CALGARY, Alberta, June 27, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Calgary’s Catholic bishop was under fire Monday as a group of doctors and parents launched a campaign against his decision to block the HPV vaccine from Catholic schools.
But in a statement to LifeSiteNews, Bishop Fred Henry insisted that he will continue to urge Catholic school boards not to administer the vaccine, which prevents certain strands of the sexually transmitted infection that can lead to cervical cancer.
Bishop Henry says administering the vaccine would undermine the schools’ effort to teach children about abstinence and chastity in accord with the teachings of the Catholic Church.
The vaccine has been administered through the province’s schools in grade 5 and 9 with government funding since 2007, but at Bishop Henry’s urging the Calgary Catholic School District has refused to participate in the program.
After failing to win over the schools behind the scenes, a group called HPV Calgary began a public campaign with a press conference Monday morning at Parkdale Community Hall calling on Calgary’s Catholic trustees to defy Bishop Henry. They want the trustees to hold a public meeting to vote on the issue by June 30.
“They’re elected, they report to the people. They have delegated their decision making to a non-elected official without expertise in evidence-based medicine or public health,” said Juliet Guichon, an assistant professor in the University of Calgary’s Department of Community Health Sciences.
“We are coming forward to ask trustees to put children first and to stress that publicly funded schools are owned by the public,” added Guichon, who is Catholic but says she does not direct her taxes to the Catholic schools because of their stand on the HPV vaccine.
The Calgary Catholic School District is now Canada’s only school board in a major city that does not offer the vaccine. It has also been banned by Catholic school boards in eight other districts of Alberta as well as Yellowknife, and Halton in Ontario.
In 2009, health officials in Calgary expressed concern that only 18.9% of grade 5 students in Calgary’s Catholic schools had been vaccinated, compared to about 70 per cent in the public schools.
Ian Mitchell, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Calgary, told Monday’s press conference that Bishop Henry is wrong to suggest that the “vaccine produces promiscuity.”
“That’s something that can be studied. It has been studied and it doesn’t produce promiscuity,” he said. “If the bishop has evidence, then I believe that evidence should be available for us to look at.”
In his statement, Bishop Henry said that the vaccine actually “undermines” efforts to prevent HPV by masking the true causes.
“If we don’t attempt to change sexual behaviour that is responsible for transmission of the HPV, but attempt to solve the problem by getting a series of shots, then we don’t have to exercise self¬ control, nor develop virtue, but can use medicine to palliate our vices,” he wrote. “The technological solution requires no change in behaviour.”
He said the question cannot be reduced to a “health” issue or to a “risk-reduction” strategy, but must be rooted in a deeper understanding of the nature of the human person and human sexuality.
“Pope Benedict XVI recently said that the reduction of the precious and delicate area of education in sexuality to management of ‘risk’ bereft of any reference to the beauty of conjugal love is particularly disturbing,” wrote the bishop.
Said the “risk reduction” approach is rooted in utilitarian ethics that “generally disregards moral considerations in evaluating human behavior, and instead shifts codes of conduct to the realm of consequences, e.g. HPV transmission percentages, cost effectiveness of treatment, the number of fatalities due to cervical cancer, etc”
“It thus yields interventions that should only be considered secondary measures of HPV prevention-use of condoms and/or vaccines. Although the ideal moral standard, abstinence and fidelity, is also the most effective means of primary HPV prevention, it is relegated to the periphery.”
Mary Martin, the chair of the Calgary Catholic School District, said they have given parents direction on where to get the vaccine outside of school and that they will continue to follow Bishop Henry’s lead.
“We continue to have conversations with our bishop and we do know as stewards of our Catholic system, that our parents expect us to deliver an authentic faith-based education,” she told the Calgary Herald. “That includes taking direction from the bishop in areas of moral thought and it does not give us the latitude to be selective in that.”
“At the end of the day, we take our moral direction, our spiritual direction from our Bishop, and his position has not changed,” she added.