News reviewed from a Catholic point of view
May 22, 2023
By Catholic Conscience
Governance, Institutions, Justice & Peace
Child Services Agencies Threaten Investigation and Possible Action Against Parents of School Children Accused of Using “Improper” Gender Pronouns at School
Parents of schoolchildren in Ontario report having received calls from child protection agencies threatening investigation, and potentially removal of their children from their homes, on the basis of reports from public school officials that the children have improperly used the gender pronouns “he,” “she,” and “they” at school. The parents have felt compelled to seek legal advice at their own expense.
The Church’s View
According to the Church, it is parents who bear primary responsibility for all aspects of the education of their children, including matters of moral and social concern are parents, and not the state: “The family is the primary unit in society. It is where education begins and the Word of God is first nurtured… Relegating the family to a subordinate or secondary role, excluding it from its rightful position in society, would be to inflict grave harm on the authentic growth of society as a whole… The priority of the family over society and the State must be affirmed… The family, then, does not exist for society or the State, but society and the State exist for the family.” Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Sects. 209-214.
Points to Consider
- Do public institutions have any legitimate power of enforcing the use of gender pronouns?
- Does it matter, in answering this question, whether the children’s choice of pronoun is supported by demonstrable scientific fact?
- To the extent public institutions have a right to enforce non-traditional use of gender pronouns, does that right extend to the removal of children from their parents’ homes? What legitimate corrective actions might attach to such a right?
Life & Human Dignity
Canada’s Euthanasia Program Troubles the World — But Hopes are not yet Extinguished
Citing a case in which a 61-year-old depressive person was euthanized solely on the basis of hearing loss, the Associated Press has joined other voices in reporting that Canada’s laws regarding socially assisted death (SAD) are troubling to most of the world, including places in which such laws have been generally accepted. The AP notes that even human rights advocates who support euthanasia are alarmed that Canada’s proposals “lack necessary safeguards, devalue the lives of disabled people and are prompting doctors and health workers to suggest the procedure to those who might not otherwise consider it. Equally troubling, advocates say, are instances in which people have sought to be killed because they weren’t getting adequate government support to live.”
The article also quotes Canadian Human Rights Commissioner Marie-Claude Landry as saying that euthanasia “cannot be a default for Canada’s failure to fulfill its human rights obligations.”
At the same time, the Catholic Register reports that temporary shelving of a proposed expansion by Parliament of access to SAD for those suffering only from mental illness offers an opportunity for citizens to speak up in defense of life and to minimize social culpability in killing. The newspaper urges Catholics to listen respectfully to others who may support SAD in general, but who join the Church in opposing further exapansion of access to it.
Palliative Care as Humanitarian and Moral Alternative
Many voices have advocated palliative care as the proper moral and humanitarian alternative to socially assisted death (SAD). For example, as an alternative to Bill 11, a proposal to create a statutory right to publicly financed SAD that is currently before the legislative assembly of Quebec, the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Quebec has urged vigorous action to provide good quality, home-based palliative care. The bishops note that “accessible palliative care is essential in order to assist persons to live their last moments in decency and dignity.”
As noted in the AP article cited above, opponents of SAD have sometimes accused Canada of promoting SAD as a less expensive and administratively more efficient alternative to palliative care. Many observers have noted that palliative care is both underfunded and not equally available across all regions of Canada. The Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute (CCBI) has begun a series of reports concerning the relative costs and availability of SAD and palliative care, reporting that the interim chair of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Charlotte-Anne Malischewski, “advises the federal government to take a closer look at what has happened since the legalization of euthanasia before extending the procedure for other situations.” Ms. Malischewski is reported to have written to Global News: “In particular, (Parliament) needs to focus on the many worrying accounts of individuals who have accessed or are considering accessing MAiD because Canada is failing to fulfill their fundamental human rights,” (emphasis added). She notes that “In an era where we recognize the right to die with dignity, we must do more to guarantee the right to live with dignity.” As CCBI observes, “Catholic teaching… does not condone ‘the right to die with dignity’ when euthanasia is meant, but affirms that a natural, peaceful and as pain-free as possible death — its meaning of ‘dignity’ — is a human and spiritual need.”
Others have noted apparent government failures to live up to campaign promises regarding expansion of long term and palliative care. The charts below, taken from Albertan provincial and Canadian federal annual reports, seem to indicate that although the number of socially administered deaths in Alberta are rising steadily, and despite the promises of virtually all parties to increase the number of available beds, exactly one new palliative care bed has been made available within the province in the past four years.
Sign of Hope in Spontaneous “Outpouring” of Worship at Christian University in Kentucky
The Church Times reports that a morning prayer service at a Methodist University in Kentucky spontaneously evolved into nearly two weeks of nonstop worship, involving thousands of people who drove hundreds of miles to join. “The so-called Asbury Revival,” the paper reports, began when students stayed on in the chapel, praying and worshipping. Social media posts began to draw others until the university could no longer cope with the influx. An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people ultimately participated.
Detransitioning Transgender Patient Sues Doctors and Counsellors
Catholic rights group PAFE (Parents as First Educators) has noted reports that a woman from Orillia, Ontario, regretting both hormone treatments and irreversible “gender reassignment surgeries” she underwent to remove her breasts and uterus in order to express herself as a male, is suing eight doctors and counsellors who guided her through the process on grounds that they insufficiently promoted consideration of other, reversible, alternatives. The woman is said to be the first gender reassignment patient in Canada to launch such a suit. The Economist reports that similar lawsuits are being instituted in the United States.
Stewardship of Creation
Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act S.C. 2021, c. 22
Assented to 2021-06-29
Canada’s most recent major environmental action was the 2021 passage of the Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, which was intended to encourage corporations and other carbon emitters to adhere to Canadian and international goals for emissions reduction. According to the Government of Canada, the Act:
- Enshrines Canada’s commitment to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and provides a framework of accountability and transparency to deliver on it.
- Establishes a legally binding process to set five-year national emissions-reduction targets as well as to develop credible, science-based emissions-reduction plans to achieve each target.
- Establishes the 2030 greenhouse gas emissions target as Canada’s Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement emissions reductions of 40%-45% below 2005 levels by 2030.
- Establishes a requirement to set national emissions reduction targets for 2035, 2040, and 2045, 10 years in advance. Each target will require credible, science-based emissions reduction plans to achieve it.
Activists within the environmental community have voiced concerns, however. As one prominent example, a growing body of scientific groups are now asserting that we have passed the point where the reduction of emissions is likely to save the planet, and now need to actively remove carbon from the atmosphere.
Examples of responses to the Net-Zero CEAA include:
- The Carbon Removal Alliance, an association of companies promoting carbon-removal technologies based on a variety of mechanical and chemical processes, states that “The world needs carbon removal, fast. On top of rapid emissions cuts, the world needs gigatons of permanent carbon removal within the next three decades to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.”
The Alliance also points out that “new technologies take time to develop; we can’t wait until 2050 and assume permanent carbon removal technologies will magically appear,” and sees the carbon crisis as “a trillion-dollar market opportunity.”
- The Fraser Institute queries whether in effect the Act is a “placebo,” noting that the act includes no legally-binding requirement to require emissions targets to be met by the federal government or anyone else, and adds nothing to previous commitments on reduction or transparency other than “enshrining” them as legislation.
- Others assert that “net-zero” targets are hopelessly unrealistic, not necessarily effective to begin with given that carbon levels are only one piece in the overall environmental picture, and that catastrophizing and group thinking have become common in environmental discourse to such an effect that challenging consensus and status quo — a key ingredient to the advance of science — can be career-limiting. Many climate alarmist arguments rely upon Malthusian thinking —the assumption that a future outcome is inevitable, by confining trend analysis to too few variables. As economist Bjorn Lomborg has argued, even with shrinking land mass, the net effects of these events will be largely insignificant, as they happen over long periods of time, and world wealth will have increased considerably over the next century, thereby mitigating many of the potential negative effects of climate change.
Would it be wise for voters and others responsible for policy decisions to consider the wisdom of using massive mechanical-chemical systems to remove carbon from the atmosphere? What would the net cost of such an endeavour and what side effects could it create, including the increase in other forms of technology and pollution required to compensate for potential decreases in productivity and wealth generation? Would that simply misplace the problem while allowing new and continued forms of human abuse of God’s creation, including self-indulgent and complacent activities?
The Laudato si’ Movement, joined by activists such a Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, calls for immediate and concerted effort by the Church, and offers a variety of suggestions.
Family, Community, & Common Good
Elder Care – the Option of Multi-Generational Homes
According to the Canadian government, the elderly constitute one of the fastest-growing segments of Canadian society, and three-quarters of that segment live in nursing homes. But many observers — including for example the Canadian Health Coalition and the CBC — have expressed concerns about the type and level of care seniors in homes are receiving. According to the CBC, “data analysis of the most serious breaches of Ontario’s long-term care home safety legislation reveals that six in seven care homes are repeat offenders, and there are virtually no consequences for homes that break that law repeatedly.”
The Canadian Health Coalition notes that “seniors’ care often falls outside the scope of the Canada Health Act, which only covers services provided by doctors and hospitals,” and that “there are less beds available in hospitals and long-term care facilities now due to funding cuts. In some regions, people are waiting several years for a long-term care bed. At the same time, many seniors admitted to long-term care facilities could likely remain at home if they had access to adequate home care.”
“Canada needs a National Seniors’ Care Strategy,” the Coalition concludes, “to ensure that all seniors can access quality care, regardless of where they live. We must take action now to ensure consistent funding, standards of care and staffing levels across the country. All Canadians deserve to age with dignity and respect.”
Do options other than corporate or government-operated homes exist? It is the custom of many North American families, of course, that the children move away from home — often hundreds or thousands of miles away — in search of better work and better homes, leaving their parents far behind. It is seldom that senior parents live with their adult children.
Yet there is another option, and signs of hope respecting it: News source Axios reports that as a result of the pandemic and other pressures, nearly 20% of Americans now live in multi-generational homes, and that “people buying new homes are increasingly looking for houses that can accommodate multiple generations of a family.”
Why not? The Fourth Commandment enjoins us to honour our parents and the Church teaches that the family is the fundamental unit of society. Many other cultures, including many Asian cultures, encourage the practice and find that their families are stronger and their children less anxious and better prepared to fit into the world.
What, if anything, can or should be done in North America to enable and encourage children to share housing with their parents and to continue to look after them as they age, rather than consigning them to homes?
An Economy to Serve People
Artificial Intelligence: What effect will it have on employment?
The World Economic Forum recently advised workers that “they should not fear AI,” as “it will lead to long-term job growth.” Although “Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies” driven by AI will fundamentally change the world and the way we work and live, the WEF asserts, AI “may not” lead to massive unemployment. “Instead, AI technology will create more jobs than it automates.” The WEF acknowledges, however, that “these newly created jobs will require new skills and necessitate significant investment in upskilling and reskilling young people and adults,” and that “businesses and governments can — and must — work together to address this transition and embrace the positive societal benefits of AI.”
Catholic Saint Thomas University quotes entrepreneur Elon Musk as admitting that “computers, intelligent machines and robots seem like the workforce of the future. And as more and more jobs are replaced by technology, people will have less work to do and ultimately will be sustained by payments from the government.” “This is a scary proposition,” the University observes, “in that what will we do if all the work is done by AI or robots? Isn’t life tough enough? Don’t we have enough economic disparity and can barely make ends meet today? To add insult to injury, many of the analyses seem to center on displacing the low wage workers. As if they didn’t have enough disadvantages already, their entire economic class will be wiped out is the feeling we get from the news cycle. This is evidenced by robotic warehouses and chatbots or automated customer service and we can really feel the changes all around us.”
American University in Washington, D.C., seems to agree: “As with past advances in automation, AI will lead to increased levels of productivity, specialization in job roles, and an increased importance of ‘human skills’ like creativity, problem solving, and quantitative skills. Although AI will increase economic growth, these gains will not be evenly distributed. Rural communities that already face high levels of job insecurity will come under additional strain. AI will benefit labour in some industries but threaten it in others. Automation will complement job roles in high-growth fields like health care, where there is no substitute for highly skilled practitioners, but replace jobs in industries relying on standard routines.”
The Church teaches that not only is work an essential part of life, but when we work in accordance with our inner passions — our individual vocations — it is a joy. And it is also an obligation to one’s family, neighbours and nation. Man must work, both because the Creator has commanded it and in order to respond to the need to maintain and develop his own humanity. We are heirs of the work of generations and at the same time shapers of the future of all who will live after us (See, e.g., 274, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church).
- If more jobs are created, but they are created only for those having both the interest and capacity to work in fields related to artificial intelligence, what happens to those who glory in the dignity of other fields, including agriculture and labour, or in routine but essential administrative tasks?
- If all but a few are made dependent on government subsidies, as the quotation from Mr. Musk seems to suggest, who will decide on the level of those subsidies and the qualifications for receiving them, and the level of living they will support? And what will those put out of work do with themselves?
- If ultimately government is expected to support, say, 90% of the population at the expense of the other 10%, how can we be sure that government will continue to govern with the good of all in mind, rather than the few who have employment, or control work or capital?
Interfaith Business Resource Groups.
In an increasingly aggressive secular world, it is encouraging to report that we have received direct reports of large corporations fostering interfaith resource initiatives and that these initiatives can involve Catholics. We hope to follow this as it develops, and to see corporations publish public-facing reports. So far, they are keeping their efforts quiet. Some prayer might not go amiss here.
Seattle Bans Caste Discrimination.
According to the U.S. PBS, Seattle, Washington, recently became the first U.S. city to ban caste discrimination. The caste system, PBS explains, is a “complex cultural system that classifies people as upper and lower and lowest at birth.” Quoting expert Guarav Pathania, PBS reports that surnames, skin tones and dialects are commonly used in efforts to determine people’s castes, with the result that members of so-called lower castes are excluded from social gatherings and harassed with casteist slurs.
PBS explains that although the caste system was outlawed in India in 2013, “thousands of years of caste-based discrimination continue to inform and affect people’s socioeconomic status, job opportunities and access to resources in the U.S. and elsewhere.”
The Catholic Church teaches that all forms of discrimination based on anything not entirely within an individual’s free control are wrong. “The unity of the human family is not yet becoming a reality,” the Compendium laments. “This is due to obstacles originating in materialistic and nationalistic ideologies that contradict the values of the person integrally considered in all his various dimensions, material and spiritual, individual and community. In particular, any theory or form whatsoever of racism and racial discrimination is morally unacceptable” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 433).
The Church also teaches:
- The principle of solidarity, or acceptance of the truth that the good of one is the good of all, and the other is as important as the self; that injustice done to another is an injustice that affects everyone (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 193).
- The principle of subsidiarity, namely that each element of society should serve its proper purpose and support others in serving theirs, so that each individual, and smaller groups of people, may be allowed to make for themselves all the decisions that can responsibly be left to them, rather than to larger groups or greater authorities. This is one of the fundamental social teachings of the Church, since it helps to ensure that each individual is empowered to find his or her own way to God.
It would seem that the city’s action is unquestionably aligned with each of these principles.
The Church also teaches the importance of good stewardship, including the efficient application of public revenues, and has acknowledged that some functions of government are most efficiently implemented at national or international levels, rather than the local level. All recent popes, for example, have supported the idea that some forms of arms control, finance, and protections for civil rights and the environment are best administered at the national and international levels.
It’s worth considering, as an exercise, whether all people in the United States are already under the protection of federal and state constitutions from the types of abuse brought with caste and other forms of discrimination; and that the principle of subsidiarity promotes the idea that each element of society should serve its proper purpose and support others in serving theirs. What is the proper purpose of a municipal government, particularly in legal regimes that already have adequate protections in place? Is there a need for a U.S. city to add additional protections against abuses that are already outlawed? If not, what might motivate the adoption of such an ordinance? What other uses might be made of resources devoted to developing, implementing and monitoring such bans?
Can Early Election Calls Harm the Democratic Process?
On April 3, Progressive-Conservative candidate Dennis King won re-election as Premier of Prince Edward Island and a majority in the legislature, after calling the election six months early and giving voters and opposition parties less than a month to prepare. While the victorious Mr. King hailed the election as a vindication of “positive politics” and promised humility and kindness in his dealings with opposition parties, some observers have questioned both his motives and the democratic validity of setting the date early and allowing so short a time for reflection and conversation.
CBC News reported that in his victory speech April 3, Mr. King promised humility and kindness after winning his second term as P.E.I. premier, proclaiming, “My friends, we should make no mistake… Island voters tonight rendered a verdict and they rendered it loudly and they rendered it clearly. And that verdict is that positive politics is alive and well on Prince Edward Island.”
In a related article, however, CBC reported that fewer than 70% of registered voters had turned up at the polls, by far the lowest voter turnout in the province for the past six decades — P.E.I. is famous for having an engaged electorate. An Island political observer was quoted as saying, “That’s something that I hope this government looks at because, quite frankly, that was a cynical response to an early election call. My gut tells me that they [voters] were not engaged, that this was not an election that they thought was necessary.” CTV news quotes the same observer as saying that Mr. King’s party enters its second term “carrying baggage,” in that it can no longer blame the previous government for problems. “Now they have to take responsibility,” Mr. Desserud said. “The charm of the leader starts to wear a bit thin.”
Premier King was quoted as calling opposition members “very capable individuals,” saying that he has worked with them in the past and looks forward to working with them in the future. “I’ve been the same since I started. I’m not going to change now,” he told CTV. “I’ll seek their input. I’ll try to work with them the best I can, and I think we’ll deliver a good government for P.E.I.”
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church teaches that truth is one of the four fundamental values of Catholic social teaching, along with freedom, justice and charitable love; and that
The Church values the democratic system in as much 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 of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate. Society, the Compendium says clearly, has a right to information based on truth, freedom, justice and solidarity.
Truth is fundamental to any just form of government. Without it, no democratic government can survive. Even when — as we always should — we seek consensus in our democracies, that consensus must be founded on truth, if it is to endure, and not on currently popular fads or preferences. It is the firm conviction of the Church that there exists an eternal, external truth — a truth that exists outside of us and is not defined by humans — and that are bound to it. That truth is God, and is given to us through the living Word of God, Jesus Christ. Options and preferences based on current circumstances can vary over time, but not the deepest truth. The deepest truth is not subject to political whim or advantage.
Men and women have the specific duty to move always towards the truth, to respect it and bear responsible witness to it. Living in the truth has special significance in social relationships. In fact, when the coexistence of human beings within a community is founded on truth, it is ordered and fruitful, and it corresponds to their dignity as persons.
Modern times call for an intensive educational effort and a corresponding commitment on the part of all so that the quest for truth cannot be ascribed to the sum of different opinions, nor to one or another of these opinions.
Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 198, 406-410
It would seem obvious that in some cases, such as electing a government to lead a province over a period of four years, time might be required to develop a mature conversation on the issues, based in truth, and to allow developed social conversation.
Points to Ponder
- It is commonplace, and apparently accepted by voters, for parties in Canada not to issue platforms more than about three weeks before an election. Presumably, it requires at least that length of time to ensure that they are as up to date and as enduringly relevant as they can be, in the circumstances surrounding an election, and to publish them.
It also takes time for voters to read, digest, and consider them responsibly before voting.
In this case, the platforms — which were all published less than three weeks before the election — total 157 pages in length: The Green is 31 pages long, the Liberal 47, the NDP 35, and the Progressive Conservative 44.
- Is it fair to expect voters, reporters, or others to read and digest 157 pages of partisan material, compare it, and consider it responsibly prior to voting, with less than three weeks’ time, particularly in these very busy days we live in?
- Who gains from pulling surprise early elections? The voters? The people?
- Even when elections are conducted with ample warning, it is common practice among Canadian political parties to wait until three or four weeks before an election to publish their platforms. Given that platforms used by voters to elect governments can fairly be viewed as social contracts, and that parties should know their policies and proposals well in advance, what is the purpose of waiting until so close to an election to publish platforms? Who gains, and who loses, by such approaches?
- Catholic Conscience has notice that some parties tend to remove all traces of their platforms and proposals from their websites immediately after an election is completed, thereby making it difficult for voters and other civic students to access. What is the purpose of such a practice? Is it fair to voters?
- What can, or should, be done to ensure that adequate time for developed conversation and due contemplation is available for voters who hope to prepare for elections and that adequate records of the positions of parties are maintained for public reference?