War Heats Up Between Canadian Catholic Educators and Alberta Gov’t Over Pro-Gay Policies

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by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  January 20, 2016   

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ALBERTA (ChurchMilitant.com) -  In the latest salvo fired in the war over Catholic education in Alberta, Canada, the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association (ACSTA) is criticizing the government's pro-gay school policies — policies that include allowing students to dress, use bathrooms and participate in sports or other activities according to their chosen gender identity.

In its Tuesday press release, ACSTA said it "regrets Alberta Education's lack of consultation" with the Catholic school board in the development of its new policies, and reaffirmed "the rights of parents and/or guardians as primary educators to make informed choices for their child/children." 

Nudging their spiritual shepherds to step in and act, ACSTA also acknowledged "the responsibility and the role of the Alberta Catholic Bishops to provide moral and  theological leadership to the Catholic community including Catholic education communities."

Only two Alberta bishops have spoken out against the school guidelines, issued on January 13: Calgary bishop Fred Henry, who penned a strongly worded condemnation of the initiative, and St. Paul bishop Paul Terrio, whose missive followed that of Henry.

Henry's letter, published the same day and titled "Totalitarianism in Alberta," excoriated David Eggen, the minister of education, who has spearheaded the pro-gay measures.

"This approach and directive smack of the madness of relativism and the forceful imposition of a particular narrow-minded anti-Catholic ideology," Henry argued.

Henry went on to lambast the idea of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) — school clubs meant to address anti-gay bullying, but which more often than not promote gay ideology. "GSAs and QSAs are highly politicized ideological clubs which seek to cure society of 'homophobia' and 'heterosexism,' and which accept the idea that all forms of consensual sexual expression are legitimate. The view of sexuality that they espouse is not Catholic."

 

Gay-Straight Alliances have been made mandatory by law in schools in various provinces in Canada over the last several years.

Bishop Terrio condemned the new guidelines for starting with a "false premise": that "self-identification is the sole measure of an individual's sexual orientation."

The Edmonton Catholic School Board mailed out Bp. Henry's letter to all school parents. Marilyn Bergstra, school board chair, afterwards apologized to parents for the move, claiming she was away when the board made the decision and that she would have voted against it herself.

"I was unable to provide input into this decision," Bergstra said Monday. "If I had been given the opportunity, I would have advised against the move for a variety of reasons."

David Eggen responded Tuesday saying he was surprised by the level of "dysfunction" in the Edmonton Catholic school board, and may consider dissolving the board entirely.

"Moving down that road is certainly one of the options I have available to me," he said. "I've been reflecting on that a lot in the last few days."

The education minister has set March 31 as the deadline for all 61 schools in the province to implement the new gay-friendly measures. Catholics, however, are concerned the move violates religious freedom, and is an unjust imposition on faith-based schools. 

Quoting the Supreme Court of Canada, Bp. Henry said, "[T]o tell a Catholic school how to explain its faith undermines the liberty of the members of its community who have chosen to give effect to the collective dimension of their religious beliefs by participating in a denominational school."

He continued, "It amounts to requiring a Catholic institution to speak about Catholicism in terms defined by the state rather than by its own understanding of Catholicism" and "it also interferes with the rights of parents to transmit the Catholic faith to their children."

This article has been revised.

 

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