What’s the adage? Polite people should never talk about sex, politics or religion. Well, in the Valley if we couldn’t talk about who’s new to Splitsville, who’s running around, what’s going on at the town hall, our MP’s latest outburst, who’s become a holy roller, or the bishop’s latest letter, we would have some pretty boring conversations. Sometimes all three subject areas coalesce as they do in this column.
Don’t be alarmed: my focus is not local, it’s national. And, for this post-federal election Porch Views, I intend to hit all three forbidden topics.
Recently, a reporter asked Conservative leader Andrew Scheer if he thinks homosexuality is a sin. Scheer did not answer the question but repeated several times that he was personally committed to protecting the rights of all Canadians, including LGBTQ ones. Several journalists and politicians have weighed in since. Rex Murphy wrote in the National Post that the question was unfair and tasteless, and he wondered why Trudeau and Singh weren’t asked the same question. Conservative MP Garnett Genuis stated during the taping of CTV’s Question Period that the question is evidence of the Liberal and NDP parties’ “anti-Catholic bigotry.” Jason Kenney used THE QUESTION and Scheer’s refusal to answer directly to warn us, on The West Block, that religious tests for politicians are an attack on freedom. Even before THE QUESTION was posed, Barbara Kay, in the National Post, accused Scheer’s opponents of exploiting his links to conservative Catholicism.
It is common knowledge that Andrew Scheer is Roman Catholic, and a conservative one at that. In conservative (as opposed to nominal, middle-of-the-road and progressive) Catholic circles, Andrew Scheer, Garnett Genuis and Jason Kenney are political darlings because they are assumed to adhere completely to the teachings of the Catholic church. I don’t know if they do, but I do have a pretty good idea of what their conservative Catholic supporters believe – and expect.
The average Canadian likely doesn’t know that conservative Catholics see themselves engaged in a “culture war” and that, through grassroots political activism and education in private Catholic schools, they intend to re-Christianize Canada. Whether or not Scheer, Genuis and Kenney believe this themselves, they are considered the vanguard. Barbara Kay might accuse me of being a conspiracy theorist, but I am not. I speak from experience. Until three years ago, I was one of those conservative Catholics.
I am suspicious
I am suspicious when Andrew Scheer says his “personal commitment to Canadians is to always fight for the rights of all Canadians including LGBTQ Canadians.” I am suspicious because, sadly, like many Canadians, I don’t entirely trust any politician. I am also suspicious because I know what conservative Catholics believe – religiously, morally and politically – about homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
But let’s return to the question. Does Andrew Scheer think that homosexuality is a sin?
The catechetical formula
As a faithful Catholic, he should easily be able to repeat the catechetical formula: the homosexual orientation is, in itself not sinful, although it is intrinsically disordered. Homosexual acts, however, are sinful. Being homosexual is not a sin. Expressing it through erotic activity is.
If the question were posed as, “Do you think being gay is a sin,” a faithful conservative Catholic might have to explain that “gay” is a term with a lot of baggage: it represents a social attitude and a political stance that promotes the legalization of homosexual acts between consenting adults, the normalization of same-sex relationships, the acceptance of same-sex marriage, and the elimination of discrimination for LGBTQ people. If homosexual acts are sinful and being gay means engaging in, or accepting the validity of homosexual acts or marriages, then being gay might be sinful too. This reasoning could explain why Scheer cannot bring himself to walk in a Pride Parade. He has said he never will.
Deflect, deflect, deflect
Scheer and his handlers know he can never answer THE QUESTION directly. To do so would be political suicide: it would alienate the red and the pink Tories and deter Liberals from switching their votes. Instead, he must continually deflect; tell Canadians he has no intention of revisiting Canada’s same-sex marriage laws; and reassure us that we just have to trust that he will guarantee the rights of LGBTQ Canadians.
One should never co-operate with evil
Conservative Catholics believe that one should never co-operate with evil. To do so, would also be sinful. That is why a Catholic priest in South Carolina recently denied Joe Biden communion for his pro-choice stance, and that is why in 2018 the Archbishop of Ottawa said it was “logically impossible” for Justin Trudeau to consider himself Catholic and pro-choice.
The same arguments can be used with homosexuality. If homosexual acts are sinful, then accepting their normalization within marriage would be co-operation with evil, not to mention the destruction of an institution created by God (another evil).
If Andrew Scheer is as faithful a Catholic as conservative Catholics think he is, he has to believe homosexual acts are sinful. And if marriage normalizes that sin, it is fair to assume that he believes same-sex marriage is sinful too. All that considered, can he really be committed to protecting the rights of sinners? Can he even consider those rights to be legitimate?
JFK or Belloc?
For years conservative Catholics in the United States and Canada have been petitioning their bishops to refuse communion to politicians who fail to publicly express or act on their Catholic beliefs on abortion or same-sex marriage. Enter the disingenuous Genuis (sorry, I couldn’t resist that) who suggests it is possible to do that very thing. To believe something, but not act on it.
It is laughable that Genuis would refer to the discrimination JFK faced to get elected as America’s first Catholic president. Kennedy had to assure voters he would separate his personal religious allegiance to Rome from his responsibility to the Republic and the American people. Ever since, conservative Catholics have condemned him for creating a formula which subsequent politicians have used as a “work-around” of the church’s strict moral standards which have become unpalatable in the increasingly secular world. These politicians separate their personal religious beliefs from their responsibility to represent their constituents’ political desires. The statement “I am personally opposed, but I will not impose my beliefs on others,” may assuage the progressives and enable Catholics to get elected, but it has long angered conservative Catholics who criticized Kennedy and an have criticized all subsequent Catholic politicians who are circumspect on Catholic moral issues.
Conservative Catholics favored the example of Hilaire Belloc. An Englishman of French ancestry and Catholic faith, Belloc ran for election in 1906. In a speech before a hostile crowd, he brandished his rosary and declared he was a Catholic and described his religious practices. Should the electors reject him on that account, he would be grateful to avoid the indignity of representing them. His honesty won him that election.
Belloc good; JFK bad. Until now.
A tail can never be a leg
When I was a conservative Catholic, the gold-standard was for Catholic politicians to speak and act according to their properly formed consciences, that is formed, in accordance with Catholic teaching. That is why in the House of Commons in 2005 Andrew Scheer, explained that considering ‘same-sex marriage’ to be the same as ‘marriage’ was like calling a dog’s tail a leg and subsequently voted against it. It is also why he won’t apologize for making those statements.
Genuis would have us believe it is now perfectly acceptable for Catholic politicians to tuck their religious and moral beliefs into a box marked “personal” when they are elected. What an interesting about-face. It is just as dishonest to think that religious believers who are committed to acting at all times according to the values and teachings of their faith tradition will abandon them upon election, as it is to assume that voters will abandon them at the ballot box.
Scheer will never get elected if he tells Canadians the truth. If, like Singh and Trudeau he marches in Pride Parades, or like Trudeau says his views have evolved and he now believes in a woman’s right to have an abortion, he will lose a good part of his base. He will never do those things, so he has to give evasive answers and resort to the compartmentalization of faith and politics that conservative Catholics have long criticized.
Holding their noses
Conservative Catholics have been working very hard in the last twenty years to build support, influence policy (and change hearts) by volunteering in riding associations, promoting candidates, working on campaigns, becoming party executives, serving as aids to ministers and MPs, acting as lobbyists, creating socially conservative organizations, and educating future voters at home and in private schools. I was acquainted with a number of them. They have come very close to the prize, and they realize, as Scheer said in the same scrum where he was asked THE QUESTION, this past election was just step one. Step two – the next election and the possibility of forming government – is on the horizon.
Conservative Catholics still want Catholic politicians to speak and act according to Church teaching, but they are willing to hold their noses – for now.