1967: what with the world-stage optimism of Expo 67, our recently-adopted new flag, and rumblings of stronger identity within Canada (the Quiet Revolution was becoming noisier), Canada’s centenary felt truly like a turning-point.
I turned 19 that year, so Canada’s third half-century has also been my adulthood. What a whirlwind these past 50 years have been! On the personal front: marriage, children, friendships gained and lost, work, a lot of music and Church and community engagement, family deaths, travel, house repairs – from teenager in love to grandfather!
Looking beyond my personal life, several themes specific to Canada strike me as particularly important since 1967. Here are a few obvious ones:
- the Multiculturalism policy that challenged the banal ignorance of ethnic prejudice;
- our capacity for dialogue, seen for example in the prolonged struggles but almost no violence around separatism;
- openness to immigration and especially to large refugee movements, blessed with a lot of community involvement;
- and recently, the long-overdue recognition of Indigenous history and rights.
Perhaps the biggest of all has been the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter has had a great impact in many areas, including the legal standing of same-sex marriages and other changes that run counter to traditional Catholic teachings. And yet six of the nine Prime Ministers since July 1 1967 have been Roman Catholics, running our federal governments for close to 40 of these 50 years.
Surely this suggests that Catholic social thought has had some purchase in the country! (An aside: I enjoy reminding people that Tommy Douglas, the father of the public healthcare policy which Canadians largely consider to be fundamental to who we are, was a Baptist minister. What? Christian thinking had something to do with this? Impossible!! The only true enlightenment is secular enlightenment!!!)
But when I think of “Catholic leadership” in Canada, I see a split between Catholics in public office and the Church hierarchy. It has been normal to hear official Church statements condemning one PM for his initiatives to liberalize policies on homosexuality, another one because of his failures to criminalize abortion or protect traditional marriage... I recall talk of excommunication...
Meanwhile, these Catholic PMs seem to hold the view that leadership in a pluralistic society requires them to endorse some positions that are anathema in traditional Catholic doctrine.
Does this mean that Trudeau/ Turner/ Clark/ Mulroney/ Chrétien/ Trudeau weren’t or aren’t genuine Catholics? Or could it mean that they have applied their faith in ways that favour values or principles over dogma? Might these values or principles be grounded in their religious beliefs? For my part, I see human dignity and the exercise of love and compassion beneath some of the innovative social legislation of recent decades.
This puts me in mind of how Pope Francis talks about – and embraces – actual people in their difficulties and hopes, more than he dwells on dogma. (See Evangelii Gaudium, §§231-3, for his reasons for declaring that “Realities are more important than ideas.”)
I think this suggests a lesson for the next half-century. If our religion is to be influential in this pluralistic Canada of ours, its credibility will come from its good works and from insights and styles of communication that speak to Canada’s pluralism. That’s the challenge for all of us in the Church in Canada.