While most Canadian citizens and politicians have settled into the idea that the legalization of same-sex marriage is only a matter of time, Canada’s bishops are holding fast and saying that the battle to retain the traditional definition of marriage in Canada is not over yet.
At the annual plenary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), which ended last week, outgoing president Bishop Jacques Berthelet told the assembly of bishops that “the game isn’t over yet,” reported Canadian Catholic News (CCN).
The Supreme Court of Canada is expected to hold hearings in the upcoming year on the draft legislation for same-sex marriage, submitted for judicial review in July by the federal government. Bishop Berthelet pledged that the Canadian bishops would present their arguments to the court at that time.
The Canadian bishops have been involved in the debate on same-sex marriage since its inception last year. They issued an official statement in September and presented a brief at the public hearings held across the country in the spring.
The Ontario bishops have also been members of the Interfaith Coalition on Marriage and Family, which includes other religious and family groups. The coalition submitted a request to the Supreme Court of Canada for a leave to appeal the June 10 Ontario Court ruling that opened the door to same-sex marriage in Ontario and subsequently, in other parts of the country.
The coalition submitted the application in the summer after the federal government announced that it would not appeal the decision, opting instead to move toward legalization of same-sex marriage across Canada. The five-judge Supreme Court panel turned down the coalition’s application.
Bishop Berthelet said that even if the government's bill wins the approval of the Supreme Court, it would still have to clear the House of Commons and the Senate before becoming law.
He also said the conference's permanent council is looking at proposing the possibility of separating religious marriage and civil marriage and leaving it up to the state to decide the other "forms of union" that could occur, reported CCN.
Bishop John Pazak, eparchial bishop of Slovaks of the Byzantine Rite in Canada, spoke for the Ontario bishops, who believe the draft bill, which the government says will protect religious institutions from being forced to marry same-sex couples, is flawed.
The wording of the bill protects priests and ministers on the basis of individual conscience. "This does not offer any institutional protection for a Church such as ours which takes doctrinal positions about same-sex marriage," said Bishop Pazak, CCN reported.
The Canadian news agency reported that Archbishop Adam Exner of the Archdiocese of Vancouver said Canada is in the midst of an epistemological crisis, which is what makes the discussion on marriage so difficult. Noting the high degree of relativism in Canadian society, Bishop Exner said the idea of objective morality and natural law is absent in the national discussion.
"The root issue goes back to (Pope) Paul VI and Humanae Vitae,” Bishop Eugene LaRocque, bishop-emeritus of the Ontario Diocese of Alexandria-Cornwall, is reported to have said. “If married couples can separate the marriage act into pleasure and no children, then what leg have we to stand on when we address the whole question of homosexuality or lesbianism?"
LaRocque said the Canadian Church has to revisit the teaching on marriage of the universal Church if the bishops are to have any success in the same-sex marriage debate.
“I know how difficult it's going to be because the artificial contraception mentality has pretty well taken over our western civilization, including our Catholics," said LaRocque, according to CCN.