Raymond De Souza and the National Prayer Breakfast

Fr. Raymond De Souza, National Prayer Breakfast

A note posted on the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada website says that Father Raymond De Souza will be the featured speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast in Ottawa on May 1. Hundreds of MPs, Senators, judges of the Supreme Court, Parliament Hill staff and invited members of the public attend the annual event. The EFC blurb describes Fr. De Souza as being “of the National Post.” I would have thought it more appropriate to describe him as a priest of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kingston, which he is, but it is easy to understand the confusion.

De Souza’s persona

Fr. De Souza’s main public persona owes to his regular column in the National Post newspaper. He is also in Ottawa frequently where he rubs shoulders and shares events with prominent Conservative politicians such as John Baird, Jason Kenney and Jim Flaherty. In his column, Fr. De Souza is fulsome in his praise for those ministers — although not so much for Stephen Harper. Fr. De Souza also uses his column to write – with much less fondness and respect — about a long list of others, including the late Jack Layton, Paul Martin, Joe Clark, Alison Redford, Barack Obama, and even Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

With Fr. De Souza as their featured speaker, organizers of the Prayer Breakfast have once again chosen a demonstrably conservative Christian to headline their event. Parliamentarians of a more liberal or progressive religious persuasion may well feel some scepticism about the breakfast, not to mention some of the other speeches and events that accompany it. The choice of resource people there generally bears the same religiously conservative mark.

De Souza’s preferences

Fr. De Souza’s preferences are clear, in philosophical, personal and partisan terms. You don’t have to do deep research to learn about all of this. You merely have to read his columns, in which he describes his many contacts and engagements with those in the current political establishment. He attended the swearing in of the newly minted Conservative cabinet in May 2011 – and writes glowingly about it. He is an advisor to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird in his fledgling Office of Religious Freedom, and was a keynote presenter to a closed-door session of that group in October 2011. When in March 2012, Father De Souza hosted a dinner in Mississauga in honour of a visiting Catholic cardinal from India, he tells us that Jason Kenney, his friend of 20 years, was on hand to welcome the prelate.

Kenney and Baird are De Souza favourites. In a May 18, 2011 column following the cabinet swearing in, Fr. De Souza writes: “Jason Kenney and John Baird personify the hard work that got the [Conservative] party its majority.” He adds, “I have known both of them since the early 1990s, so my presence at Rideau Hall on Wednesday had a rather personal dimension to it.”

In a column on September 17, 2011 Fr. De Souza writes, “When Stephen Harper won his majority government (with Jason Kenney as architect), an extraordinarily bold political project was brought to a successful conclusion . . . . The festivities in Edmonton today are focused on a remarkable achievement for those involved, but it ought to be an occasion for national gratitude, too.”

“Hapless” Joe Clark?

The “festivities” that Fr. De Souza mentions were the 25th anniversary celebrations for the (now defunct) Alberta Report magazine founded by neo-conservative icon Ted Byfield. “The principals of what is being celebrated tonight – Preston Manning, Byfield, Harper, Kenney – have made a signal contribution to Canadian unity,” writes Fr. De Souza. The rise of this conservative movement, he continues, led to the “terminal decline” of the Progressive Conservative Party “led latterly by the hapless Joe Clark, the perfect symbol of all that Byfield and his friends entered politics to change.” Now there’s a pastoral touch.

Who else does Fr. De Souza like in his columns? In addition to Kenney, Baird, Flaherty, Manning and Ted Byfield, there is Ezra Levant: “a one-man media phenomenon”; Barbara Amiel: “a formidable lady”; and Conrad Black: “They [American courts] seized his assets, confiscated his money, maligned his character, disparaged his wife and took away his liberty.”

Alison Redford

With whom and what is Fr. De Souza not impressed? Try Alberta Conservative leader Alison Redford. In an April 18 column about the Alberta election Fr. De Souza writes: “The thought occurs that Redford is not running as [Joe] Clark, or Lougheed, or [Kim] Campbell, but rather as Paul Martin, who inherited a dynasty and led it to defeat . . . Redford is copying that strategy, painting social conservatives as bogeymen that she alone can keep at bay. (I wish [Danielle] Smith really were a social conservative, but she simply is not).”

Fr. De Souza describes Redford as “a protégé of Joe Clark”, them makes this observation. “By 2011, the Clark wing of Canadian conservatism, marked as it was by political blundering and intellectual vacuity, was down to Lowell Murray, wrapping up 30-plus years in the Senate, and Scott Brison, sitting as a third-party backbencher in the House of Commons.”

Contraception bad

What and who else fails to impress Fr. De Souza? Try multiculturalism, the culture in Quebec, the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (which has just seen its CIDA funding slashed by 67%), and anyone who practices birth control. He is pleased about the back to the future debate now raging in U.S. about contraception. “Many Americans,” he writes, “have been astonished that anyone thinks contraception worth discussing at all. But perhaps the unambiguous good is not so unambiguous after all. The culture is broken, and therefore the reigning cultural orthodoxy needs a little dissent.”

Jack Layton: “narrow horizon”?

Fr. De Souza was no fan of Jack Layton, in life or in death. He wrote not one, but two National Post columns about Layton’s death and his funeral. “Layton’s legacy is not love and hope properly understood,” Fr. De Souza writes on August 31, 2011, “but rather an ideology so secular that love and hope are understood primarily in political terms . . . He lived a grand life on a public stage, but with a narrow horizon. The horizon of the stage is only as broad as its curtain, and when the curtain comes down, there is only the dark. Turn off the lights, indeed.”

This column prompted the following response from former MP and Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie. It was carried in the publication Convivium (which is edited by Fr. De Souza): “From [De Souza’s] remarkably harsh column in the National Post on Layton’s funeral to his comments on Layton in the first issue of Convivium (October 2011), there is a definite lack of ambiguity in the arguably hostile caricaturing of Layton’s life and death.”

Desmond Tutu: “tiny taunts”

Fr. De Souza is similarly unimpressed with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In an October 2006 column, following Tutu’s 75th birthday, De Souza allows that Tutu “had the benefit of suffering in his early life.” Having provided this faint praise, he continues by saying that in the past several decades “it has been hard to think of any position [Tutu] has taken that would upset the Hollywood glitterati who so lavishly feted his birthday last month.”

De Souza describes the archbishop, along with the Reverend Jesse Jackson, in this way: “The upshot of trading the Gospel for the fads of politics is that neither Tutu nor Jackson seems to function as a clergyman so much as a traveling celebrity for fashionable causes, like the innocuous grace before meals that lends a spiritual gloss to a gala dinner.”

It is unlikely that tiny taunts from this side of the Atlantic will put any dent into the reputation of the Nobel Peace Prize recipient who helped to dismantle apartheid. But Fr. De Souza might want to look into the mirror before he accuses anyone else of providing innocuous grace before meals and lending spiritual gloss to gala dinners — or breakfasts.

 

 

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Dennis

Dennis Gruending is an Ottawa-based writer, blogger and a former member of Parliament

12 thoughts on “Raymond De Souza and the National Prayer Breakfast”

  1. I have read a number of Raymond DeSouza’s columns and find them simplistic and morally questionable at best. He represents the current trend to right-wing religiosity which I believe is at odds with the historical policy of the Catholic Church on social issues. Critics may respond that Bob Ogle openly and officially represented a left-wing position as an MP for the NDP, so perhaps it is not inherently problematic to have a priest bring a right-wing agenda.

    However, from the perspective of social justice issues, the two camps are not equal in the effects of their positions on subjugated and oppressed people. Right wing policies tend to help those who need help the least (those who already have), while further oppressing those who need help the most (those who have not). All this is presented in the guise of “choices.” The poor make bad choices or dont’ try hard enough and therefore deserve their fate–and those who are truly incapable of helping themselves can throw themselves on the charity of the rich, who may or may not decide to toss some money their way.

    I was a Catholic but, in my terms at least, the Church has long since left me behind for a broad range of reasons. Among the few features of the Church that I could still rally behind would have been its stance on social justice issues, but if DeSouza’s ilk is taking over, that would pretty much remove any remaining shreds of saving grace, at least, from my perspective.

    I am dismayed, in larger terms, at the willingness for otherwise socially conscious religious believers to attach themselves to political movements solely on the basis of their positions on abortion and same-sex marriage, which seems to me to be what is happening across the western world these days. In aligning oneself to these ideologies for these reasons (if, in fact, they do) they are also then in step with the other, in some cases very disturbing, features of right-wing politics.

    I trust that the fact that the Church is not a democratic institution does not endear its members to seek less democracy, more mob rule and the devil-take-the-hindmost libertarian policies we’ve seen emanate from the current federal government. As for Raymond DeSouza, he should be cautioned by the story of the traveller and the snake: A traveller is about to cross a stream when a snake appears and begs to be carried across as well. “But you are snake,” said the traveller, “and you may bite me.” “I promise I will not bite you,” said the snake. So the traveller carried the snake across and as he reached the other side, the snake bit him. “But you promised not to bite me!” the traveller cried. Replied the snake, “You knew I was a snake when you picked me up.” Raymond DeSouza should invest in some anti-snake venom, in my opinion, and perhaps if we’re near him, we ought to as well.

  2. This needs to get into the National Post! I’m embarrassed once again by the Catholic church, at least this representative. Thanks for highlighting this issue.

  3. Thank you Dennis, for informing your readers about this Catholic priest, Fr. Raymond De Souza. His political and personal views of persons of note like Bishop Tutu, Lougheed, Paul Martin and Jack Layton, or organizations like the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, and Kairos, are almost unbelievable!

    All this has left me wondering: would Raymond De Souza compare the life and legacy of Jesus Christ to that of the “hapless” Joe Clark?

    If Raymond De Souza had chosen the sacrament of marriage, instead of the priesthood, how would he have treated his children?

  4. The best argument yet in favour of papal decrees telling priests to desist from political activities.

  5. I suggest Fr. Raymond De Souza should use 1 Peter 4:14 as his text for his meditation at the breakfast meeting on Parliament Hill.

  6. “The upshot of trading the Gospel for the fads of politics is that neither Tutu nor Jackson seems to function as a clergyman so much as a traveling celebrity for fashionable causes, like the innocuous grace before meals that lends a spiritual gloss to a gala dinner.”

    Looked in the mirror, lately, Father dear?

  7. Thanks for doing all this research. I got an email inviting me to the breakfast – Is it really that open? After learning more about pastor De Souza I am not very inclined to go. However it is good to know more about the religious underpinings of the Conservative government.

    1. Dennis replies: Thanks for your comment. Yes, invitations do go out to at least some members of the public to attend the Prayer Breakfast. I find it interesting that the group organizing the event does so under the assumption of its being an event where Parliamentarians (and others) can take a step away from partisanship and feel the love. Yet, year after year, they stack the event with conservative Christian speakers and resource people. Father De Souza, this year’s speaker, has consistently used his column in the National Post to write most favourably about Conservative politicians and the government, and to write quite scathingly about politicians from other parties. His two columns about Jack Layton following his death were harsh and in shockingly poor taste. If I were an NDP, Liberal or Green Party MP, I would feel very uncomfortable sitting in an audience where Fr. De Souza was the guest speaker.

  8. Father de Souza is deeply embedded in the Harper-Kenney-Flaherty government propaganda machine. There is little or no gospel critique of the Conservatives’ attack on the poor or on immigrants or on other elements of a tattered social safety net. I believe Jesus would be overturning tables at this Prayer Breakfast.

    1. Hi Rick:
      While Jesus did socialize with the rich and powerful, he was also acutely aware that their leaders were out to kill him. So not much has changed todday.

      Since Jesus said he had come to call sinners, not the righteous, to repent, we must assume Jesus would be at breakfasts and other events like the one Dennis describes. Afterall, Jesus also said ‘you cannot serve God and wealth’ and the breakfast in question, with so very many potential converts now worshiping wealth, would not have gone unnoticed by the Messiah.

      Dennis’ article also reminds us that history does repeat itself. The Bible’s New Testament tells us of would-be disciples of Jesus who turned away because his teachings were hard to accept.

      Again, not much has changed these days, except many people who turn away from the ‘hard teachings’ of Jesus gather together to salute each other’s piety before heading out to exploit the poor in the marketplace.

      As Jesus himself asked: ‘Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I say.’ A very good question indeed, but one you can be sure wasn’t asked at the breakfast.

      So, we both agree that Jesus would be at the event. Of course, he likely wouldn’t be welcome because those who preach justice for the poor are usually screened out well in advance …

  9. I was at the ‘closed door’ meeting on the Office of Religious Freedom where Fr. De Souza was a speaker. It is evident that this man has never heard of Vatican II. If I were the Pope, I would have him defrocked. Under the present Pope, I am afraid he may be elevated to cardinal!

    1. Thanks for your comment. I would be pleased, as I am sure would many among my readers, to hear more about that closed Door meeting of the Office of Religious Freedom.

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