Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Not just an ordinary faux pas

As a Catholic, I want to put in my two cents worth on the flap about Stephen Harper apparently taking in communion at the state funeral of Roméo Leblanc last week. Certainly this is not the place to make fun of Harper's religion -- I have too much respect for evangelicals to do that. Nor am I going to debate whether he actually ate the host or he pocketed it; nor about transsubstantiation (this debate goes back to the days of Martin Luther, after all).

Rather, I write to point out that while the vast majority of Catholics in Canada may be that in name only -- in the sense they don't go to Mass regularly and partake in communion themselves -- there is the detail remaining that about 43% of Canadians are at least nominally Roman Catholic, and take pride in the fact that so many of our Prime Ministers, going back to John Sparrow Thompson, have been RCs.
 
We are by no means a cohesive voting block, of course -- there are Catholics of all political stripes -- but ticking off a block that could theoretically cohere and vote a certain way is not exactly my idea of leadership. There simply is no excuse for such a major breach of protocol. That would be true whether it was for a sitting MP or Senator, or a former Governor General as Leblanc was.
 
Moreover, in Canada it has been understood that the title of fidei defensor -- defender of the faith -- which is given to the reigning Sovereign -- just doesn't mean defender of the faith, as in the UK (i.e. the established Church of England), but a defender of faith in general. It is hard to imagine a British PM, whatever his or her personal beliefs, wanting to offend an entire sect -- he or she would get quite the reprimand from the Queen, certainly in the current environment where she has gone to great lengths to gaining the respect of her Catholic subjects while fulfilling her duties as Supreme Governor of the C of E. Some traditionalists in Britain have objected both to this, as well as her outreach to minority groups in the country (including Muslims and Hindus in particular) but most have appreciated her efforts to be a uniter and not a divider.
 
In Canada, where there is a much clearer separation of church and state (although not absolutely complete, as with the school systems in some provinces and where some religious orders still operate hospitals under state supervision) a sitting PM has to be even more careful. We wouldn't tolerate a PM who deliberately set out to persecute a religious minority, whether it was Judaism, Islam or a Christian sect like the Jehovah's Witnesses. To give rise to an offense, however minor or unintentional, to the group that forms a plurality of the populace in Canada, is even more perplexing.
 
It's worth remembering that when Brian Mulroney liberalized the divorce laws in Canada in 1986, he had to put up with the "family caucus" within his party, which consisted of Christians of all stripes. I can't recall if Mulroney allowed a free vote on the issue, but there were at least 50 and as many as 80 of his MPs who threatened to derail the bill on moral grounds and some concessions had to be made to them to get the legislation passed. And as a Catholic, he certainly got a lot of flack from the bishops; but as did most of his predecessors, he understood his job was to protect the liberty of all and not to impose his own or someone else's moral code.
 
While some of the most extreme elements of evangelicalism may have the inside track in government these days, Harper still has a duty to work with those who profess different faiths than his. In attending religious services of other faiths, he can't assume that "their house is my house." No one would have had an issue if he had just crossed his arms and the archbishop blessed him, as should have been done.
 
For what it's worth, I'm actually prepared to give the PM a free pass on this one, although speaking to some other Catholic friends of mine today we got quite the chuckle out of what appears at both first glance and deeper analysis to have been an act of pure stupidity. However, I suspect that many other Catholics may not be so forgiving and they'll remember it at the polls, whenever the plug is pulled on the present Parliament. Certainly, Harper owes Joe Ratzinger an explanation when the former visits the Vatican in two days' time.

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5 comments:

Prairie Kid said...

So you're a Catholic and you seem to think that some Catholics might remember this little incident at the polls?

Would these same Catholics be voting for the Liberal party in the next election then?

The same party that supports homosexuals, same-sex marriages and abortions? Is that the party you mean?

If you're such a staunch Catholic maybe you should check out the Vatican's views on the above mentioned points.

Now, doesn't a little wafer seem so insignificant?

BlastFurnace said...

No, I don't believe that all would vote Lib. But enough of them might vote in such a way that a progressive coalition might, just might, become possible.

Savant said...

We now have a 'witness' who assures that they saw Harper consume the host...

The Speaker of the Senate of Canada, the Noël A. Kinsella, (a Catholic) even issued a statement refuting the claims the Prime Minister pocketed the holy wafer: “I would like to state that I personally witnessed Prime Minister Harper consume the host that was given to him by Archbishop André Richard. Sitting only a few seats behind him I had a full view of the proceedings and clearly saw the Prime Minister accept the host after Archbishop Richard offered it. The Prime Minister consumed it.” (ref)

Anonymous said...

"Certainly, Harper owes Joe Ratzinger an explanation when the former visits the Vatican in two days' time."

All that talk and this is how you end it: admitting you want to make a political issue out of a religious ceremony, a funeral for a deceased GG.

You disgust me and your party is going to pay for this, mark my words.

"n Canada, where there is a much clearer separation of church and state"

Read the charter, the constitution itself, and the lyrics to our anthem, God all over the place. No separation here and never has been. Don't like it? Leave.

"he had to put up with the "family caucus" within his party, which consisted of Christians of all stripes."

Put up. You're ugly.

"While some of the most extreme elements of evangelicalism may have the inside track in government these days"

Barking mad. We don't have evangelicals in Canada in any serious numbers, let alone on the inside track.

"For what it's worth, I'm actually prepared to give the PM a free pass on this one"

But you didn't, not that a nobody like you is in a position to give the PM a free pass; you concluded your lengthy, snark ridden rant with the exact opposite of a free pass: a sleazy, sleazy shot and a deliberate attempt to divide and to stoke discord.

"Nor am I going to debate whether he actually ate the host or he pocketed it;"

There's no debate, Liberal Noel Kinsella saw him eat it. This was a vicious co-ordinated political hit job and your party is going to pay the price, big time.

Look at yourself, pal: Ugly. Disgusting. Snarky, unmanly, divisive, hateful. Get the hell out of my country.

Joe said...

Read the charter, the constitution itself,

The preamble is not legally binding, hence references to a deity or "Creator" within are irrelevant.

and the lyrics to our anthem,

The current anthem with a single mention of God, but no mention of how to worship him. You could be a deist who firmly rejects any notion of organized religion and still be fine with that one phrase. Also, the original 1908 English lyrics make no explicit reference to a deity.

God all over the place. No separation here and never has been.

Which is the explanation why we and Western Europe have become more secularized than the US. There's no better way to get people to turn away from God than to make him part of the political process (something the Iranian clerics are learning far too late).