The Canadian Bishops and the Federal elections

A critique of the 2019 Federal Election guide issued by the CCCB.

Back in 2015, I had the occasion to comment a document published by the CCCB as guideline for the Federal elections. Now, let us consider the 2019 version of the election guidelines, named “Voting as Catholics.”

Looking at different documents published over the past century, we gather that Canadian bishops and priests have been used to giving guidelines to their flock at the time of elections.  Since the beginning of the parliamentary system in Canada, Church leaders, concerned by the care of their flock, have regularly addressed the issue of the moral obligation to vote.  The 1919 Appendix to the Roman Ritual, published by order of the Fathers of the First Plenary Council of Quebec, gives some specific guidelines for the official announcement made by the parish priest on the Sunday preceding Election Day.

“During the course of this week, you will be called upon, Dear Brethren, to elect a deputy (deputies) to represent this electoral division in Federal Parliament (or in the Provincial Legislature).

Realize then that Almighty God will require you to render an account of all your thoughts, words and actions during elections as well as at all other times.

While giving to the political interests of the country all the attention which they deserve, while trying to appreciate at their true worth the persons and principles involved, be ever mindful lest the business of this world, which passes like a shadow, should cause you to forget the one necessary business of preparation for an eternity which shall never pass and which is your last end.

Hear the candidates, who come to express their platform in your midst, with the calm polite attention which the questions deserve. Be on the lookout however for false principles and deceit. Should you encounter such, the most effective means of protesting is to quit the meeting.

And, as all light comes to us from God, do not forget, Dear Brethren, to pray and to have prayers said in your homes in order that candidates, officers, and voters may conduct themselves with a clean conscience.”

We find the same recommendations almost word for word in the Acts and Decrees of the Fifth Synod of Ottawa, held in 1949.  On top of that, a strong reminder is given to the priests to “refrain from discussing political matters in public, especially from the pulpit.” But “They may do so when invited by their bishops in order to safeguard the interests of religion in a particular instance.” 

In any case, before the Council of Vatican II, it was always understood that the priests have the special duty “to bring to the attention of the faithful certain moral principles which are sometimes forgotten at the time of an election.”

Besides the reminding of the common rules of prudence at the time of the elections, bishops of old had some other concerns, like for example to warn against the evil of drunkenness, with its consequences, at the time of elections; then to warn against perjury; and lastly to clearly condemn any kind of selling of the votes.

But now what are the concerns of the Canadian Bishops on the eve of the 2019 Elections?  It seems that drunkenness, perjury or the selling of votes are now things of the past, or at least not a major concern for our pastors.

So, what are the advices given by the Canadian Bishops on the eve of the 2019 Federal elections?  We find the answer in a document published by the CCCB that claims to provide guidance to lay faithful on how to vote for politicians. 

The first section of the 2019 document speaks about ‘voting, a right and responsibility’, and it is very similar to the directives given in 2015. However, it adds that the electoral campaign gives to Catholics a chance to interact with the candidates, raising awareness about their values and views.  What does it mean, in plain English? At the time when that candidates look at numbers, our interaction with them may bear little interest to candidates who consider us as a scattered minority.

Back in 2015, the CCCB guide gave some ‘examples of the application of Catholic moral and social teaching’, but such examples are lacking from the 2019 version, and replaced by some vague considerations of what the Canadian bishops consider as ‘Christian beliefs’, namely ‘Working to build a better society: Canada in the World: providing leadership for Justice and Peace.’

The 2015 version stated that choosing life implies ‘demanding the right to life for even the smallest among us’ as well as the need to ‘raise our voices against practices like physician assisted suicide and euthanasia, which deny the intrinsic value of human life, endanger the lives of vulnerable people, and threaten to morally compromise medical professionals.’

Words like ‘demanding’ and ‘raising our voices’ quietly disappeared from the 2019 guide, which says that ‘the principles of respect for life from conception to natural death and the dignity of the human person should influence how Christians assess a party’s position on key moral issues.’  But what happened between 2015 and 2019 that may explain such change in tone?  It is Bill C-14, passed in June 2016, which legalized euthanasia in Canada.  Prior to Bill C-14, the Canadian bishops raised their voice and Cardinal Collins appeared before special joint parliamentary committee to express his concerns about ‘forcing doctors who object to euthanasia and assisted suicide to make an effective referral, and forcing publicly funded institutions to provide euthanasia and assisted suicide.’ but the voices of the Canadian bishops were not heard and could not stop the Liberal government from legalizing euthanasia.  Furthermore, according to a report published by Lifesitenews in April 2019, Canada’s bishops were consulted on and agreed to secret guidelines by Catholic health sponsors that allow third-party euthanasia assessments of medically frail patients in Catholic health care facilities, something scandalous that could explain the weak reminder of the ‘principles of respect of life from conception to natural death’ which is found in the 2019 election guidelines.

Regarding abortion, we should not forget that the 2015 guidelines were already weak because they limited themselves to ‘demanding the right to life for even the smallest among us – the human embryo and the foetus’.  At a time when were expecting a strong reminder of the rights to life and a clear condemnation of abortion, we find here a rather weak and shallow statement that was very disappointing.  It seems that the Canadian bishops don’t want to acknowledge the fact that Canada has one of the worst legislations in the world regarding abortion, with absolutely no protection of the unborn.  They also don’t want to report the fact that most Parties running in the Federal Elections are following an aggressive policy against the unborn babies by refusing to open a debate on abortion.  How is it possible that the Official guide published by the Canadian Bishops seems to ignore that a that is public knowledge? 

This is really sad, because such silence will be interpreted as blanket permission for Catholics to cast their vote for openly pro-abortion and pro-gay candidates.

Last but not least, we must report that, in the said document, nothing is said about the evil of contraception, a historical sticking point for the Canadian Bishops, who rejected in 1968 the Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae by means of the infamous Winnipeg Statement, by which they rejected Paul VI condemnation of contraception.  As a matter of fact, the Canadian bishops have never formally retracted the Winnipeg Statement.  This explains their weak attitude in the defense of the life of the unborn.

But what really sticks out about that guide, is not so much in what it says, but in what it doesn’t say.  It gives lots of attention to problems that are real but not relevant to the Catholic Faith and, at the same time, it is seriously lacking by its silence on the evils of our time that are destroying our Western world, that is to say: divorce, abortion, contraception, homosexuality and transgender etc…

Moreover, this guide is particularly disturbing because it makes no distinction between those matters that are intrinsically evil, like the crimes against life, and those that bear no moral weight at all, such as ‘respect the planet, our common home.’

The Federal Election Guide is a typical example of the great confusion among the leaders of the Catholic Church, and is a direct consequence of the abandonment of the principles of the Social Reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ at the favour of the declaration Dignitatis Humanae of Vatican II on religious liberty.  When Our Lord is no more the King of the society, men follow all kinds of dreams and they lose their focus on the essential.

What our country needs the most right now, is courageous religious leaders who, following the example of Bishop Ignace Bourget of Montreal (1799-1885) will uphold the rights of the Church as guardian of public morals.  In the middle of the 19th century, that holy bishop was not afraid to publicly remind the people of  the rights of the Church to interfere in politics, and to remind the country of the absolute rights of God over society, against the liberal press: “The Liberal paper is the one that claims, among other things, to be free in its religious and political opinions; that would like the Church to be separate from the State; and that in a word refuses to recognize the right of religion to have anything to do with politics, even when the interests of faith and morals are at stake.”

Let us pray that the good Lord will give to Canada bishops full of courage and zeal, following the example of Bishop Bourget!


Fr. Dominique Boulet, sspx