Matt C. Abbott
February 12, 2013
Renegade priest is suing LifeSiteNews
By Matt C. Abbott

The following article is from the Feb. 7 issue of The Wanderer Catholic newspaper. It was written by the paper's news editor, Paul Likoudis. To subscribe to the electronic or print editions of The Wanderer, visit www.thewandererpress.com.


Priest's Lawsuit Against Pro-Life
News Group Will Advance In Quebec

by Paul Likoudis

Joliette, Quebec – A Quebec judge ruled January 11 that a defamation and libel lawsuit against LifeSiteNews.com, its editors and reporters, filed by a Quebec priest will advance to trial, rejecting defendants' claims that the suit is abusive and intended to gag his adversaries.

Judge Paul Mayer's ruling means that Joliette priest, Fr. Raymond Gravel, a former male prostitute and Bloc Quebecois member of Parliament, a self-described "pro-choice" advocate, supporter of gay marriage, women's ordination and euthanasia, and a longtime critic of the Church's official moral teachings, will have his day in court to prove a ten-year-long campaign by LifeSiteNews.com destroyed his reputation as a federal politician and Catholic priest.

Fr. Gravel is seeking $500,000 in damages from LifeSiteNews, plus costs. A co-defendant in the lawsuit is Campagne Quebec-Vie, which publishes a pro-life newsletter in the Province.

Among the complaints of Fr. Gravel, ordained in 1986, and a Member of Parliament from 2006-2008, is that the term "pro-choice" does not mean "pro-abortion," and that LifeSiteNews' reporting – some 41 articles published over the past 11 years – led to written complaints against him to Bishop Gilles Lussier and to officials at the Vatican.

As early as 2004, the Holy See was well-aware of Gravel's public dissidence, as he himself acknowledged in an interview with the gay magazine Fugues, June 2005:

"'My positions on abortion and gay marriage were not very well received in the Vatican. My bishop (Bishop Gilles Lussier, Bishop of Joliette) even received a letter from the See stating that if I continued in my disrespect for the doctrine of the Catholic Church I would have to face the consequences.' Raymond looked at me with his penetrating gaze and added: 'And guess who signed the letter in question...Cardinal Ratzinger himself who, before being Pope, was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,' the powerful organization that oversees fidelity to the Magisterium by theologians and ecclesiastical authorities."

LifeSiteNews insists in its 100-page defense statement that it was only reporting on Fr. Gravel's numerous public statements to the press and his own commentaries in Quebec media (both print and broadcast), in which he articulated, not only his disagreements with Church teaching, but openly denigrated the teaching authority of the Canadian Bishops' Conference, the Archbishop of Montreal, Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte and the Archbishop of Quebec, Marc Ouellet, now Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.

For example, Gravel wrote, in "Canada Is Opening The Closets," August 2006:

"I disassociate myself from the comments of Cardinal Ouellet of Quebec concerning homosexuality. I am a Catholic priest and I sincerely believe that throughout its history the Church has amply demonstrated its homophobia. There is no need for such speech today. They do not represent the majority of Catholics in Quebec, who are the Church as much as Cardinal Ouellet. When I hear the Cardinal, I am almost ashamed to be Catholic; it is also against the Gospel. The Cardinal should limit himself to his own opinions. He is not the entire Church, and even less so the Church of the Risen Christ."

When Gravel announced his bid for Parliament, The Canadian Press reported, October 23, 2006:

"Mr. Gravel is well known in Quebec for his very liberal positions which are often in opposition to Vatican teachings. He is especially in favor of freedom of sexual orientation and marriage between spouses of the same-sex."

Montreal's Le Devoir reported, October 24, 2006:

"The by-election...might send to Ottawa a very colorful priest, who is a homosexual, and former prostitute ...immediately prior to the vote in the House of Commons concerning the re-opening of the on gay marriage....

"'I defend women who have abortions,' [Gravel said]....

"Raymond Gravel is a very colorful priest who is not afraid to defend gay marriage despite sermons from the Vatican."

In an August 17, 2010 article for L'Action newspaper, Gravel once again attacked Cardinal Ouellet, just two months after Pope Benedict named the Quebec prelate to be prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.

"By personally assigning to himself the title of Primate of the Canadian Church [sic]..., he acted most often as a lone ranger and in a haughty manner in his crusade against abortion, homosexuality, laicization and the deconfessionalization of schools....

"For example, how does the recognition of homosexual rights make sexual difference insignificant? Is it not rather a question of progress, when a person is allowed to live his life in respect and dignity? Rather than taking umbrage, we should rejoice!"

This raises the question: "Why has the Church allowed this lawsuit to proceed?" – a lawsuit that has already cost the pro-life news agency, based in Toronto, $170,000 thus far.

The Wanderer posed that question to John-Henry Westen, a defendant in the case and editor of LifeSiteNews.com.

"I, myself, do not think Fr. Gravel is alone in this situation," said Westen.

"There are certain bishops, certain Church agencies such as the Church's Development and Peace office, who would not be at all unhappy to see LifeSiteNews shut down," Westen added.

"This is a grave danger to freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of religion, not only in Canada, but in North America. We have found that whenever Canada goes down the road of immorality and repression of freedom, the U.S. is soon to follow. That happened with abortion when we legalized it in 1969, and it is happening now with regard to same-sex marriage which we legalized in 2005. It was, in fact, the Canadian same-sex activists who went down and trained the gay activists in Massachusetts which resulted in gay marriage there," Westen added.

"Imagine the courts proscribing what pro-lifers are allowed to say and how they are allowed to refer to those who support abortion," Westen said.

Westen, who is a co-founder of LifeSiteNews and has served as editor since 1997, insists that LifeSiteNews has only reported what other media have previously reported about Gravel, and Gravel's own statements in the House of Commons, as well as what he published on his own web site.

"In our reporting on Gravel, we were very careful only to repeat exactly what he said. There was no animosity toward him; in fact, we stated our concern for the Church, but also for Fr. Gravel himself. As a Catholic priest, he is bound to put forward the teaching of the Catholic Church, and he does the opposite to his own peril," Westen said.

Westen also told The Wanderer that this case, as far as he can determine, might be unprecedented in Canada, insofar as a large part of the defense is based on Church teaching with regard to obligations of both clergy and laity to defend and advance Church teaching.

Indeed, a large part of the 100-page defense put forth by LifeSiteNews attorneys is documentation (much of it sealed by the court] concerning communication between Gravel's bishop and officials of the Holy See, including its nuncio to Canada, along with citations of Canon Law, papal encyclicals and apostolic letters and statements of various congregations regarding the role of priests and the responsibilities of laymen.

"It is a danger to have the court arbitrate what Catholicism teaches – or should teach. By accepting Gravel's lawsuit, and rejecting our appeal that the lawsuit is abusive," said Westen, "the court is setting itself up to be the determinant of what Catholicism should teach, and more importantly, what the role of the laity is in a secular society when it feels the need to defend the Church's authentic teaching."

Westen added: "If this case were outside the issues of abortion and homosexuality and were just about a politician upset that a media organization pointed out his radical views to a wider audience, it would be laughed out of court. But because it is dealing with issues deemed sacred in the new morality, it is being given credence."

When the case does go to court, Westen told The Wanderer, it is expected to take 12 to 13 days, which means there is difficulty scheduling the trial in 2013, or even 2014. The trial, he said, will likely be held in 2015.

Westen said that the legal fees LifeSiteNews is facing are staggering. "This lawsuit could very well shut us down," he said. "In addition to the $500,000 being claimed, the court costs themselves, should this go to trial, will be hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"In addition, one of the consequences of the January 11 ruling is that LifeSiteNews could be docked for Gravel's costs, in addition to our own.

"Gravel is also asking the court for LifeSiteNews to remove all articles pertaining to him, promise never to report on him again, and to issue a letter of apology which would force us to falsely claim that we lied about him," Westen said.

"This is about our freedom as a news service to report news on controversial subjects. We are defending this case to ensure those rights," Westen added.

"We are stunned this case has been allowed to go this far. Our lawyers thought this case was going to be a slam dunk. They were shocked the decision went so totally against us. In all of their years of legal work, they've never experienced anything like this."

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He has been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR and WLS-TV in Chicago, and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.

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