Most Reverend Pierre Morissette
Bishop of St. Jerome
President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
Dear Bishop P. Morissette:
To begin with we congratulate you as the newly elected President of the Bishops of Canada. It’s reassuring to know that at the last Plenary Assembly, held in Cornwall 19-23 October, the Bishops of Canada approved a number of positive proposals. We’re certain that of central importance to Catholics is the establishment of a committee to promote a culture of life and family in Canada. This is a good initiative, but the Bishops could have done more, and here’s why.
We’re writing as concerned Catholic parents and Canadian citizens who continue to see the moral decay that our society is experiencing with the serious issues of abortion, contraception and the negative changes to marriage and family life. It was over forty years ago that the encyclical Humanae Vitae was published. The evil results of not following its teachings have transformed our views, but sadly and more importantly our actions. Here in Canada, and elsewhere in the world, we have come to accept more and more a culture of death, a culture that continues to devalue life at all stages. We see it in the number of abortions done every year. We see it in the current efforts to legalize euthanasia. We see it in the law which has redefined traditional marriage and in the widespread acceptance and the use of contraceptives.
It’s also more than forty years since the Canadian Bishops made some controversial statements in reference to Humanae Vitae. One was with respect to contraception that there were three situations in which “whoever chooses that course which seems right to him does so in good conscience.” (Paragraph 26) This statement, now generally known as "The Winnipeg Statement," certainly does not honestly reflect the wisdom of the encyclical, and it has been misleading in terms of theology. If we let individuals or governments choose what’s right and wrong, we then permit actions which may be carried out in “good conscience” but may in fact be immoral. We “render unto Caesar the things...that are God’s.” (Matthew: 22:21) A good example of this is today’s widespread use of contraceptives among Catholic families. In turn, this facilitates the notion for husband and wife to regard each other as objects of sexual pleasure. As well, it has reduced our reproductive rate in Canada to well below the replacement level. This may soon become the real economic crisis.
While it’s no doubt commendable for the Bishops to have a committee examine how we can promote life and family, would it not be more effective to say to Canadian Catholics to simply and to completely follow the teachings of Humanae Vitae? Language is very important in shaping thought. Words affect our thinking and this in turn shapes our actions. When we subvert the true meaning of words like “conscience” we distort the very language that guides our thinking and living. The misuse of words can easily lead to dishonest talk and unjust laws. It was in September 22-26, 2008, that the Canadian Bishops met and issued a pastoral letter titled, “Liberating Potential.” It calls on all Catholics to once again examine the value of the encyclical Humanae Vitae and to start rebuilding a culture of life in Canada.
This was a good start to erase the error of "The Winnipeg Statement." However, the Canadian Bishops should have gone further then and now. As you know, we’re celebrating in 2009-2010 the Year of the Priests; we pray for all our priests and urge the Canadian Bishops to correct the past mistake and now proclaim the Truth. A huge moral wound which has detrimentally hurt many programs, institutions and Catholic publications needs to be healed. As Shepherds, this special jubilee year is an opportune time to give the flock the perfect example of admitting to having made an error and now wanting to correct it. Canadian Catholics deserve more than a committee to support life. In Jesus we find mercy with no end, but we need to acknowledge our failures.
We sincerely hope and pray that you our Catholics leaders, our Bishops have the courage and humility to do this. It could serve as a culminating moment in Canadian Catholic history when the Shepherds paved the way for the rebirth of the Church in Canada. No ad hoc committee alone can accomplish this.
Thank you for time and attention to this very important matter. Best wishes to you in your new position. Our prayers are with you all.
Lou and Michelle Iacobelli