The cardinal and the politician

The former cardinal of Toronto Aloysius Ambrozic recent death was totally eclipsed by the very public state funeral of NDP leader Jack Layton. There is a tragic irony here. If one ever needed proof that that organized religion and in particular that of the largest denomination in Canada,Roman Catholicism had lost voice and the power to inspire, it was the phenomenal outpouring of emotion over Layton’s passing and the almost eerie silence over the cardinal’s passing.

For many Canadians Jack Layton had become the signifier, the one who pointed to the values of God’s reign as understood in the bible. In our midst in a place where we least expected it, in a city where bank towers had replaced churches as urban symbols of what we valued, Canadians mourned not a religious figure but a different politician, the leader of the New Democratic Party. It was here not far from “Bay Street” that a man sprouted up from among us who never mouthed the name Jesus but who lived Jesus in his consistent defense of the marginalized.

Like an Old Testament prophet. Layton did not offer dead ritual which did not go anywhere. He did not spout pious phrases behind institutional walls. In his effervescent way “Jack” walked the walk of the Hebrew prophets and the Galilean rabbi. He did it on the streets of the city and in its council chambers.He did not offer charity but demanded justice.

For decades we watched him advocate for the homeless, for those “born outside the inn”, for those excluded. We saw him defend gay and lesbian people denied rights and jobs; we saw him speak out and organize the White Ribbon Campaign against violence on women; we walked with him on peace rallies when no prelates were in sight;we admired his bike-riding to work and his defense of the environment Jack Layton was consistently on the right side of history.

The fact that the former cardinal of Toronto died at the same time with little fanfare and the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition elicited such an outpouring of love and admiration is a tragic irony which needs to be unpacked within the walls of the Roman Catholic Church and indeed all of organized religion.

1 Comment »

  1. Making comparisons based on the response of public opinion disrespects the memory of both Jack Layton and Father Ambrozic – each man faced his own life and death with human weakness and hope; each man had his own share of suffering; and each man needs our prayers. After all, if we used public opinion as a measuring stick of a human life than neither was Jesus on the right side of history – no state funeral; very little press; and no public outpouring of love and admiration – quite the opposite.

    “Blessed are you when people hate you,
    and when they exclude and insult you,
    and denounce your name as evil
    on account of the Son of Man.
    Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!
    Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.
    For their ancestors treated the prophets
    in the same way.
    Woe to you when all speak well of you,
    for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.”

    “What is great in the eyes of men/women is an abomination in the sight of God” and God says to us “my thoughts are not your thoughts.”


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