It’s true that Canada does not have an explicit statement about separation of church and state in its constitution like the United States does and it’s true that some of our provinces do annoying church-y things like fund Catholic school boards. However, we don’t really care about the religious life of our Prime Ministers and when Stephen Harper has occasionally declared, “God bless Canada”, at least 1 in 4 of us think it sounds weird and foreign. We are decidedly a liberal democracy that recognizes the separation of church and state and accepts that freedom of religion includes freedom from religion.
This is what makes the Catholic Church’s public statements concerning Justin Trudeau’s pro-choice stance seem rather meddlesome; the religious institution attempts to exert influence where it has no right to: in the affairs of the state.
As background: recently, Justin Trudeau remarked that new MPs to the Liberal party must vote along party lines on any bill that restricts a woman’s right to choose. This caused a bit of a flap. Some took this to mean that if a party member was anti-abortion, they would be fired or that pro-choice means pro-abortion, but Trudeau went on to state the obvious, which is that MPs are free to believe whatever they choose, as long as they vote with the party (something already inimical to Canada’s parliamentary system). See CBC article here.
I’m not really interested in why Trudeau brought up abortion or why he stated the obvious about how MPs are expected to vote; what interests me, as you can probably guess from this post’s introduction, is the Catholic Church’s public reaction to his statement.
Bishop Christian Riesbeck called for Trudeau to retract his “scandalous” words and the Ottawa archdiocese urged Trudeau to meet with Archbishop Terrence Prendergast to discuss his non Catholic abortion views. Trudeau, declined the meeting, and rightly stated:
I have a lot of respect for his eminence and for any leaders within the church, but I do want to highlight that he has a very different role than I do. My role is to stand up and defend all Canadians and my role in terms of that is separate from any personal religious views.
Maybe the Catholic leaders are right – Trudeau is a bad Catholic, but that’s just too bad because as a Canadian politician his religion is not supposed to interfere with the secular, liberal democratic and enlightened society he governs. The Catholic Church can be as angry as it wants to be, but publicly pressuring Trudeau to compromise his secular values – that’s what’s really scandalous! It seems the Catholic Church recognizes freedom of religion but only when that freedom doesn’t contradict the Catholic religion.