“An Historical Note on the Winnipeg Statement”

Published June, 2009, Catholic Insight, republished on  Lifesitenews.com.


Scan_20140409 (3)An Historical Note on the The Winnipeg Statement

by Msgr. Vincent Foy

In 1998 I attended the Call to Holiness Convention in Detroit.  One of the speakers was Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, of Lincoln, Nebraska, a great defender of the Faith. I spoke to him privately about the situation in Canada, including the problems caused by The Winnipeg Statement of the Canadian Bishops on the encyclical Humanae Vitae. I asked him whether he could give any advice on how the situation could be remedied.

Bishop Bruskewitz suggested that I try to get five or six Canadian Bishops to petition the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for a review of the Winnipeg Statement.  He thought the Holy See would reply with an analysis which would make plain to all its grave errors.

In the following days I composed the “Plea for Life” below. I sent it to about ten Canadian Bishops I thought would be most likely to agree to an appeal to Rome. Here is the text, never before published.

A Plea for Life

Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29, 1998

Your Excellency,

This year is the 30th anniversary of the encyclical Humanae Vitae, signed July 25, 1968 and published on July 29, 1968. Its paramount importance is evident when one reflects that, as Pope John Paul II has said, “The future of the Church passes through the family.” The rejection of Humanae Vitae brings with it a train of evils which destroy family life: abortion, sterilization, contraception, infidelity, divorce, absence of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and loss of faith. It could be said that the progression or regression of the Church depends in great part on the acceptance or rejection of Humanae Vitae.

Canada and Humanae Vitae

While we celebrate a noteworthy anniversary we must lament that Humanae Vitae has not been faithfully taught and accepted in Canada. Statistics vary but it is close to the truth to say that about 90% of married Canadian Catholics believe that they can contracept without sin and that contraceptive practice is not a ban to the reception of Holy Communion. In Canada Catholics abort, contracept, are sterilized and are divorced at about the same rate as non-Catholics. Could there be a more ominous omen of what the future holds in store for the Church in Canada?

The good faith disaster

Even when couples contracept in good faith because of faulty instructions, the manifold evil fruits of contraceptive practice persist. The marriage itself might be invalid because of an intention contrary to the right to have children, whether that intention is temporary or permanent. Abortions might occur as an effect of abortifacient Pills or devices and the marriage act is transformed from love into mutual abuse, so that selfish hedonism replaces sacrificial affection. The contracepting couple becomes anti-familial in their attitudes. If there are children they cannot but be influenced by their parents’ corrupted relationship. Such a partnership is not conducive either to religious vocations or to handing on the Faith.

The Winnipeg connection

A major factor in the rejection of Humanae Vitae in Canada is the commentary on it by the Canadian Bishops called The Winnipeg Statement, signed Friday, Sept. 27, 1968.

Among other controversial affirmations, the Canadian Bishops said, in reference to contraception, that there were circumstances in which “whoever chooses that course which seems right to him does so in good conscience” (n. 26). Who can measure the damage done to souls and families and the Church by this misleading sophistry?

John F. Kippley, internationally respected authority on the marriage covenant, founder of the Couple to Couple League, has said of paragraph 26 of The Winnipeg Statement: “A more misleading statement would be hard to imagine. There are no principles of moral theology that allow a person to choose or engage in actions taught by the Church to be objectively immoral, whether such actions be adultery, contraception, fornication or sodomy. And of course, what applies to one behaviour applies to all the rest” (Sex and the Marriage Covenant, Couple to Couple League Int’l, 1991, p. 145).

Our Holy Father has said that to say there are circumstances in which contraception is licit is to say that there are circumstances in which God is no longer God. Yet countless Catholics have been falsely assured in approved texts and courses that there  are circumstances in which they may contracept and not sin. The authority given is not God or the Church but The Winnipeg Statement.

Here I give only one example among many of how The Winnipeg Statement is still currently used to lead young couples into a life of sin and moral bankruptcy. The Mosaic Marriage Preparation Course states: “For couples experiencing problems the bishops of Canada have said that those who ‘have chosen the way which seems the best for them’ live in the love of God” (Couple’s Book Creating a Family, Novalis, 1980, pp 8,9).

God’s grace is sufficient

The Winnipeg Statement conveys the false notion that for some the observance of Humanae Vitae is not possible. Many Canadian marriage preparation courses have locked into this error. Even a C.C.C.B. Working Paper supposedly published to support the Synod on the Family, persists in the error that God’s law asks too much for some. We read: “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” (C.C.C.B. Working paper: Responsible Procreation, 1983, p.52). Should not the guilty feel guilty precisely to lead them to conversion and peace?

To deny the sufficiency of grace is contrary to the teaching of the encyclical, to divine revelation and to defined doctrine (cf. Council of Trent, Session VI., Ch. XI).

The spread of the Winnipeg virus

The deviant message of The Winnipeg Statement was not confined to Canada’s borders. It was seized upon by dissenters of many countries to justify their rebellion against Humanae Vitae. Literally three million copies of Anthony Wilhelm’s book Christ Among Us, quoting paragraph 26 of The Winnipeg Statement, circulated throughout the English-speaking world before the Holy See ordered Bishop Gerety of Newark to withdraw his “Imprimatur”. Wilhelm left the priesthood shortly after the first edition, which remained in print for 15 years. The text Path Through Catholicism by Mark Link, SJ, published in 1991 with the Imprimatur of the bishop of Dallas, Texas, has crossed national borders with its endorsement of a false notion of conscience based on The Winnipeg Statement. Other texts and courses used in England and even Australia, have quoted The Winnipeg Statement to try to justify contraceptive use.

An article entitled “Formation of Conscience with Birth Control as an Example,” by Kenneth Overbury, SJ, is still widely circulated in parishes though written in the mid eighties. It says, after quoting paragraph 26 of The Winnipeg Statement: “After Paul VI received a copy of the Canadian Statement the apostolic delegate to Canada, Archbishop Clarizio, informed the bishops that the Pope was quite satisfied with their interpretation and that he (Clarizio) appreciated the bishops’ explaining ‘such an important document with due fidelity and respect to the Pope.’” This statement is untrue (cf. My booklet Did Pope Paul VI Approve The Winnipeg Statement? A Search for the Truth, Life Ethics Information Centre, Toronto, 1997).

The Winnipeg Statement should be revoked

In July, 1978, the Administrative Board of the C.C.C.B. announced that the future work of the C.C.C.B. would be concentrated in a special way on Christian family life – the strengthening of the Christian family, Unfortunately, it was not recognized that no strengthening was possible without the acceptance of Humanae Vitae. Archbishop Carney of Vancouver went to the heart of the problem when he said in October, 1987, “We will not have deep renewal in the Church until the faithful accept the Church teaching that artificial contraception is seriously immoral and form their consciences according to that norm.”

Every attempt at family renewal will fail as long as The Winnipeg Statement can be quoted or misquoted as justification for contraceptive use.

A suggested solution

Even though it is more and more evident that The Winnipeg Statement and its spin-off endorsements have given family life a near-mortal wound, especially in Canada, I believe it is impractical to hope for its revocation at this time. That will happen some good and glorious day.

A present a practical solution is for a group of Canadian bishops to appeal to his Holiness, Pope John Paul II, and to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for an evaluation of the doctrinal and pastoral orthodoxy of The Winnipeg Statement. Cardinal Ratzinger has expressed the opinion that statements of national hierarchies which have repercussions beyond national boundaries should first be submitted to the Holy See. While the time for that is past, the post-factum submission of The Winnipeg Statement for magisterial analysis would be of incalculable benefit to Canada and the Catholic world.

Would you be willing to join a Bishops’ Appeal to the Holy See in this matter? If so, I would be happy and privileged to add your name to those who are gong to undertake this blessed project and communicate it to them.  May I please hear from you?

Surely our Canadian Catholics will forever hold in esteem those episcopal shepherds who participate in righting what has been a great wrong.

May God bless and protect you and guide you in the way of Life and Love, Most Respectfully Yours in Jesus and Mary,

(Rev. Msgr.) Vincent Foy, Former Officialis, Toronto Tribunal

The Response

In reply to this plea, only two bishops agreed to submit The Winnipeg Statement to the Holy See for evaluation. They were Bishop Basil Filevich, Eparch emeritus of Saskatoon (Ukrainian) and Bishop Roman Danylak, then Apostolic Administrator of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Toronto.  Because no Latin Rite bishop agreed to the procedure, I let the matter drop.

Recently I came across the reply of Fr. Jerome Weber OSB. As an abbot and member of the CCCB he had the right to vote at Winnipeg. His letter is of interest because it illustrates the indifference of the CCCB at that time to the proposed withdrawal of The Winnipeg Statement.  It is here quoted in full:

Letter of Fr. Weber


St. Elizabeth’s Hospital,

Box 10, Humbolt, Sask, S0K 2A0

Aug 7, 1998

Dear Msgr. Foy

Thank you for the information that you sent me about The Winnipeg Statement on Humanae Vitae and your letter of August 25 [sic].

I was a member of the CCCB when the statement was made, and I didn’t like that No. 26 which became the source of so much controversy.

On the 25th anniversary of the statement I wrote to the President of the CCCB asking that it should issue to the public a statement to rectify what had been done, but I received no reply.  Hence I don’t expect what you are asking for will be done.

Personally, I think efforts along this way will never bear any result – it is a lost cause.

However, I think we should encourage the many good things that are happening – there are several groups of people – usually young people – who are speaking up for chastity to the young people, and of abstinence from sexual activity until marriage. In Saskatchewan there is Teen-Aid, an organisation which sponsors from Grade 7 to 12 about chastity and abstinence. Here, in Humboldt, we have had such teachers going to the schools during the past 10 years, and from reports that it have heard, they usually have a very good reception. I am a member of such a committee.

Moreover, there is the Natural Family Planning movement which is having a growing impact on married couples. There is a very good centre for this in Omaha, Neb. In Canada, too, there are many dioceses which sponsor and promote this movement.

These are positive approaches, and to my mind, are the means which will make a change among young couples beginning families.

Sincerely yours,

Fr. Jerome Weber OSB

Hope for the Future

Until 2008, it seemed that any efforts to have The Winnipeg Statement recalled were indeed lost causes. Then at the close of their 2008 plenary assembly which met at Cornwall, Ontario, Sept 22-26, the Canadian Bishops issued a pastoral letter called “Liberating Potential”. It was almost on the fortieth anniversary of The Winnipeg Statement (Sept. 27, 1968). This pastoral called on Catholics to discover or rediscover the encyclical Humanae Vitae.

This was a promising beginning. We now have a founded hope that past errors will be corrected. We know that it is not sufficient to proclaim the truth, We must also refute errors. The Winnipeg Statement has left its Death’s Head Seal on many programs, texts and institutions, even “Catholic” hospitals.  All of these must be examined in the light of Humanae Vitae and purged of moral poison.

That is our hope and prayer, for the resurrection of the Church in Canada.

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