“What is truth?”
The famous question posed by Pontius Pilate to Jesus is operative in a unique way during Lent. It carries obvious relevance insofar as it’s drawn from the passage of the Gospel of John which anchors the Passion narrative on Good Friday. Moreover, at the outset of Lent, the faithful are reminded of the humbling truth of our existence – that we are dust and unto dust we shall return. And throughout these forty days, the Church instructs us to prepare for the celebration of Truth’s triumph over Death – a conquest which fulfills Christ’s promise that “you will know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
Indeed, as Pope St. John Paul II remarked on one of the first Ash Wednesdays of his pontificate, “Lent is a time of truth.”
How ironic, then, that as the Lenten season enters its homestretch, the same confusion in which Pilate’s inquiry was steeped will permeate the gathering in Ottawa, Canada of two of the most high-profile world leaders who claim to profess the faith revealed by Pilate’s prisoner.
Despite differences in age, background and social contexts, U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are something of a piece. Both are veterans of the legislative and executive branch of government. They also share an appetite for the esteem of cultural and political elites. What’s more, Joe and Justin are kindred spirits on major policy issues, with fondness for massive deficit spending, aggressive environmentalism, and levels of immigration that threaten to overwhelm their respective countries’ capacity to accommodate them (to name just a few areas of comradeship).
But arguably the most significant – and troubling – point of comparison is that this pair is not exactly a tag team of truth-tellers. The track record of both men is replete with examples of a strained ability to glean that which ought to be known through the light of reason and the virtues of honesty and integrity.
Biden’s first presidential bid in 1987, for instance, was sunk by admissions of plagiarism and embellishments of academic achievements. Later in his career, he began contriving descriptions of the tragic car accident which resulted in the death of his first wife and 1-year-old daughter as having been caused by a drunk driver – a baseless and slanderous claim. This pattern of playing fast-and-loose with facts has firmly entrenched itself over Biden’s 50-year tenure in politics, with more recent illustrations including his insulting admonition to African Americans during the 2020 campaign that, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.”
Not to be outdone, Biden’s Canadian counterpart has likewise carved out his own legacy in the falsehood hall of fame. Trudeau has received two guilty verdicts from Canada’s Ethics Commissioner for violating ethics laws and narrowly escaped tallying a hat-trick following a third investigation. In addition, his past proclivity for dressing-up in blackface, along with his defense in response to an allegation of groping a female reporter that “people experience things differently”, belie his virtue-signaling as a champion of diversity and as a “feminist” Prime Minister. And while on the hustings in 2021, Trudeau applied the labels of “racist” and “misogynist” to fellow citizens who opposed COVID restrictions and vaccines. A few months later, he capped off that line of argument by branding sympathizers of trucker protestors in Ottawa as “standing with people who wave swastikas.”
Without question, the foregoing examples of their tenuous grasp of the truth reflect poorly on the two statesmen who have repeatedly drawn attention to their adherence to the Catholic creed. Objectively speaking, these episodes imply a grossly deficient conception on the part of both actors of what constitutes truth, when truth is understood as a thing.
But we arrive at an entirely different order and magnitude of egregiousness when we consider that, as Catholics, Biden and Trudeau are called not simply to understand truth as a thing, but as a person. Jesus Christ preached that he is “the Truth, the Way and the Life.” In his 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor, Pope St. John Paul II wrote that “the decisive answer to every one of man’s questions…is given by Jesus Christ, or rather is Jesus Christ himself” and that answering the question of how to distinguish good from evil “is only possible thanks to the splendor of the truth which shines forth deep within the human spirit.”
Sadly and scandalously, a unifying theme of Biden and Trudeau’s time in office has been one of a counter-witness to the personification of Jesus as Truth, and to the truths of human personhood which Christ makes manifest. How else to describe the public and persistent indifference, opposition or outright hostility exhibited by these heads of government to many of the truths revealed in Sacred Scripture and authoritatively articulated by the Church?
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the embrace of a radical pro-abortion program which violates the fundamental truth upheld by the Church that each human life is sacred and worthy of protection. Opponents and supporters alike have dubbed Biden’s the “most pro-abortion Administration ever.” North of the border, Trudeau has staked out ground as a superlative defender of so-called ‘abortion rights’, having made the issue a litmus test for any candidate under the Liberal Party banner.
With these purported papist politicians, their rejection of Church teaching on the intrinsic value of human life has likewise been accompanied by a dismissal of the fundamental truth of human identity – namely, that we are created male and female, and that the complementarity of the sexes serves as the basis for the flourishing of family and social life. In Canada, Trudeau has established 5-year prison sentences for those who counsel a confused minor to embrace the biological sex of his or her birth. Meanwhile, Biden has maintained that no U.S. state or person should be able to prohibit the euphemistically-termed “gender-affirming health care” (which encompasses hormonal injections for children and surgical removal of sexual organs). With respect to the prospect of such restrictions, the self-professed Catholic President has declared, “As a moral question and as a legal question, I just think it’s wrong.”
St. Thomas Aquinas formulated a succinct explanation of truth as “conformity of the mind to the object.” There are legitimate and extensive grounds to question whether Biden and Trudeau have adequately sought, as the Faith requires of them, to concentrate their intellects on the object of human existence and the human experience. The truth of the human condition is that we are made by God for God. And nothing in Sacred Tradition nor in the Church’s rich body of teaching can justify the stances taken by the President and Prime Minister which gravely contravene both the truths of what it means to be human and the Truth as personified in Christ.
At the time of writing, the details of the March 23-24, 2023 joint meeting in Canada’s capital are not fully known. Will the agenda include exchanging ideas on how to finally prosecute the perpetrators of the numerous attacks on Catholic churches in recent years? Will the President and PM swap notes on guidance they’ve received from their respective bishops’ conferences on “Eucharistic coherence”?
While we can only speculate as to the contents of their briefing binders, there are a few things of which we can be certain. First, it is the responsibility and privilege of Christ’s followers – particularly those in positions of authority – to speak truth, in season and out. Second, Lent is an opportune time to renew our commitment to the truth, especially through repentance and sacrifice. Third, it is never too late to undertake this renewal, as the Good Thief crucified next to Jesus demonstrated. Finally, if the parliamentary press gallery wants to ask some tough questions at the upcoming summit, “What is truth?” should be at the top of their list.