Wednesday, July 06, 2005


I've been following stories on Canadian Bishop Fred Henry a lot recently as he's been in the middle of the battle to stop the Canadian government from making legal same-sex marriages, an effort that sadly failed last week. But he has also brought to light the very real possibility of clergy being jailed for their preachings and teachings from the pulpit. In the following exchange from his testimony before the Parliamentary Committee on Marriage, he tells of one such effort to harass and intimidate him.
Mr. Jason Kenney: Bishop, you mentioned in your submission that you had received a call from a certain Terry De March from the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency. I believe that was in June of last year.

Most Rev. Fred Henry: Yes, it was.

Mr. Jason Kenney: Could you please describe for us that call and what preceded it?

Most Rev. Fred Henry: First of all, when you get a call from Revenue Canada, you start to shake in your boots, so it was one of those things that went to the top of the pile really quickly. I phoned him back the same day, I believe it was June 15, and he reminded me very forcefully from the beginning that I wasn't to engage in partisan politics, pointing out that my actions were in contravention of the Canada Elections Act and implying that my actions jeopardized my charitable tax status.

I pointed out to him that if he'd read the pastoral letter very carefully, I hadn't told anyone how to vote, that my letter was a pastoral one to the people of my diocese and was inserted in bulletins and read from the pulpit. It happened to be picked up by the media and reprinted, but I had simply been writing to clear up the moral confusion that was generated by the Prime Minister and the media. I asked him if pastoral letters were now outlawed; he refused to answer that particular question.

He then talked about perception and said that some people may perceive.... I said, I can't control the perceptions of all people in Canada, but I have to assume that they can think, and can think critically and evaluate, and surely to God they can understand that I'm not telling anybody how to vote here.

Then he said, well, are you going to take down the pastoral letter from your website? I said, no, why should I take it down from my website? He didn't answer that either. Then he said, are you planning on doing anything else? I said, I find that question very strange, but no, I'm not contemplating doing anything else. Then he said, I'm going to write a report for my superior; you may hear back from us again in the short term.

That was the end of the conversation. I assume that things didn't go the way he wanted. My interpretation was that he thought that Revenue Canada coming down and calling me to task would mean that I would beat my breast and say I was sorry and fold my tent and go away. When he found out that I wouldn't, and the conversation didn't go the way he wanted, he was upset. However, I think he felt that his purpose was served: I was warned, I was threatened. But since that time, I have heard nothing directly from him.

Mr. Jason Kenney: For the record, Bishop, you said you felt threatened by this call. How so?

Most Rev. Fred Henry: Yes, I did. Well, I think in the first instance it was clearly implied to me, and he suggested, that I had done something wrong, that I had contravened the Elections Act. I was familiar with the precepts and the content of that law, and I felt I was fully within my right as a bishop to teach my people and to clear up moral confusion.

Mr. Jason Kenney: Do you think he was implying that the charitable status of your diocese depended potentially on your conforming your religious expression to his interpretation of the charities act?

Most Rev. Fred Henry: Yes, is the short answer.

Mr. Jason Kenney: Bishop, clearly you're not somebody to fold your tent. If you were just a pastor of a small independent, perhaps a protestant, church and you received a similar call for something you had expressed to your congregation, and the financial stability of your church depended on that tax status, do you think you might have felt even more pressure in that kind of situation than you did as bishop of a large and fairly prosperous diocese?

Most Rev. Fred Henry: No question; several ministers have told me precisely that.


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