Religious leaders finally get some respect

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The Article

Calgary’s Bishop Fred Henry was the first in Canada to make media waves
It’s encouraging to note that religious authority can be exercised these days without public scandal.

Bishops, that is, can actually tell their flocks what they may or may not do without occasioning the customary cacophony from the liberal media.

Last month, for example, a Catholic high school in St. Louis invited a Democratic senator to deliver the commencement address, her daughter being in the graduating class.

The Catholic archbishop of St. Louis objected because the senator is pro-abortion, and the school cancelled the invitation.

The noteworthy thing was the absence of protest from either the media, or from the faithful. Three years ago that same bishop declared he would refuse communion to Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry for the same reason, and little was said even then.

Notable also is the current absence in Canada of support for those who blatantly defy church authority. When three self-professed Catholic women were ordained to what they called “the Catholic priesthood” in a Toronto United Church last week, the only newspaper comment I noticed could not have been more caustic.

If they don’t like their church’s rule against female priests, said an editorial, they should “go find another Christian sect. Last time we checked, there were thousands to choose from.”

The editorialist concluded: “In any case, one suspects they are far less interested in reforming their faith than in putting on show feminist stunts.”

Not very tolerant, you say? Downright un-Canadian, in fact. Apparently attitudes really are changing, and it’s worth asking why.

Well, for one reason, by far the most decisive, popular, respected and effective Catholic pope in the last four decades of the 20th century, John Paul II, was also the most traditionalist and conservative.

He did not tell people: “If you remain Catholic, we’ll happily change the rules to make it less onerous for you,” the compromise then being widely touted as the sure-fire formula to keep young people securely in church.

The Canadian churches that embraced this formula, notably the United and Anglican, promptly went into a disastrous membership decline.

Young people weren’t interested in joining; older people left because their church was becoming unrecognizable.

Something else also happened in Canada which largely escaped public notice but probably not that of Catholic bishops here and in the U.S. With loud fanfare from the liberal press, a small renegade circle began circulating a petition to Catholics across the country, demanding their bishops liberalize the church. Nothing further was publicly reported on that petition, however, for good reason.

It later came to light that the project was quietly abandoned with fewer than 5,000 signatures (of 12.8 million Canadian Catholics recorded by the 2001 census).

Until then, Canada’s media had consistently portrayed the Catholic laity as seething with a resentful and powerful demand for change, which was now seen to be nonsense.

However, some U.S. media may still suffer under this misapprehension. Marvelling at the intransigence of the St. Louis archbishop, the liberal Washington Post observed he took these stands “at a time when significant segments of the Catholic population are breaking with the church on such issues as embryonic cell research and abortion.”

How “significant” they did not say, of course, but if the U.S. church is anything like the Canadian church, the Post should have referred to “insignificant segments.”

Meanwhile, Calgary Catholics are no doubt becoming aware their own bishop, Fred Henry, was first in Canada to make media waves by calling the attention of his flock to what the church in fact teaches. When he ruled that ex-Prime Minister Joe Clark, who calls himself a Catholic though he favours abortion rights and gay marriage, would no longer be welcome to speak in Calgary’s Catholic schools, Bishop Henry was branded as backward, as “living in the past.”

It now appears he was actually, if anything, on the leading edge—living, so to speak, in the future.

Not that Bishop Fred has ever let his decisions be governed by whether they’ll be considered behind the times or ahead of them.

He knows God doesn’t change, and neither do the essential principles of morality. And in times of alarming impermanence, it is this “eternal changelessness” that attracts people, young and old, to the Christian faith.

Ted Byfield
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