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Steve Weatherbe

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Alberta bishops defend their stand against ‘gay-straight alliances’

Steve Weatherbe

The Catholic bishops of Edmonton and Calgary have accused advocates for “gay-straight alliances” of attacking the Catholic Church and Catholic school system with “misinformation and misrepresentation,” while upholding the Catholic schools’ right to address bullying in accord with their faith.

In letters read in all churches in Alberta’s two biggest dioceses last Sunday, Bishop Fred Henry and Edmonton’s Richard Smith defended their principled opposition to the homosexual clubs while insisting their schools and their faith taught that homosexuals were to be defended from bullying along with other minorities.

Bishop Henry was particularly critical of a comment from University of Alberta gay studies professor Kris Wells, who told the Toronto homosexual news source DailyXtra.com that “the roadblock [to GSAs] is institutionalized religion and bishops.”

The bishops took advantage of a lull in the storm over Bills 202 and 10, which were both withdrawn from the Alberta Legislature’s order paper by Premier Jim Prentice. Bill 202 was a private members bill from opposition Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman that would have forced GSAs into both public and Catholic schools (which are also fully publicly supported).

Prentice, the new leader of the dominant PC Party, headed off Bill 202 with his own Bill 10 that would have let public or Catholic boards decide about GSAs, and let students who had been denied requested clubs appeal to the courts. Pro-GSA government MLAs got that amended in committee so that students could appeal to the minister of education, who would have to provide a club, but not necessarily on school property.

Prentice’s bill was strongly criticized on both sides of the issue. GSA proponents argued it didn’t go far enough to protect homosexual students from bullying, while Christians and social conservatives said the bill went too far, in particular by removing parents’ right to withdraw their children from classes dealing with homosexuality.

Prentice shut off the debate before Bill 1o got third reading on the floor of the Legislature, but the argument continued in the news media in a markedly one-sided basis, with the Catholic bishops and school trustees pilloried for influencing the premier. Thus Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simon wrote that Catholics and other Christians “profoundly believe, as a matter of faith and a matter of conscience...that gays and lesbians are damned.” Nothing like that should be allowed at tax-funded schools, she said.

The U of A’s Wells said: “The roadblock is institutionalized religion and bishops who are basically telling and directing our elected school trustees what to do, which is fundamentally undemocratic.” And he made the same point about tax-funded schools only being allowed to teach government-approved morality.

As for the instigator of the debate, MLA Blakeman, she has blamed Catholics increasingly for the shelving of her bill. “It’s the Catholic schools that will not allow GSAs — they just won’t. The primary thing is the government is insisting on allowing faith-based schools to not have to follow the Charter, and that’s not acceptable to me,” she told reporters, ignoring the presence of religious freedom in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the debate made Albertans “look like hillbillies” while Calgary Herald columnist Naomi Lakritz said it made them look “foolish.”

The two bishops concentrated on more serious arguments, however, explaining that the gay-straight clubs normalize homosexuality, conveying a message contrary to Catholic sexual morality.

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“The mandating of Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) is problematic for a number of reasons,” Bishop Henry wrote. “It infringes parental authority over their children, the freedom to instruct one’s children in a manner consistent with their faith, and citizens’ rights to manifest their religious beliefs by worship and practice in the absence of coercion or constraint by government.”

Both denied the frequent argument that the Catholic schools or bishops “have little concern for students of same-sex attraction,” as Bishop Smith put it. “Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth.” But Catholic schools should be allowed to respond to the concern for bullying with their own “holistic study groups” with a far wider focus than merely sexual preference.

Both bishops noted that studies have shown sexual preference is at the bottom of the list of reasons for bullying, far below appearance, ethnicity and, even school grades. Nonetheless, wrote Henry, the Catholic Church teaches that “every person with same sex attractions must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.” But all students, he continued, have equally been “created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed by the blood of Christ.”

Catholic spokesman Father Stefano Penna, the vice president of Newman Theological College in Edmonton, went further, telling LifeSiteNews that Catholics are called to “a tougher standard of inclusion, treating everyone the same, Greek and Jew, male and female, free and slave, and the place where we do that we call the Church.” 

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