A smashingly good time

Producing a magazine is both a co-operative and a solitary venture. Co-operative in that the editors, writers and designers all have to work together to bring the magazine to print. Solitary in that much of that work is done alone. And the magazine is read for the most part alone, save for those lucky children whose parents read it to them at bedtime. Our readers remain largely unknown to us, which is something of a problem if the purpose of Convivium is to foster a sense of community in Canada among those who acknowledge the importance of faith in our common life. So our launching of Convivium had to have a personal dimension. In March, we did just that with events in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Ottawa and Toronto. We met hundreds of Convivium members, and many more who decided to join. We had lectures at St. Joseph's Seminary in Edmonton and at Regent College in Vancouver, receptions at the Calgary Ranchmen's Club and the Vancouver Club thanks to kind hosts in both cities, and dinners at an Indian banquet hall in Mississauga and in the Speaker's dining room in the House of Commons. We received encouraging public commendations at our events from two cardinals of the Catholic Church, from two senior federal cabinet ministers past and present and from dozens of thoughtful leaders in the various spheres of Canadian public life: religion, education, business, journalism and politics. We had, all in all, a smashingly good time.

Which is, more or less, the point. More rather than less, actually. Our desire at Convivium is, as I said to every audience we met, to bring people together across the land and introduce them to one another. To do that it behooves us to be convivial—the welcome guest, the one other people want to spend time with rather than avoid. We think religious faith ought to make the believer joyful and hopeful, and that ought to be reflected in being of good cheer. We don't think our life together needs the caricature of the crabbed, hectoring, religious nag. There are plenty of crabbed, hectoring nags in our public life, and many of them are not religious at all. We don't need more.

Our Convivium project has its roots in a long tradition of religious engagement with public life, a tradition that has become somewhat enervated in Canada in recent decades, and to which we aim to contribute new energies. In recent times, a dominant figure in this effort has been the late Father Richard John Neuhaus, the great preacher, writer and public intellectual. Born in the Ottawa Valley, Father Neuhaus made his life in New York. But he kept an eye on what was going on in Canada and saw a need for the project that we are launching. Father Neuhaus was an important figure in my life, and our last long conversation, in December 2008, was about this proposal for a new Canadian magazine on faith in our common life.

Father Neuhaus was enormously supportive. I supposed that he would be, for he had given the professional energies of almost his entire adult life to magazines—reading them in great number, writing for them, editing them, and in the case of the crown of his life's work, First Things, founding them. I am delighted to have in this issue an essay by Randy Boyagoda of Ryerson University, now working on a biography of Richard John Neuhaus. I asked Professor Boyagoda to answer a question most relevant to our new venture: Why were magazines so important to Father Neuhaus? You will see in his article something of the excitement that magazines brought him, and we hope Convivium brings the same to us and to our readers. In its early stages, it already has.

"Raymond, if you want to advance an idea, write a book," Father Neuhaus told me on that December evening. "But if you want to change a culture, you need a magazine. Because magazines are literally periodical, they create an ongoing community—readers, writers, editors, benefactors. And only communities can change cultures."

Father Neuhaus knew that to change a culture, you need to propose another culture, and cultures are not singular ideas but the shared life of a community of persons. It has always been thus. In ancient times, it was not only the truth of the Gospel that attracted but the witness of the early Christian communities. In our time, the means of modern communications allow us to create communities across distance through shared ideas, engaged arguments and, as Father Neuhaus taught us better than most, convivial good cheer.

Our name is an homage to him and his work. I first met him in 1994, when I was a student in the annual seminar he taught in Cracow, Poland, together with Michael Novak, George Weigel and Russell Hittinger. Over the years he was gracious enough to make time for me as a young student and then a seminarian. We became friends, and when I was ordained a priest in 2002, he was kind enough to come to Kingston and preach the homily at my first Mass. In 2009, when he died, the circle turned, and I preached the homily at his funeral Mass. You will understand from what I preached why we called our project what we did.

"In our first reading the prophet Isaiah has a vision of the Lord's celestial mountain. In the translation we used we hear of a 'feast.' We used the RSV translation because it is never a good idea to set the deceased to spinning even before he gets to his grave, which may well have happened had we used the lectionary of the New American Bible, against which Father Richard regularly inveighed. There is another translation. In the Latin Vulgate, the word used is convivium. Convivium might just have been Father Richard's favourite word. There are other candidates—winsome and egregious come to mind—but he loved that word, convivium. He was the only one I knew who used it in ordinary conversation but, of course, his conversations were rarely ordinary.

"Convivium strictly means "to live together," but it connotes a banquet or feast, indicating that a certain supply of rich food and fine wine are, if not required, at least desired. Isaiah says nothing about cigars. But then Father Richard was not a sola scriptura man. Convivium is an essential part of the Christian life. We are not meant to be disciples alone. Convivium is what Father Richard created over his whole life, delighting in the company of others and the delightful things the Lord had made. He drew people together who might not otherwise meet—Christians and Jews, Evangelicals and Catholics, Canadians and Americans, clergy and laity, theologians and journalists, entrepreneurs and evangelists, distinguished authors and aspiring writers.

"He brought us all together for a purpose. A good meal, a fine cigar or two, a stiff drink or three, and sparkling conversation for several hours were good in themselves, but they were so much better when put to the service of Christ and His Church. The convivium on East 19th Street began for a reason with common prayer, the greatest reason for coming together. For one thoroughly captured by the Catholic sacramental imagination, each convivium points to that sacrum convivium of which Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote his famous lines."

Across the country on our tour, many asked me whether we are trying to do for Canada what Father Neuhaus did for America with First Things. (One Catholic cardinal playfully refers to our enterprise as "second things." And in house, before we settled on our name, some took to calling it "frost things." So we know in which tradition we stand!)

I consider it flattering that people would estimate our efforts alongside those of Father Neuhaus and would be delighted if our project were to achieve a measure of the success that his did. We are animated by a similar spirit, and aspire to similar goals. It is an honour to walk in his footsteps, and I expect that even now he takes delight in our progress, dwelling we trust in Heaven amid the great convivium of all the blessed.

The charter at 30

Jean Chrétien was upset that the federal government did not celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms with greater solemnity. After all, he signed it on April 17, 1982, right there on Parliament Hill. Attention should be paid. Former Liberal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler shares the view, and took to the pages of The Toronto Star to make his case: "Canadians now enjoy a panoply of rights and remedies that was almost inconceivable prior to the Charter, and which has had a transformative impact not only on our laws but on our lives, not only on how we litigate but on how we live. Regrettably, the 30th anniversary of any of the events in the landmark process [of] enshrining Charter rights has gone without any remark or notice from the government."

Why might the government be reluctant to mark the anniversary of The Constitution Act, 1982, of which the Charter was the central part? As a Liberal from Quebec might appreciate, the continuing refusal of Quebec's governments—both Liberal and Parti Québécois—to assent to the reform of 1982 makes national festivities somewhat awkward. While the repatriation of the Constitution represented the high point of the Trudeau vision—hence Chrétien's enthusiasm for it—it also marked the beginning of the end for the federal Liberal Party. Before 1982, the Liberals had won election after election by running up huge majorities in Quebec, including 74 of 75 seats in the 1980 federal election. After the constitutional reform, they never again dominated Quebec, losing their seats there first to the Conservatives, then the Bloc Québécois, and now the NDP. Perhaps Prime Minister Stephen Harper should have arranged a massive celebration for the 30th anniversary for his own partisan reasons, to further bury the Liberals in their historic base in Quebec.

I can't speak for the government, but I would not have been enthused over a big bash for the Charter at 30. Charter revelry is often rooted in the view that human rights didn't exist in Canada before Pierre Trudeau bestowed them upon us. Canada was 115 years old at the time of the Charter and had already achieved the status of a mature democracy. Canada before the Charter was already a beacon of classically liberal values for afflicted peoples the world over. Human rights and democratic values are older than Canada itself, and our constitutional history reaches back even a century before Confederation, with acts of toleration and accommodation that marked the unique path of Canada's peaceable institutions of the Crown in Parliament. Neither Canada nor its constitutional history began in 1982.

Cotler takes a rather more dismal view of our history, arguing that "pre-Charter life and law is often a disturbing narrative of discrimination against, and marginalization of, vulnerable groups, including discrimination against Aboriginal people, against racial and religious minorities, against women, against the disabled, against gays and lesbians, against immigrants and refugees, and the like."

A nice touch, for Cotler to add "and the like."

So vast, so voluminous, so vice-ridden is Canadian history that it becomes tiresome to catalogue the various victims oppressed by the Canadian State. Yet Cotler's view, by no means unusual, is an implicit indictment of his own Liberal Party, which ruled Canada during almost all of that pre-Charter period. It's a strange argument for Cotler to make, as if Liberal rule was one atrocity after another, interrupted only by the Bill of Rights under John Diefenbaker's Conservatives. Too many Charter enthusiasts think that way about Canadian history, a great, prolonged darkness until Pierre Trudeau led a backward people into the sunlit uplands of judicial review, a new amending formula and entrenched equalization payments.

It's not even clear that the Charter is 30, or of any fixed age. After all, the Charter signed in 1982 would not, as Trudeau himself promised in Parliament, change the status of abortion. But by 1988 the Charter was found to invalidate Canada's abortion law, leading to our extreme abortion licence—any time for any reason. Moving quickly, the Supreme Court decided to simply add sexual orientation to the Charter in 1995. Gay marriage followed as soon as the judges could get to the altar. Along the way, more novel rights were discovered, such as Sunday trading and the treatment of couples who are not married as if they were. And the Charter continues to surprise, producing, according to Ontario's Court of Appeals this year, the right to sell sex in a brothel The Charter adopted in long ago 1982 contains all sorts of provisions "inconceivable," to use Cotler's term, to those who drafted it. Yet the direction of the novelties is altogether predictable—an inexorable use of the courts to enthrone the radically autonomous self as the dominant vision governing our common life. The Charter has enforced, in an entirely illiberal way, the vision of a libertine social order. Canadians who dissent from the new orthodoxy of licentiousness regard the Charter not as a great fount of human rights but as the usurper of democratic processes to advance a radical social agenda. It may be a minority view, but it is not insignificant in Canada and cannot be dismissed as the preserve of a few recalcitrant cranks. It constitutes a valid critique about our liberal democracy and whether those traditions were strengthened or weakened by grafting an American instrument—a justiciable bill of rights—onto our Westminster parliamentary system. So there exists another constituency for which the Charter at 30 does not invite celebration.

Elements of the repatriated constitution seem to be diminishing their hold on our political consensus. The equalization provisions—not part of the Charter proper but found in Section 36 of The Constitution Act, 1982—commit the federal and provincial governments to redistributing taxpayer dollars around the federation. That provision never envisioned Ontario receiving equalization, rendering that apparently foundational principle rather attenuated. In the recent Alberta election, Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith mused that it was past time to revisit equalization altogether, as Albertans were disinclined to support Quebec's lavish public services, whether super-subsidized university tuition or $7/day daycare. Constitutional provisions are not supposed to hit their best-before date within decades.

More troubling in the Alberta election was Premier Alison Redford's musings about "conscience rights," which she professed to find frightening. It's one thing for the opposition leader to raise questions about Section 36; it's quite another for the premier to express doubts about Section 2. It's called "fundamental freedoms" for a reason, and the very first one is "freedom of conscience and religion." Thirty years on and enthusiasm there is flagging, too. In Alberta the State finds those pesky conscience rights an obstacle to professionals being broken to the will of the State. In Ontario and Quebec, the government's education policies run roughshod over basic religious liberties, forcing schools to teach that their own religious doctrines are false. It's a funny thing; matters that were never in the Charter are now vigorously promoted, and that which the Charter actually protects is denigrated. A most mixed record; rather too much so for the unambiguous celebration that Chrétien and Cotler desired.

In the ring and running away

The whole matter was rather more fitting for tawdry reality TV. Justin Trudeau, MP and Senator Patrick Brazeau in a charity boxing match? The loser submits to a public haircut, his luxurious locks literally on the line? The ethos of professional wrestling has its evident appeal, but not, one hoped, beyond the ranks of teenage boys, let alone within the hallowed confines of Parliament. Yet Trudeau fils knows a thing or two about self-promotion, and before long the federal budget was only a prelude to the main political event in Ottawa the last week of March. Like many others, I expected the pretty boy to get pummelled by the ex-military senator. To his credit, Trudeau defied all expectations and beat a bloody Brazeau into submission, forcing the referee to stop the fight. Political Ottawa swooned. Columnist Lawrence Martin, who still speaks publicly about the massive man crush he had for Pierre Trudeau in the 1960s, fell in love all over again with Justin, panting at the prospect of a future prime minister. It's springtime, after all, and an old man's fancy turns to thoughts of leadership campaigns.

Trudeau's courage comes and goes. In the ring he stands and fights. On matters of national unity, if he doesn't get his way, he turns and runs away. While training for his boxing match, he administered this uppercut to himself in February:

"I always say that if I ever believed Canada was really the Canada of Stephen Harper and we were going against abortion and going against gay marriage and we were going backward in 10,000 different ways, maybe I'd think of wanting to make Quebec a country."

I doubt Stephen Harper has a list of 1,000 items to retard the progress of Canada, let alone 10,000. But after six years in power, it is most evident that even if he had a list of 10,000, trimming on abortion and gay marriage would not make the cut. Together with Justice Minister Robert Nicholson, the prime minister generally treats socially conservative issues like a disease—better to stay a goodly distance away from both the contagion and those who might be contagious. Abortion and marriage don't make the top 10,000 for Harper and Nicholson, but isn't it a little odd that they would be the top two priorities for Trudeau? After all, could it really be that what is most distinctive about Quebec is sex that does not produce babies—effectively achieved by both abortion and gay marriage? If so, it would seem rather foolish to establish a separate country to defend the identity of a people who are not reproducing. Not a long-term project.

So Trudeau was talking nonsense, both in his analysis of Harper's agenda and in his mentioning separatism. Yet it was illuminating nonsense nonetheless. Is it really the case that the enthusiastic abortion licence and gay marriage are so essential to Trudeau's vision of The Just Society that he would split up the country over it, and turn his back on his father's life work of combating separatism? There are enthusiasts for the sexual revolution all over, but Trudeau may have achieved a novelty in proposing that haggard social movement as the essential foundation of the political order. Give me sex or give me secession! Patrick Henry updated for the 21st century.

After presiding over Brazeau's haircut—surely the silliest event ever held in the august Senate foyer—Trudeau announced that there would be no more boxing matches. This ought to leave more time for political philosophy. One expects him to draw on many sources, including the Catholic tradition, as he noted last November: "For someone to start questioning my own faith and accusing me of being a bad Catholic is something that I really take issue with. My own personal faith is an extremely important part of who I am and the values that I try to lead with." Trudeau, despite sitting in Parliament, is better at leading with his jab than in taking a lead articulating a political philosophy suitable for a nation—whether it be Canada or Quebec.

Eyes above the belt

On March 20, the Holy See announced a new archbishop for Montreal. It was a surprise. The new man, Christian Lépine, was only ordained an auxiliary bishop some six months ago. A novice bishop had been vaulted over many more experienced bishops for the most senior Catholic post in Quebec. I wrote a column about it for The Catholic Register, and the next day, Montreal's The Gazette called for an interview. The reporter was refreshingly honest, admitting that covering church affairs was not really her thing, and perhaps I might help her out in understanding why this was important. There was a time when no one in Canada would have to ask about the importance of a new archbishop in Montreal. It was said that Mackenzie King never made a serious decision without first consulting the archbishop of Montreal and the president of the Royal Bank. He was prime minister longer than anyone else, so he knew something about this country, but that was 75 years ago. The total lack of media coverage for Montreal's new archbishop in the national media confirms that this is not King's Canada anymore.

The interview quickly got to what all such interviews get to, namely, whether the Church should get with it on sex. Marian Scott was good enough to quote my main point.

"Rev. Raymond J. de Souza said the widespread rejection of organized religion in Quebec in no way should lead the church to adopt a more liberal stance on sexuality and social issues. 'The church has to find her way to be faithful to the Lord Jesus and to the Gospel, even in the face of, and one might say especially in the face of, a culture which is unsympathetic,' said de Souza, editor-in-chief of Convivium magazine."

On the phone, she followed up with a sensible enough question. If there is a gap between what the Church teaches and what Quebecers believe, wouldn't it be easier to change the Church teaching? I observed first that this pastoral strategy had been a complete failure everywhere it has been tried. Then I proposed thinking more broadly than just gay marriage, fornication, cohabitation, contraception and abortion—raising the level of one's moral vision above the belt.

For example, Statistics Canada, in its annual data on charitable giving, reported that Quebecers lag far behind all other Canadians in their annual donations. Dramatically so, in fact. The median figure for total charitable donations in 2010 for Quebec was $130. The median for Canada was twice that, at $260. In fact, all the other provinces were above $300. Alberta and Prince Edward Island were on top, with median annual donations of $390—exactly three times the median in Quebec.

It is clearly an ancient tenet of Christianity that one ought to give generously of one's goods, as a sign of gratitude to God for His bounty and as a service to one's neighbours in need. Clearly that Biblical view of generosity is not popular in Quebec. So why do the bishops bang on about it? Would it not be easier simply to abandon that old-fashioned teaching in favour of what practice shows must be the prevailing opinion in Quebec—namely, look after yourself and let the bureaucrats take care of the needy? There is a gap between Christian teaching on charity and Quebec practice; why not drop the teaching on charity? Such a pastoral approach is rarely advocated, though the logic is the same as that which calls for abandoning the Christian teaching on chastity. It might provide an interesting pastoral experiment. Which updated gospel would bring more Quebecers back to church: being loose on sex or being tight with money?

Canadians ought not be smug. True, Quebecers are significantly more miserly that the rest of Canada, but Canadians as a whole give 0.7 per cent of their income to charity. Americans, by contrast, give 1.3 per cent. Even the latter is hardly impressive against the Biblical standard of tithing. Perhaps the mischievous option I advanced really has already been implemented. After all, one rarely hears a Catholic preacher address generous tithing. The Church is reluctantly willing to be out of step with the culture on matters of promiscuity. On matters pecuniary, not so much.

A constant companion

A few readers were surprised that I wrote a longish entry on sexual abuse for our premiere issue. Too edgy, perhaps? Too risky? I understand the concern but, alas, I have become something of an expert on writing about that lamentable topic. It has accompanied me my entire priesthood, for I was ordained in 2002, the same year the scandals broke in Boston. More than that, though, a priest today, whether a writer or not, simply lives with the issue as a constant companion. We all have the fear—not a paralyzing fear, but an enduring one—that our life could be ruined in a flash by an accusation. The Catholic Church has one of the strictest policies anywhere on handling such accusations; the pendulum has swung indeed. Upon receipt of any accusation that is not obviously fabricated, the priest is suspended from ministry immediately and indefinitely. If he lives in the parish rectory, he is booted out of his home, too, given a few hours to find family or friends who will take him in. False accusations are by no means common, but they do happen. I don't expect a false accusation to ruin my life, but I would not be utterly surprised if one came. After all, if false accusations were made against Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago and Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, no priest should think himself safe. I certainly don't.

My thoughts in the last issue were prompted by the child molestation scandal at Penn State. Further reporting on the subsequent firing of Joe Paterno, the greatest coach in the history of college football, is indicative of the new climate. Coach Paterno was not accused of sexual abuse, nor was he accused of any crime. He was told of allegations about a former employee, which he reported to his superiors within 24 hours. His moral failing was in not doing anything more than that. That he should have been fired for that is a defensible position. Yet, after 61 years at Penn State, it is indefensible that the board of trustees fired him over the telephone, without even hearing from him on the matter.

A few weeks after his November firing, and while undergoing cancer treatments—he died in January—the university sent someone to his house to collect what university property the old coach had: a 25-year-old beige telephone and a dilapidated fax machine. If Joe Paterno could be fired without due process or common decency, then no one is safe from being thrown under the bus. It's the new environment. It's better than it was when everything was kept quiet, but it's not without serious flaws. Those of us who live with it think about it frequently, and so write about it, too.

Primus yes, but Pares? A "period of turmoil, change and development," said Canon Kenneth Kearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion. "A challenging time," added Dr. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York. "A time of significant challenges," was the word from Archdeacon Paul Feheley, Principal Secretary to the Anglican Primate of Canada.

All were reacting to the mid-March news that Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, would be stepping down at the end of the year to become Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. His 10 years as primate of the Anglican Communion was something of a never-ending headache for the cerebral theologian of gentle demeanour. Challenges aplenty exist for the proclamation of the Christian Gospel in the 21st century, but Archbishop Williams had a rather more acute problem. The Anglican Communion was threatening to split apart. The Anglican churches in the north—Britain, United States and Canada—were moving rather decidedly in the direction of same-sex marriage and a general approval of homosexual acts. The Anglican churches in the south, especially in Africa, regarded this as a fundamental betrayal of the Gospel.

The Archbishop of Canterbury tried to keep everyone together. It was a remarkable challenge, for regarding homosexual acts as proper to a sacramental union is rather a departure from considering them to be serious sins. To fudge the difference between the two was always going to be a fool's errand, but perhaps Dr. Williams regarded himself as a fool for Christ. He strove mightily. The project foundered definitively in 2008, when the decennial Lambeth Conference proved an occasion of division rather than the instrument of unity it is intended to be. While nearly 800 bishops attended the 1998 Lambeth, only some 650 met in 2008. Meanwhile, some 250 or so Anglican bishops, mostly from the south, gathered for an alternative meeting in Jerusalem. With roughly a quarter of Anglican bishops refusing even to attend the Lambeth, the de facto disintegration of the Anglican Communion was accomplished. Challenging times indeed.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is the primus inter pares—first among equals—of the Anglican Communion. He is recognized as such by his fellow Christians, as when Archbishop Williams was received most warmly in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI just weeks before announcing his retirement. That primacy has been threatened internally, where a large segment of Anglicanism holds that communion with Canterbury and other bishops throughout the world is seriously impaired. Dr. Williams' successor will certainly be the primus. The question is whether the bishops of the Anglican Communion recognize each other as pares. Certainly they do not recognize each other as equally upholding the demands of the Gospel.

For those of us outside the Anglican Communion, the de facto end of a nearly 500-year tradition of Christian witness is an occasion of sadness. The erosion of communion inflicts new wounds on the body of Christ, of which the wound of disunity was one that Jesus Himself prayed would be healed.

The marginalization of Anglicanism as a shaper of English life, for example, has not led to other Christian traditions picking up the slack, as it were. Anglicanism's losses have been secularism's gains, to the extent that England itself has become so secular as to be actively hostile to religion. The splintering of Anglicanism will lead to further erosion of the Christian presence in countries of historic Anglican tradition.

To those of us of a particular cultural and liturgical sensibility, Anglicanism offered at its best a particularly fruitful encounter of faith and culture, the vitality of which was manifest in its missionary energies and fruitfulness. In the mysteries of Providence it is precisely those lands of previous missionary activity that now question the fidelity of the former home countries to that very tradition.

The challenge for the next Archbishop of Canterbury will be to midwife the de jure arrangements that will inevitably follow from the de facto schism of recent years. That task will necessarily require the goodwill of other traditions. The Catholic option has been made easier in recent years for those Anglicans who conclude that their ecclesial home is full communion with Rome. On April 15, some 40 such Anglicans, together with their own bishop, were received into that communion by the Catholic Archbishop of Ottawa.

I was on hand for the deeply moving ceremony, an experience of unity amid fragments of division. The Catholic option will be chosen by relatively few. Others will choose to move in a more evangelical direction, and will require the welcome and support of their Protestant brethren. And I expect that the majority of Anglicans will continue on in new configurations, as national churches more independent of each other and desirous of other instruments of communion—and should communion prove impossible, at least some common witness.

The Christian church of the 21st century will not look like the Christian church of the 20th. This century will radically reconfigure Christianity on a global scale—the largest such reconfiguration since the 16th century. As the Anglicans attempt to find their path, their fellow Christian disciples owe them a generous measure of solidarity, a compelling witness of fidelity to the Christian tradition, and an abundance of charity. All that lies ahead may seem to the next Archbishop of Canterbury to be an even greater fool's errand, and to the rest of us a foolishly impossible task. In which case, fools for Christ are required anew, as they always are.