A libel and defamation lawsuit against LifeSiteNews.com, filed by Canadian priest Father Raymond Gravel who describes himself as “pro-choice,” will go to trial.
Fr. Gravel claims that LifeSiteNews' depiction of him in the agency's news articles as “pro-abortion” is libelous, because he says he is “pro-choice” but does not support abortion per se.
“This case represents a danger to free speech of pro-life Canadians in terms of their being able to refer to stances embracing 'choice' as 'pro-abortion' rather than the nomenclature of their opposition,” LifeSiteNews editor-in-chief John-Henry Westen told CNA Feb. 21.
Western said the suit is a “very significant attack” on religious freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press.
“It is being argued that we are not media, and should that argument be accepted in court, would that not challenge all the other new online media outlets, even those of the left?”
Fr. Gravel served as a Member of Parliament in Canada from 2006 to 2008, after reportedly being granted “special permission by the Vatican to run for federal office,” according to the CBC.
While serving as a member of parliament, Fr. Gravel supported the nomination of an abortionist who was once detained in Dachau to the Order of Canada and opposed a bill which would have acknowledged injury of a fetus during commission of a crime as a separate offense from injury to the child's mother.
“I've never gone against the church doctrine,” he told the CBC in 2008.
In 2008, the Vatican “forced him to choose between Parliament and the Catholic Church,” the CBC reported. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had received complaints from Catholics who noticed his positions as a parliamentarian that were at odds with the faith.
Fr. Gravel claims that LifeSiteNews' reporting about him ruined his reputation as a politician and priest. He seeks damages of 500,000 Canadian dollars, or about $492,000, as well as costs.
On Jan. 11 a Quebec judge ruled that the lawsuit can advance to trial, dismissing the claims of LifeSiteNews that Fr. Gravel is merely intending to gag them.
The damages sought by Fr. Gravel are identical to a full year's budget for the site, according to its editors. It has already spent some $170,000 on the suit.
The Diocese of Joliette, to which Fr. Gravel belongs, did not reply to press inquiries in time for publication.
The site has run some 41 articles about Fr. Gravel in 11 years, and maintains that it merely reported his public statements and media commentaries airing his disagreement with Church doctrine and the teaching authority of Canadian prelates.
“In our reporting on Gravel, we were very careful only to repeat exactly what he said. There was no animosity toward him; in fact, we stated our concern for the Church, but also for Fr. Gravel himself,” Weston told The Wanderer.
“If this case were outside the issues of abortion and homosexuality and were just about a politician upset that a media organization pointed out his radical views to a wider audience, it would be laughed out of court. But because it is dealing with issues deemed sacred in the new morality, it is being given credence,” he added.
“This is about our freedom as a news service to report news on controversial subjects. We are defending this case to ensure those rights.”
Updated at on Feb. 21, 2013 at 4:28 p.m., MST: new, exclusive commentary to CNA from John-Henry Westen added to article.