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Deacon-structing end of life issues: Life, liberty and security


As we explore the issues of end of life and medically assisted dying, we can’t ignore the question of freedom and human rights since one of the basic arguments for euthanasia and assisted suicide is that of autonomy: “it’s my body; my choice.”

In Canada we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If you haven’t read it, you should. This is the law in Canada. I am not an expert, nor have a really studied the Charter, but sometimes I think that this is not the best thing to have since it’s vague and open to many interpretations.

As an example, the Supreme Court of British Columbia determined in 1993 that the request made by Sue Rodriguez for assisted death violated Sections 7 (the right to “life, liberty, and security of the person), 12 (protection against “cruel and unusual punishment”), and 15(1) (equality) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Two decades later, using the same Charter, this ruling in Rodriguez was overturned in the 2015 decision in Carter v Canada, by the Supreme Court of Canada.

How is it that 22 years ago Supreme Court judges can look at the Charter and determine that legalized assisted dying is unconstitutional and today, the Supreme Court of Canada can look at the same Charter and determine that to deny assisted dying in fact, violates the Charter? I think that if it was clear, no matter the individual values of the judges making the ruling, the decisions would always be the same.

Section 7 of the Charter says that, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice” but nowhere does it define what those terms, life, liberty and security, mean. Would someone define “life” as a state wherein the person is useful and competent? If your life does not have liberty or security, can it be considered a life? Is a “life” defined by merely as someone who is alive? Who decides? Are these decisions based on the whim of the fleeting societal values of any particular time?

We also get into trouble because sometimes the secular world and Christians use the same words, but we have completely different meanings.

Take the word “Liberty”. What does it mean? Does it mean “freedom”? Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, during the Every Life Matters series made a very clear distinction between the words, “freedom” and “license”.

Archbishop Smith said, “License is refusal of all limit and constraint in order to do what I want. Freedom is liberty within limit to do what I must. This “ought” flows from my pledge of fidelity to the love of God. The limit within which we exercise freedom is truth: the truth of our creaturely dependence upon God, the truth of our relationship of interdependence with others, and the truth that I am not my own.”

And so, what most people refer to when they speak of freedom or liberty is not freedom at all; it’s license. “I should be able to do whatever I want” is not freedom; it’s chaos. (For more on freedom read Pope Francis’ homily from this morning’s Jubilee for young people.)

But more importantly, if all Canadians are endowed with the inherent rights of life, liberty and security – and those rights are equal – what happens when one of those rights comes up against the other? What happens when your right to liberty or security goes up against your right to life? What happens when my right to life goes up against your right to liberty?

This is where a bit of logic can be of assistance. These three inherent rights are equal, but they are hierarchical in fundament. That means that one is more fundamental than the other two.

Take a house, for example. In order to be a house, a house needs a foundation, it needs walls and it needs a roof. All are equally important. Without a foundation, without a roof, or without walls, the building ceases to be a house. They are equal. But, can you have walls without a foundation? Can you have a roof without walls? Therefore even though all three are equally important, the foundation is more fundamental than the walls and the roof. The walls are also more fundamental than the roof. The roof is the least fundamental of the three because it needs the other two in order to exist.

It’s the same with life, liberty and security: You can’t have security without life and liberty and you can’t have liberty without life. Therefore life is the more fundamental of these three inherent rights. Liberty is more fundamental than security. This means that when security or liberties go up against life, life should always win. If my right to security goes up against my right to liberty, my right to liberty should always win, because it is more fundamental.

Our laws may say this thing or that thing, but that doesn’t make it necessarily right. We have to be clear as to what we believe and have to be able to explain it to others.

Now there may be lawyers among you reading this and there may be some among you who have indeed studied the Charter. I welcome your comments on my little musing for today.

Again, I invite you to watch the Every Life Matters series, presented by Archbishop Richard Smith of the Archdiocese of Edmonton. You can watch all the webcasts at www.caedm.ca. The TV broadcasts began last night, April 23 on Salt + Light TV. Here’s the broadcast schedule if you prefer to watch them on TV.
And again, I invite you to watch my award-winning documentary, Turning the Tide, which deals with Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide in Canada and with its study guide, is perfect for classroom or a parish study.


Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: pedro@saltandlighttv.org

Coast to Coast: April 17 to April 23


Here’s a look at what we’ve been reading across the country this week:

One of Canada’s two member of the Pontifical Academy for Life has suggestions on how Canadians should handle the newly proposed bill on euthanasia.

In Winnipeg, Catholic health care providers weighed in on the new proposed bill and offered their own suggestions.

In Edmonton, the archdiocese hosted an in-depth exploration and discussion of the issues that surround euthanasia.

Meanwhile, in Vancouver, the church is trying to unpack the messages in the pope’s post-synodal exhortation “Amoris Laetitia”


Every Life Matters


Canada is facing the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia and for many people, Catholics especially, this raises very serious concerns: About our respect for the principle of the sanctity of human life; what will this mean for the protection of our vulnerable people? How will this affect our healthcare professionals who may be forced to participate in these practices against their conscience? We need to discuss all of this and that is why Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton has invited all of us to join him for the series that he’s titled Every Life Matters.

The series included a series of five conversations with Archbishop Smith and several other legal and medical professionals, as well as parents and people suffering from disabilities. These took place all over the Archdiocese of Edmonton and were streamed live on the Internet.

Every Life Matters will begin airing on S+L TV Saturdays and Wednesdays, starting this Saturday, at 9pm ET / 7pm MT.

1. What’s it all About? Airs Saturday, April 23 – 9pm ET / 7pm MT (Repeats: Sunday, April 24  – 1 am ET / Saturday, April 23 – 11 pm MT)

With special guests Kate Faught, a lawyer specializing in estate litigation, and Dr. Anna Voeuk, a physician specializing in palliative care.

2. What’s Wrong with Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia? Airs Wednesday, April 27 – 9pm ET / 7pm MT (Repeats: Thursday, April 28 – 1 am PT / Wednesday, April 27 – 11 pm MT)

With special guests Lisa Daniels, a young mother who tells her own personal story of finding meaning, purpose and happiness in life despite suffering debilitating pain; and Dr. Anna Voeuk, a palliative care physician who speaks about the need for improved access to palliative care for all Canadians. Archbishop Smith explains and illustrates Church teaching around suicide and euthanasia.

3. It’s My Body, My Choice – Airs Saturday, April 30 – 9pm ET / 7pm MT (Repeats: Sunday, May 1 – 1 am PT / Saturday, April 30 – 11 pm MT)

With special guests Father Eamonn McNerney, a hospital chaplain who shares his personal experience with a family whose loved one requested euthanasia, and Dr. Robert Hauptman, a specialist in pain management who maintains that with modern medical care, no patient should have to suffer intolerable pain. Archbishop Smith explains and illustrates Church teaching around freedom, choice, and personal autonomy — concepts that are often used to justify assisted suicide and euthanasia.

4. I Don’t Want to Suffer – Airs Wednesday, May 4 – 9pm ET / 7pm MT (Repeats: Thursday, May 5 – 1 am PT / Wednesday, May 4 – 11 pm MT)

With special guests Jeri and Chuck Marple, who tell us how their disabled daughter Mary has been a blessing in their lives, and Dr. Anna Voeuk, a palliative care physician speaks on caring for the caregivers and families of those with severe illness or disability, or nearing end of life. Archbishop Smith teaches on the Christian understanding of the mystery of suffering.

5. What Must We Do? Airs Saturday, May 7 – 9pm ET / 7pm MT (Repeats: Sunday, May 8 – 11 pm ET / Saturday, May 7 – 11 pm MT)

With special guests Mark Pickup, who tells of a very dark time when he came close to losing the will to live, and Dr. Anna Voeuk, who asks us all to defend doctors, nurses and pharmacists who refuse to participate in assisted suicide or euthanasia. Archbishop Smith offers four concrete ways we as Catholics can defend human life against such attacks.

And once again, let me invite you to watch our award-winning documentary, Turning the Tide, which deals with all these issues and questions related to the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide. With its study guide, this 28-minute film is perfect for classroom or a parish or home study.


Statement from Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto, on the federal euthanasia/assisted suicide legislation


On April 14, 2016, the federal government introduced legislation that, if passed, will amend the criminal code to make euthanasia/assisted suicide legal in Canada.

At a time when our priority should be fostering a culture of love, and enhancing resources for those suffering and facing death, assisted suicide leads us down a dark path. At first sight it may seem an attractive option, a quick and merciful escape from the suffering that can be experienced in life, but fuller reflection reveals its grim implications, not only for the individual but for our society, and especially for those who are most vulnerable. Such fuller reflection is sorely need now. Just days ago, Pope Francis stated, “Care and concern for the final stages of life is all the more necessary today, when contemporary society attempts to remove every trace of death and dying…Euthanasia and assisted suicide are serious threats to families worldwide.”

In the coming days I, along with others who share deep concerns about assisted suicide, will study the proposed legislation carefully and continue to advocate for the most vulnerable among us. I thank the thousands of Canadians, of many faiths or no faith at all, who have reached out to elected representatives, respectfully expressing their concerns regarding the unsettling recommendations included in the parliamentary joint committee report.

I would encourage all those who are troubled by the prospect of assisted suicide to continue to dialogue with their members of parliament, both at the federal and provincial level to:

  • Prioritize effective palliative care for all, and support for those experiencing chronic suffering of any kind. We must especially offer love and compassionate assistance to those who are tempted to suicide.
  • Protect health care workers across Canada who oppose participating in euthanasia/assisted suicide, either by doing it personally or by arranging for it to be done (that is, referring for these procedures.) Their conscience rights are protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and those rights must be respected in practice. In protecting them, we protect those they serve.
  • Protect health care institutions, hospices and long-term care facilities whose mission, vision, and values commit them each day to heal, not to hasten death. a cold world of euthanasia, havens of hope are all the more needed.

A discussion about death is never an easy one. Yet now, more than ever, Canadians across the country need to be fully informed and mindful of the implications of this legislation.

In a familiar Catholic prayer we meditate on the two key moments of life: now, and the hour of our death. In these days ahead, may that reflection guide us as in a spirit of love, mercy and compassion, we journey with all those who are suffering.

Thomas Cardinal Collins
Archbishop of Toronto
April 14, 2016


Thank you, John Paul II!


A video tribute to a great saint who walked among us on the 11th Anniversary of his death.

Bishop Bolen on the CCCB response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops released their response to the call to action issued by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission . Bishop Donald Bolen of Saskatoon is the head of the Canadian Bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission. He answers questions about the Church’s response to the TRC’s call to action, what it means, why it is necessary, and what comes next.

Related readings:
  • A Catholic Response to the “Doctrine of Discovery” and Terra Nullius. Download here.
  • A Catholic Response to Call to Action 48 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Download here.
  • An interview with Bishop Donal Bolen: Transcript. Download here.
  • The Catholic Church and the TRC: An op-ed by Bishop Bolen. Download here. 
Perspectives Daily

The “Doctrine of Discovery” and Terra Nullius: A Catholic Response


The following text considers and repudiates illegitimate concepts and principles used by Europeans to justify the seizure of land previously held by Indigenous Peoples and often identified by the terms Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius. An appendix provides an historical overview of the development of these concepts vis-a-vis Catholic teaching and of their repudiation. The presuppositions behind these concepts also undergirded the deeply regrettable policy of the removal of Indigenous children from their families and cultures in order to place them in residential schools. The text includes commitments which are recommended as a better way of walking together with Indigenous Peoples.


The Truth and Reconciliation process of recent years has helped us to recognize anew the historical abuses perpetrated against Indigenous peoples in our land. We have also listened to and been humbled by courageous testimonies detailing abuse, inhuman treatment, and cultural denigration committed through the residential school system. In this brief note, which is an expression of our determination to collaborate with First Nations, Inuit and Métis in moving forward, and also in part a response to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we would like to reflect in particular on how land was often seized from its Indigenous inhabitants without their consent or any legal justification. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council and other Catholic organizations have been reflecting on the concepts of the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius for some time (a more detailed historical analysis is included in the attached Appendix).


We believe that now is an appropriate time to issue a public statement in response to the errors and falsehoods perpetuated, often by Christians, during and following the so-called Age of Discovery. In light of all this, as Catholics:

1. We firmly assert that Indigenous people, created in the image and likeness of God our Creator, ought to have had their fundamental human rights recognized and respected in the past, and that any failure to recognize and respect their humanity and fundamental human rights past or present is to be rejected and resisted in the strongest possible way;

2. We firmly assert that there is no basis in the Church’s Scriptures, tradition, or theology, for the European seizure of land already inhabited by Indigenous Peoples;

3. We reject the assertion that the principle of the first taker or discoverer, often described today by the terms Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius, could be applied to lands already inhabited by Indigenous Peoples;

4. We reject the assertion that the mere absence of European agricultural practices, technologies, or other aspects common to European culture, could justify the claiming of land as if it had no owner;

5. We reject the assertion that Europeans could determine whether land was used or occupied by Indigenous people without consulting those people.


We have read the Truth and Reconciliation Report’s treatment of the Doctrine of Discovery, and understand the connection made by the Report between the injustices committed in relation to land and resources and those committed through the residential school system. The attitudes and policies which deprived Indigenous people of their way of living on the land were closely related to those which assumed that it was good and appropriate to remove Indigenous children from their families and their own cultural system of education and place them in residential schools. We are mindful that Catholics were complicit in these systems. While many of the priests, brothers, sisters and laypeople who worked in the residential schools served with generosity, faithfulness and care, the deeply flawed policies behind the schools, and the abusive actions of some of the personnel among them, left a legacy of suffering.

In addressing this legacy, we echo the words of Pope Francis, pronounced in Bolivia on July 9, 2015: “I say this to you with regret: many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God. . . . Like St. John Paul II, I ask that the Church ‘kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters’.” We are well aware that the flawed policy of assimilation has deeply scarred many Indigenous people and has wounded the original relationship of welcome offered by so many of the first peoples of this land to newcomers.

As we ask for mercy from the Father of us all, we pray that we might find appropriate ways to deal with the waves of hurt and pain caused by members of the Catholic community in the past. We also pray that we might be instilled with the courage which filled Indigenous Peoples as they sought to find a peaceful way forward, and the courage which inspired those prophetic voices in the Church who stood in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples and spoke out against historical injustices, from Bartholomé de Las Casas, who half a millennium ago proclaimed the dignity and rights of the Indigenous peoples of America, to Pope John Paul II, who recognized and celebrated the dignity and beauty of Indigenous Peoples and cultures. We acknowledge that many among the Catholic faithful ignored or did not speak out against the injustice, thereby enabling the violation of Indigenous dignity and rights. It is our hope and prayer that by naming and rejecting those erroneous ideas that lie behind what is commonly called the “Doctrine of Discovery” and terra nullius, we may better recognize the challenges we face today so that we may overcome them together.

Walking Forward Together

Here our concern moves beyond specific references to the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius, to address other areas which are part of the legacy of colonialism and the residential school system. The Truth and Reconciliation Report stressed that a recognition of past wrongs ought to be accompanied by a practical commitment to heal enduring injustices.

As representatives of the Catholic faithful in Canada, and counting on the full collaboration of the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council, we appeal to all our Catholic brothers and sisters — laity, members of institutes of consecrated life and of societies of apostolic life, deacons, priests, and Bishops — to make their own the following commitments, as recommended by the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, in order to continue to walk together with Indigenous Peoples in building a more just society where their gifts and those of all people are nurtured and honoured:

1. Continue to work with Catholic educational institutions and programs of formation in learning to tell the history of Canada in a way that is truthful, ensuring proper treatment of the history and experience of Indigenous Peoples, including the experience of oppression and marginalization which resulted from the Indian Act, the Residential School system, and frequent ignoring or undermining of signed treaties.

2. Work with centres of pastoral and clergy formation to promote a culture of encounter by including the study of the history of Canadian missions, with both their weaknesses and strengths, which encompasses the history of the Indian Residential Schools. In doing this, it will be important to be attentive to Indigenous versions of Canadian history, and for these centres to welcome and engage Indigenous teachers in the education of clergy and pastoral workers, assuring that each student has the opportunity to encounter Indigenous cultures as part of their formation.

3. Call upon theological centres to promote and continue to support Indigenous reflection within the Catholic community, and include this as part of the national ecumenical and interreligious dialogues in which the CCCB is involved.

4. Encourage partnerships between Indigenous groups and existing health care facilities to provide holistic health care, especially in areas where there are significant health needs.

5. Encourage initiatives that would establish and strengthen a restorative justice model within the criminal justice system. Incarceration rates among Indigenous people are many times higher than among the general population, and prisons are not sufficiently places of reconciliation and rehabilitation. Such initiatives include the renewal of the criminal justice system through sentencing and healing circles and other traditional Indigenous ways of dealing with offenders where appropriate and desired by Indigenous peoples.

6. Support the current national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and 4 girls and work with others towards a healthier society where just relations flourish in families and communities, and where those most vulnerable are protected and valued.

7. Support Bishops and their dioceses and eparchies, as well as superiors of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, together with lay Catholic organizations, in deepening and broadening their relationships, dialogue and collaboration with Indigenous Peoples; in developing programs of education on Indigenous experience and culture; and in their efforts to follow up on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, especially those that address faith communities.

8. Encourage Bishops, as well as the superiors of institutes of consecrated life and societies of apostolic life, together with lay Catholic organizations, to invite a greater acquaintance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in their dioceses and eparchies, in their parishes and educational institutions, and in their communities and pastoral work, thus fostering continuing reflection in local contexts on how various aspects of the Declaration can be implemented or supported.

March 19, 2016 Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary Principal patron of Canada

KofC Presents Marching for Life Around the World


In anticipation of the National March for Life to take place on Capitol Hill on Friday, January 22, 2016, despite the impending winter storm, the Knights of Columbus released a video highlighting various Marches for Life from all across the globe. See the video below for glimpses of the Pro-Life movement from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Italy, Ireland and more.

Laudato Si for the Gates of Mercy that are opened to us

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Christmas Message of Bishop Donald Bolen of Saskatoon

Bishop Donald Bolen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, SK, Canada presents his 2015 Christmas message. Music by Zjelko Bilandzic of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Saskatoon.

2015 Video Message for Christmas from the CCCB President

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The Most Reverend Douglas Crosby, O.M.I., Bishop of Hamilton and President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), has videotaped his message for Christmas and the New Year. Entitled Goodness abounds, Bishop Crosby refers similarly to the theme of mercy which the Church celebrates this month and throughout the coming year as the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. The production of this video has been made possible thanks to the collaboration with Salt + Light Television.