach the Catholic Faith to the Church's adherents. Almost all religions make similar requirements of their clergy.

Unfortunately, in the opinion of at least one prominent homosexual legal activist, Bishop Plouffe's words now constitute religious intolerance under a new judicial oligarchy in which the feelings of sexual minorities trump religious rights and freedoms. So much for our Prime Minister's promise to protect religious freedom in Canada. As a young Canadian social conservative, I feel more secure in the United States where the First Amendment guarantees my freedom of religious expression. And unlike Canada's political leadership, President Bush both respects the religious convictions of all Americans and possesses the strength of character to live according to his own.

Pete Vere, JCL is a canon lawyer and a Catholic social and religious commentator from Sudbury, Ontario. He now writes from Nokomis, Florida, where he and his family enjoy no state income tax along with life within walking distance of the Gulf of Mexico. His work has been published in numerous Canadian and American Catholic publications.

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