Father Raymond Gravel's lawsuit could shut down website
By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
OTTAWA (CCN)--Father Raymond Gravel, a Quebec Catholic priest who served as a Bloc Quebecois MP from 2006-8, is suing LifeSiteNews.com (LSN) for defamation.
“We’ve been online since 1997, but this could indeed shut us down,” said LSN editor John-Henry Westen.
Father Gravel, who is incardinated in the Diocese of Joliette, is seeking $300,000 for the attack on his reputation and consequent pain and suffering, and another $200,000 in punitive damages for what he calls a voluntary, intentional and malicious attack.
“I am against abortion but LifeSiteNews.com says always I am for abortion,” Father Gravel said. “The LifeSiteNews presents me, a priest, as pro-abortion.
Father Gravel added he does not think the best method to combat abortion is through the Criminal Law, but through education, and teaching young people to be responsible about sexuality.
“I am not pro-abortion,” he said. “I am against abortion.” He noted that he did research on countries where abortion is forbidden and said some 70,000 women died of illegal abortions. “It is horrible.”
“We must work with women, not against women,” he said.
He said he agreed with the Church’s position that life begins at conception. "The church also takes a pastoral approach,” he said. “We as priests accompany the people.”
Father Gravel also said he blamed LSN for his having to give up his job representing the Repentigny riding in the House of Commons.
“I was a member of Parliament,” he said. “I had to abandon this because of what they wrote.”
Westen said he has no idea what role LSN articles played, except for information the priest gave the media that the Vatican dossier shown to his bishop was full of LSN articles. Westen said any coverage of Father Gravel has been truthful, relying on the priests’ own public commentary in newspapers, in his homilies and on television.
Westen and other LSN employees received notification of the lawsuit during the Christmas Octave.
“Our yearly budget is $500,000,”he said, adding he could not minimize the gravity of the lawsuit. “We are a pretty small operation and most of us are in it for the love of faith, life and family.”
LSN did not meet its last quarterly fundraising goal and has already had to shell out $6,000 so far to defend itself, he said. Costs will skyrocket when it goes to court.
“We’re planning to fight it, in the interests of truth and for the good of the Church and indeed for Father Gravel’s own good,” Westen said.
In a 31-page statement filed with the Quebec Superior Court in Joliette, Father Gravel asserts that he has been a Catholic priest for 25 years and has always been faithful to the magisterium of the Church.
He also said he has from time to time expressed personal opinions on controversial topics, including homosexuality, abortion, secularism and religious education in the schools.
In the statement, Father Gravel contends in his statement that the smear campaign against him began in 2003 when he wrote an open letter criticizing a Vatican document that said respect for homosexual persons cannot lead to approval of homosexual behavior or legal recognition of homosexual union. Father Gravel disagreed, saying the position of the Church is discriminatory and hurtful.
But Westen said their coverage has not been malicious.
“As we’ve said on the website, we bear no hatred or ill will towards Father Gravel,” said Westen. “We’re concerned for him in that he is a Catholic priest and should be upholding the teachings of the Church and yet he has fought against Cardinal Ouellet and the Vatican on issues of the right to life and homosexuality.”
Westen defended the use of the term “pro-abortion” to describe politicians and others who say they are personally opposed to abortion but support legislation to make or keep it legal.
“For the Church and the prolife movement, abortion is murder and so to say we are pro-choice with regard to abortion, is the same as saying you are pro-choice in regard to something like rape,” he said. “Imagine if someone said ‘I am personally opposed to rape, I would never do it myself, but people should have that choice.’ Most people would not say this person was pro-choice but pro-rape.”
Westen pointed out that while Father Gravel said in his lawsuit that recriminalization is not desirable, his views are at odds with the teaching of the Catholic Church. He stressed the Catechism says, “Life must be protected with utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.” He also cited the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s instruction Donum Vitae that calls for “penal sanctions” for any violation of an unborn child’s rights.
Gravel said he had informed his bishop about the lawsuit but that he was acting on his own. Joliette Bishop Gilles Lussier was away and a spokesman said the diocese had no comment.