It’s still a deeply emotional memory for Charlie Angus, nearly a decade after the fact.
A devout Roman Catholic, Angus was a rookie member of Parliament for the NDP in February 2005, representing the northern Ontario riding of Timmins-James Bay. On the agenda in the House of Commons was the Civil Marriage Act, which would legalize same-sex marriage.
Amid debate on that act, Angus’s parish priest threatened to prevent him from participating in the most sacred Roman Catholic tradition, receiving communion, if he supported the bill. It wasn’t an idle threat, as Angus found out after voting in favour of the legislation.
A former Catholic school board trustee and church choir member, he was denounced from the pulpit, while the local bishop issued a press release promising to help defeat him in the next election. That was only the beginning.
“It had an effect on my family, my daughters, my wife, my aunts who are nuns in the convent, my mother,” Angus told the Citizen.
“When you’re part of a community and you’re being told that you’re not going to be part of it or punished … I think the emotional stuff for other people beside me was bigger.”
Angus recalled his standoff with the church at a time when a rift appears to be opening between Justin Trudeau and the Roman Catholic church. This week, an Ottawa bishop suggested the Liberal leader could be prevented from receiving communion because Trudeau has required that future Liberal MPs vote pro-choice on questions around abortion.
Auxiliary Bishop Christian Riesbeck told the CBC that church officials would like to meet with Trudeau to discuss the Liberal leader’s position “before jumping to that conclusion.
“But someone who persists, who obstinately persists in a teaching that is contrary to the clear and unchanging teaching on the core issues of life, if they obstinately persist, then they can be denied communion according to the law of the church,” Riesbeck said.
Trudeau has no intention of changing his position, saying that “my role is to stand up and defend all Canadians, and my role in terms of that is separate from any personal, religious views.”
The Liberal leader was raised Roman Catholic by his father, attending church on weekends and praying each night. He and wife, Sophie Gregoire, were married in a Roman Catholic church in Montreal. And he took offence to suggestions by Conservative-turned-Independent MP Dean Del Mastro in 2011 that he was a bad Catholic.
Trudeau’s office declined to say Thursday whether he still attends church on a regular basis, and if so, whether he attends in Ottawa, Montreal or both. (Trudeau and his family recently moved from Montreal to Ottawa’s Rockcliffe Park.)
Whether the uproar over Trudeau’s abortion stand among Roman Catholic leaders, – including critiques from the archbishops of Toronto, Ottawa and Edmonton – could hurt the Liberal party’s electoral chances is hotly debated.
The Conservatives in particular say they will now be the only major federal party not requiring their MPs to vote pro-choice (the NDP has long required its members to back a woman’s right to choose).
But Angus says that in his experience with same-sex marriage, the actions taken against him by the clergy actually offended many Catholics, who ended up rallying to support him.
He and two other NDP MPs singled out by Catholic leaders for their support of same-sex marriage in 2005, Tony Martin and Joe Comartin, were re-elected in the following federal election.
Angus says today he still has strong relationships with many people in the local parish community, and he says he remains a faithful Roman Catholic, but has never returned to the church where he was denounced.
“It certainly carried major implications,” he added, “but it wasn’t going to turn me off how I voted. And I never regretted it for an instant, the way I voted.”
Politicians versus the church: NDP MP Angus knows how Trudeau feels | Ottawa Citizen (external - login to view)