To award the Order of Canada to Henry Morgentaler does not much diminish Governor-General Michaelle Jean nor Canada (neither, truth to tell, have much of a reputation to tarnish), but it might make some past recipients — for example, Jean Vanier (1971), or the Salvation Army’s Arnold Brown (1982), or the late Cardinal Emmett Carter (1983) — seem to be in rather uncomfortable company. But then, people forget that the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Yasser Arafat.
Well, what does awarding Morgentaler the Order of Canada say about Canada?
It says that the new Canada — the Canada of Michaelle Jean, and Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin (who chaired the selection committee) and the mummers who sat on the committee are as like the old Canada as, in Hamlet’s words, “am I to Hercules.” In old Canada, Morgentaler was prosecuted and sent to jail for performing illegal abortions. But that was in another era and, as far as I’m concerned, another country — a country as dead as any of the recipients of Morgentaler’s attentions.
The decision to give Morgentaler the Order of Canada was scheduled to be made on Canada’s birthday. It would require macabre sarcasm to call this a “birthday” present; so, for this “deathday” present, let me briefly remark on three propositions.
Three, while we do not forget the evil functionary, sometimes our remembrance of him is subsumed in the triumph of the victim. Through the centuries Pontius Pilate has not been forgotten, but he is remembered only in the greater drama of Jesus Christ.
So let it be with Morgentaler. He will not be forgotten, nor should he be, nor the evil he has perpetrated. But the greater story –even in as pathetic a country as Canada — is not his, it is Humanae Vitae (1968) and the final triumph of life over the culture of death.
The words of Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae will be pondered by those who come after us (assuming that there are any) when the Order of Canada has been mercifully and deservedly forgotten.
“To [governments] is committed the responsibility of safeguarding the common good Never allow the morals of your people to be undermined Never tolerate those practices which are opposed to the natural law of God.” (Source)
Did you catch the magic words? HUMANAE VITAE, the most important papal encyclical of our time, and, arguably, ever.
July 25, 2008 will be its 40th anniversary.
40 years in the desert is coming to an end.