By John-Henry Westen

HAMILTON, September 19, 2007 ( – In a move which came as an unexpected shock to many in the pro-life movement, the board of trustees at the Halton Catholic District School Board voted 4-3 to reject a motion to forbid the controversial HPV vaccine to be offered or administered on the Catholic school board’s premises for the duration of this school year. The board has instead permitted the vaccine to be administered to girls as young as twelve on its premises.

As reported last week, trustee Anthony Danko formulated a resolution opposing the HPV vaccines based on concerns expressed by the bishops of Ontario. The bishops said that they regretted the introduction of the vaccine without appropriate testing. (see coverage). Danko had expected his motion to pass.

The most interesting aspect of the debate and vote was that the 12 trustees include three student trustees who are not permitted a vote. All three student trustees are female, and all three supported Danko’s resolution to ban the vaccines from Halton Catholic schools. Had the three students been permitted a vote, Danko’s resolution would have passed.

The three female students saw that the administration of a vaccine on Catholic premises to combat sexually transmitted diseases presented a mixed message to students.

“I’m taught every day to save myself for marriage and practise abstinence,” said 16-year-old Erin Gamble. “Giving the vaccine to Grade 8 girls contradicts what I have been taught.”

“I go to a Catholic school every day for a reason,” Gamble added. “I have a big problem with this.”

The letter from the Ontario Bishops on the vaccine spoke similarly. “Sexual activity is appropriate only within marriage,” said the letter. “Outside of marriage, abstinence is not only clearly the choice that leads to spiritual and moral wellbeing, but it is obviously the best protection against risks of disease.”

The Bishops also warned of health risks since the long-term effects of the vaccination have not been tested. “There is no consensus among those involved in public health in Canada that HPV vaccination is the most prudent strategy in terms of allocating health care resources to address the goal of preventing deaths resulting from cervical cancer,” says the letter. “The Bishops of Ontario regret its introduction without further opportunity for thorough study of all of the effects of this program. The best interests of children demands that parents and guardians be fully informed before granting consent.”

In its decision the board voted to send the letter from the Bishops to parents to assist them to discern what decision they should make. The board also decided that a signed form from parents would be required before the vaccine could be administered to their children on school property.

Nonetheless, the active participation of the Catholic board in the controversial vaccine has left many perplexed by the normally strongly pro-life, pro-family board’s decision. Danko says he has had many supportive calls from parents. “I’m not sure if we’ve been true to our Catholic identity here,” said Danko in comments to “I think we’ve compromised something.”

At the meeting one of the trustees, Catholic priest Fr. David Wilhelm, argued against Danko’s motion with an interpretation of the Bishops’ letter which ran contrary to Danko’s. “What the bishops are telling us is that parents have the right and the responsibility to make these decisions for their children and I don’t think any of us have the right to take that away, as difficult as that may be,” he said.

In reality however, Danko’s motion sought not to deny parents permission to vaccinate their children with the HPV vaccine but merely to refuse to allow the Catholic school to be party to the controversial vaccine’s administration.

“The bishops were clearly unhappy with the situation,” said Danko, “and wanted us to do something about it.” However, the letter from the bishops, despite expressing serious concerns, did not specifically direct or encourage Catholic school boards to decline participation in the vaccination program.

Fr. Wilhelm stated, “If this was so morally reprehensible, the bishops would have come out and said that clearly”. He added, “Making this decision is well beyond what trustees are there for.” The lack of clear direction in the bishops’ letter thus left the door wide open to interpretations such as Fr. Wilhelm’s, which defeated the Danko motion.

Voting in favour of Danko’s motion were Danko himself, Bob Van de Vrande, and Ed Viana. Voting against were Rev. David Wilhelm, Rosanna Palmieri, Pauline Houlahan, and Joanne Matters, who had previously expressed serious concerns about the vaccine and was expected to vote for the motion.

See previous LifeSiteNews reports on this issue:

Ontario City’s Catholic Trustees Oppose HPV Vaccination in Schools, Stall Implementation

Ontario Bishops Warn Catholic Trustees Against HPV Vaccine – Second Board Delays Vaccination Program