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‘Human rights’ vs. basic freedoms

A timely intervention has prevented the cancer from metastasizing, but aggressive treatment is still needed.

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The diagnosis is by now well known: From their privileged place within the body politic, Canada’s various human rights commissions have gone from legitimately fighting discrimination to attacking Canadian liberties.

There was a real danger of metastasis, as the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) attempted to spread its corruption to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO). The timely intervention came from the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) and other public voices.  The patient, though — the Canadian public–is still infected with human rights commissions that are compromising our most fundamental liberties, including freedom of conscience, of religion, of speech and of the press.

The issue was physicians’ natural right to refuse to perform services they consider professionally unwise, morally unsound or religiously illicit.   Over the summer, the CPSO proposed new policies that would have circumscribed those rights at the urging of the OHRC.

Doctors and other health care professionals, being free citizens and responsible professionals, have never been forced to violate their conscience. But we learned long ago that the OHRC doesn’t much care for fundamental freedoms.  Having pronounced its desire earlier this year to convict Maclean’s magazine for publishing a 2006 excerpt from a Mark Steyn book that is critical of radical Islam, the OHRC cast its empire-building gaze toward the medical profession.

The OHRC, possessing investigative, judicial and penal powers, already is more than capable of grinding up a doctor who, say, thinks it unwise to prescribe birth control pills to a young teenage girl (a trifecta–gender, age and marital status discrimination!).  Given the examples it used in its submission to the CPSO, the OHRC is looking forward to prosecuting doctors who might recommend psychiatric consultation for a “transgendered” patient who, in the learned medical opinion of the commission, does not require it. And it takes little imagination to figure out what OHRC bureaucrats are lusting after more than anything else: penalizing a doctor for not facilitating an abortion.

In the OHRC’s world, the doctor disappears entirely as a moral actor and accredited professional, reduced simply to an unthinking agent of the patient’s wishes. One might as well throw out the Hippocratic Oath and simply command doctors to do whatever they are told — not by a medical body, but by a human rights commission.

The OHRC invited the CPSO to pile on, recommending that the accrediting body for Ontario physicians threaten doctors with professional-misconduct penalties for running afoul of the OHRC.  And shockingly enough, the CPSO was ready to go along with it.

Facing fierce opposition, the CPSO yesterday backed down substantially, deleting the proposals that most clearly violated doctors’ conscience rights. Some of the replacement language is worryingly ambiguous, but for the most part the cancer of the OHRC has not spread into the professional college.

Yet the whole episode shows how diseased the human-rights situation is in Canada.  A self-respecting, confident CPSO would have slapped down the OHRC for seeking to meddle in professional standards, and told it in no uncertain terms that doctors’ human rights were not going to be abrogated by anyone, even the OHRC.

It was left to the OMA to slap down the CPSO — the doctors’ professional association taking the accrediting college to the public woodshed.  The OMA was blunt: “It should never be professional misconduct for an Ontario physician to act in accordance with his or her religious beliefs.”  And in case the CPSO didn’t get it, the OMA advised that the policy proposal be dropped outright — not amended, not redrafted, not referred for further discussion, but simply rejected.

Good for the OMA for not advocating some middle way between a healthy recognition of human rights and the diseased approach of the OHRC.  But more aggressive confrontation of the OHRC’s overreaching is necessary. It is not enough just to prevent the cancer from spreading, which is what was achieved yesterday. It needs to be eliminated.

Professional groups such as the OMA — those representing writers and clergy, for example — have been sounding the alarm on the human rights commissions for some time now.  There needs to be a corresponding sense of urgency from Canadian governments, whose statutes sustain human rights commissions.  Provincial ministers of justice have been largely silent.  The federal minister of justice, Robert Nicholson, a good man who surely knows better, has been disconcertingly reserved in regard to the abuses taking place on his watch.  The federal government’s irresponsibly lackadaisical approach sends signals to otherwise respectable bodies, like the CPSO, that the OHRC and similar bodies are not to be challenged.

That needs to change–otherwise we shall eventually be whistling past the graveyard of Canadian liberty.

A Response to the New York Times

The New York Times on March 25 accused Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, of intervening to prevent a priest, Father Lawrence Murphy, from facing penalties for cases of sexual abuse of minors.

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The story is false. It is unsupported by its own documentation. Indeed, it gives every indication of being part of a coordinated campaign against Pope Benedict, rather than responsible journalism.

Before addressing the false substance of the story, the following circumstances are worthy of note:

• The New York Times story had two sources. First, lawyers who currently have a civil suit pending against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. One of the lawyers, Jeffrey Anderson, also has cases in the United States Supreme Court pending against the Holy See. He has a direct financial interest in the matter being reported.

• The second source was Archbishop Rembert Weakland, retired archbishop of Milwaukee. He is the most discredited and disgraced bishop in the United States, widely known for mishandling sexual-abuse cases during his tenure, and guilty of using $450,000 of archdiocesan funds to pay hush money to a former homosexual lover who was blackmailing him. Archbishop Weakland had responsibility for the Father Murphy case between 1977 and 1998, when Father Murphy died. He has long been embittered that his maladministration of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee earned him the disfavor of Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, long before it was revealed that he had used parishioners’ money to pay off his clandestine lover.  He is prima facie not a reliable source.

• Laurie Goodstein, the author of the New York Times story, has a recent history with Archbishop Weakland.  Last year, upon the release of the disgraced archbishop’s autobiography, she wrote an unusually sympathetic story that buried all the most serious allegations against him (New York Times, May 14, 2009).

• A demonstration took place in Rome on Friday, coinciding with the publication of the New York Times story. One might ask how American activists would happen to be in Rome distributing the very documents referred to that day in the New York Times. The appearance here is one of a coordinated campaign, rather than disinterested reporting.

It’s possible that bad sources could still provide the truth. But compromised sources scream out for greater scrutiny. Instead of greater scrutiny of the original story, however, news editors the world over simply parroted the New York Times piece. Which leads us the more fundamental problem: The story is not true, according to its own documentation.

The New York Times made available on its own website the supporting documentation for the story. In those documents, Cardinal Ratzinger himself does not take any of the decisions that allegedly frustrated the trial. Letters are addressed to him; responses come from his deputy. Even leaving that aside, though, the gravamen of the charge — that Cardinal Ratzinger’s office impeded some investigation — is proven utterly false.

The documents show that the canonical trial or penal process against Father Murphy was never stopped by anyone. In fact, it was only abandoned days before Father Murphy died. Cardinal Ratzinger never took a decision in the case, according to the documents. His deputy, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, suggested, given that Father Murphy was in failing health and a canonical trial is a complicated matter, that more expeditious means be used to remove him from all ministry.

To repeat: The charge that Cardinal Ratzinger did anything wrong is unsupported by the documentation on which the story was based. He does not appear in the record as taking any decision. His office, in the person of his deputy, Archbishop Bertone, agreed that there should be full canonical trial. When it became apparent that Father Murphy was in failing health, Archbishop Bertone suggested more expeditious means of removing him from any ministry.

Furthermore, under canon law at the time, the principal responsibility for sexual-abuse cases lay with the local bishop. Archbishop Weakland had from 1977 onwards the responsibility of administering penalties to Father Murphy. He did nothing until 1996. It was at that point that Cardinal Ratzinger’s office became involved, and it subsequently did nothing to impede the local process.

The New York Times flatly got the story wrong, according to its own evidence. Readers may want to speculate on why.

Here is the relevant timeline, drawn from the documents the New York Times posted on its own website.

15 May 1974

Abuse by Father Lawrence Murphy is alleged by a former student at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee. In fact, accusations against Father Murphy go back more than a decade.

12 September 1974

Father Murphy is granted an official “temporary sick leave” from St. John’s School for the Deaf. He leaves Milwaukee and moves to northern Wisconsin, in the Diocese of Superior, where he lives in a family home with his mother. He has no official assignment from this point until his death in 1998. He does not return to live in Milwaukee. No canonical penalties are pursued against him.

9 July 1980

Officials in the Diocese of Superior write to officials in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee about what ministry Father Murphy might undertake in Superior. Archbishop Rembert Weakland, archbishop of Milwaukee since 1977, has been consulted and says it would be unwise to have Father Murphy return to ministry with the deaf community. There is no indication that Archbishop Weakland foresees any other measures to be taken in the case.

17 July 1996

More than 20 years after the original abuse allegations, Archbishop Weakland writes to Cardinal Ratzinger, claiming that he has only just discovered that Father Murphy’s sexual abuse involved the sacrament of confession — a still more serious canonical crime. The allegations about the abuse of the sacrament of confession were in the original 1974 allegations. Weakland has been archbishop of Milwaukee by this point for 19 years.

It should be noted that for sexual-abuse charges, Archbishop Weakland could have proceeded against Father Murphy at any time. The matter of solicitation in the sacrament of confession required notifying Rome, but that too could have been done as early as the 1970s.

10 September 1996

Father Murphy is notified that a canonical trial will proceed against him. Until 2001, the local bishop had authority to proceed in such trials. The Archdiocese of Milwaukee is now beginning the trial. It is noteworthy that at this point, no reply has been received from Rome indicating that Archbishop Weakland knew he had that authority to proceed.

24 March 1997

Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, Cardinal Ratzinger’s deputy at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, advises a canonical trial against Father Murphy.

14 May 1997

Archbishop Weakland writes to Archbishop Bertone to say that the penal process against Father Murphy has been launched, and notes that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has advised him to proceed even though the statute of limitations has expired. In fact, there is no statute of limitations for solicitation in the sacrament of confession.

Throughout the rest of 1997 the preparatory phases of penal process or canonical trial is underway. On 5 January 1998 the Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee says that an expedited trial should be concluded within a few months.

12 January 1998

Father Murphy, now less than eight months away from his death, appeals to Cardinal Ratzinger that, given his frail health, he be allowed to live out his days in peace.

6 April 1998

Archbishop Bertone, noting the frail health of Father Murphy and that there have been no new charges in almost 25 years, recommends using pastoral measures to ensure Father Murphy has no ministry, but without the full burden of a penal process. It is only a suggestion, as the local bishop retains control.

13 May 1998

The Bishop of Superior, where the process has been transferred to and where Father Murphy has lived since 1974, rejects the suggestion for pastoral measures. Formal pre-trial proceedings begin on 15 May 1998, continuing the process already begun with the notification that had been issued in September 1996.

30 May 1998

Archbishop Weakland, who is in Rome, meets with officials at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, including Archbishop Bertone but not including Cardinal Ratzinger, to discuss the case. The penal process is ongoing. No decision taken to stop it, but given the difficulties of a trial after 25 years, other options are explored that would more quickly remove Father Murphy from ministry.

19 August 1998

Archbishop Weakland writes that he has halted the canonical trial and penal process against Father Murphy and has immediately begun the process to remove him from ministry — a quicker option.

21 August 1998

Father Murphy dies. His family defies the orders of Archbishop Weakland for a discreet funeral.

The Islamification of Palestine

Originally Published in the National Post: Tuesday, February 20, 2007

It remains to be seen what was accomplished at the Fatah-Hamas summit held earlier this month. Yet one thing was made abundantly clear by the very fact of the meeting – Palestinian Christians have new cause to worry about their religious liberty. Home
The feuding Palestinian parties met in the holy city of Mecca (Makkah), hosted by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. Mecca is an odd choice for a summit site, because non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medinah. There are checkpoints on the highways into the holy cities, at which non-Muslim motorists who may have missed the “Muslims Only” signs are advised not to go any further.
Media reports were remarkably silent on the question of holding the Palestinian summit in a city where Palestinian Christians – a small minority, but historically active in Palestinian leadership – are barred by law. Perhaps a waiver was given to allow non-Muslims to temporarily enter, perhaps not. Perhaps the Christians were hustled through the airport on diplomatic passports; perhaps they were whisked through in disguise. Perhaps they converted before the summit; or perhaps they were just left at home. In two weeks of heavy media coverage, I have not seen the issue addressed.
Perhaps it is now simply accepted that the Palestinian question is to be understood as an exclusively Islamic question. In the last year, I have written twice in these pages about the Islamification of Palestinian politics, as the cause has been transformed from a nationalist project to a religious one. The Mecca summit would seem to confirm that this is now quasi-official policy.
“What is happening on the ground [in Gaza] serves only the enemies of the Arab-Islamic nation and, if it continues, it will deprive the Palestinian people of the fruits of their long heroic struggle to recover their national rights,” King Abdullah said during his talks with Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas.
What precisely is the “Arab-Islamic” nation of which the King speaks? Does it include only those who are Arab and Muslim – a “nation” that would exclude Egyptian Coptic Christians, Iraqi Chaldean Christians, as well as Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Palestinians? Meeting in Mecca would suggest that in the “Arab-Islamic” nation, the Islamic bit is the more important, in which case one wonders what relationship Iranians, Pakistanis and Indonesians might have with this new nation.
But the principal question is for those Palestinian people who wish “to recover their national rights” as King Abdullah puts it. Are those national rights to be understood in Islamic terms? Is the long delayed Palestinian state to be an Islamic republic? And if Palestinian leaders feel comfortable meeting in cities where Christians are banned, what confidence can Christians worldwide have that our holy sites – in Bethlehem and the Old City of Jerusalem – would be safeguarded should they ever come under the jurisdiction of a Palestinian state?
The centuries-old presence of Christians in the “Arab-Islamic” world is dwindling. Where there were hundreds of thousands, there are now communities of only a few dozen families. Most dramatic of all, Bethlehem, once a majority-Christian city, is now three quarters Muslim. Christians increasingly feel like aliens among their own people, as Islamic identity dominates the national ties of Palestinian heritage. Meetings in Mecca will only confirm the fears of Palestinian Christians that there is little future for them in the “Arab-Islamic” nation.
The fact that most Arabs are Muslims need not be ignored, and imposing a suffocating secularism – the Turkish model – on the citizens of the Arab lands is neither feasible nor desirable. It is also not necessary, as Arab countries have long experience with religious minorities living in relative harmony within Islamic majorities. Religious liberty for Christians and others in Islamic-majority Arab countries is not something foreign; it has been respected in times past, and Christian communities have been able to flourish. The future can return to the experience of the past.
There must be room in the future of the Arab nations for their countrymen who worship differently. Yet there is no room for them in Mecca. Let Mecca remain, if it must, a meeting place exclusively for Muslims. It should never be a place for national summits.
© National Post 2007