It was another busy day at the Archdiocesan Office in Quebec City as the Cardinal was about to address the media and answer their questions on abortion. This happened less than two weeks after Cardinal Marc Ouellet's words, as reported in the media, caused a firestorm of critiques and personal attacks in la belle province
. Today came a clarification, with a decidedly pastoral tone. And this time the Archbishop of Quebec was accompanied by the Archbishop of Ottawa Terrence Prendergast.
We publish here the full statements of both prelates. What remains to be seen is the reception these two declarations will receive inside and outside the Church. Will they lead to more criticism? Or can Canada, in the words of Cardinal Ouellet, finally "face up to the injustice our country condones in offering no legal protection for a child in its mother’s womb"? One hopes, at the very least, for a more reasoned discussion than the country has witnessed these past few weeks, for, as the Cardinal Ouellet boldly states, "there is
debate, and there must be debate."
The abortion debate is on and we must not be afraid of it. Canada’s abortion rate, 100,000 abortions per year nationwide, more than 25,000 in Quebec, is much too high. The number could be reduced by half if only women in distress because of an unexpected pregnancy were welcomed, informed and accompanied in their choice with compassion and solidarity.
My interventions on behalf of a culture of life have been the subject of every sort of interpretation in Canada’s English and French media in the past ten days. That is why I wish to clarify the sense of my engagement in the current abortion debate. Thank you for accepting my invitation and allowing me to re-focus the debate on what is essential. The very exceptional cases must not prevent us from seeing the sad reality of abortion that has become too widespread.
I wish to thank Ottawa’s Archbishop Terrence Prendergast who joins me in launching an appeal for solidarity with the most helpless in our society: the unborn child and the woman who is forced to resort to abortion.
From the outset, I want to emphasize that my comment in defence of the innocent child, even in cases of rape, was motivated by the desire to call to mind the dignity of women in all circumstances, and the respect due to all new human life. I note that only part of my message has been received and interpreted. I wish to draw attention to the other part, in the hope of raising public awareness of the true issue in this debate: support for the pregnant woman by the father of the child, her family and society.
Nowhere did I state that I condemn a woman who has resorted to abortion. I have even asserted the opposite when speaking directly to one of these women during a television program. I have never declared that a woman who has undergone an abortion is a criminal. I am fully aware that the ultimate responsibility for this moral decision is a matter of personal conscience which acts on the basis of various factors, including the individual’s intentions and the circumstances. Only God can judge each person because He alone can assess all the elements of each case.
My intention has always been to call to mind the objective moral standard with concern for saving the life of the innocent child and sparing the mother the grave consequences of a deliberately provoked abortion: it is precisely concern for the physical, psychological and spiritual health of women in difficulty that motivated my interventions. I am genuinely sorry that my remarks, distorted or cited out of context, may have caused additional suffering to women facing such situations. I hope that this clarification will help set the record straight and re-focus the debate.
For there is debate, and there must be debate, even if a motion in Quebec and an affirmation by the Prime Minister in Ottawa go in the opposite direction and constitute a refusal to re-visit the legislation on abortion.
I deplore this attitude of many of our representatives who do not appear willing to face up to the injustice our country condones in offering no legal protection for a child in its mother’s womb. In this regard, our country is unique in the world. Many are unaware of this fact and believe they are living in a country that is one of the most advanced in the area of human rights. But we have no lessons to offer to anyone in this field. We should even be more open to what is done elsewhere to have a clearer view of what we must improve to protect the voiceless children who wish to come into the world.
With my colleague, the Archbishop of Ottawa, who like me has close ties to governments, I am appealing to the conscience of my fellow Canadians, women and men, so that together we may one day call for a change in this unjust situation in our country – the current legal void in abortion matters.
However, in view of the political and legal impasse in which we live, I am launching an appeal with my Ottawa colleague for an awareness campaign and more programs providing assistance for women in distress in Canada. There is a great scarcity of information, support and financial assistance to enable pregnant women to make an informed choice. It is vital that more effective aid programs for women facing a difficult pregnancy be implemented at every level, governmental, medical and social, so that the largest possible number may avoid abortion.
The current debate unexpectedly presents us with a choice for society that may extend beyond the usual divisions and rally the greatest number. The presence of young people in this debate reveals a new sensitivity, different from that of twenty years ago. The family experience has also undergone significant change, but the fact remains that the arrival of a child brings a family immense happiness.
This value is added to an entire heritage of social solidarity for the most helpless, which constitutes our pride, and demands of Quebec and of all the provinces of Canada a new choice. From now on, it is the responsibility of every individual to reflect on this choice. Let us not fear this debate that will shape the future of our nation.
(Original language: French)
Archbishop Terrence Prendergast read the following in English.
1) Two weeks ago, nearly twelve thousand people gathered on Parliament Hill and thousands more in several Canadian cities to stand up in defence of the unborn. These people represent many in the silent majority who are on the side of life. The significant Pro-Life caucus of our Federal Government works quietly, day after day, to keep human life at the top of the Government agenda.
2) To be actively in favour of life is to contribute to the renewal of society through the promotion of the common good. It is impossible to further the common good without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. There can be no true peace unless life is defended and promoted.
3) We must never lose sight of the atrocities against the unborn, the untold and too-seldom spoken of pain and lingering anguish experienced by those who have been involved in abortions; doing otherwise has severely narrowed our national discourse about moral values in the public square.
4) Whatever is opposed to life itself, whatever violates the dignity of the human person, whatever insults human dignity … all of these things and more poison human society. Concern about abortion and the implications for the mother and her child does not excuse indifference to those who suffer from poverty, violence and injustice. We must strive to see the whole picture, not with tunnel vision. We cannot ignore the other great challenges faced by humanity today. But that is not our topic today.
5) For, the right to life is primordial. In Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, (Charity in Truth), the Holy Father addresses clearly the dignity and respect for human life: “Openness to life is at the centre of true development… When a society moves toward the denial or suppression of life, it ends up no longer finding the necessary motivation and energy to strive for man’s true good. If personal and social sensitivity toward the acceptance of a new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away.”
6) Favouring the cause of life is not an activity for a political party or a particular side of the spectrum. It is an obligation for everyone: left, right and centre! If we are in favour of life—pro-woman, pro-child, pro-family, we must engage the culture around us and offer positive solutions. It is this positive purpose that has brought me here today to join with Cardinal Ouellet to make an appeal on behalf of women who find themselves without helpful alternatives when they face an unanticipated pregnancy and on behalf of the child the woman carries in her womb.
7) All across Canada, there are public, Catholic and Christian centres that reach out to help those in distress over pregnancy and new life. The outstanding work of Birthright cuts across all religious and sectarian lines and stands for life. Many cities, from Vancouver to St. John’s, have crisis pregnancy centres which provide safe places, welcome, and options for young women and men to preserve, protect and uphold the life of the newly conceived child as well as their own human dignity. There, ordinary people reach out to those in crisis and distress to save lives.
What His Eminence and I are asking today is that governmental agencies take on their proper role in affording help for pregnant women in distress—and others affected by new life in the womb—to reduce the extraordinarily high number of abortions in our country.