Quo Vadis, Canada?

John B. Shea
March 1, 2005
Reproduced with Permission
Catholic Insight

On February 16, 2005, Mr. Paul Martin, the Prime Minister of Canada, introduced Bill C-38, the Civil Marriage Act, to Parliament. This act defined civil marriage not as it had been previously defined, as "the lawful union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others", but as "the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others." He lauded the Bill as one in which "liberties are safeguarded, rights are protected and the people of this land are treated as equals under the law." He quoted the British Columbia Court of Appeal, which had found that "marriage is the only road to true equality for same-sex couples." Mr. Martin announced to Parliament that "The debate comes down to the Charter, the protection of majority rights … For most Canadians, same-sex marriage is the law of the land." These proclamations of his were qualified, almost in passing, by the remark that "We will be influenced by our faith, but we also have an obligation to take the widest perspective … to recognize that one of the great strengths of Canada is its respect for the rights of each and every individual, to understand that we must not shrink from the need to reaffirm the rights and responsibilities in an evolving society."

The Historical Perspective

Plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose! So, what of these rights, this evolving society? Scipio (236-184, B.C.), the famous Roman general, as quoted by St. Augustine,1 defined the people as "a multitude bound together by a mutual recognition of rights and a mutual co-operation for the common good." A Republic, Scipio held, cannot be managed without justice, for, where there is not true justice, there is no recognition of rights. He also held that iniquitous laws are not right, since even unjust law-givers, themselves call a right (ius) only what derives from the fountainhead of justice (iustitia) and brand as false the opinion that a right (ius) is whatever is of advantage (utile) to the one in power.

Cicero, in The Laws (122), spoke of natural law as the innate laws of nature to which it is just for all human societies to conform, and which can be discerned by reason. He supported the primacy of moral standards over government laws. St. Thomas Aquinas stated that "the light of natural reason whereby we discern good from evil, which is the function of the natural law, is nothing else but an imprint of the divine light."

2  [Back]

Where there is no justice, there can be no 'people' is Scipio's sense, hence no good or 'weal' of the people  or the commonwealth, but only the weal of an nondescript mob, undeserving of the designation 'the people'. Justice is the virtue, Augustine said, which accords to each and every man what is his due. "What, then," he asks, "shall we say of a man's justice when he takes himself away from the true God and hands himself over to dirty demons? Is this a giving to each what is his due?"3 The ultimate end or good for mankind is attained in the Beatific Vision in heaven. The proper role of the state is therefore, to help its citizens ultimately to attain their common good, their ultimate spiritual goal, by mean of maintaining order in society and defending against its disruption by violence, internally or from abroad.

In a discussion on Cicero's On the Republic, Augustine agrees with Cicero that the submission of the people to the state is justified when it is for their good, and therefore, to their advantage. Cicero asked, "Why, otherwise, does God have mastery over man, the mind over the body, reason over lust and the other wrongful movements of the soul?" Augustine then comments, "Surely now, it is good for some to be in an inferior position, and that it is good for all without exception, to be subject to God … what fragment of justice can there be in a man who is not subject to God, if, indeed it is a fact that such a one can rightfully exercise dominion …And if there is no justice in a man of this kind, then there is certainly no justice, either, in an assembly made up of such men." He goes on to say "…a people devoid of justice is not such a people as can constitute a commonwealth."

Philosophical Error

Our Prime Minister has been influenced by a perspective, which he says is "wider" than that of his Catholic faith. He and his Liberal party, and indeed the majority of the members of parliament have succumbed to a moral philosophy, which is based on a subjectivist individualism that leaves no room for objective moral truth based on human nature or on divine law. In this philosophy man-made law is not based on the moral law, and serves only as a practical way for solving conflicts between interested parties in regard to selfish preferences or choices. It does so by means of a 'consensus', which is often achieved by means of rhetorical manipulation of public opinion, especially in matters of bioethics and politics. It is not a true moral philosophy.

This 'consensus ethics' does not recognize the existence of objective moral truth but is a prime example of moral relativism. It was Descartes' (1596  1650) retreat from metaphysical realism expressed in his proposition that ascribed objective reality only to ideas and not to impirical phenomena, which led to moral relativism. This relativism implies that each person's notion of what is right or wrong is right or wrong for him.The world has come to accept the self-contradictory idea that there is no objective moral truth except the statement that no objective moral truth exists! This is the ultimate origin of 'political correctness', the followers of which follow in lock-step the opinion of Richard Rorty, an American philosopher and a nihilist who does not believe in objective moral truth, but who nonetheless holds that "… by the use of rhetoric, one can change one's desires into the truth."4 This has proved a handy philosophy, which society's power elites use for their own benefit.

The Martin Liberals are, perhaps, unwitting followers of Thomas Hobbes (1588  1679) who held that natural law was the law of power. It was with prophetic insight that Cardinal Newman had written in 1873, "The ancient world of Greece and Rome was full of superstition, but not infidelity, for they believed in the moral governance of the world, and their first principles were the same as ours… But we are coming to a time when the world will not acknowledge our first principles."5

What does the Church teach?

Let us return to the fact that Mr. Martin will take a "wider perspective" than our faith. What then does our faith teach us? A few quotations are appropriate.

"You shall not lie with a man as with a woman." Leviticus 18:22

" Homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Persona Humana 8.

"Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning, made them male and female, and said, for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." Mt. 19: 4-5.

" If you love me, keep my commandments." Jn. 13:34 "Revelation teaches that the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone." Veritatis Splendor, 35.

" … inasmuch as the natural law expresses the dignity of the human person and lays the foundation for his fundamental rights and duties, it is universal in its precepts and its authority extends to all mankind." Veritatis Splendor, 51.

"If one does not acknowledge a transcendental truth, then the force of power takes over, and each person tends to make full use of the means at his disposal in order to impose his own interests or his own opinion, with no regard for the rights of others." Centesimus Annus, 44.

"When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic law-maker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favour of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral." (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Considerations Regarding Proposals To Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons. July 31, 2003.)

" The State or the party which claims to be able to lead history toward perfect goodness and which sets itself above all values, cannot tolerate the affirmation of an objective criterion of good and evil beyond the will of those in power, since such a criterion in given circumstances, could be used to judge their actions. This explains why totalitarianism attempts to destroy the Church, or at least to reduce her to submission, making her an instrument of its own ideological apparatus." Centesimus Annus, 45: Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World of Today, Gaudium et Spes, 76.

"The Church values the democratic system inasmuch as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility both of electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and replacing them by peaceful means when appropriate … Authentic democracy is possible only in a State ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct understanding of the human person …But freedom attains its full development only by accepting the truth …The Christian upholds freedom and serves it, constantly offering to others the truth which he has known ( cf. Jn. 8: 31-32), in accordance with the missionary nature of his vocation." Centesimus Annus 46.

Other ignored facts

It should be noted that Bill C-38 does more than deny the significance of the faith and of the moral law based on reason's understanding of the nature of man. It ignores the impirical scientific facts in regard to the pathological nature and consequences of homosexual acts.

"Homosexual unions are totally lacking in the biological and anthropological elements of marriage and family which would be the basis, on the level of reason, for granting them legal recognition. Such unions are not able to contribute in a proper way to the procreation and survival of the human race." (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Considerations on Unions Between Homosexual Persons.)

An appeal to faith and reason

Mr. Martin, you have chosen to reaffirm human rights and responsibilities "in an evolving society." If this meant that such rights were based on divine and natural law and that their application needed enactment of laws appropriate to changes, for example, of a technical or economic nature, one could not but agree with you. However, if (as is made obvious by your suggestion that there is a wider perspective than God's will) you imply that rights are derived in principle from the changing opinions and mores of the day, then I must disagree. Society may evolve, or as Pierre Trudeau put it "unfold", in many directions  some good, some bad. An increase in our knowledge of science for example, may be put to good or evil use. In the realm of moral principles however, there can be no legitimate change or evolution. The opinion of the politically shrewd is not necessarily true. One must therefore, on this count also conclude that you are promoting Bill C-38 on the basis of fabricated 'rights' codified in human law and founded on a consensus ethics that is false.

Your refusal to allow those members of your party who hold Ministerial positions in the Government to vote their conscience in regard to Bill C-38 is frankly dictatorial and immoral. Quo Vadis Mr. Martin? Please, in your own interest and that of Canada, return to the truth.


1 St. Augustine, City of God, Chapter 21. [Back]

2 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1-11, q.91 a.2. [Back]

3 See number 1, above. [Back]

4 Richard Rorty, Objectivity, Relativism and Truth. Philosophical Papers, Vol.1, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.(1991), 8-9. [Back]

5 John Henry Newman, Bigglietto Speech, on the occasion of his elevation to the College of Cardinals. [Back]