Crossing the Threshold of Tolerance

by Edwin Faust
October 12, 2011

Father Donat Gionet is not allowed to say Mass or administer the sacraments. The bishop of Bathurst has suspended him. His offense, according to a Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) report, is that he preached sermons condemning homosexuality and abortion.

Father Gionet is surprised, as he does not believe he did anything wrong. The CBC report cites unnamed “representatives” of the Bathurst Diocese who said Father Gionet’s sermons made some of his parishioners “uncomfortable”.

Apparently, reducing the comfort level of one’s parishioners by reminding them that killing the unborn and sodomy are mortal sins is an offense that merits the removal of a priest’s sacramental faculties — one of the harshest and most humiliating penalties a bishop can inflict.

Father Gionet’s defense, according to the CBC report, is a simple one: “I have to teach the truth to the people. I have to tell them how they should live to be with the Church because if you’re gay you’re not with the church.”

In Bathurst, it is Father Gionet who is not with the Church, at least officially.

Father Wesley Wade, Vicar General of the Bathurst Diocese, says that from what he and others were hearing, Gionet’s sermons were “dividing the community”.

Into what camps did these divisions fall? Into those who accept Catholic moral teaching and those who do not? Father Wade does not elaborate.

He did, however, explain that “We have to respect people on their own journey.”

Such respect appears not to be accorded to Father Gionet, whose journey is mapped out by Catholic teaching that is unpopular.

Father Gionet can appeal his suspension, but given his advanced age — he is 85 — and the glacial speed of the appeals process, the matter may have to be resolved by a higher tribunal, where the good Father will assuredly be exonerated.

Of course, there is aggravating evidence against Father Gionet. He preached a sermon condemning homosexuality on Aug. 21 — the very weekend of Moncton’s Gay Pride Parade. Father was a party pooper.

Pondering this whole matter, I am reminded that when the British forces surrendered to the Americans at Yorktown, the British Army band played “The World Turned Upside Down”. I don’t know how the tune goes. If I did, I would whistle it now.

How have we arrived at the point where a priest endangers his office by preaching Catholic doctrine? Obviously, Father Gionet did not depart from any precept of the Church. He did, however, mightily offend the sacrosanct dogma of our secular society: toleration.

Father Gionet had to be silenced by Church authorities because he was making plain the unbridgeable gap between Catholic teaching and liberal ideology.

As the Church tries to find its place in the pluralistic societies of the West, it finds it convenient to mute certain of its doctrines that oppose the prevailing belief that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion about truth and moral conduct.

In Western democracies, power resides in the elected representatives of governing bodies whose members owe no allegiance to any ecclesiastical authority or religious creed. There is now an acute sensitivity and vehement reaction to any perceived intrusion of the Church into matters of law or public policy.

No politics from the pulpit is the unwritten law of the land. The role of government is not to favor one faith over another, but to act as the guarantor and arbiter of property rights and to provide a common defense against foreign aggression. Such is the modest position assigned the civil power in the political vision of John Locke, called the Father of Liberalism.

Locke also said that all faiths should be tolerated and left free of interference from the civil power, except for the Catholic Faith, which insists that rulers of nations, no less than individual citizens, are bound by the truths taught by Christ through His One True Church.

This dogged insistence on its unique position and the obligation that position imposes on heads of state and ruling bodies makes the Catholic Faith anathema to all liberal principles. Toleration cannot be extended to those who are intolerant, so the argument runs.

The Church has found itself in a difficult situation in trying to co-exist peacefully within a political structure that asserts its independence of Catholic moral and social doctrine, particularly the doctrine of the Social Kingship of Jesus Christ.

If the Church is to be true to its Tradition, it must preach that all civil and criminal statutes, as well as government policies, must be in accord with Divine Revelation and the Magisterium into whose care for preservation and interpretation these truths were entrusted.

To preach in this way, as Father Gionet did on the questions of homosexuality and abortion, is to make oneself persona non grata in the public square, something many bishops wish to avoid at seemingly any cost.

We have reached a point at which our Church leaders must choose whether they are to remain part of the Mystical Body of Christ or the body politic of the times.

But even the hypothesis that government can be a purely procedural structure limited to securing property rights and a common defense now appears unworkable, for Locke never envisioned a society in which so many divergent moralities would contend for acceptance.

Toleration cannot negate the principle of non-contradiction. When two diametrically opposed positions are argued before the law — as is now the case with the champions and opponents of so-called “gay marriage” — the court must decide which party is to prevail. This is becoming ever more apparent.

The seemingly pacific co-existence of schools of thought and ways of life that are inherently irreconcilable is coming to an end. The doctrine of toleration is a broken concept that cannot be fixed by any Solomon-like decision to cut the truth in two. Truth is one.

The Church cannot retract its historical and doctrinal claim to this one Truth, nor can it accommodate those who deny its essential claim. Father Gionet puts the situation in stark contrast. This is his offense. For this he is punished. May he soon be released from this unmerited suffering.

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