There is no doubt that Friday, September 27, 1968, was the saddest day in the history of the Catholic Church in Canada. That was the day when the Canadian Bishops issued their commentary on the encyclical “Humanae Vitae”. The worst fears of faithful Catholics were realized. The bishops fell into the trap of moral relativism. In the word of a reporter, the Statement tried “to take a stand at variance with the Pope and still remain in complete and loyal union with him”.
In the present article I tried to give an objective evaluation of that tragedy which has so grievously wounded the Church in Canada. It does not tell the whole story – that would take a large book as yet unwritten. It gives an outline, which I believe is accurate.
The article appeared first in Challenge magazine in 1988 and was reprinted by Human Life International. It was translated into French for circulation in Quebec.
TRAGEDY AT WINNIPEG
THE CANADIAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ STATEMENT ON
By Monsignor Vincent Foy
This year should be for Canadian Catholics one of special thanksgiving. It is the twentieth anniversary of the encyclical Humanae Vitae signed by Pope Paul VI on July 25, 1968. That document is a greater charter of life and love than any other in human history. Unfortunately, this year is also the twentieth anniversary of the Winnipeg Statement of the Canadian Bishops. A small group, driven by a Liberal Imperative, persuaded our Bishops to ratify a document which virtually nullified the encyclical of the Pope. It gave couples a veto over human life which God in His love had refused. Countless persons have been barred from existence, countless others conceived but not born because of that document. Every Canadian Catholic living today suffers directly or indirectly from its effects. This is but an outline sketch of the genesis of what is called “The Winnipeg Statement.”
Canada Before Humanae Vitae
The Church’s teaching against artificial contraception was constant and unchallenged from within until the early sixties of this century. In 1964 the errors of Father Louis Janssens of Belgium, Father Schillebeeckx of Holland and others spread like an AIDS virus through the academic circles of many countries, including Canada.
Typical was a book published in 1964 by Herder and Herder called Contraception and Holiness. It was presented as “a balanced and perceptive declaration of Christian dissent.” Among the contributors were three professors of St. Michael’s College in Toronto: Gregory Baum, O.S.A., Stanley Kutz, C.S.B., and Leslie Dewart.
Gregory Baum was a catalyst of dissent in Canada and elsewhere. He described his technique: “The Catholic theologian … will engage in common research and conversation with others until a certain agreement arises as to whether a position of the magisterium that seems binding at present is losing, for such and such reasons, its normative function for the future” (Christian Century, April 6, 1966, p.429). Gregory Baum had been an “Expert” to Archbishop Pocock of Toronto at Vatican II and was in continuing favour. He focused his attention on the Church’s teaching on papal authority and contraception. To destroy either was to destroy the Catholic Church. To destroy both at once was to hasten ecclesial annihilation.
An article reporting an interview with Gregory Baum was printed in the Toronto Globe and Mail for April 9, 1966. It was entitled “Catholics May Use Contraceptives Now.” He asserted that the traditional norm had become doubtful and therefore could not be imposed. His views got widespread coverage (e.g. Time Magazine, April 22, 1966). Letters of support were printed from Leslie Dewart, Mark McGuigan, Cecilia Wallace and others. I spoke to Archbishop Pocock but he saw no need to respond. Others and I wrote letters to the Globe and Mail and the Catholic Register in rebuttal but were left without support. Unchecked, a year later Gregory Baum was saying that even if the Pope came out against artificial contraception his decision would be irrelevant (The Globe and Mail, April 12, 1967).
At the Episcopal level, early after dissent began in Europe, Canadian Bishops were listening to the wrong voices. At the third session of Vatican II, on Oct. 29, 1964, Cardinal Leger of Montreal advocated that fecundity should be a duty pertaining to the state of matrimony as a whole rather than to an individual act. He said: “Confessors are assailed by doubts. They no longer know what to answer.”
In some dioceses, as in Toronto in 1964, confessional norms were given which were contrary to Church teaching. Although Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the teaching of the Church in 1964 and 1966, calling it a time of study and not of doubt, some Canadian Bishops encouraged confusion. In London, Ontario, on Feb. 7, 1967, priests were told: “If doctors can be confused about the scientific aspect of the Pill, then priests should be confused about the morality of the use of the Pill.” Pope Pius XII had condemned the contraceptive use of the Pill on Sept. 12, 1958.
The moment of truth came on the Feast of St. James, July 25, 1968, when the Pope signed the encyclical Humanae Vitae, on the transmission of life. He invoked the mandate given him by Christ. He said, ” …the Church, calling men back to the observance of the norms of the natural law … teaches that each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life” (par.11). The encyclical gave pastoral norms, pointed out the sufficiency of grace and taught that subjective criteria could not make what is illicit licit. It showed that God’s law of life was also one of love, a law both of holiness and sweetness (cf. par.25).
From Humanae Vitae to Winnipeg
The encyclical was published July 29. July 30 the Canadian papers contained scores of comments, most of them derogatory. Father Edward Sheridan, S.J., said, “It did not necessarily demand absolute obedience.” Gregory Baum said Catholics had the right to dissent. The following Sunday I proudly announced from the pulpit of St. John’s Church in Toronto that Archbishop Pocock had said: “To the encyclical on Birth Regulation I give my complete ascent.”
Personally, I was confident the Bishops would stand firm with the Pope. The red lights did not start flashing until I read in the papers comments by Father Walter Principe, C.S.B., professor at St. Michael’s College. In support of a group of dissenters based at St. Michael’s, he said: “For some Catholics the proper conduct of their family life can mean using other forms of birth control than the rhythm method.” (Globe and Mail, Aug. 6, 1968.) He also said: “I hope that they (the Canadian Bishops) will make clear to all that one who dissents with a well-informed and well-formed conscience is still a loyal Catholic in good standing.” (Globe and Mail, Aug. 9.) What made these statements ominous to me was that Father Principe was a writer for the Canadian Bishops in their calamitous statements of 1968 on Contraception and Divorce vs. Civil Law.
On a CBC coast-to-coast television program on Aug. 18, Father Edward Sheridan, S.J., Father Robert Crocker, C.S.B., and Father Walter Principe, C.S.B., attacked the encyclical. Father Principe thought that perhaps reaction against the encyclical was “the Holy Spirit working through the whole Church …” There was much applause. The only defender of the encyclical was Msgr. Austin Vaughan, an American, now Bishop Vaughan. When he replied to an objection from Gregory Baum by quoting Vatican II on papal authority, there was no applause.
In August of 1968, Archbishop Plourde of Ottawa issued a pastoral letter on the encyclical. He was for study to penetrate “the papal mind” but not for blind submission. Individuals had the right “to reach a judgment different from that of the Holy Father.”
Early in Sept. 1968, I spoke on the encyclical at a Serra Club meeting. I was cross-questioned with evident hostility by two priest-professors from St. Michael’s College. In the next week I compiled a 15 page listing of common objections to Humanae Vitae with answers from the magisterium. I sent it to Toronto priests and the English-speaking Bishops of Canada, hoping they would express solidarity with the Pope. The Apostolic Delegate sent me a letter of thanks. Not all replies were complimentary. One priest said he preferred the theology of Hans Kueng.
In August and September of 1968, Gregory Baum was like a whirling dervish in his hyperactivity. He spoke here and in the United States. Aug. 1, 1968, the Globe and Mail had a feature article by him, “Catholics May Follow their Conscience.” In the Aug. 23 issue of Commonweal, there was his article “The Right to Dissent”. The September issue of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review carried his “The New Encyclical on Contraception.” He attacked the Pope for going against “the Christian experience of vast numbers of Catholics and the witness of other Christian Churches.”
Pressure groups sprang up. The chorus was the same: “Freedom of Conscience!”; “Allow the sacraments to your contracepting faithful!” Among them were the Western Canadian Conference of Priests, the Catholic Physicians’ Guild of Manitoba, Catholics in Dialogue, the Canadian Institute of Theology and 58 “intellectuals” of St. Francis Xavier University (“the cream of Antigonish,” their Bishop said). Most significant was that fifteen Directors of the departments at the Canadian Catholic Conference signed a statement calling for a “Vatican II approach.” They said that a large number of Canadian priests were agonizing “in acute crises of conscience” because of the “apparent directives of Humanae Vitae.”
In the main, faithful Catholics remained silent. They did not believe their shepherds would turn into sheep and scatter before the theological and “intellectual” wolves. In mid-September a Bishop asked me to organize telegrams to Winnipeg encouraging support for the encyclical. I asked many priests to wire. John Philips of Toronto organized telegrams among the laity. We knew nothing of the Trojan Horse preparing to wheel into Winnipeg.
The week before the meeting, I learned that Father Sheridan, S.J., was having a translation made of Karl Rahner’s theory of dissent and intended to take it to Winnipeg. After consultation with Bishop Ryan of Hamilton, I wrote a two-page letter pointing out the danger of Rahner’s theory. A copy for each Bishop was sent to Father George, S.J., secretary to the English-speaking Bishops. My own Archbishop had it suppressed.
So the curtain was set to rise on a Canadian tragedy. If we had known the extent of the moral havoc to be launched by “The Winnipeg Statement”, I think we would all have been weeping: Bishops, priests and people.
The Mandate of the Bishops
The Canadian Bishops assembled in Winnipeg with a mandate.
As individuals, they shared the obligation of all Catholics to give internal and external assent to the doctrine of Humanae Vitae. As Bishops, they had the mandate to follow the pastoral norms given specifically to them (par. 30).
As a national hierarchy, the Canadian Bishops had a mandate from the Pope. Just before the release of the encyclical, Bishops were asked through Cardinal Cicognani, Secretary of State, to stand firm with the Pope on his presentation of the Church’s teaching and “to explain and justify the reason for it.” Winnipeg was the grand chance to stop the errors in seminaries and colleges and pulpits and confessionals, and to show unity with the Holy Father and other hierarchies so that the teaching of the encyclical might prevail.
A Meeting in Winnipeg
An excellent account of the Winnipeg Meeting is given in Anne Roche Muggeridge’s brilliant book, The Desolate City. What is written here is from contemporary press reports and bits of information from some Bishops.
The meeting began at the Fort Gary Hotel, Winnipeg, on Monday, Sept. 23, 1968. Its principal purpose was to issue a statement on the encyclical Humanae Vitae. Already a theological commission under the joint chairmanship of Bishop Remi de Roo of Victoria and Bishop Andre Ouelette of Mont. Laurier had met the preceding weekend. They were authorized by the administrative board of the Bishops to submit a schema as a basis for discussion. One Bishop told me the first submission was worse than the final statement.
Present were about 75 Bishops. Besides the theological commission of Bishops, there were consultors or “experts”. There were Father Edward Sheridan, S.J., professor of moral theology at Regis College, Toronto, Father Andre Naud, president of the Canadian Institute of Theology and Father Charles St. Onge, director of the French section of the CCCB family life bureau. Father Ora McManus of the Western Canadian Conference of Priests and Bernard Daly, director of the CCCB’s English section of the family life bureau, came to present petitions to the theological commission. They were asked to remain and were brought into the process not only of consultation but of writing. All of these consultors were dissenters from Humanae Vitae. It is obvious that the Bishops were going to be dealt some cards from a stacked deck.
A notable presence at Winnipeg was Father Edouard Gagnon, (now Cardinal Gagnon). I believe he was there as a consultant to Bishop Ouelette. The late Bishop Francis Allen told me that he was much impressed by Father Gagnon’s clear and uncompromising defence of Humanae Vitae.
During the meeting, three distinct bodies were at work. There was the theological commission of Bishops, the consultors, and the main body of Bishops. The commission and the consultors had their workshop in Room 526 of the Fort Gary. Here the drafting and writing were done. Out of this nerve centre were sent drafts and suggestions and objections and back came the Bishops’ comments and criticism. Incredibly, the main body of Bishops did not see the draft of the statement until Tuesday morning, when it was adopted as a basis for discussion. There was no time for study, reflection or in-depth consultation. One Bishop called this pressure”calculated.”
Meetings went on morning, noon and night, sometimes until 2 and 3 a.m. One point emerged clearly: It would be a contradiction for the Bishops to accept the encyclical without equivocation and at the same time tell the faithful they could “follow their consciences.” The encyclical called for conformed behaviour to the creative intention of God (par.10). Bishop de Roo held out for the “right of freedom to follow conscience.” Nevertheless, to their credit the commission of Bishops voted down Bishop de Roo’s position by a vote of 8 to 3 and sent to the floor a revised draft which declared: “We are at one with the Holy Father in his teaching and pastoral concern about conjugal love and responsible parent-hood.”
The consultors were greatly agitated over the theological commission’s draft and sent their objection to the floor saying: “As worded, we think it would be a pastoral disaster, inevitably dividing the bishops from pastors and people.” Bishop de Roo championed their cause before the full assembly. He said the eight to three vote showed a deep division in the theological commission and there was a similar disagreement between him and Bishop Ouelette. Should they not prefer the unanimous opinion of the consultors over the split decision of his own commission?
This was undoubtedly the crisis in the meeting. It was clear that the vote would be on the critical issue of acceptance of the encyclical or its modification.
The Bishops were asked whether their responsibility consisted in unconditional approval and mere repetition of every point in the encyclical? Should they not go deeper than it and beyond it, in a broader vision? When a vote was taken, the position of Bishop de Roo and the consultors carried by one vote.
It was only after an emergency meeting on Thursday night that the necessary two-thirds vote was obtained. Friday morning objections were still being raised. Some Bishops left rather than take part in the final vote. A few courageous Bishops voiced their disapproval. I would think these might be Archbishop Routhier of Grouard-McLennan, Archbishop Carney of Vancouver, Archbishop Wilhelm of Kingston, Bishop Ryan of Hamilton, Bishop O’Neill of Grand Falls and Bishop Morin of Prince Albert.
Friday afternoon, Sept. 27, 1968, a press conference was called presided over by Sister Ella Zink, public relations officer at the CCC. The so-called Winnipeg Statement was announced, a document of about 2500 words. In the words of Douglas J. Roche of the Western Catholic Reporter, it tried “to take a stand at variance with the Pope and still remain in complete and loyal union with him.”
The foundation of its dissent was cloaked. Instead of the recommended wording of the theological commission, “We are at one with the Holy Father in his teaching and pastoral concerns about conjugal love and responsible parent-hood,” we get “We are in accord with the teaching of the Holy Father concerning the dignity of married life, and the necessity of a truly Christian relationship between conjugal love and responsible parenthood” (par.2). This paragraph is the root of which the dissent in paragraph 26 is the fruit.
Paragraph 3 says there is nothing in the encyclical at variance with the Canadian Bishops’ recent submissions to the federal government on contraception, divorce and abortion. In regard to the statements on contraception and divorce, that is not true. The statement on abortion was flawed and weak.
The Statement speaks as though the Church were still searching for the answers which the Pope and Church had already given (cf. para. 3, 4, 6, 7, 13, 18, 34). Father Charles Curran’s theme of “Dissent in and for the Church” is brought out in par. 34: “We stand in union with the Bishop of Rome … But this very union postulates such a love for the Church that we can do no less than to place all our love and all of our intelligence at its service … If this sometimes means that in our desire to make the Church more intelligible and more beautiful we must, as pilgrims do, falter in the way, or differ as to the way, no one should conclude that our common faith is lost or our loving purpose blunted.”
Instead of rejoicing in our heritage of truth, the last paragraph quotes Cardinal Newman’s “Lead kindly light amidst the encircling gloom.” The Statement was to bring that encircling gloom.
Paragraph 26: “The Worst”
Shortly after the Winnipeg meeting, I attended a banquet at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto marking the Golden Jubilee of the Scarboro Foreign Mission Society. There Father Oliver Molonev and I discussed the Winnipeg Statement with Cardinal Pignedoli, former Apostolic Delegate to Canada. He introduced us to Archbishop Clarizio, the incumbent Delegate and asked us to go to Ottawa to discuss the Statement further. In expressing his profound concern over what had happened at Winnipeg, Cardinal Pignedoli said: “Do you not think paragraph 26 is the worst?” Indeed it was.
Here is the text of paragraph 26: “Counsellors may meet others who, accepting the teaching of the Holy Father, find that because of particular circumstances they are involved in what seems to them a clear conflict of duties, e.g., the reconciling of conjugal love and responsible parenthood with the education of children already born or with the health of the mother. In accord with the accepted principles of moral theology, if these persons have tried sincerely, but without success to pursue a line of conduct in keeping with the given directives, they may be safely assured that, whoever chooses that course which seems right to him does so in good conscience.”
The paragraph is addressed to counsellors, not restricted to confessors. This generic address could only spread more widely and quickly the evil permitted. Special norms promised to confessors have never been given.
The advice is for those who accept “the teaching of the Holy Father.” Dissenters have tried to obfuscate the issue by calling Humanae Vitae the teaching of the Holy Father. It is the teaching of the Church (Humanae Vitae par.1 and 4). The Holy Father is speaking not in his own name but by virtue of the mandate entrusted to him by Christ (par-6).
Paragraph 26 is self-contradictory. Those who accept the teaching are told that in some circumstances they need not observe it. The Church has constantly taught that artificial contraception is intrinsically evil, wrong in all circumstances.
There is a rejection of the sufficiency of grace. Those who have tried sincerely but without success to keep the teaching of the Church are told that they may then deviate from it. The Church has always taught with St. Paul and the Fathers that grace is sufficient for us to do what is commanded. The encyclical spells out the means of grace in Section III.
It embraces the error of proportionalism. It allows parents to balance the right to life with other goods such as the education of children and the health of the mother. The encyclical forbids such a balancing of goods (par.14). Compare the words of the Statement with those of Pope John Paul II: “It would be a very serious error to conclude that the Church’s teaching in this matter is in itself only an ‘ideal’ which must then be adapted, proportioned, graduated to the so-called concrete possibilities of man: according to a ‘balancing of the various goods in question.’ What are the ‘concrete possibilities of man?’ Of which man are we speaking? Of the man dominated by lust or of the man redeemed by Christ?” (Address of March 1, 1984)
It refers to “accepted principles of moral theology.” There are no principles of moral theology accepted by the Church which permit artificial contraception.
It calls the teaching of the Church “directives.” They are not directives but divine natural law.
Paragraph 26 allows the couple to use contraceptives only after they have tried sincerely to avoid their use but failed. How long do they need to try to be good before they need not try any longer? Does this apply also to masturbation and homosexuality and adultery?
The words “that course which seems right to him” opens up a world of subjective error. What if this means an abortifacient pill or device or sterilization? Supposing the course which seems right to him does not seem right to her? Supposing his counsellor or confessor differs with her counsellor or confessor?
Paragraph 26 embraces a wrong concept of conscience. It says “whoever honestly chooses that course which seems right to him does so in good conscience.” There is an obligation to have an informed conscience and then conform oneself to it (Vatican II, The Church in the Modern World, par.51). Married couples are obliged to conform their activity to the creative intention of God (Humanae Vitae, par.10). In their statement “Conscience and Morality” the Irish Bishops tell us it is contrary to the clear teaching of the Church to appeal to the authority of conscience to justify exceptions to a moral law that is universally binding (Feb.22, 1980, p.25).
Most Bishops looked on the Winnipeg Statement as a liberal pastoral interpretation. Bishop Alexander Carter, President of the CCCB was more precise. He said: “It was something of an identity crisis. For the first time we faced the necessity of making a statement which many felt could not be a simple Amen, a total and formal endorsement of the doctrine of the encyclical.” (Canadian Bishops on ‘Of Human Life’ by Rev. Edward Sheridan, S.J., America. Oct. 19, 1968, p.349). Please note the words “For the first time”; “simple Amen”; and the reference to the doctrine of the encyclical. Why did the Bishops so act? Bishop Carter continued: “We had to reckon with the fact of widespread dissent from some points of his (the Pope’s) teaching among the Catholic faithful, priests, theologians and probably certain of our own number” (ibid.) Father Sheridan gave a correct assessment when he wrote: “The statement contained no general profession of assent to the whole teaching of Human Life; and nothing that could be interpreted as adding the local authority of the Canadian Hierarchy to that of the encyclical in general.” (ibid.)
As important as what was said was what was communicated. The Statement communicated different meanings, none of them in full harmony with the encyclical. Only representative comments are given; literally scores more could be added.
To some the Winnipeg Statement endorsed a National Church. The National Catholic Reporter called it “A Canadian Credo” (Oct. 9, 1968). The Toronto Catholic Register of Oct. 5, 1968 said editorially: “It will take weeks, perhaps months, for Canadians to appreciate and really believe what happened at Winnipeg last week. It has not happened in the Church – anywhere – for centuries. And in Canada, perhaps for the first time in our history, we can now become a truly Canadian Church in the deepest sense of the word.”
To many the Statement communicated ambivalence and compromise. Typical was this: “The whole section (Par.17) is a prime example of double-think, which is the ability to hold two diametrically opposed views in one’s mind at the same time and believe both of them.” (John C. Caines, B.C. Catholic, Oct. 17, 1968)
To most it meant “Let Conscience Be Your Guide.” In a personal letter Archbishop Routhier wrote: “At the final meeting I was sitting next to Archbishop Wilhelm and said to him: You will see that Douglas Roche of the Western Catholic Reporter will publish this text in the next issue of the Diocesan paper in large lines and introduce it with ‘freedom of conscience’. This is what happened.” In fact, Douglas Roche exultantly reported: “The issue is over in Canada. Catholics are free to use contraceptives if their informed conscience so prompts them.” The National Catholic Reporter had the headline: “Canada: Yes on Conscience.” (Oct. 2, 1968)
A fair assessment of what the Statement communicated was given by Dale Francis: “The practical consequence has been that it has been interpreted as virtually negating the Pope’s proscription of contraceptives.” (Twin Circle, Oct. 20, 1968)
1. Did Pope Paul VI approve the Winnipeg Statement?
No. One could go into greater detail but it is sufficient to say here that the Pope did not dissent from himself. He believed truth, with its own grace, should be received for its own sake. Father James Schall S.J., thinks that is why the Pope did not exercise authority. In August of 1968 the Pope called the teaching of the encyclical “Not Our Law but the Law of God.”
The weekend of Sept. 7-8, 1968, there was a joint meeting of representatives of the U.S. and Canadian hierarchies at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto. The principal question discussed was “The preparation jointly of pastoral guidelines in accord with the papal encyclical on human life.”
After the publication of the Winnipeg Statement Sept. 27, the reference to joint guidelines was disturbing. The American Bishops were due to meet in Washington in November. After correspondence with Cardinal O’Boyle, I prepared a commentary on the Winnipeg Statement and with the help of Father John Eves was able to get sufficient copies to Washington for the meeting. This commentary tried to show how the Canadian stand was a dissenting one and the likely consequences. The American Statement was not in dissent but was pastorally weak.
Cardinal Cicognani, the Secretary of State, sent me a letter expressing the thanks of the Holy Father for my commentary. He also added his thanks. What is significant is the manner in which this letter was forwarded. It was sent in an open envelope through Ottawa with the instruction that it be given to me by my Archbishop. Archbishop Pocock called me to the Chancery Office and handed me the letter without comment. Later I received thanks from the Apostolic Delegate.
L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, refused to print the Winnipeg Statement.
2. Was the Winnipeg Statement Revoked?
No. On April 18, 1969, the General Assembly of Canadian Bishops adopted a report on Family Life which read: “Nothing could be gained and much lost by an attempt to rephrase what we have said in Winnipeg. We stand squarely behind our position but we feel it is our duty to insist on a proper interpretation of that position.”
A Statement on Conscience was issued Dec. 12, 1973. It stopped short of practical application to either Humanae Vitae or the Winnipeg Statement. The Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Guidelines for Family Life Education,” June 1977 and revised Oct. 1, 1983 include paragraph 26 of the Statement.
To help implement the Synod on the Family, in 1983 the CCCB published a set of “Working Papers” called “Responsible Parenting.” In one called “Responsible Procreation” the Winnipeg Statement, Humanae Vitae, Rahner and Curran are quoted with equal alacrity. It concludes: “To state that it is possible for everyone to carry out this law (against artificial contraception) would risk creating in the faithful a feeling of despair and guilt.” (p.52). In a review of a book containing comments of Rahner, Haring and the Statements of the German, Austrian and Canadian hierarchies we are told: “This collection is an excellent compilation of the best commentaries on the encyclical.” (Building Christian Families, p.77). They are, in fact, the worst.
3. What is the Binding Force of the Winnipeg Statement?
None. National hierarchies cannot constitute a parallel magisterium anymore than can theologians. The Winnipeg Statement was therefore not a magisterial one. Nor is the Statement a collegial act, for collegiality supposes unity with the Holy Father. By withholding assent to the doctrine of the encyclical, the Bishops lost the right to be heard. (cf. Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, par. 22).
The Fruits of the Winnipeg Statement
Our Bishops were the first victims of the Winnipeg Statement. The bond with the Holy See was weakened. Unity among Bishops was strained. One Bishop wrote, when he was not re-elected to the theological commission as expected: “My defence of papal authority (at Winnipeg) did not go down well with my brother bishops.” Respect of priests and people was diminished. In giving in to pressure from their Offices the Bishops gave themselves in thrall to their own bureaucracy. Now Catholics can no longer presume the orthodoxy of their Bishops’ Statements whether on the economy, the role of women in the Church, or abortion.
Priests were also victims. Those defending the Church’s teaching were betrayed, and if they voiced opposition to the Winnipeg Statement, they were sometimes harshly treated. In some parishes pastors and assistants took opposing sides in the same pulpit. Gradually the pulpits fell silent on the most vital questions. Confessionals became a hidden arena of conflict. The faithful began to absolve themselves, for did they not have the right to follow “that course which seemed right to them?” The confessionals fell silent and deserted.
Education was quickly infected. Two of the seven priests dismissed from St. John Vianney Seminary in Buffalo for dissent were welcomed into St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto. Dissent, Winnipeg-style, spread through other seminaries. Texts like Married in the Lord by Father Michael Prieur, Christ Among Us by Wilhelm, marriage preparation courses, Family Life programs and CCCB kits all carried the life-destroying Winnipeg message.
In the 1970 Medico-Moral Guide, approved by the Canadian Bishops for use in our Catholic Hospitals, there is a prohibition of sterilization as a means of birth control (Art.18). The guide also opposes all artificial contraception (Art.19). But there is an addendum. It reads: “Reference should be made to the Canadian Bishops’ documents in the pastoral application of this general direction.” This addendum gave the green light to moral relativism in our hospitals under the cloak of “freedom of conscience.” Now our Catholic Hospitals schedule sterilizations daily and have clinics which dispense contraceptive pills and other abortifacient devices. Father Paul Marx has told me that the evidence is now in and that all contraceptive pills are abortifacient. We must conclude that our Catholic Hospitals have units which are no better than Morgentaler clinics.
The prime victim is the Catholic family. Since Winnipeg the use of contraceptives has increased until Catholic Canada has one of the lowest birth rates in the world and is on a suicide course. The contraceptive mentality has spread.
The children of the contraceptive mentality are many and depraved: adultery, fornication, venereal disease, homosexuality, pornography, radical feminism, sterilization, violence, child abuse, corrupt family life education, abortion and euthanasia.
The Winnipeg Statement has been the occasion of many invalid marriages. “Follow Your Conscience” has meant to many “I have the right to exclude children by contraception for a time or until I am ready, or forever.” To exclude the right to have children, whether for a time or forever, whether on the part of one or both parties, invalidates the marriage covenant. To concede the right to dissent from Humanae Vitae is to concede the right to enter an invalid marriage.
Righting the Wrong
Cardinal Newman once wrote that it is very difficult to set right what was once set wrong. The longer the Winnipeg Statement is allowed to retain a guise of external respectability the more difficult will it be to establish the teaching of Humanae Vitae in the minds and hearts and practice of Catholics. As the harm has been done at three levels so restoration should take place at these same levels of people, priests and Bishops.
Despite Winnipeg, the laity must restore Humanae Vitae by the example of their lives. The encyclical gives specific pastoral norms for (a) public authorities (par.23), (b) Men of Science (par.24), (c) Christian husbands and wives (par.25), (d) the Home Apostolate (par.26) and (e) Doctors and Medical Personnel (par.27). Some Catholics will respectfully protest any deformation of the Church’s teaching whether it occurs in the pulpit, confessional or school text.
Rejecting the Winnipeg Statement, priests ought to heed the words of the encyclical: “Beloved priest sons … Be the first to give in the exercise of your ministry the example of loyal internal and external obedience to the teaching authority of the Church” (par.28). All priests can do great good by sermons, in the confessional and by instruction and marriage preparation.
Diocesan Bishops have the immense duty of restoring Catholic teaching in their own Dioceses. This duty extends to every institution and person in teaching or counselling authority under their jurisdiction. As Archbishop Carney of Vancouver said in October of last year: “We will not have deep renewal in the Church until the faithful accept the Church’s teaching that artificial contraception is seriously immoral and form their consciences according to that norm.”
But every effort at restoration of Catholic truth in Canada is crippled by the barrier of the Winnipeg Statement. Its killer paragraph 26 is in Bishops’ Guidelines on Family Life Education and CCCB kits on marriage and marriage preparation and the derivative teaching tools.
There is only one way of righting the wrong and that is to withdraw the Statement of 1968 and replace it with the teaching of the Church. That teaching, as Pope John Paul II has said, is part of the permanent patrimony of the Church. ” It … belongs not only to the natural moral law but also to the moral order as revealed by God.” (Reflections on Humanae Vitae)
Recognizing the disastrous consequences of their dissenting Statement of 1968, on March 29th of this year the Austrian Bishops announced its withdrawal. They declared themselves in complete harmony with Humanae Vitae, Familiaris Consortio and the statements on human life of Pope John Paul II.
Now it is Canada’s turn. I respectfully submit that injustice and charity our National Conference of Catholic Bishops has the duty to withdraw the Winnipeg Statement and replace it with the life-giving, grace-giving, peace-giving teaching of the Church. Sooner or later that will be done and those Bishops who do it will be forever honoured.
In the meantime, every day’s delay is costing Christ’s Body members and Heaven souls.
According to all statistics the great majority of Catholic couples in Canada practice methods of contraception which unjustly kill or prevent life. Catholic Canada is suicide-bent and spiritually stricken and prostrate. Many give in self-defense the teaching of their own Bishops. When the Holy Father was visiting France in 1980 he said: “France, what have you done with your baptism?” Might one not say here: “Canada, what have you done with your charter of life and love?” To every Canadian Christ says what He said to St. Paul “My grace is sufficient for you.” On May 7, 1988, addressing married couples in Uruguay, Pope John Paul II said: “Be faithful to the teaching of the Church and you will be united by a love that grows stronger and stronger … Fidelity has not gone out of fashion. You may be sure that it is the families that are truly Christian that will bring the smile back to our troubled world.”
Msgr. Vincent Foy