Church’s ap­proach is un­demo­cratic and ab­so­lutist

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY RICHARD DEATON GUEST OPIN­ION Richard Deaton, Ph.D., LL.B., of Stan­ley Bridge, taught mil­i­tary ehics and law at the Royal Mil­i­tary Col­lege of Canada (RMC), Kingston, Ont.

The re­cent letters by Messrs. Arse­nault and Cal­laghan (The Guardian, July 13, 2015) de­fend­ing the Catholic Church’s vi­o­lat­ing the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state clearly demon­strates that the spirit of Torque­mada and Elmer Gantry are still alive in the tra­di­tion of True Be­liev­ers and Bi­ble Thumpers.

The head­line for Mr. Arse­nault’s opin­ion ar­ti­cle is “Mea Max­ima Culpa.” But it isn’t clear to this reader to whom or for what he is apol­o­giz­ing: for the many griev­ous his­tor­i­cal sins of the Catholic Church; for its doc­tri­nal hubris; for vi­o­lat­ing chil­dren at residential schools and on­go­ing priest child abuse; for its hypocrisy; or for Bishop Grecco’s bi­ased in­volve­ment in lo­cal pol­i­tics?

Mr. Arse­nault de­lib­er­ately avoids these sub­stan­tive is­sues, and the hypocrisy in­volved, as they af­fect the for­ma­tion of public pol­icy, es­pe­cially in sen­si­tive ar­eas such as abor­tion or physi­cian as­sisted sui­cide. The Catholic Church, for some my­opic rea­son, claims to have the high moral ground in these mat­ters. It at­tempts to ram its doc­trines down other peo­ple’s throats by lim­it­ing so­cial pol­icy op­tions based on its own teach­ings with­out con­sid­er­a­tion for oth­ers.

In a plu­ral­is­tic so­ci­ety, based on En­light­en­ment val­ues, this ap­proach is un­demo­cratic and ab­so­lutist.

For my­self, I sub­scribe to John Stu­art Mills’ demo­cratic dic­tum ad­vo­cat­ing, “The great­est good, for the great num­ber of peo­ple.” In terms of public pol­icy this means that op­tions should be left open so peo­ple can make their own de­ci­sions. Lim­it­ing peo­ple’s op­tions is anti-demo­cratic.

In the feu­dal era the Church could make or break kings; ev­i­dently, it still feels free to vi­o­late the wall be­tween church and state. Bishop Grecco’s let­ter was po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated and clearly in­tended to in­flu­ence politi­cians and public pol­icy-mak­ers, not only the faith­ful. He knows bet­ter.

Mr. Arse­nault ac­cuses me of hav­ing “aban­doned [my] belief in re­li­gious tol­er­ance and free speech” and “Ad­vo­cat­ing …re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance.” This is heady stuff, but is a “red her­ring,” He for­gets that it was the Catholic Church that his­tor­i­cally burned heretics and had an in­dex of pro­hib­ited books. And who is in­tol­er­ant? He should learn his history.

The Church’s teach­ings are in­creas­ingly ir­rel­e­vant for the for­ma­tion of public pol­icy. The re­cent Ir­ish ref­er­en­dum en­dors­ing gay mar­riage and the fact that the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple in six out of eight Euro­pean Catholic coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent sur­vey in The Economist ( July 27, 2015), en­dorse physi­cian as­sisted sui­cide sug­gest the same. The Church is en­ti­tled to no more or less con­sid­er­a­tion, power, or re­spect than any other stake­holder or or­ga­ni­za­tion in a plu­ral­is­tic so­ci­ety.

Mr. Arse­nault has de­lib­er­ately mis­rep­re­sented my po­si­tion, and its im­pli­ca­tions, and is too clever by half. While Mr. Arse­nault may be in­ter­ested in ab­stract the­o­log­i­cal dis­cus­sions in terms of how many an­gels dance on the head of a pin, hav­ing had a ca­reer in public pol­icy and pro­gram de­vel­op­ment work for var­i­ous lev­els of gov­ern­ment for many years, I am not.

Gov­ern­ment poli­cies should be re­li­gion-neu­tral in all ways. In­ter­ject­ing re­li­gion into the for­mu­la­tion of gov­ern­ment pol­icy, or as a pro­gram eval­u­a­tion cri­te­rion, or to es­tab­lish en­ti­tle­ment to ben­e­fits and ser­vices, is not only pre­sump­tu­ous and pos­si­bly dis­crim­i­na­tory, it vi­o­lates the very foun­da­tion of pro­fes­sional public ad­min­is­tra­tion, sound pro­gram de­liv­ery, and must be cat­e­gor­i­cally re­jected.

John Stu­art Mill by Lon­don Stereo­scopic Com­pany, c1870.

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