Since I first watched it as a teenager, Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons has probably become my favorite play. A certain line struck me at the time. It is where Thomas More faces the man who betrayed him.
Of the newly made Chancellor of Wales our protagonist asks, “Don’t you know it profits a man nothing to gain the whole world if he loses his soul in the process?”. “But for Wales? You sold your soul for Wales?”
Like most Catholics, I am familiar with the passage of the Bible where Christ warns his disciples that the poor will always be with us. Similarly, we will always find those who, like Richard Rich in the life of St. Thomas More, prostitute themselves for political gain. King Henry VIII disagreed with Catholic teaching on divorce and remarriage, so he left the Church of Rome to found the Church of England. Richard Rich desired to become the Chancellor of Wales, so he followed the King out of the Catholic Church and perjured himself about Thomas More in the process. On the other hand, Thomas More followed his conscience and his religious conviction until the end. This would cost him his office as Chancellor of England, followed by his head on the executioner’s block.
As is sometimes the case for those who serve in public office, the apparent needs of the state collide with the strongly held convictions of church. When this involves a moral issue, one must either choose politics or religion. During the buildup to the recent war in Iraq, religious and political conservative Catholics in America experienced divided consciences for this reason. The war brought to the forefront a tension between the traditional principles of Just War theory and the emerging realpolitik of rogue regimes harboring weapons of mass destruction.
The faithful Catholic could not easily reconcile this tension in the short period of time preceding the war. Both Pope and President forged their stand out of conservative Christian principles. Similarly, both leaders acted out of concern for the common social good. Recognizing the complexity of what was essentially a prudential question, some faithful Catholics in America sided with the Pope while others sided with President. Nevertheless, everyone recognized the difficulty of this decision and after the war this rift was more or less laid to rest. Come the next election, President Bush will likely increase his share of the Catholic vote a constituency that has historically voted Democrat.
Similarly, the Catholic vote in Canada has traditionally favored the Liberal Party. Given that almost half of the Canadian population is at least nominally Catholic, the Catholic vote is partially responsible for keeping the Liberals in power over the past decade. And as the recent heated exchange between leading Liberal politicians and various Canadian Bishops shows, the Liberal leadership continues to take the Catholic vote for granted.
Yet just as the Republicans discovered south of the border, the Catholic vote increasingly finds itself dividing into two camps. The first group encompasses those who are merely nominally or culturally Catholic, while the second group is made up of those who take their Catholic faith seriously. For the informed and practicing Catholic, the Liberal Party leadership has proven itself indistinguishable from Richard Rich in the life of St. Thomas More. Time and time again, Catholic social conservatives in Canada have watched Martin, Copps, and Chretien sacrifice basic Catholic moral principles in order to strengthen their grip on political power. Outside of election time, it seems that every time Jean Chretien raises his Catholic upbringing among Canadians, his government is proposing some new policy that faithful Catholics find unconscionable. To Chretien et al, Catholicism has nothing to do with adherence to certain religious or moral principles.
With this in mind, the popular fiction that practicing Catholics have a home in the Liberal Party cannot hold for much longer. Like partial-birth abortion in the United States, same-sex marriage will likely prove the decisive issue that drives Catholic social conservatives from their traditional political home. To use Biblical imagery, it is the straw that broke the camel’s back.
To remain faithful to their Church, Canadian Catholics now feel compelled in many cases to take their political cue from their American counterparts. Thus the time has come to find a new home with either the Canadian Alliance or the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. For while the roots of the Liberal Party run deep among this constituency, for many practicing Catholics, the faith runs deeper. That faith, however, is incompatible with the social policy of the Liberal government.
Pete Vere, JCL, earned his ecclesiastical licentiate in canon law from Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Canada. In his spare time, he is the Supreme Vizier of the International Order of Alhambra a Catholic family organization dedicated to serving the needs of the mentally and developmentally challenged.