Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

he doesn't

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Nov 02, 2006

It's official. We've been told that the Holy See did NOT give Father Raymond Gravel permission to run for the Canadian Federal Parliament. His diocesan ordinary has issued a statement to that effect (credit to LifeSite). The following is an unofficial translation:

Clarification from the Bishop of Joliette, the Most Reverend Gilles Lussier

No "green light" has been given by the Vatican. The Bishop of Joliette received no permission from Roman authorities concerning Father Gravel's campaign. The Church's legislation is clear: every priest must refrain from all active engagement in politics. However, in particular and truly exceptional circumstances, it can come about that such a thing is possible. This is a matter of a derogation from the usual norm. It belongs to the competent authority, in this case the diocesan bishop, to study the question. He must to take into particular consideration the good of the ecclesial community and the common good of society in order to grant permission -- should the occasion arise -- for a derogation of this sort. He must consult his Presbyteral Council, i.e., the representatives of the diocesan clergy that assist the bishop in his government of the diocese. In the present case, the situation that would justify in our country the derogation from the common rule -- as the Church defines it -- does not obtain .

In making the choice to take an active part in a political party, Father Gravel keeps his priestly status but is released from the exercise of priestly ministry. He may not exercise any activity as a priest during the time of his active political involvement. This measure is intended to preclude any and all confusion among the faithful and to maintain the distinction between political activity and religion. In any case, the fact of renouncing one's conduct of priestly ministry always presents a distressing situation for the Church. 31 October 2006

This clarification raises as many questions as it answers, but it plants a few firm pegs in the turf. Let's take a closer look at it.

The first three sentences were almost certainly written at gunpoint. They read as if the Nuncio dictated them over the phone and demanded that they be made public verbatim. They get the Nuncio and the Holy See almost completely off the hook (more on that later).

The second part, concerning the possible exception to the non-involvement rule, is largely smoke. We get a legal narrative of what the diocesan bishop is required do in order to grant exceptional permission, but we're only told that requisite pre-conditions were not met. It's not even clear whether the Presbyteral Council was actually consulted or not. We can deduce from his clarification that Lussier did not seek a canonical derogation that would legitimize Gravel's candidature, but Lussier never explicitly says that he denied Gravel permission, whether formal or informal, nor does Lussier explicitly say that he disapproves of Gravel's candidacy. Indeed any factual assertion about the bishop's personal involvement is cagily avoided. The concluding line is equivocal, and probably intentionally so: We can read it to mean "it's painful when a priest gives up priestly ministry because he finds secular activity more important," or we can read it to mean "how sad that a wonderful man like Gravel must be released from ministry in order to run for office!"

Obvious Question #1: Why did Bishop Lussier wait this long to announce that Gravel did not have the Vatican's permission? The headlines have been blasting the contrary story for more than a week. Lussier must have known ahead of time about Gravel's decision to run, so why didn't he issue a statement making clear Gravel's status in anticipation of his candidacy?

Obvious Question #2: Did Lussier have any communications with the Holy See about Gravel's candidacy prior to its announcement? If not, why not? If so, what form did they take and what was the outcome? Can Lussier pretend that he figured the candidacy of a priest who was a former prostitute would escape comment by the news media, such that informing the Vatican ahead of time wasn't worth the bother?

Obvious Question #3: Did Lussier inform his fellow Canadian bishops ahead of time? Did he ask their counsel or consent? Did he phone Bishop Fred Henry in Calgary to say, "This isn't in your bailiwick, I realize, but we all may catch some flak from the media coverage. Didn't want you to get blindsided by Ray Gravel's running for Parliament"?

Obvious Question #4: What discussions did Gravel have with Lussier? When was the possibility of Gravel's candidacy known to Lussier? Did Lussier disapprove? Does he disapprove now? Did the question of a public declaration of ecclesiastical permission come up? If not, why not? If so, who fed the press the "Vatican permission" story?

The Most Obvious Question of All: Even leaving his grotesquely problematic past to one side, and totally apart from his present candidacy, how is it that a public and contumacious dissenter like Raymond Gravel was not dismissed from the priesthood three years ago?

The tactically-limited truthfulness and sheer subterfuge that we meet in every aspect of the Gravel story is exasperating. It's clear they're not leveling with us. Suppose for a moment that Gravel was not a gay activist but a racist, say, who flaked out in the opposite direction, by accepting the nomination for some kind of "Immigrants Go Home" nativist party. Do you think the diocese would be bashful about distancing itself from him? Do you think we'd be waiting two days, much less two weeks, for a statement of categorical repudiation? Do you think we'd be in any doubt whatsoever about the history of the bishop's dealings with the priest in question? Do you think he'd keep his priestly status as Gravel has, or that we'd be reminded that the Church regards his interruption of priestly ministry as pénible?

But more annoying than the bother of having to yank facts like impacted molars out of the chancery one-by-one is the insinuation that the faithful have no business knowing the exact status of Gravel's ecclesiastical permission. It is not unwholesome curiosity to ask whether and to what extent the Church approves of the controversial positions that her clergymen take in public. The distinction between Gravel's priestly status and his exercise of priestly ministry may satisfy a canon lawyer, but 90% of the faithful (and the public) will understand simply that a notorious gay-activist priest, who has not been defrocked, is running for office without public opposition from the Church. If this is pastoral solicitude, what does pastoral malfeasance look like?

Diocèse de Joliette
2, rue St-Charles-Borromée Nord
C.P. 470
Joliette, QC J6E 6H6
Phone: (450) 753-7596
e-mail: [email protected]

S.E.R Msgr Luigi Ventura,
Apostolic Nuncio to Canada
724 Manor Avenue
Ottawa, ON K1M OE3,
Phone: (613) 746-4914
e-mail: [email protected]

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