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Alberta’s Catholic schools face ‘watershed moment’ as trustees defy the bishops on gender policies: priest

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EDMONTON, Alberta, January 19, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) -- An Alberta Catholic school trustee and the chair of a Catholic school board believe that Catholic parents should not have been sent home a strongly worded letter from Calgary Bishop Fred Henry last week that denounced the NDP government's new "gender identity" guidelines as “totalitarian” and “anti-Catholic."

Edmonton Catholic school trustee Patricia Grell apologized on her blog last Friday after fellow school trustees voted to forward Bishop Henry’s letter to parents. 

“I need the public to know that I tried to discourage my fellow trustees from including his letter in a communication we were planning on sending out to our parents on Friday. As you can see, I was unsuccessful in convincing them that it would not bode well for our district and the future of Catholic education if we allowed ourselves to participate in disseminating his uninformed views and comments which frankly, in my opinion, are not in keeping with the spirit of the Year of Mercy recently declared by Pope Francis,” she wrote. 

Grell took issue with the bishop’s letter for stating what she called “so many hurtful and untrue things about the LGBTQ community” including his assessment of Gay-Straight Alliance clubs as — in the words of the Bishop — “highly politicized ideological clubs which seek to cure society of ‘homophobia’ and ‘heterosexism.’” 

Wrote Grell: “There were many other things said in Bishop Henry’s letter which I disagree with and as an educated Catholic, I want my constituents to know that I unequivocally disagreed that it should be sent to our parents.”

Last week Alberta’s NDP government released 12 “best practices” guidelines that schools must use to form mandatory policies for "transgendered" students that govern everything from change rooms and shower rooms to sport teams and school trips. The guidelines state that a student’s own “self-identification” as either a boy or a girl or neither is the “sole measure of an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.” 

READ: ‘Totalitarian’: Alberta gvmt forces schools – including Catholic – to accept students’ ‘gender identity’

Marilyn Bergstra, the chair of the Edmonton Catholic board, has also apologized for the Bishop’s letter being sent, telling reporters on Monday that she was “away at a meeting” and was not part of the decision.

Bishop Henry, the liaison on education issues for the Alberta Bishops, defended in his letter last week the basic Catholic teaching on the male/female binary. 

“Our teaching is rather simple and direct. God created beings as male and female. In doing so, he gave equal dignity to both man and woman. In his plan, men and women should respect and accept their sexual identity. God created both the body and sex as good. Hence, we do not approach sexuality with fear or with hostility to the flesh. It is a gift of God by which men and women participate in his saving plan and respond to his call to grow in holiness,” he wrote at that time. The bishop warned Catholic parents not to be naive about the push activists are making for the full acceptance of the LGBTQ agenda in schools. 

In his plan, men and women should respect and accept their sexual identity. God created both the body and sex as good. 

Father Stefano Penna, a vice president and professor at Newman Theological College in Edmonton, criticized Trustee Grell in a comment under her blogpost for openly defying not only Bishop Henry, but Edmonton Archbishop Smith and thereby having “broken away from communion with our own Archbishop.” 

“Do your constituents recognize that you are completely in cahoots with those whose intent, in this new attempt, [is] to bully anyone who does not ‘speak the ‘new’ language' of family [and] sexuality?”

“According to the new Government regulations for ‘Best Practices’ there is only one English that can be acceptable: the bizarre right-speak (the Nazi term was “gleichschaltung”) of graduate students and their faculty advisors in the Department of Eugenics … er … Racial Anthropology … er … Gender Diversity,” he wrote. 

Fr. Penna told LifeSiteNews that the gender revolt has now brought the Catholic Church in Alberta to what he called a “watershed moment” where governance of Catholic schools will either be handed over to the secular state and its gender ideology agenda or it will be defended as the prerogative of Catholics seeking to give their children a genuine Catholic education. 

“A Catholic school board leader has publicly criticized a Catholic bishop and has gone so far as to go on the radio and state that she supports what she called ’human rights’ instead of the position of the Catholic bishops when it comes to policies in Catholic schools. We have to stand very clearly right now and say, ‘Do we want this taught to our children?’”

“I’m in complete favor of human rights, and someone has to stand up and defend the rights of everybody from the force of government being recruited by special groups to control the language and thereby the thinking of future generations. Pope Francis has been clear with his comments on 'ideological colonization' that this is how activists do it: They get a hold of our children and they change their minds,” he said.  

Fr. Penna said that he and Bishop Henry have been called “monsters” by those who think their opposition to ‘gender ideology’ in Catholics schools means that they are not in favor of human rights. He said that he has been accused of calling LGBTQ activists "Nazis," a charge that he flatly denies, saying that he would “never say that.” 

“One thing that is very important to point out is that it is the children who are being used here, especially the children who are struggling with the very painful disassociation between their physical and psychological self-perception. Medical science is just beginning to scratch the surface of how to deal with children struggling with this, but the entire matter has become hijacked into being a political occasion for social engineering. Any real compassion at that point is gone,” he said. 

On Sunday, another Alberta bishop added his voice of opposition to the government guidelines. Bishop Paul Terrio of the Diocese of St. Paul released a pastoral letter in which he rejected the guidelines as “flawed” in that they “contradict[] the Biblical understanding of human nature as well as our common life experience.” 

Bishop Terrio raised concern with the guidelines’ principle that “Self-identification is the sole measure of an individual‟s sexual orientation.” 

“To say that a person's sexual orientation solely depends on self-identification denies biological facts as well as Biblical teaching. In ordinary day-to-day experience, biology cannot be separated from culture and the separation of biological and social gender is a basic error and weakness of ‘gender theory.’ But for the Bible, and therefore for Catholicism and many others, femininity and masculinity are not exchangeable roles, but rather they are gifts and callings from the Creator.”  

“As a Catholic Bishop and as someone who has pastoral responsibility for children in Catholic Schools, I must reject the ‘Guidelines for Best Practices:’ I do this so that the Biblical image of our human nature in its entire radiance and depth can orient and guide the children and youth of our Catholic schools,” he wrote. 

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