What is going on with us? How is it the Catholic voice has been suppressed to a whisper? Why is it we lose battle after battle, including the recent fight to stop euthanasia from becoming legal? How is it so many Catholics have become afraid to stand up for their faith?
Even more distressing than the loss on euthanasia, was the sad state of Catholic resistance. Far too many Catholics stayed on the sidelines, or worse, showed support for this unmitigated evil.
An Angus Reid poll taken in late 2015 found 70% of Catholics either strongly or moderately supported legalized euthanasia. By contrast, 65% of Evangelical Protestants said they opposed euthanasia. Remember, too, there is no real central authority for Evangelicals. There is no hierarchy or bishops or pastoral letters that come down the pike. Clearly Evangelicals by dint of their faithfulness to Christ fell on the right side of the debate.
We may have to look at emulating what our Evangelical brothers and sisters have that we seem to be missing.
These are not esoteric questions. These are serious issues that we must face or lose whatever influence we have left in society at large.
In Canada, we are nearing the state of living with a dangerous ideology called atheistic secularism. Its influence is far and wide and has caused far more damage than most Catholics realize.
When I was a reporter for the National Post, for example, I covered myriad incidents of pro-life clubs being kicked off of Canadian university campuses. And unless I missed something very few ordinary Christians came to the rescue of these idealist young people. We let it happen. We need to start looking at these bans as not just assaults against prolife students but every single one of us.
Many of our doctors will soon face the harsh choice of standing by their religious beliefs by refusing to have anything to do with medicalized murder or lose their right to practice medicine. Will we help them? Or will we just pretend that nothing is going on?
We constantly talk about our faith as a communion. We talk about being the Body of Christ. That has to mean something beyond sacred images.
Let’s get one thing out of the way because I fear this false idea has infected many of us: the word “secular” has come to stand for every view but the religious view. That is a lie. Secular means every view including the religious view. I’m convinced that too many Catholics have bought into the idea that religion has no business outside the parish or the home or that we have no right to influence policy. There is no religious test for citizenship.
When Pope Benedict XVI was in England for the beatification of John Henry Newman he addressed the British Parliament. He said, and I paraphrase, that a society without religion can easily fall into such dangerous ideologies as communism and fascism and a society that is dominated by one religion can soon become a theocracy. Neither is good.
The goal, therefore, is too gain back that balance before our voice is utterly extinguished.
What we believe and the actions that follow are not just beneficial for the faithful but all of society. Extreme secularists and atheists object to our views on life when it suits them. Yet no one, not even the late Christopher Hitchens, ever complained about the hospitals and schools we have built in the developing world, nor have they complained about the out-of-the-cold programs or hostels or food banks and the endless works of charity performed by Catholics and the Church. It was a Catholic parish in Toronto who sent their priests into the gay village when the AIDS epidemic hit. They did not go there to convert but to comfort.
On the euthanasia front there are many who deserve our esteem but there far more whose reaction is cause for deep reflection. Many appear not really to understand the faith they purport to follow. Many priests failed to raise the topic of euthanasia except when ordered to by the bishop through a pastoral letter. And, as much as it pains me to say, the leadership has to take some blame for not jumping in hard enough and early enough on this most critical life issue.
Some will argue that whether or not Catholics had been more involved it would have made a difference. We will never know. There are millions of us in Canada. Imagine if even a quarter of Catholics who attend Mass on Sunday had written to the government? Or demonstrated in the street? Or decided to dump petitions in the riding offices of their MPs?
We may not have won but it would have shown we are a force to be taken seriously. Not because we are special but because like all other citizens we vote, we pay taxes, we contribute and we help our fellow citizens regardless of their faith or no faith.
It is also our duty to stand up for what we believe rather than worry about the odds of victory. If you need reminding of what true sacrifice looks like think of your fellow Christians in the Middle East who are being slaughtered for refusing to renounce their love of Jesus Christ.
What will happen to us? Someone will call you a name? Someone will laugh? In speaking to groups about euthanasia and before that about the media when I was at the National Post, I sensed so much fear of being mocked for proclaiming the truth. There was even this poisonous idea that if we made the issue appear too religious the secular world would have rejected our position based on anti-religious pressure.
We have to stop worrying about what others think of our sincere beliefs. We are a religion of love. But that should not make us a doormat.
I don’t think the euthanasia debate is over though we have lost the fight to keep it illegal. We are going to have to live with that. But we can still work like mad to challenge the government at every turn. We can try to influence our fellow Catholics who are soft on euthanasia to rethink their positions. A change of heart may save lives.
We have to start using the parish halls not just on Sundays and not only to plan parish picnics but also to evangelize each other.
We have to make our priests respond to the life and death issues that are before us. Too many times have I heard from the several thousand Catholics I have met since speaking out about euthanasia that their priests remain mute.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that the Church has other priorities. In all respect, euthanasia was the priority — for the obvious reason that the consequence is murder.
And finally, to make the Church wholly Catholic again not just a menu of likes and dislikes that we pick at whim.
Over the course of the coming weeks, months and perhaps years I want to address some of what is needed. It will only be my opinion. I hope it creates some discussion.
I am not doing this for money or glory. I am doing this because I love the Catholic Church. I want us to live in the light of truth and to no longer fear the unknown. We have each other and the Holy Eucharist. That’s an amazing start.
Charles Lewis is a regular contributor to The Catholic Register and a board member of the Catholic Civil Rights League. He has been writing for 36 years. He was also the religion reporter for the National Post until January 2014.
About the CCRL
Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) (www.ccrl.ca) assists in creating conditions within which Catholic teachings can be better understood, cooperates with other organizations in defending civil rights in Canada, and opposes defamation and discrimination against Catholics on the basis of their beliefs. The CCRL was founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization with a large nationwide membership base. The CCRL is a Canadian non-profit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its members.
For further information:
Christian Domenic Elia, PhD
CCRL Executive Director