Did you know that the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, CCCB, released a pastoral letter on May 14, 2012, titled "Pastoral Letter on Freedom of Conscience and Religion"? This was a month before the Accepting Schools Act, Bill 13 passed into law. No doubt the bishops must have been concerned that the legislation threatened the very existence of Catholic schools and religious freedom in Ontario. The bishops must have believed that it was possible to negotiate with the governing Liberal Party. Parents who had been protesting this proposed law with letters, presentations at board meetings and rallies had a different view. But the pastoral letter is an admission without saying so that those who took the battle to the public square, to the legislative assembly and to school board trustees had it right all along. The Liberals had no intention of compromising and thus allowing the Catholic schools to teach the Catechism and address bullying from a Catholic perspective. Even Christian parents and those from other cultures would be denied the option to exempt their children from the "Equity and Inclusive" education, read LGBT, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender.
So why bother with a letter when the writing has been on the wall for years? Why write a document that says all the right things about Catholic education, religious liberty and freedom of conscience if you have no pastoral plan to fight back to defend Church teaching? Why hasn't the so called Catholic teachers' union been told to remove the word "Catholic" from its name even as this organization continues to promote anti-Catholic ideas on human sexuality, the family and the person? Why do foundation courses in the faith that are taught to new Catholic teachers contain contents that openly contradict the Catechism? Why release a pastoral letter with few pastors bothering to mention it to the faithful or in support of what is says? Does anyone know of a diocese in the province that got behind this document in a meaningful way? In the end, the pastoral letter is just a map with no indication of a territory behind it.
The questions to ask are these: Why doesn't the pastoral letter address the problems about religious freedom in Ontario and the rest of Canada? Doesn't a pastoral letter imply that there's a strategy in place? We already have sound Church documents on the issue of religious freedom, but what's needed is that they must be lived, implemented and fought for when the Church is under attack. All the faithful got during the "Equity and Inclusive" education and Bill 13 government battle against the Church, was mostly silence. The bishop's letter points to St. Thomas More as a model in terms of following one's conscience and standing firm for one's faith. But lovely written statements and lofty, abstract ideals are easy to hold. What is not so easy is to bring those faith ideals and truth to the public square, to live them and to defend against a morally corrupt government. This is the badly needed faith leadership.
In the July/August issue of Catholic Insight, Ian Hunter former law professor from Western University in article titled, "The Premier and the Cardinal" makes this telling point: "the Canadian Coference of Catholic Bishops chose to issue a public call to the Catholic laity to become 'courageous defenders of the faith'. Excuse me? Is this the same CCCB who forty years ago sold the faithful down the river in their Winnipeg Statement by declining to follow the clear teaching of the encyclical Humane Vitae? The very last place any Catholic would look for a courageous defence of the faith is the CCCB."
The passage of Bill 13 should be wake up call for the faithful, the bishops and the priests who see that in our Catholic schools, our families and our parishes, we have lost our way. We can all use a good public confession on this. Much of Catholic education left our schools, our parishes and our families a long time ago, otherwise legislation like Bill 13 would have never passed. As a result, we should now be thinking about how best to answer these concerns as the new school year opens: Will trustees, teachers, parents, students and everyone working in the school system practice their faith? Will there be loyalty to the Magisterium? Will the teachers' union stop promoting anti-Catholic teaching? Are parents ready to be good example for their children to follow in living the faith? Will the bishops and the parish priests lead the faithful out of this moral crisis of faith?
Let's be honest and admit that we are all to blame for losing so much of our "Catholic" identity. The slow faith erosion has now become visible. Our culture of buying and selling has sold and bought us all in one way or another. However, if there's going to be a future for Catholic education in this province, it will depend on how much we are willing to pray for it, how hard we try to live it, and how much we are willing to sacrifice for it to become a strong reality. May God help us in this quest for faith.