OTTAWA, Oct. 23, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – As parents in the Ottawa Catholic School Board work to end a pattern of hosting events and speakers at the board that are hostile to the Catholic faith, Ottawa’s Archbishop has echoed the parents’ concerns, warning that if the schools are not “fully Catholic” they risk descending into “demonic worldliness.”
At the Archbishop’s Benefit Dinner on Oct. 16th, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast urged the schools to choose teachers, guest speakers, and partners who are models of holiness and who fully embrace the culture of life.
“In a labour market where there are many excellent, unemployed teachers who live lives of Christian virtue, they should be at the top of your hiring lists,” he said, according to prepared remarks the Archdiocese sent to LifeSiteNews. (Find the full talk here.)
“Guests and partners must give an authentic Catholic witness that will inspire and encourage, not a counter-witness that will discourage and confuse,” he added. “No matter how great their achievements in politics, business, sports, science, or the arts, we should not invite to our schools as guest speakers, or give awards to, those who provide a counter-witness to the Gospel.”
The archbishop’s comments come amidst a heated controversy over the board’s policy on guest speakers and external partnerships. In January, over a hundred parents packed a school board meeting urging the board to uphold Catholic teaching after a series of high profile scandals.
These included a civics trip in Nov. 2012 to campaign for the reelection of pro-abortion President Obama, cancelled after backlash; a talk by same-sex ‘marriage’ and abortion supporter Justin Trudeau, leader of Canada’s Liberal Party; a ‘social justice’ trip to El Salvador to visit groups that advocate for legalized abortion, legalized prostitution, the promotion of contraception, and the right to adoption for lesbian couples; and a co-op placement of a student at a homosexual activist group.
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Parents have also expressed grave concern over the school board’s continued partnership with the development group Free the Children. The group’s founders, Craig and Marc Kielburger, have publicly endorsed Planned Parenthood’s “reproductive rights” agenda, and the group supports “family planning” in its health clinics. It also hosts large events, called We Day, where it frequently showcases pro-abortion politicians and celebrities. The Ottawa Catholic School Board sent 700 students to We Day this year.
In 2011, the organization was caught promoting abortion as part of “family planning” in a set of fact sheets on maternal and child health. The sheets were removed after LifeSiteNews revealed them and the organization claims they were produced in error.
Craig and Marc Kielburger are often held up as model Catholics by Catholic institutions and media, but have refused to state their position on abortion.
In his talk at the dinner, Archbishop Prendergast did not mention any specific controversy or person. But observers took them as having clear implications for the current controversy.
James Doak, a Catholic ratepayer, said he “applaud[s]” the archbishop’s assertion that guests should be “courageous disciples and faithful Catholics,” and noted that “pro-abortion ‘Catholics’ like Justin Trudeau and the Kielburger brothers do not meet this standard.”
The archbishop’s comments contrast starkly with remarks made by the board’s director of education in February. Speaking to Canadian Catholic News, director Julian Hanlon defended the board’s decision to invite Justin Trudeau and other speakers that oppose Church teaching.
“If we have blanket statements that anybody that opposes the Catholic or ever says something contrary to the Catholic Church teachings, we would never have anyone come into the schools,” he said.
While some would “like us to live in a world that’s black and white,” he added, “there are many shades of grey.”
The Archbishop noted that the question of guest speakers is “a matter of heated debate.” But, he said, “we can get to the heart of this matter by returning to our shared goal of choosing guest speakers according to their ability to edify our students by their self-giving, their love, and their embrace of the culture of life for the sake of the Gospel, rather than according to their worldly fame.”
“We have to be Catholic and not worldly in those models we hold up to our students for admiration and imitation,” he said.
Teachers and staff are the first “witnesses” to the students, he said, and should be selected first based on their commitment to holiness. “If we desire that our students be holy, they need to see holiness in those who guide them daily,” he said. At the same time, he urged the schools to present students with the example of the saints, “the heroes of the faith.”
Catholic schools have a duty to profess the Gospel, he said, even though “it is enticing to adopt the standards of the world.”
“No matter how well we do that work with professional competence, if we do not profess Jesus Christ, we run the risk of a ‘demonic worldliness,’ to use the blunt language of Pope Francis,” he said, citing the Pope’s first homily, delivered March 14th in the Sistine Chapel.
Because of its public funding from the Ontario government, the Catholic schools are confronted with “a daily temptation to conform not to the Gospel, but to the central bureaucracy,” the archbishop said.
“It would certainly create a stir if I accused the Ministry of Education of being a source of ‘demonic worldliness,’” he said, adding that the Pope is not pointing fingers but calling us to examine our consciences in how we respond to worldly pressures. “The challenge is not so much what the world forces us to do, but what we allow ourselves to be seduced into,” he said.
The archbishop concluded by quoting a saying of Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins: “Don’t show me your mission statement. Show me your budget, and I will know what your mission is.”
Paraphrasing, Archbishop Prendergast said: “Show me the models you propose to your students, in your teachers and in the guests you invite them to listen to, and I will know your mission.”
Contacted for comment, school board spokeswoman Mardi de Kemp said, “We appreciated the remarks the Archbishop made at the event, and continue to ensure that the Archbishop is consulted and his input is reflected in Board policy.”
Julian Hanlon, Director of Education
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