National march organizers cool to Alta. Bishops stand

March 28, 2011
Between 12,000 and 15,000 people took part in the 2010 National March for Life in Ottawa.


Between 12,000 and 15,000 people took part in the 2010 National March for Life in Ottawa.


OTTAWA — The Alberta bishops’ decision to pull out of the Edmonton March for Life could have an impact on Ontario and Quebec bishops’ participation in the National March for Life also set for May 12.

A spokeswoman for Campaign Life Coalition, organizers of the national march, expressed disappointment at the Alberta bishops’ decision.

“They should be there, supporting, participating and leading,” said Mary Ellen Douglas.

But she noted that the fact the Alberta bishops were also involved in organizing the march might have been part of the problem. A pro-life march is not a Catholic event, as such, so it should not be run by bishops, she said.


Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith said the bishops made the decision because organizers could not guarantee no one would show pictures of aborted babies at the gathering.

Smith said he finds the pictures offensive “because they do not honour the dignity of human remains and the dignity of the human person.”

“They have to realize that when the march is taking place, the organizers have no control over the freedom of the people on the street to show signs or to demonstrate,” Douglas said. “They can control their march; they can’t control everyone else.”

“It may be that the Alberta bishops’ decision will have an impact on attendance by Ontario and Quebec bishops here in Ottawa but the issue has not been brought to my attention by bishops thus far,” said Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, who has invited bishops to participate in the national march.

“Personally I’m not sure the graphic signs help, so I just look away,” said Prendergast. “But the national march is a big umbrella gathering organized by lay people; and they have many approaches to defending life.”

“I believe that the bishops’ support is important and each bishop, like each individual Catholic, needs to make a personal decision about how and in what circumstances to stand up for life, and whether they are compromised by one or other aspect of the march, including, for example, whether they are comfortable with the heckling of the counter-demonstrators,” he said.

While Campaign Life distributes signs that go with the theme of the march, which this year is “Abortion kills a human being,” it does not use graphic imagery.


Douglas said she does not like such images shown where children are present, such as the national march.

But an independent group called Show the Truth has displayed several large signs of aborted and dismembered babies near the Morgentaler abortion facility every year.

“They are not part of our organizing,” she said. “We can’t prevent them from doing so.”

Douglas added Campaign Life also has no control over the sometimes graphic and offensive counter-demonstrations by pro-abortion demonstrators.

Prendergast said he had not received many replies to his invitation to bishops, except from those who immediately sent regrets due to previous commitments.

The Alberta bishops’ decision opens up an ongoing debate in the pro-life movement over the role graphic pictures have in furthering the cause.


“We can’t seem to face the reality of what happens to a baby in the womb as a result of an abortion,” Douglas said. “I think some people like to sanitize it in order not to have to take action.”

“It’s very important for some people to see the photographs – some people, not everyone,” she said.

Douglas supports the showing of the graphic images on university campuses where no children are present, because that is the age group that needs to be shown the reality of abortion. But she also said showing them too often can desensitize people.