Madonna House, an Ontario Catholic organization founded by Servant of God Catherine Doherty, has returned its founder’s Order of Canada medal after the decoration was granted to the abortionist Dr. Henry Morgentaler. The move adds to the controversy over the honoring of Morgentaler, who played a key role in striking down Canadian abortion laws in 1988.
"We carried out a simple, symbolic gesture of returning (Catherine Doherty's) medal and citation to a representative of the governor general at the Princess Gate of Rideau Hall," Susanne Stubbs of Madonna House said on Tuesday.
Rideau Hall is the official residence of Governor General Michaelle Jean, who on July 1 named Morgentaler for the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian honor.
Doherty founded Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario in 1947. According to a Madonna House press release, the community is "dedicated to loving and serving Christ through promises of poverty, chastity and obedience." It offers services ranging from soup kitchens to places of retreat, operating in the U.S. and other countries.
Doherty received the Order of Canada in 1976 and died in 1985. Pope John Paul II later declared her a “Servant of God,” the first step in the canonization process.
Catherine Doherty, a Russian refugee of the October Revolution, was awarded the decoration for, “a lifetime of devoted services to the underprivileged of many nationalities, both in Canada and abroad,” according to the decree granting the award. Stubbs noted that, “For her it was her greatest decoration, surpassing the Medal of St. George she once received from the Czar. The Order of Canada was an immeasurable gift to her. It meant: ‘Canada accepted me.’”
Morgentaler, also is a refugee of persecution, having survived the Holocaust. However, his work was quite different from Doherty’s. After immigrating to Canada, he openly performed illegal abortions before the law was changed. He now runs clinics across Canada and is considered a hero by abortion rights supporters.
In a letter explaining their return of medal, the Directors General of Madonna House explained their decision saying, “Dr. Morgentaler’s work, so enthusiastically listed in his citation, more likely represents the reverse side of an otherwise bright medal. In our view, through his crusade, the dignity of the person is violently transgressed, justice for the most vulnerable is trampled on, the healing arts are compromised, and little faith is shown for the future. Is this really what we want as a nation?”
“Catherine Doherty would not have judged Henry Morgentaler, nor should we. Like all of us, he is a poor person. Has he not been surrounded by death all his life? Yet we have to protest … simply, peacefully, unremittingly and with the tools we have at hand … the serious misdirection our country and many of its leaders, in our view, appear to be taking, as exemplified by the award and glowing citation given him for his misguided work. Catherine Doherty would shout, ‘Wait. Don’t you see where we are going? There is another way. I’ll show it to you.’ With this act of returning the Order of Canada we are choosing to place truth before honours,” the directors wrote.
Stubbs said that Madonna House returned the medal publicly because the awarding of the medal is a very public affair.
“Dr. Morgentaler is a very public and symbolic figure. We were moved in conscience to make a public gesture of disappointment and sadness for our country," she said, according to CTV Ottawa.
According to Stubbs, Madonna House felt it could return the medal because Doherty once told them the award went to all members of the Madonna House community.
The Governor General’s web site said Morgentaler was honored with the Order of Canada for “his commitment to increased health care options for women, his determined efforts to influence Canadian public policy and his leadership in humanist and civil liberties organizations.”
At least one other Order of Canada recipient, Bosco House founder Father Lucien Larre, has returned his medal after the announcement of Morgentaler’s decoration.