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Marriage Debate: Freedom of Conscience and Religion Threatened

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(CCCB – Ottawa) The Catholic bishops of Canada have pinpointed a number of significant weaknesses in Bill C-38, which they say threaten freedom of conscience and religion, contrary to federal government promises.

Most Reverend Brendan M. O’Brien, Archbishop of St. John’s, Newfoundland, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), has outlined the concerns in a letter to Prime Minister Paul Martin.

The letter is a reminder that all the Catholic bishops of the country oppose the Bill. As well, it reiterates the fundamental reasons why they believe the present definition of marriage must be retained as the loving, life-giving partnership of a man and a woman. The letter also notes ambiguities in the Bill that the bishops say pose threats to faith groups.

Among the dangers identified in Bill C-38 are that the Government of Canada fails to affirm its intention to protect freedom of conscience and religion by cooperating with provincial and territorial governments in those areas where they have certain jurisdiction in marriage. The Bill does not state that leaders and members of faith groups everywhere in Canada will have the freedom to teach and preach on marriage or on homosexuality in accordance with their conscience and religion. Nor does the Bill offer protection so that an organization identified with a particular faith group cannot be compelled to allow the use of its facilities in preparations for or celebrations relating to marriage ceremonies contrary to that faith. In addition, the Bill fails to help protect civil as well as religious officials who witness marriages from being compelled to assist when these are contrary to their conscience and religion.

Another concern raised in the letter from Archbishop O’Brien is that the charitable status of faith groups could be at risk if they do not accept the proposed redefinition of marriage.

In concluding his letter, the CCCB President reiterates his appeal for a free vote so that all members of the House of Commons, including Cabinet ministers, can vote on this important question according to their own conscience.

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Last Updated on Thursday, July 20 2006  
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Canada’s oldest diocese, the Archdiocese of Quebec, was established in 1674. Most Reverend François de Laval was its first Bishop.