TORONTO, Ont. March 31, 2005 - The Catholic Civil Rights League (www.ccrl.ca) today expressed its support for Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary in the human rights complaint launched against him in Alberta based on a pastoral letter he wrote to Church members in January about Church teaching and same sex "marriage". The letter was later published in his column in a Calgary newspaper. The human rights complaint was filed with the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission by two individuals.
Commenting on the case, League President Phil Horgan said, "This action strikes at the core of freedom of speech and freedom of religion guaranteed to all Canadians in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Bishop Henry's remarks were completely consistent with a Church leader fulfilling his teaching function. Homosexual practices, adultery, prostitution, and pornography are all sinful acts in the teachings of the Church. It has always been recognized that with all serious sins, the state has a responsibility in exercising its authority to promote the common good whether through the Criminal Code, tax policy, education standards or the other broad areas of its jurisdiction. Bishop Henry raises legitimate questions of what impact current policies will have on the understanding of the family.
"In fact, Bishop Henry has personally been the subject of the state's coercive power, starting when an official of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency threatened to challenge the charitable status of the Diocese. (The bishop had spoken out on the apparent moral incoherence of the Prime Minister, who continues to make reference to his standing in the Catholic Church (League press releases, Oct. 25).)
“A bishop has every right to raise concerns on matters directly related to the teachings of the Catholic Church, as many of our bishops are currently doing in the public debate on marriage and family,” said Mr. Horgan.
"On the other hand, there have been numerous and extreme insults against the Church and individual Church leaders in the publications and websites of many of Canada's gay advocacy organizations, who have described the Church as a "vile religion" which should be "purged", and have characterized its leaders as bigots. The Church has for millenia been the subject of attack, and it will no doubt continue. It appears that our fears of future persecution arising from adhering to a traditional understanding of morality are being realized. We hope that the Alberta Human Rights Commission will not allow itself to be exploited by opponents of the Church to trample on religious freedoms. It's time all persons attempting to debate this important social question learn to respect freedoms of conscience, religion and speech," said Mr. Horgan.
In media information, Bishop Henry said he does not believe his letter violated Alberta human rights law. “Freedom of religion and freedom of speech are also fundamental rights in Canada. The Alberta human rights legislation must be interpreted in a way to uphold freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Otherwise, the state could dictate what Roman Catholics can and cannot say and can limit Catholics from speaking out on any issue,” said Bishop Henry.
If the human rights complaint is successful, he added, it would prevent him and other Church leaders from speaking out freely in opposition to same-sex marriage. It would also prevent him from “outlining the position of the Roman Catholic Church to those who attend church in my diocese,” he said.
Catholic Civil Rights League (www.ccrl.ca) assists in creating conditions within which Catholic teachings can be better understood, cooperates with other organizations in defending civil rights in Canada, and opposes defamation and discrimination against Catholics on the basis of their beliefs. CCRL was founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization. The Catholic Civil Rights League is a Canadian non-profit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its members.
For further information: Joanne McGarry, Executive Director, 416-466-8244; firstname.lastname@example.org