Mea max­i­mum culpa

To­day’s guest opin­ion from Kevin J. Arse­nault is in de­fence of re­li­gious tol­er­ance, free speech and Bishop Grecco.

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - BY KEVIN ARSE­NAULT Kevin J Arse­nault, Ph.D., Ft. Au­gus­tus, ob­tained his doc­tor­ate in ethics from McGill Univer­sity

In a guest opin­ion pub­lished in the Guardian on Jan­uary 20, 2015 Richard Deaton wrote: “To en­sure that all re­li­gions are equal there must be un­in­hib­ited free­dom of speech in the public do­main. The same rules must ap­ply to ev­ery­body, and all re­li­gions.”

It was there­fore sur­pris­ing to read Mr. Deaton’s more re­cent ar­ti­cle, “Bishop Grecco vi­o­lates wall be­tween Church and State” where he seems to have com­pletely aban­doned his belief in re­li­gious tol­er­ance and free speech. He writes: “The good Bishop dares to tell peo­ple what to think and to pro­scribe so­cial pol­icy for peo­ple with re­spect to abor­tion and physi­cian as­sisted sui­cide. The Church’s hubris seems to know no bounds. In its ar­ro­gance, a mor­tal sin, it pre­sumes to tell oth­ers what val­ues they should hold and how they should live their lives. Noth­ing could be more anti-demo­cratic and au­thor­i­tar­ian.”

First of all, the Bishop wrote a let­ter ad­dressed to Catholics which was dis­trib­uted at Sun­day Mass in parishes through­out P.E.I.: it was a Guardian re­porter who wrote an ar­ti­cle about this event, thereby bring­ing it into the wider public do­main. The Bishop wasn’t telling peo­ple what to think or how to live their lives, he was ex­pound­ing on Catholic teach­ing and scrip­ture ( for the ben­e­fit of other Catholics like me) and sug­gest­ing how we might act on our faith in re­sponse to re­cent po­lit­i­cal and le­gal changes in so­ci­ety. But so what if the Bishop had sent his thoughts di­rectly to the Guardian as a guest opin­ion? Surely the Bishop has the same Char­ter rights as any other Cana­dian citizen and is en­ti­tled to ex­press his opin­ions and be­liefs to whomever he wants, in­clud­ing to the gen­eral public through sec­u­lar media.

The essence of a healthy democ­racy is the right to speak freely in the public do­main with­out fear of vi­o­lent re­tal­i­a­tion or con­dem­na­tion. As Mr. Deaton noted in his Jan­uary ar­ti­cle: “Both re­li­gion and free­dom of opin­ion and ex­pres­sion are key Char­ter val­ues.” So why does he at­tack Bishop Grecco and the Catholic Church so ve­he­mently? What I be­lieve Mr. Deaton is ac­tu­ally ad­vo­cat­ing - whether he re­al­izes it or not - is re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance.

What is truly anti-demo­cratic and au­thor­i­tar­ian in to­day’s world is the in­creas­ingly per­va­sive cul­tural view that be­cause we live in a sec­u­lar so­ci­ety the public do­main now be­longs ex­clu­sively to athe­ists, and all re­li­gious opin­ions, sym­bols or ac­tiv­ity must there­fore be kept pri­vate. What pro­po­nents of this view of­ten fail to re­al­ize is that athe­ism is also a philo­soph­i­cal world view that must be ac­cepted on “faith.” That is, it is im­pos­si­ble to prove God does not ex­ist. Nonethe­less, athe­ists tend to present them­selves as “sci­en­tific and ra­tio­nal” in con­trast to the­ists who they re­gard as “un­sci­en­tific and ir­ra­tional.” Now that’s what you call hubris and ar­ro­gance!

The at­tempt to si­lence Chris­tians and in­tim­i­date them to “keep their be­liefs to them­selves” is def­i­nitely in­ten­si­fy­ing in our cul­ture. There is no longer an ap­petite for well-rea­soned public de­bate on many moral is­sues. We are wit­ness­ing the en­trench­ment of an ethos of moral rel­a­tivism which of­ten serves the self­ish de­sires of in­di­vid­u­als at the ex­pense of the greater so­cial good. Those who speak out against poli­cies and laws which pro­mote ex­ces­sive in­di­vid­u­al­ism and lib­er­tar­i­an­ism are in­creas­ingly likely to be at­tacked.

As Pope Bene­dict stated in 2010, “A new in­tol­er­ance is spread­ing.... There are well-es­tab­lished stan­dards of think­ing that are sup­posed to be im­posed on ev­ery­one. These are then an­nounced in terms of so-called ‘neg­a­tive tol­er­ance.’ For in­stance, when peo­ple say that for the sake of neg­a­tive tol­er­ance [i.e. ‘not of­fend­ing any­one’] there must be no cru­ci­fix in public build­ings. With that we are ba­si­cally ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the abo­li­tion of tol­er­ance, for it means that the Chris­tian faith is no longer al­lowed to ex­press it­self.... In the name of tol­er­ance, tol­er­ance is be­ing abol­ished.”

I sin­cerely hope that all cit­i­zens in P.E.I. – re­li­gious or not – find the courage to speak out in de­fence of the dig­nity of all hu­man be­ings, in­clud­ing the un­born and el­derly, as we to­gether work to cre­ate a more just, peace­ful and tol­er­ant so­ci­ety.

Bishop Richard Grecco, Dio­cese of Char­lot­te­town

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