How far do one’s religious freedoms extend?

By James Keller

Last month, Catholic Priest Rev. John Maes did an about face, refusing to marry Medicine Hat resident Celina Ling and her fiancé Robert Symmonds. The decision came after Maes’ discovery that Ling is employed by Planned Parenthood, which among other things, is Canada’s largest pro-choice (read: abortion) advocacy group.

Pointing to well-known Catholic doctrine issued by Pope John Paul II condemning abortion and those who support it, Maes’ decision is widely supported in the Catholic community. Ling, on the other hand, took her case to the media, urging people to speak out against the church and withhold donations, saying "they [the Catholic Church] are showing that they don’t treat people equally."

While Maes shouldn’t have let the process get this far before withdrawing support–Ling already fronted money to use the church and for a marriage preparation course–the church was well within its right to refuse the marriage. It is no secret that the Catholic Church condemns abortion. Canon 1398 commands anyone involved in abortion be excommunicated; it doesn’t get clearer than that.

Truth be told, this isn’t a debate about abortion, just as the Catholic Church’s refusal to recognize homosexual marriage isn’t a debate about gay marriage. Instead, at the root of this, is the limit to which religious doctrine supercedes the rights of those who wish to practice said religions. Should a church, Catholic, Protestant, Sikh or otherwise, be forced to include anyone who walks in the door in their religious ceremonies? After all, Ling can and will be married by a justice of the peace. Her right to marriage was never infringed upon.

She will not have a Catholic ceremony, but that is a result of her lifestyle which conflicts with certain key values of Catholicism. And while there are practicing Catholics who are pro-choice (Catholics for a Free Choice, for example), they too are out of step with the teachings of their religion. They are no different than Jews who refuse to abstain from eating pork, Muslims who knowingly eat beef and Jehovah’s Witnesses who celebrate Christmas.

While the merits of the Canon itself are debatable and most likely won’t be resolved in the foreseeable future, this case has nothing to do with equal rights, as Ling suggests. By working for Planned Parenthood and making an openly pro-choice stance, Ling made a decision. This decision is protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as is the Catholic Church’s right to disagree and to act accordingly. And while Ling can call herself a Catholic and practice the religion privately if she likes, the Catholic Church has every right not to recognize her as such and every right to exclude her from Catholic sacrament.

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