By PAUL LIKOUDIS
November 27 was the seventh anniversary of the death of Canadian journalist Larry Henderson, who died at the age of 89. A pioneer broadcast journalist in both radio and television in the post-World War II years, Henderson came into the Church on December 8, 1967.
A self-described liberal and agnostic at the time, he was searching for answers on why Canadian society, and the churches in particular, had a death wish, why so many intellectuals were becoming Communists. In conversations with Czech exiles in Ottawa, notably journalist Lubor Zink and University of Ottawa law professor Isaac Rosenberg, he was led to see that what was happening in Canada could not be blamed on Communists, but rather was the symptom of an organic social and cultural disintegration produced by liberalism.
As editor of the Canadian Register, from December 1973 through 1986, Larry sat in what he called “the hot seat,” emphasizing Catholic orthodoxy, supporting the Holy Father, and explaining to his readers the true nature of the revolution in the Church — in a way that he hoped would not antagonize the Catholic bishops of Ontario, who sat on the board of the Register.
After retiring from the Register, he took the helm of a small western Canadian monthly, Challenge, then with a circulation around 600. It was a small mimeographed newsletter that printed excerpts from papal teachings. Larry built it into a respectable, glossy monthly magazine with a circulation around 10,000.
During his years at Challenge, from 1986 to 2003, when ill health forced him to step down, he wrote a monthly editorial, which often focused on the crisis in the Church, exacerbated by bishops in North America in open conflict with John Paul II, and the growing “culture war.”
It is a mark of great journalism that it holds up over the years, and many of Larry’s observations remain not only timely, but also helpful in understanding where Catholics — and the Church — stand today.
In his memory, here are a few of his observations from Challenge.
In a September 1989 essay, “Abortion — The Law — The Police & The Nazification of America,” Larry reflected on the Canadian Supreme Court’s Tremblay v. Daigle ruling, which found that a fetus had no legal status in the country — a ruling that said a father could not prevent the mother of his child from aborting the baby.
The decision, he wrote, “snapped the blinders off me.”
“What this adds up to,” he added, “is the law of the jungle, a state in which the Canadian people seem willing to live, because there is no consensus on abortion. And yet, behind it all, a new kind of law is emerging, a law which actually does encourage, induce, and eventually sanction bestial things. Because, in all logic, ‘no law’ is in itself a ‘law’. . . .
“History has shown that the growth of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s was made possible by the laws of the Weimar Republic of the 1920s, when jurists brought into being a code of laws which was permissive not only to abortion but also to euthanasia, the killing of the old, the handicapped, the deformed. This state of affairs was developed later into the so-called Nuremburg laws which permitted the gassing of Catholics, Jews, and the so-called ‘sub-races’ (untermenschen).
“Let us not blind ourselves to the fact that this is happening in North America today.”
Larry went on to describe the tortures pro-lifers in Hartford and Los Angeles had inflicted upon them by police. “These are all scenes once witnessed in the streets of Berlin, Prague, and Vienna, and now they have come to North America. What’s more, they have come in a cause — pro-abortion — exactly similar to the first round-ups of pro-lifers, Catholics, and Jews in Nazi Germany, and accompanied by the same storm-trooper tactics.
“One has to ask what this means? After the fall of the Third Reich ten years later, thousands of Germans said they never saw it, they did not know it was happening, and anyway, what could one do to stop it?
“Ten years from now, will we be saying the same thing?” he asked.
What Breaks The Heart
In a January 1996 essay, “Understanding the Holy Father,” Larry commented on the puzzlement and even anger many conservative Catholics were expressing at Pope John Paul II’s repeated affirmations of the value of Vatican II, and why the Holy Father was not taking vigorous action against his dissenting bishops, priests, theologians, and laity.
Larry responded that faithful Catholics cannot let the liberals and dissidents hijack Vatican II for their own political and ideological reasons, and then explained:
“The Church today is engaged in what can only be described as adversarial politics — to say otherwise is merely a pretense. I have no doubt this how the Pope sees it. He sees his job to put unity first, and then by means of persuasion, by logic, by spiritual example, to try to move the hearts of a stubborn generation into more noble ways.
“His accomplishment, therefore, has been to take the high ground away from the radicals. This he has done with a series of encyclicals, the greatest philosophical justification of traditional Christianity ever written, and to take it directly to the people in his journeyings.
“Conservatives say: ‘What about the ruin of souls meanwhile?’ But more souls still would be lost by formal, multiple schisms. . . . I deplore the tendency among conservatives to question the one man who could have held the Church together in these difficult times. This seems to me the unkindest cut of all. That dissidents should condemn him is only to be expected. But that, after all he has done, his own followers should condemn him — that is what breaks the heart.”
They Have No Heirs
In a December 1996 essay, “The Future of the Church — How the Tide Will Turn,” Larry expressed his hopefulness that the tide of dissent in the Church was going out, because Pope John Paul II has “so clearly reasserted [the teaching of the Church] that it will not be possible for a long time to undo his influence. And by that time, the progressives will all be gone. They have no heirs.
“That has been the work of this pontificate — to lock the Church in, so to speak, until, in the fullness of time, Catholicism comes of its own again. . . .
“Catholics should realize that this is one of the great cliffhanger moments in the history of the Church. The present Pontiff, by sheer force of personality, intellect, and spirituality, has held the powers of anarchy at bay, without allowing the Church to degenerate into open chaos.”
In a February 1997 essay, “Catholics and the Culture Wars,” Larry insisted that Catholics must face up to the fact “that we are approaching a time of serious social upheaval. . . .
“Now we have a very real Culture War, which can only describe as a war between the pigs and the people of principle. In many ways, this is likely to be by far the most bitter war, because our personal instincts are involved, for better or worse. As it goes on, people of principle will be more and more victimized, as the unprincipled resort to more fascist tactics.
“But there is no doubt in my mind how it will turn out in the end. . . . The strongest voice in the modern world for culture versus carnality is that of the Holy Father. In his writings, teachings, and travels, he has fully made the case for Christian morality, and provided the underpinnings for a cultural recovery, such as Christianity has done again and again before.”
In “Living in a Non-Christian Age,” Larry examined the question of Catholics can live in a non-Christian society, one that has rejected all Christian values and morality, one that doesn’t talk about God anymore.
The answer, he insisted, is that Catholics must live our Christian principles. “If we have Christian principles, we must act on these. This does not mean we force others to subscribe to them. Nor does it mean that we must yield to numbers, to a consensus, or to what ‘most people think.’ We simply have the right to be what we are, to think as we do, and to serve the Lord as the Lord expects us to. . . .
“Either you believe or you don’t believe. We do not believe enough in this sense today. But we can change. The world is turning back to God. I think it would take very little to bring our liberal Catholics to their knees.”
The Role Of
The Catholic Journalist
In an interview after he left the Register, published in the book Portraits of Canadian Catholicism by Michael Higgins and Douglas Letson, Larry explained how he saw his role as a Catholic editor:
“The Catholic editor’s responsibility is to the ordinary faithful at large. His task is to present the Church in a truthful way, warts and all, but in such a manner as to avoid causing panic, dismay, or loss of faith.”
Larry was always faithful to that task.
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(Full disclosure, I worked for Larry, when he was editor of The Catholic Register in Toronto in 1981 and 1982, and continued freelancing for him at the Register, and later when he was editor of the national Canadian monthly Challenge from 1986-2003, and he commissioned me to write his biography, alas unpublished — by his own wishes.)