By STEVEN CHASE, KIM LUNMAN, AND DREW FAGAN
Wednesday, June 9, 2004
OTTAWA and SAVANNAH, GA. -- The Roman Catholic bishop of Calgary is publicly rebuking Prime Minister Paul Martin for what he calls scandalous "moral incoherence" on abortion, an issue that has quickly become the hottest subject on the election campaign trail.
Bishop Fred Henry, writing in a open letter to be included in Calgary parish bulletins Sunday, said Mr. Martin's recent public stands on abortion and same-sex marriage are a "source of scandal" among Catholics.
"In much of the secular media Prime Minister Paul Martin is frequently described as a 'devout Catholic,' " Bishop Henry wrote.
"However, his recently clarified position re: abortion and same-sex unions is a source of scandal in the Catholic community and reflects a fundamental moral incoherence," says the letter, dated June 6.
Mr. Martin has come out clearly during the election as supporting abortion rights and same-sex marriage rights.
But Bishop Henry says in his letter that politicians who are Catholic cannot hold these views without contradicting church principles. He cited a 2002 statement from the Vatican that said Catholic politicians have a duty to be "morally coherent" in reconciling their political life and church beliefs.
"The truth regarding the human person and our obligations to uphold this truth do not change when we leave the security of our homes and venture into the secular or political sphere," he wrote.
Bishop Henry did not suggest Mr. Martin stop taking communion because he supports abortion rights, as some U.S. bishops have done with regard to Democratic Senator John Kerry, who is pro-choice.
But he said Catholics cannot back abortion or same-sex marriage.
He also dismissed gay-marriage rights. "One cannot invent a meaning of sexuality to suit one's own wishes or tastes," he wrote. Bishop Henry is no stranger to public criticism of Canadian political leaders. Last year, he said former prime minister Jean Chrétien risked burning in hell if he made same-sex marriage legal in Canada.
Bishop Henry's parish letter comes after Mr. Martin clearly supported abortion rights and same-sex marriage rights last week.
He said June 1 he believes "that women should have the right to choose" and, on June 4, said that because several courts have ruled that gays have the right to marry under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the right must be protected.
"It is absolutely a question of human rights, and under those circumstances there is no way that anybody should be allowed to discriminate or prevent same-sex marriage," the Liberal Leader said last week.
Conservative party strategists began circulating the bishop's letter yesterday after it was posted on an anti-abortion website.
The issue of abortion has been catapulted to the top of the election campaign agenda with recent anti-abortion comments from two Conservative MPs.
A campaign spokesman had no direct comment on the bishop's criticisms, but said Mr. Martin's faith is separate from his political role.
"The Prime Minister has always indicated that his faith is something he takes very seriously but that it is separate and apart from his duties as Prime Minister," Steven MacKinnon said.
"He's been equally clear on the question of fundamental human rights, that he will oppose any effort to abrogate the rights as defined under the Charter."
Mr. Martin yesterday criticized Conservative Leader Stephen Harper for not condemning Ontario Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant's comments likening the beheading of an American in Iraq to abortion.
"Mr. Harper saw no need to basically single out this statement as clearly unacceptable," Mr. Martin said en route to the G8 meeting.
"I've got to say that anyone in my party who made extreme statements like that, I would have spoken out immediately."
The Liberals have been distributing an article from the Western Catholic Reporter, which reported last month that Ms. Gallant compared abortion to the beheading of a young American by rebels in Iraq. During a rally on Parliament Hill, Ms. Gallant said the two situations are "absolutely no different."
The Conservative MP for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke could not be reached for comment; her staff blamed a bad case of laryngitis. She also cancelled an appearance at an all-candidates forum in the riding last night.
Mr. Harper has refused to be labelled pro-choice or anti-abortion, instead saying Monday that he thinks "abortion is a reality that is with us." He has said that, if elected, he does not plan on introducing legislation that would restrict abortion, but would not stand in the way of private member's bills on the issue.
"People have a right to their views in this party," Mr. Harper said in Victoria yesterday. "Our members of Parliament have a right to their views on those issues, to push for them privately and, if Paul Martin believes that only his opinions on that subject are tolerated in the Liberal Party, he can send all the other people who don't agree with him over to us."
With a report from Brian Laghi and Jane Taber