Bishop Frederick Henry on the Church in Canada

«We Are Not Nearly Countercultural Enough or Prophetic Enough»

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CALGARY, Alberta, DEC. 11, 2005 ( A culture with a morality gone awry needs countercultural Catholics to proclaim Christ while working alongside dissenting groups, says a Canadian bishop.

In an interview with ZENIT, Bishop Frederick Henry, 62, of the Diocese of Calgary, shared his pastoral views and strategies of how Catholics can live in an increasingly secular culture and take an active role in influencing it for the good.

Q: Can you give us a sense of the state of the Church and the culture in Canada today?

Bishop Henry: I believe that we are a society in moral disarray. Relativism reigns supreme. There are no boundaries, no absolutes, no guiding principles.

Our primary institutions, i.e. marriage and family life, are being reinvented in an untested but ideologically driven social experiment. There is an evident lack of integrity among many in government and yet we complained about the proposal of a federal election during the holiday season.

We’re also part of an economy that pulls us apart. We’re in an economy of paradoxes. Some live in gated communities and some live in boxes under bridges. The stock market goes up and up, yet many of us wonder whether our children will live as well as we do.

Our economy is among the most productive and powerful on earth, but in a real sense it is not one economy; it’s three.

In the first economy, people are pulling ahead. Well educated, highly motivated people are managing investment, creating jobs, maximizing trade with great economic and personal rewards. They are doing very well economically and in other ways. They’re moving ahead.

In a second economy, people are being left behind. Millions of families are without jobs, fathers, a decent income, or a decent place to live. The hungry and homeless in our midst, the immigrants and the migrants that we see in our communities and our towns, they’ve been left behind. Their question is not whether the stock market will keep rising, but will I be able to pay the rent? Can I afford shoes for my kids? Will we be able to stay together and pay the rent? They’ve been left behind. They are symptoms of an economy that leaves millions behind. Discrimination, racism and sexism make all of these problems worse.

Then there’s a third economy where most of us live; where we’re doing fine at one level, but we feel very vulnerable. Will we keep our jobs? Will we keep our health?

Another sign of the times is a growing culture of violence, especially among our youth. Consider the violent behavior we see all around us, on our streets, in our homes, on our television and movie screens.

Perhaps most ominously, our society increasingly looks to violent measures to solve our most difficult problems. Thousands of abortions deal with problem pregnancies. Now there is increasing advocacy of euthanasia and assisted suicide to deal with problems of age and illness.

However, the news is not all bad. The good news is that there is a growing rediscovery of moral values and religious impact in Canadian life.

There is a renewed interest in spirituality. It is now increasingly recognized that the most important issues have clear moral consequences and religious dimensions. From abortion to apartheid, from health care to human rights, from environment to euthanasia, from welfare to warfare, there are clear ethical principles and religious values at stake.

Religious leaders and religious communities are increasingly active in the public arena. There can be no ultimate separation of faith and life, faith and culture.

Q: In light of the recent political moves, for instance, the gay marriage issue, do you think Catholics are becoming more mobilized to defend their values?

Bishop Henry: A constant challenge is to determine whether our faith shapes our culture and our politics, or is it the other way around? I’m afraid that too many Catholics have become too complacent and too tolerant. We are not nearly countercultural enough or prophetic enough.

Nevertheless, recent issues, such as same-sex marriage, have served as an evangelization moment and as a wake-up call within and beyond the Catholic community.

We also need to be better organized and proactive, better educated, and more involved and responsible as stewards of a beautiful created world given to us on trust.

Q: In the wake of the same-sex marriage law, do you foresee a danger of more discrimination against the Church and Catholic organizations?

Bishop Henry: Absolutely! The attempt will be made to continue the process of privatizing and/or marginalizing religion.

The churches will be treated as just another special interest group among many others and a rather weird one at that. The Human Rights Commissions and Tribunals will in all likelihood be used as the thought-police of politically correct thinking.

It will be argued that the Charter of Rights and the new law regarding same-sex marriages compel public schools to teach their students the moral equivalency of heterosexual and homosexual relations and marriages.

Furthermore, to the extent that these concepts are explored in health and physical education classes, the exploration must be equivalent. The argument will be that any other approach would be discriminatory and contrary to the equality rights under s.15(1) of the Charter and the numerous court cases that have led to the passage of Bill C-38.

The impact of the social re-engineering is bound to filter down to school classrooms.

Q: Do you have a specific pastoral strategy to respond to the needs of the nation?

Bishop Henry: I thank God that we have the Catholic school system where we can emphasize and celebrate the two wonderful and complementary gifts that God gave us: reason and faith.

I believe that we have to continue to proclaim «Jesus Christ, the one Savior of the world, yesterday, today and forever.»

However, taking our inspiration from the pedagogy of the Incarnation, we will have to walk with Christ beside men and women of today, supporting them in their difficult search for the truth and making them in some way feel the presence of the Redeemer in everyday life, which is marked by uncertainty about the future, by injustice, by confusion and at times by despair.

We are the traveling companions of our contemporaries to whom we witness the good news, by appreciating their culture and by dialoguing with them — starting with what is positive among them.

As Catholics we may well disagree with some of the demands and goals of the groups marching beside us. Nevertheless, we are clear in what we stand for. We do not have to fear or shield ourselves against others who have different views and beliefs. As we walk, we have the opportunity to tell who we are, what we support, what we believe in and what we oppose.

Q: How can individual Catholics more effectively influence the culture for the good?

Bishop Henry: I think that the time has come to «push back» and get involved.

Catholics need to feel more obliged than ever not to neglect their duties as citizens in this world. Theirs is the task of contributing with the light of the Gospel to the building of a more human world, a world fully in harmony with God’s plan.

Within the Catholic community we have to do even more to strengthen our marriage preparation and marriage enrichment courses, our accompaniment of the separated and divorced and the bereaved who have lost spouses, and our celebration of marriage and the beauty of human sexuality in God’s plan. Many of us are committed to working for a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as the union of a man and woman to the exclusion of all others.

Q: What would you say about the issue of Catholic politicians voting contrary to Catholic moral principles? How can Catholics be more active in bringing Church teaching into the political scene?

ishop Henry: Catholic politicians have a duty to be morally coherent. They cannot live as spiritual schizophrenics.

In undertaking any public initiative, it is morally incoherent to leave out completely one’s own fundamental convictions, whether for noble or pragmatic reasons. The truth regarding the human person and obligations to uphold this truth do not change when a politician leaves the security of the home and ventures into the secular or political sphere. In all that he or she does, the Catholic politician must work to proclaim and put into action the truth about man and the world.

All Catholic politicians would do well to imitate the example of St. Thomas More, who by his life and death taught that man cannot be separated from God, nor politics from morality. In him, there was no sign of a split between faith and culture, between timeless principles and daily life, but rather a convergence of political commitment.

While serving all, More knew well how to serve his king, that is the state, but above all wanted to serve God: «The king’s good servant, but God’s first.»

When a politician acts in a manner that is scandalous to the faithful, harmful to society, and gravely immoral, I believe that in keeping with Canon 223, «Ecclesiastical authority is entitled to regulate, in view of the common good, the exercise of rights which are proper to Christ’s faithful.»

Although not the first course of action, this includes the right to holy Communion. For as Canon 915 states: «Those […] who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy Communion.»

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