A prime minister, a wafer, and a question of faith

They are calling it ‘Wafergate’, the allegation that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper pocketed a communion wafer at the funeral mass of former governor general Roméo LeBlanc last week.

In video footage of the service the prime minister is shown approaching the priest, accepting the wafer and disappearing out of shot with it in his hand, prompting the accusation that he did not consume the wafer and has caused grave offence to Catholics, who believe that during mass the wafer is transformed into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ.

StephenHarperchurch“He accepted it and consumed it,” said Harper’s spokesman at the G8 summit in Italy last week, and he was backed up by Noël Kinsella, the Speaker of the Senate and himself a Catholic.

“Sitting only a few seats behind him I had a full view of the proceedings,” Kinsella assured concerned Catholics, among them Monsignor Brian Henneberry of Saint John, New Brunswick. “It’s worse than a faux pas, it’s a scandal from the Catholic point of view,” he told the Saint John Telegraph-Journal.

This story is interesting from a local perspective in that the scandal is not that Harper, who is an evangelical Protestant, attended a Catholic mass, but that he merely slipped up on a matter of etiquette.

To his credit Harper (pictured) has kept his religious beliefs to himself, and it is not difficult to see why. Harper’s church, the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, does not ordain women, strongly opposes abortion and divorce, condemns homosexuality as the most base of sins and believes those who aren’t born-again are “lost”.

Bruce Foster, head of policy studies at Mount Royal College in Calgary, Harper’s home town, said: “If Harper came out and said those who don’t know the Lord are ‘lost,’ are doomed, he’d be held up to ridicule.” 

Held up to ridicule in the same way perhaps as cabinet minister Stockwell Day, who was lampooned by journalists in the 2000 election for his creationist views.

“In a multicultural, diverse, relativistic country like Canada, that’s toxic stuff for most voters,” said Foster.

What a pity the same cannot be said of Northern Ireland.

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