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Meditation 351
The Coercive Power of the State

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This January, Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary wrote in a pastoral letter:

"Since homosexuality, adultery, prostitution and pornography undermine the foundations of the family, the basis of society, then the state must use its coercive power to proscribe or curtail them in the interests of the common good,"

I do not question the right of the Catholic Church to define homosexuality, adultery, prostitution and pornography as sins, and forbid these activities to those who choose to follow that church's teachings. But what century does Bishop Henry think he is living in that he thinks he can demand that the state enforce Catholic morality, not just on Catholics, but on everyone?

What is remarkable is that the four activities he mentions are all sexually related, yet he did not include sex-related child abuse in his list. I wonder why a member of the Catholic clergy would make this omission?[1]

In any event he went on in his letter to suggest that the acts he itemized are evil and he rejected the idea that private acts are nobody else's business.

"An evil act remains an evil act whether it is performed in public or in private."

And he still did not take the opportunity to provide, as an example, the evil act of child abuse by priests, whether performed in public or in private.[2]

Unsurprisingly, many people took offense to his letter and someone submitted a complaint about the Bishop to the Alberta Human Rights Commission over the idea that the state should use its coercive power to proscribe homosexuality. Apparently no-one bothered to file a grievance on behalf of adulterers, pornographers, or prostitutes who, at least on the surface, would have equal cause to complain. The Commission is taking this complaint seriously and has launched an investigation.

The Bishop has responded that the freedom of speech and religion protections granted under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms[3] permits him to say what he did. Further, he stated:

"If the Human Rights Commission is successful, it will prevent me from expressing my views and the position of the Roman Catholic Church,"

I must admit, I am troubled by attempts to muzzle free speech, no matter how offensive. And I do consider what Bishop Henry had to say was offensive. And, in my view, he has shown an apparently unlimited capacity to make offensive statements. But a lot of what is offensive lies in interpretation by the reader. Note, for example the recent unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia levelled against me. The distinction between hate speech levelled at a group and legitimate commentary is at times difficult to see.

I think that it is better that Bishop Henry be allowed to speak freely and thereby continue to expose his church for the haven of intolerance and ignorance that it is on sexual matters; not surprising for an organization run by men bound by rules of celibacy that force their own sexuality into the dark.

But still, there is a delicious irony in the fact that his call for the coercive powers of the state to be brought down on others has brought those coercive powers down upon his own head.



  1. Yes, it is a cheap shot, but the institutional response of the Catholic Church to the problem of child abuse by their clergy has been abysmal. Deny, deny, deny, deny, deny, - oh - you caught us - sorry the diocese is bankrupt and we cannot properly compensate the victims, besides it is all the fault of secular materialistic society that our priests were tempted into sin.
  2. Still a cheap shot, but still worth taking.
  3. Many other countries would call this a Bill of Rights