A top Ontario judge hopes to start a conversation about conscience rights among Calgary’s Catholic legal professionals attending this year’s annual Red Mass on Wednesday, Nov 15, 2023.
“I thought I could use the occasion to say we should be talking a lot more seriously about freedom of conscience if we want to preserve a free and democratic society,” said the Honourable David Brown of the Ontario Court of Appeal.
He will give a talk titled: “Canada’s forgotten freedom? Conscience in a free and democratic society” at a reception following the Red Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral. The Saint Thomas More Lawyers’ Guild of Calgary hosts the Red Mass as an opportunity for all members of the legal and law enforcement community to pray for the pursuit of justice and mercy at the beginning of the new judicial term and to build community together.
The Red Mass was first celebrated at the Cathedral of Paris in 1245, dates back to 1896 in Canada and re-instituted in Calgary in 2015. It commemorates the martyrdom of St. Thomas More who was executed by order of King Henry VIII for refusing to approve his divorce.
“The Red Mass is important both as a measure of tradition and the bond between the faith and principles that bind us to the Church,” said Tom Ross, Chairman of the Saint Thomas More Lawyers' Guild of Calgary.
“We increasingly live in a secular world. The courts are run on principles that are timeless and it’s important not to forget these principles.”
Conscience is a very fundamental principle in the pursuit of law and justice. In his discussion on conscience rights, Justice Brown will look at the writings of St. Thomas More and the philosophical development of conscience through the ages. He will reference Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states no right or freedom is absolute but may be subject to reasonable limits.
“The device the courts have adopted to engage in that inquiry rarely looks into whether the limits on conscience can be justified in a free and democratic society. We’ve adopted a formulaic test known as a proportionality test that doesn’t contain the words free and democratic,” said Justice Brown.
Justice Brown will draw on the example of legalized euthanasia and medical assistance in dying (MAID) in Canada which gives citizens the freedom to legally end their life under the law.
“It’s been quite a journey for Canadian law from the Carter vs. Canada decision (in 2015), which thought that it was not opening a door too wide, to a situation where Canada has among the most expansive euthanasia laws in the world,” said Justice Brown.
Thinking through conscience rights on a practical level, some argue that any government funded employee must set aside their personal conscience and adopt the current understanding of the nature of that public service, Justice Brown explained.
“All judges are paid for by the government. We are all civil servants,” said Justice Brown. “Does that mean that judges have to put their conscientious beliefs to one side, so you are left with a body of judges who cannot operate with some notion of what is right and what is wrong? I don’t think people have really thought through a denial of conscience rights in certain circumstances.”
Justice Brown’s own conscience is formed by his Catholic faith. For ongoing formation as a judge, he reads widely about history, philosophy, morality, which he encourages others to do as well.
As a husband, father of three sons and grandfather of 11 grandchildren, Justice Brown shared three thoughts on living a faithful life in today’s world that he would offer to his own children
“Common sense would dictate that anyone who wants to try to live in conformity with their particular faith needs to develop a very sound understanding of what their faith consists of.
“One has to treat others in accordance with that faith…the Christian view of the world espouses regard and respect for all as creatures of God; one has to take that to heart when engaging with all members of the community.
“And engage with all members of the community. If you are going to live your faith you can’t place yourself under a bushel basket, you’ve got to take the basket off and you’ve got to engage in the world in a way that respects others as created beings.”
All are welcome to join Bishop McGrattan as he offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass 5 p.m. on Nov. 15 at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Everyone can purchase tickets for the reception and keynote address in St. Mary’s hall following Mass by contacting email@example.com - or buy ticket(s) online for the reception.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In preparation for the upcoming provincial election, the Catholic Bishops of Alberta wish to encourage all members of the Church to engage in the electoral process. By means of this letter, we offer to our Catholic faithful a reminder of important principles and concerns, which stem from the social doctrine of the Church, to guide the discernment of choices that accord with the Gospel’s vision for the right ordering of society.
Please join with us in prayer for those elected to public office. They are assuming a heavy responsibility, often at great personal sacrifice. May they be granted the strength and wisdom to govern in accord with the precept of charity in service of the life and well-being of everyone.
Yours sincerely in Christ,
Catholic Bishops of Alberta
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton
Most Reverend William McGrattan, Bishop of Calgary
Most Reverend Gary Franken, Bishop of St. Paul
Most Reverend Gerard Pettipas CSsR, Archbishop of Grouard-McLennan
Most Reverend David Motiuk, Bishop of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Edmonton
Freedom to live authentic Christian lives according to one’s conscience is under attack by an aggressive secularism and it must be resisted, said Canada’s former Ambassador for Religious Freedom.
Father Deacon Andrew Bennett, an ordained deacon in the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, and the current Cardus Religious Freedom Institute Director, worries that if robust conscience rights are eroded in Canada, people who don’t hold the prevailing secularist values will be marginalized.
“That’s not democratic, it’s not right, it’s not just,” he said. “There is a concerted attempt to demonize those people who hold different views on the nature of human sexuality, on the nature of the dignity of the human person, and that’s unacceptable.”
“A lot of us often silence ourselves, or self-censor ourselves for fear that if we speak our minds or live according to our consciences, we will be demonized.”
But Bennett said it’s the moral obligation of Christians to speak out in charity and truth or otherwise risk moral injury and distress.
“For all of us as Catholics, we must live the faith truthfully and fully both in our private lives of faith and public lives of faith because our baptism calls us to be present in the world. And we must take courage, through our participation in the sacramental life of the Church, to step out into the public square and say what is true.”
He points to the examples of St. Thomas More and Blessed John Henry Newman (soon to be canonized a saint on Oct. 13) for strength and guidance in the area of conscience rights.
“We need both martyrs (like St. Thomas More) those who will witness to what is true in terms of religious freedom and conscience,” said Bennett. “These are people who might lose their jobs or status in their career, but they will be examples. We also need confessors (like Blessed John Henry Newman) those men and women who will step forward and give an account for why they hold the beliefs that they do, and to do so in a way that’s convincing to people.”
Bennett will speak about the necessity of conscience rights at a reception following Calgary’s Annual Red Mass on Oct. 30 at St. Mary’s Cathedral. The Saint Thomas More Lawyers’ Guild of Calgary hosts the Red Mass as an opportunity for judges, lawyers, elected officials, paralegals, file clerks, law students and all members of the legal community to pray for the pursuit of justice and mercy at the beginning of the new judicial term and to build community among those in the law profession.
The Red Mass celebrates the martyrdom of St. Thomas More who was executed by order of King Henry VIII for refusing to approve his divorce. It was first celebrated at the Cathedral of Paris in 1245, dates back to 1896 in Canada and re-instituted in Calgary in 2015.
“That is why the Red Mass is a celebration of the rule of law rather than the rule of men,” said Tom Ross, Saint Thomas More Lawyers' Guild of Calgary Chairman. “Part of the beauty of our legal system, compared to others in the world, is that we expect our laws to be honoured regardless of who may be adversely affected by them or who is in government. They apply equally to all.”
Written by Sara Francis for Faithfully
The gift of publicly funded Catholic education in Alberta is a true blessing. As a community we are called in gratitude, faith and action to ensure that our children and future generations continue to learn and grow in our Catholic schools.
The mission of GrACE is to inspire, invigorate and embolden the spirit of Catholic education in order to unite, engage, educate and communicate with one voice on its behalf. GrACE is a partnership of stakeholders resolutely committed to Catholic education within the province of Alberta.
GrACE invites all those committed to Catholic education, through the unity of the Holy Spirit, to be advocates and witnesses for our schools’ successes and their future.
In your homes, your neighborhoods, your schools and your parishes. Watch for and get involved with your local GrACE team. Tell your stories of Catholic education. Let your voice be heard.
Every day is a celebration of Catholic education. Let us be grateful for our blessings and commit our support.
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Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers