Canadian Politicians, Who Are You, Really?

“I’m a good Catholic, but I disagree with the pope.”

There have been Roman Catholic Christians differing with papal pronouncements for centuries, but the modern watershed moment occurred in 1968. Shortly after the remarkable innovations of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), a not-so-reformist Pope Paul VI promulgated the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (“Human Life”) to forbid Catholics from using artificial means of birth control. 

Coming almost a decade after “the pill” was approved in the United States (1960), this command proved quickly to be too hard for many Catholics to obey. Millions, not just a few here and there, began to think of themselves as good Catholics even as they flatly defied an authoritative teaching from Rome.

Ever since then, and now in Canadian federal politics, we are encountering Catholics who say they are, indeed, good Catholics but they refuse to follow Catholic teachings. What are voters to make of this, particularly when the leaders of our two major political parties, Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer, are of this sort?

It’s one thing to say that one is a faithful Catholic and yet on this or that matter one disagrees with Catholic teaching: “I otherwise subscribe to Catholic doctrine, but on abortion I hold a different view.”

That’s not what Catholics are supposed to say. Papal authority is basic to being Catholic, according to the Catholic Catechism (paragraphs 874-913). So there is a problem of consistency here—“I’m a good Catholic, which by definition means I submit to the authority of the pope, but I don’t actually submit to the authority of the pope in at least one major instance”—but at least we have clarity.

It’s also okay to say, “I’m a good Catholic, but I don’t see the time being right to move ahead with a bill on abortion. The votes won’t be there, so I think we need to attend to other matters crucial to Catholic values and see if we can fight the abortion battle another, better day.” In fact, that’s very okay. That’s the kind of realism we can appreciate in a politician.

Neither situation, however, is the case with Catholics Trudeau and Scheer. Instead, we have a different distinction. Either implicitly (Trudeau) or explicitly (Scheer), we have people who claim to (still) be Catholics, and yet who promise never to support Catholic teaching regarding abortion in Parliament because, they say, the “Canadian people” don’t want them to deal with abortion, so they won’t.

Three problems here.

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