Monday, November 05, 2007

Calgary Bishop Henry Still Accusing Canadian Center for Bio-Ethical Reform of Immoral Activity in Use of Graphic Images

The Carillon is the monthly Diocesan newsmagazine of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary, AB.

In the current issue, released yesterday, on page 5 Bishop Frederick Henry is grinding his axe again about the Reproductive Choice Campaign of the Canadian Center for Bio-Ethical Reform.

The problem is that Bishop Henry is simply repeating himself and offering no new rationale or insight for his rather preposterous claims. In the Carillon column he seems to be making the vague suggestion that John Paul II in his encyclical, The Gospel of Life, was including graphic displays such as the CCBR’s in a list of condemned activities opposed to life itself.

If so, it’s an extremely weak argument because absolutely nothing the Bishop quoted from JPII makes any clear reference whatever to the use of graphic images in the public square. It seems to me a rather pathetic effort to justify the Bishop’s opposition and claims that the CCBR’s approach is a case of doing wrong in order to achieve something good.

He says,

Evil should not be countered, nor compounded, by further evil actions.

He then goes on to rehash his older arguments, which are not arguments at all but simply unproved assertions:

The magnification and subsequent portrayal of the body parts on the side of moving trucks further violates the human dignity of aborted children, denies human remains the respect that inherently must be accorded them, and reduces them to things, albeit, for an arguably good reason.

Then, finally out of “arguments,” Bishop Henry cites three testimonies from women affected by the graphic signs of aborted fetuses on the trucks traveling throughout Calgary. The testimonies do absolutely nothing to substantiate the Bishop’s claims, although they do add some emotional appeal.

Bishop Henry’s treatment of CCBR earlier in the spring of this year prompted me to write a letter to the Bishop and subsequently an Open Letter from Vote Life, Canada! The entire affair, including reaction from pro-life leaders in Canada, was shockingly disappointing.

Up until this point I have not disclosed any of the substance of my initial lengthy letter to Bishop Henry when I first learned in April 2007 of his “edict” against CCBR. Much of the content of that letter appears below and I reiterate to the reader: Bishop Henry, in his short handwritten reply to me, did not respond to any of these arguments.


Having no other particulars, it is my understanding from reading the above noted report that the chief points noted by Your Excellency are the following:

1. “GAP in its usage of pictures of aborted children violates their human dignity, denies human remains the respect that inherently must be accorded them and reduces them to things, albeit, for an arguably good reason. The end, however, does not justify the means.”

2. Abortion cannot be compared to historical acts of genocide.

3. More would be accomplished by showing pictures of the human child in the womb of the mother than by CCBR’s use of graphic pictures.

4. Unless the center disassociates from the GAP display Your Excellency refuses to support it.

5. “The project is misguided, it’s offensive and I don’t think one should be using this kind of means to achieve an end.”


Perhaps Your Excellency will see some relevance in the following scenario to the recent judgment against CCBR.

Is it misguided for a public prosecutor who comes upon a homeless nameless woman who has been viciously assaulted, murdered and dismembered to robustly seek justice for the crime committed against her and to assume the task of representing that woman before the courts? Fortunately in the case of this particular crime our justice system is fashioned in such a way as to finance that prosecutor’s investigation, whatever the costs, and to expect that he will entirely follow through with his efforts to obtain justice for that woman and to defend the best interests of society.

Who can doubt that at some point the prosecutor will demonstrate before a select group of his fellow human beings sitting on a jury, the heinous nature of the crime through an exhibition of the gruesome photos of her remains? This will certainly occur without objection by a judge, who in fact might think it more than a little odd if the pictures were never entered as exhibits by the prosecutor. Would the judge or the jury or those in the courtroom consider such actions to be offensive? This seems to be a regular occurrence in courtrooms so I think not. True, they might find the images difficult to endure, shocking and even horrendous, but probably not for a moment would they doubt the need to present them as crucial evidence of the true nature of the crime.

Would the prosecutor imagine that he cannot show the pictures because to do so would violate the woman’s dignity or deny her human remains the respect that inherently must be accorded them? Would it occur to him that the mere act of showing these images for the end of establishing justice and preserving the common good could reduce the woman to being a thing? Would the prosecutor imagine for a moment that if he proceeds with such an exhibit that the religious community will denounce his approach and disassociate themselves from his case or his office?


To take my storyline a step further, how likely is it that the prosecutor would decline to show the gruesome pictures out of fear of offense yet sustain any realistic hope that by simply showing a picture of the woman in her best dressed, most attractive form prior to the crime, that it would better help the jurors and courtroom crowd to appreciate the indignity and disrespect shown to the woman’s person through this brutal act? Again, I would think it very unlikely. On the contrary, I might guess that after seeing the beautiful picture of the victim many jurors would demand, for the sake of justice, to also view the images depicting the horror of what was committed against that woman, if for no other reason than to be thoroughly apprised of and justly outraged by the grave injustice committed.

Your Excellency, I am greatly concerned about the message that will accompany this verdict and the chilling effect of this message upon the entire pro-life community in not only Calgary, but throughout Canada. I am thinking first of all of those who might be bravely considering some involvement in the pro-life cause for the first time. Who could blame them for having serious reservations and even serious confusion, about joining up with the pro-life movement? Apparently to do so, even when the activity is clearly not illegal but simply questionable in certain respects, is to also risk being at odds with the highest levels of Church leadership, and to risk public censure. Who will enter the pro-life arena to fight for the unborn with not only the usual (and formidable) anti-life obstacles to face but also possible opposition by the Church’s Pastors?

Then secondly there are those already involved with CCBR or giving serious thought to it, including the full time staff who have responsibility for raising their own support. Setting aside considerations of morale, the financial implications alone of having Catholics withdraw their support from CCBR due to Your Excellency’s objections are quite substantial. At the very least, doubts will be raised in the minds of supporters and questions of allegiance will plague some of the faithful with the overall long term effect being to reduce the level of success of the CCBR project, perhaps even driving them from the Calgary area. Forgive me for being so direct, but has Your Excellency considered the possibility of such effects?

Thirdly, in these circumstances certain questions seem to be raised by the Church’s previous statements on the laity and their apostolates. Echoing the call of John Paul II (EV #95), for “a general mobilization of consciences and a united ethical effort to activate a great campaign in support of life,” Pope Benedict XVI earlier this year made a similar earnest plea to Christians and non Christians around the world. Your Excellency will know that on February 24, 2007 Benedict XVI addressed participants in the General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life on the theme “The Christian conscience in support of the right to life.”

In this address, the Holy Father recalled the first fundamental right of all human rights, making reference to Evangelium Vitae: "Even in the midst of difficulties and uncertainties, every person sincerely open to truth and goodness can, by the light of reason and the hidden action of grace, come to recognize in the natural law written in the heart (cf. Rom 2: 14-15) the sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, and can affirm the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the highest degree.”

Quoting the same encyclical, Benedict XVI recalled that "believers in Christ must defend and promote this right,” and that “the Christian is continually called to be ever alert in order to face the multiple attacks to which the right to life is exposed. In this he knows that he can count on motives that are deeply rooted in the natural law and that can therefore be shared by every person of upright conscience.”

His Holiness prays that the Lord will “send among those dedicated to science, medicine, law and politics, witnesses endowed with true and upright consciences in order to defend and promote the "splendour of the truth" and to sustain the gift and mystery of life.” He calls for the help of professionals, philosophers, theologians, scientists and doctors. “In a society at times chaotic and violent, with your cultural qualifications, by teaching and by example, you can contribute to awakening in many hearts the eloquent and clear voice of conscience.”

Referring again to the Second Vatican Council which teaches the faithful in every temporal affair to be guided by a Christian conscience, Benedict XVI noted the Council exhorts lay believers to welcome "what is decided by the Pastors as teachers and rulers of the Church", and then recommends that "Pastors... should recognize and promote the dignity and responsibility of the laity in the Church. They should willingly use their prudent advice" and concludes that "[m]any benefits for the Church are to be expected from this familiar relationship between the laity and the Pastors" (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 37).

Clearly Your Excellency, it would be careless of me to suggest that it is a simple task to achieve the beneficial relationship envisioned here. In the first place, since lay believers are exhorted to welcome and obey the decisions of their Pastors, Your Excellency could simply insist on such obedience as a conclusion to the present matter involving CCBR. However, in consideration of Pope Benedict’s words, I can’t help thinking that the matter is not that simple because it appears to me that the CCBR ministry is precisely the sort of lay organization called upon by His Holiness.

Are they not “witnesses endowed with true and upright consciences in order to defend and promote the ‘splendour of the truth’ and to sustain the gift and mystery of life?” Are they not among the “professionals, philosophers, theologians, scientists and doctors” called for by the Holy Father? At the very least, the words of the Holy Father confirm that, just as there is a multitude of the faithful laity called to represent life, so must there be a multiplicity of methods. Your Excellency, with all due respect, after ruling out illegal and immoral methods, should the methods of some be proscribed because they are controversial and conflict with the preferences of others?

It is true that the tactics of the CCBR elicit controversy (as did Our Lord’s!) and I will not try to defend their rationale since they make thorough efforts on their own website to respond to all their critics. I do believe they have made an extremely reasonable case for their strategy. But consider that the entire issue of abortion—the killing of innocent human beings yet in the womb—is bound to be controversial in the most innocent of conversations; far more so the closer one gets to an apprehension of the true and violent nature of the act.

The Church endorses the respectful use of human remains for medical education, research and transplantation, given the consent of the donor or his/her legitimate representative and proper treatment of the donated tissue. This teaching has been explicitly affirmed in strong positive terms by Pope John Paul II [Address to the XVIII International Congress of the Transplantation Society, August 29, 2000].

How much more so then for reasons of justice is it permissible to use pictures? Can one imagine the Church protesting the evidence presented at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial? Can one imagine the Church, out of protest, publicly dissociating from those parties who initiated the proceedings of Nuremberg?

Further to the subject of disrespect of remains, etc. and admittedly on a hypothetical note, wouldn’t the Unborns involved have given their permission to take and to show pictures if done in an effort to save their fellows from equally horrid deaths? One could not imagine an answer in the negative. Is not true respect for these precious little souls best shown by a respect for what is very likely their last wishes? At memorial services for those we love, we regularly use this same criterion in determining the method of honouring their life and memory.

Personally I often find myself asking a very simple question when in doubt about a course of action in defense of the Unborn. When courage is questioned, when persecution looms, when clear thinking seems elusive, the difficulty can often be resolved by asking: What would the Unborn have me do in such a situation? In virtually all cases the answer immediately presents itself and all peripheral issues fade away. Would the Unborn want the CCBR to represent them in the fashion they do, despite the fact that perhaps no other group takes a similar approach? Obviously the answer would depend on whether the Unborn saw hope for their cause from the efforts of CCBR. I believe even a short analysis of the work of CCBR and a reading of the testimonies of the many individuals won to the plight of the Unborn by CCBR will attest to the effectiveness of their tactics and so I say a resounding Yes! The cause of justice for the Unborn is being well served by CCBR and the Unborn would encourage such efforts.

Always I am challenged deeply, yet often inspired, by the words of John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae.

(#73) “Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them [emphasis mine] by conscientious objection.

“It is precisely from obedience to God -- to whom alone is due that fear which is acknowledgment of His absolute sovereignty -- that the strength and the courage to resist unjust human laws are born. It is the strength and the courage of those prepared even to be imprisoned or put to the sword, in the certainty that this is what makes for ‘the endurance and faith of the saints’ (Rev 13:10).”

(#90) “I repeat once more that a law which violates an innocent person's natural right to life is unjust and, as such, is not valid as a law.”

Yes, challenging, because I must ask myself: If my obligation to oppose them is “grave and clear,” what actions must accompany an obedient attitude? Certainly this would demand serious steps. The matter of “obedience to God” to the point of imprisonment or at the risk of physical injury speaks to the seriousness of these crimes and to the seriousness of my response as a Christian.

Yet CCBR’s actions, as I see them, could not in any way be construed as so serious as to warrant imprisonment or physical punishment. On the basis of John Paul II’s standards of resistance [some of which apparently cross “legal” lines] the CCBR comes out rather on the mild side of things and if so, then the practice of censuring some while praising others raises puzzling questions.

Turning to the question of comparing abortion to the historical acts of genocide, Your Excellency will be aware that John Paul II made world headlines and raised a great controversy in Feb 2005 when his book "Memory and Identity" was published. With headlines like “Pope likens abortion to Holocaust,” it is clear that the world understood John Paul II to be comparing abortion to the Holocaust. Although Cardinal Ratzinger rose to his defense claiming the Pope was misunderstood, John Paul II’s words seem unmistakably to link and compare abortion to the Jewish holocaust. After all, Pope John Paul called abortion a “legal extermination” and compared its institution with the German laws which declared the Jews non-persons and allowed them to be murdered by the state.

Understandably, his comments greatly disturbed the Jewish community in Germany who maintain that the Nazi inspired Jewish Holocaust stands alone in history and cannot be equated with anything else. They claimed John Paul’s words detracted from the enormity of that atrocity.

But how can the Jews truly understand the enormity of the holocaust of the Unborn? How can they understand the truth of the sanctity of life as the Catholic understands it? They deny the God-Man Jesus Christ, who by virtue of His unique Incarnation sanctified not only the womb but every stage of preborn life from the very point of conception. This Christian truth lends enormous power to the argument that every human life has equal value and at every stage of life. Seen in that light, comparing abortion to genocide isn't an attempt to make genocide seem less evil, it's an attempt to show how evil abortion is!

What is not understandable though is the failure by so many Catholics to emphasize two thousand years of Church teaching on the sanctity of life and the abomination of abortion. In fact, contrary to the warnings of John Paul II, it does seem clear to me that Christians have by and large accepted abortion as a legal and valid act in Canada. Even when [rarely] acknowledged as a crime, its gravity is commonly ignored and often apologies are made for such comparisons. But, like the Jews who are permitted to see through Jewish eyes, don’t we Christians have a right—and a duty—to proclaim with equal if not greater fervour the Christian truth about the true nature of abortion as revealed by God to His Church?

In September 2004 reported Spanish Bishop Jose Gea Escolano to say that abortion is "the greatest crime ever committed in history." He went so far as to say that the “killings, concentration camps, gulags” of history were far outweighed by the countless children sacrificed in the wombs of their mothers and that therefore abortion “cannot be compared with any other genocide in history.”

Again in January of this year LifeSiteNews reported that Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, told a group of journalists that the world is “marching toward a self-genocide of the human race” with the irresponsible use of biotechnologies and the widespread acceptance of the culture of death.

Just this past week Archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, declared that abortion and euthanasia are examples of "terrorism with a human face," and, together with suicide bombers, are the scourge of contemporary society. No doubt some will take exception to this strong language but again, it is simply testimony to the view which God has of the destruction of innocent unborn life.


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