An abbreviated version of this interview with Michael
OBrien appeared in the August 15, 2004, edition of
Sunday Visitor. The interviewer is Thomas Szyszkiewicz. Reprinted
The Canadian Parliament
recently passed Bill C-250 which amends the federal hate crimes law to
include speech against sexual orientation. Some Canadian groups have complained
about it, saying even the Bible could be seen as hate literature. What's
wrong with what was passed?
OBrien: A number of aspects of the new law are profoundly
disturbing. For one thing, there already exists in Canadian law abundant
protection of human rights, including protection against discrimination
on grounds of "sexual orientation." What is distinctive about
the new law is the criminalization of negative criticism of homosexuality
While the bill was in formation in Parliament two crucial amendments proposed
by the conservative opposition party were defeated. The first was to ensure
that religious pastors and teachers would retain full freedom to teach
traditional Judeo-Christian view on these matters. The second was an attempt
to make a distinction in law between homosexual persons and homosexual
activities. The Church does not condemn homosexuals as persons; it condemns
sinful activities--activities that are not only an offense against God,
but are destructive of the person, as well as society in the long run.
In rejecting these two amendments, Parliament simply decreed that henceforth
any public criticism of homosexual activity is a hate crime against homosexual
persons, punishable by jail sentences.
Has there yet been any practical affect to
what has been passed?
OBrien: The ink is still wet on the document, and there has
been little time to bring many law suits. For the time being were
in the eye of the storm, a temporary calm. I think there is a widespread
drawing back as journalists, teachers, and pastors ponder their options.
At the same time activist homosexual groups are bombarding a number of
pro-family, pro-life organizations in this country with mockery and threats,
planning strategies (in open forums) for silencing all opposition, warning
that those who dont keep silent on homosexuality will go to court,
and to jail. The high level of emotional violence in homosexual activist
strategy is at times quite shocking. They seem consumed with hatred and
determined to bring about an entire social revolution in their favor.
I should add that during the past two years a number of significant "human
rights" law suits have been brought against traditional Christians,
litigation that predates the new hate crimes law. The courts generally
have sided against the churches and individuals who do not want to cooperate
with the "gay agenda." For example, a printing company that
declined to print Torontos annual gay pride day literature was sued
under the human rights law, fined heavily, and forced to print the material
or close their business. A Catholic school was coerced by a court order
to admit an openly homosexual teenage boy and his older male lover to
the school prom; the court also refused the school board permission to
cancel the prom. A daily newspaper that published an advertisement page
of Biblical quotes regarding homosexuality was fined. Such incidents are
Is this another slippery slope issue? How
far can this reach in terms of what alleged crimes might be committed
or who might be protected by it?
OBrien: Potentially very far. The law can be used primarily
to further intimidate the timid and to punish the outspoken. We now have
Thought Crime in Canada, just as Orwell predicted. Few people believe
this could be the beginning phases of an Orwellian 1984 or alternatively
a softer form of totalitarian government such as Huxleys Brave
New World. But the elements of State-enforced social reconstruction
are now in operation. We should also consider the fact that in just over
one generation we have been shifted from a society in which homosexual
activity was a crime under the then existing law, to a society in which
homosexual activity has become a government-protected and fostered activity,
while voicing criticism of it has become the crime. I see this as a prime
example of the new totalitarianism. Clearly, we have now arrived at a
situation in which "some of us are more equal than others",
as Orwell predicted.
In its hate propaganda provisions the law states that in order to be found
guilty of an indictable offense, a person must communicate statements
in a public place which "incite hatred against an identifiable group"
in such a way that there will "likely be a breach of the peace."
The courts have already proven their startling subjectivity on homosexual
issues. A breath of protest from a Christian is a hate crime, while aggressive
disruption of Christian gatherings by gay militants are often overlooked
and go unprosecuted.
A whiff of Germany in the early 1930s is discernible
in the atmosphere. Of course, glancing about our streets we do not see
any concentration camps or marching jackboots. But will the prisons some
day hold Christian inmates whose only crime is speaking the truth? And
as for jackboots, activist homosexual groups have behaved like Nazi hooligans
of the late1920s and early 1930s, for example their recent
outrageous behavior at Archbishop Adam Exners residence in Vancouver.
Many of the terms in the new law are largely undefined, such as "sexual
orientation," "inciting hatred," "a likelihood of
breach of the peace" and thus there is an ambiguity so broad that
one could drive a battleship through it. It will be left to the courts
to do the dirty work of interpreting, condemning, and imprisoning. They
have already proved themselves quite willing to do so, and the new law
offers them added incentives.
Some European countries have similar laws.
What has happened with those?
OBrien: They have been used fully and without hesitation to
punish traditional Christians for their beliefs. In England, Ireland,
Sweden, Belgium, Spain and other countries, Catholic and Protestant pastors,
bishops, and cardinals have been prosecuted under similar hate crimes
laws. For example, Cardinal Varela of Madrid is on trial in Spain for
preaching against homosexuality in a homily he gave in the Madrid Cathedral
on the feast of the Holy Family. (see the Washington Post article,
01/03/04). Reverend Ake Green, the pastor of a Pentecostal church in Sweden,
was recently sentenced to one month in prison by a Swedish court for a
sermon he preached last year citing Biblical references to homosexuality.
Cardinal Gustaaf Joos of Belgium is facing a lawsuit under Belgian discrimination
laws for his comments in a magazine regarding the nature of homosexuality
and the Catholic Churchs teaching on the subject.
We might do well to recall that Pope John Paul II
has warned repeatedly that democracy is not immune from totalitarianism.
In his encyclicals Centessimus Annus, Familiaris Consortio,
and Evangelium Vitae, for example, as well as in other writings
and speeches, he has stated that grave threats to genuine freedom are
already at work in the democracies.
In The Gospel of Life he says that when "democracy contradicts
its own principles, it effectively moves towards a form of totalitarianism."
When the right to speak the truth is violated, when the rights and responsibilities
of the family and Catholic institutions are invaded by the State, when
the suppression of vaguely defined "crimes" becomes a growth
industry fostered by mindless legalisms, the human community is "betrayed
in its very foundations." The Holy Father goes on to say that in
a nation where some individuals are held to be deserving of defense and
others are denied that dignity, "the process leading to the breakdown
of a genuinely human co-existence and the disintegration of the State
itself has already begun." (EV n.20) In Centessimus Annus
he writes, "As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily
turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism."
Perhaps I should point out here that in the Western
nations where democracy is being eroded, the worst of the destruction
has been brought about, by and large, through "Catholic" politicians,
people who are "personally opposed, but...." Where, then, does
the slippery slope end? Were there Catholic politicians in Nazi Germany
who were "personally opposed" to some of Hitlers more
negative programs in the beginning of his regime, but went along with
it for "the good of the people"? Will our leaders find themselves
saying one day in the not too distant future, "Well, Im personally
opposed to concentration camps, but...." Of course the camps would
not be called by such a repulsive termyou can be sure that
a government psychologist would come up with comforting terms like "Social
Rehabilitation Center" or "The Tolerance Project". Far-fetched?
Perhaps. But how far-fetched did our present situation appear only one
In your book,Landscapes
With Dragons: The Battle for Your Child's Mind
(Ignatius Press, 1998), you have a chapter entitled, "Are Christians
Intolerant?" in which you raise several interesting points. One of
those is that a mother "who fiercely protects her little ones from
predators...suffers from a bias against rattlesnakes and wolves"
or a doctor "who has seen an epidemic ravage a people...is prejudiced
against deadly viruses." But this is not how the rest of the world
views intolerance or even how Christians necessarily view it, is it? Mostly
intolerance is seen as an evil thing in which the Christian is judging,
not simply the external actions someone takes, but the interior disposition
of the mind, heart and soul. How does this image get changed?
OBrien: The Christian view must always
be this: I love the carrier of this Tuberculosis or AIDS virus as a person,
but I do not love his virus. I want to protect him as a person but I do
not want to protect his virus, for it is his virus that is killing him,
and threatens to kill others as well. I will do what is reasonable to
help him find healing, if he so wishes, but I will not allow his virus
to invade my family, my body, my mind, my childrens education, and
if at all possible my government. And I maintain my right to say to him
that he is in danger.
Tragically, throughout forty years of massive propaganda from media, especially
through the entertainment industry, we have been bombarded with gross
caricatures of repressive moralists and vicious "fundamentalists",
while the image of the immoral or amoral hero has been exalted in the
name of "freedom." As a result, people who "love the sinner
but hate the sin" are now commonly considered to be dangerous sociopaths
while those who promote and protect the deadly virus of sin are considered
to be enlightened. We have suffered a cultural revolution of epic proportions
(one that is far from over), and most people hardly realize what has happened,
nor how grave the consequences will be.
For the culture to change requires evangelization,
yet I observe two things: 1) Catholics aren't out evangelizing as we should
- we tend to shrink from such a thing, and 2) evangelization is itself
considered an act of intolerance since it challenges one's way of life.
In light of such an atmosphere, how does one go about changing the culture?
OBrien: I think it begins with ones own interior conversion.
Speaking the truth will be effective to the degree that we speak in the
spirit of love. Hatred and contempt have no place in the Christian heart,
nor in our efforts at evangelization. At the core of ones beingwhat
the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls "the heart"we
must recognize elements of fear, anger, lack of mercy. Whenever we see
these impulses arise within us, we should invoke the extraordinary and
specific graces of Christ to dispel them with mercy, so that His presence
within us may speak and be made present to others. Genuine mercy never
undermines Truth. False compassion, by contrast, usually betrays truth
on some level and generates other evils.
With the growth of genuine Love there will be accompanying growth in courage.
"Perfect love casts out fear," Jesus says. Too seldom have we
relied on grace. Too long have we relied on strategies and public relations
programs, as if the spread of the Gospel were dependent on such devices.
In the end this kind of pseudo-knowledge or ersatz "wisdom"
will fail us. Indeed it has failed us. It has proven itself practically
useless and in fact counterproductive during the recent crises in the
Church in America. Now is the time for courage and bold witness. If we
do not yet have it within us, we need only ask Our Lord for it. He will
give us all that we need. Then, if we respond, things around us will change.
Potentially the whole character of the West can change for the better,
if Catholic Christians would only become who we are.
There is a lot of talk today about the whole
political climate and religious involvement in it - even in Canada there
have been some bishops who have spoken out on pro-abortion politicians
receiving Communion. This kind of "intolerant" talk is taken
by the media as a political ploy. How does the Church effectively get
her voice heard if it is shut down by simply declaring her to be "intolerant"?
OBrien: We simply must stop being distracted and intimidated
by media polemics and name-calling. It so often infects us with compromise,
a fear-based approach to evangelization. We must rediscover confidence
in the living Jesus and the full power of the Holy Spirit, exactly what
Christ always calls us to be.
As I grow older, having raised six children, Ive
learned a few things about fathering. It has been a long trial and error
process, and perhaps the most important thing Ive learned along
the way is the crucial connection between human fatherhood and spiritual
fatherhood, and through this the connection to our Father in Heaven. Whenever
we opt for a superficial "democratic" model in the life of the
Church or the family, something basic to human nature (and to society)
is lost. Such a model of family or "church" may seem compassionate
in the short run, but it almost always fosters a long range cruelty. Fathers,
especially shepherds of flocks of the Lord, must exercise their authority
in love. In love, yes, but with firmness and clarity. The time for nuanced
policy statements is over.
The time for lack of consequences is over. The time
for courageous witness to Christ is long overdue. This means that all
those who have responsibility for other souls must become "signs
of contradiction" in opposition to the spirit of this age, because
its culture is devouring human lives and societies at an unprecedented
What has been the reaction of the Canadian
Conference of Catholic Bishops? Is there any danger of the Church getting
in trouble with the Canadian authorities based on this new law?
OBrien: Before the law was passed in Parliament, the Canadian
Conference of Catholic Bishops departed from its customary qualified and
careful statements to our government, and issued forthright warnings about
the dangers of the new hate crimes law. Their words had little or no effect.
I suspect that legislators had simply grown comfortable with regular mild-mannered
position statements from the CCCB, and were well accustomed to ignoring
them. There is a hard lesson to be learned here.
The "tolerance" of clearly evil legislation
displayed by ecclesial bureaucracy is now showing its bad fruits. In fearing
to offend, they have failed to resist a terrible offense against the human
community. By seeking to save some things they have brought us closer
to losing everything. The large majority of Catholics in this country
remain uncatechized, unevangelized, and in dissent from the teachings
of the Church. Decade after decade they vote for politicians who promote
clearly evil laws, often in ignorance, and usually without suffering any
discernible consequences. What is the cause of this ignorance?
It should be noted that courageous bishops and pastors have not been lacking
among us. Since the nineteen sixties, a small minority of bishops have
fought a relentless battle for truth, in a spirit of love. The good news
is that there are more and more shepherds like them. In increasing numbers
they are standing up and speaking as "signs of contradiction"
to the culture of death. I expect that some of them may be in prison one
day, as is the case in some countries.
How are the smaller Protestant churches dealing
OBrien: Much the same as we Catholics are. The evangelical
churches especially have been concerted in their resistance to a number
of government violations of moral law. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada,
for example, has been a strong voice of protest in the debates over several
questionable new laws.
What would happen if
a bishop or priest from outside of Canada were to say something to violate
OBrien: Its only my guess, but at the least he would
be conducted to the border and told never to return, and his Canadian
hosts could be charged under the new laws.
Is there any chance,
with the elections that recently occurred that this law will be overturned?
OBrien: Short of divine intervention, none. In last months
national election the country returned the government to power for five
more years, albeit with a few less seats. Our population is more than
50% baptized Catholic. Almost all of the past seven Prime Ministers and
their Ministers of Justice have been "practicing Catholics".
Personally opposed, but.... It is our present Prime Minister, apparently
a practicing Catholic, who ensured the passage of the hate crimes law,
against widespread popular protest. Why, then, did his party win the election?
Because Canadians almost always vote for security and comfort over principle.
They have failed to understand that when the moral foundations of a nation
are destroyed, great evils are to follow, and in the end there will be
no security of any kind. I pray that Americans learn from our mistakes.
What hope, short of the Lord's return, do
you see for changing Western culture?
OBrien: Immense hope. God is full of
surprises. It is not unthinkable that a great grace, a great illumination
of conscience, is coming for the world. It has happened before. New saints
may arise among us, and new movements that will call us back to a vital,
dynamic faith. We should never retreat into a ghetto, never despair of
the world. But neither should we be lulled into a false peace with the
evil that is at work in it.
Catholics can be neither facile optimists nor gloomy
pessimists. We are called by Christ to a kind of Christian realism, which
means that we must always keep before the eyes of the heart the ultimate
victory of the Lord. Each of us must play his part in this, carrying the
cross of present trials with the Resurrection in our eyes.
D. OBrien is the former editor of the Catholic family magazine,
Nazareth Journal. He is also the author of several books, including
his seven volume series of novels published by Ignatius Press, notably the
Elijah. For more than thirty years he has been a professional artist.
Michael's most recent novel is
Cry of Stone, the fifth novel in the acclaimed Children of the
Last Days series.
Michael and his wife Sheila have six children. He writes and paints full-time
at his home near Combermere, Ontario.