Canadian Professor Gives Catholics a Lesson on Courage and Faith

In December 2014, Bondings 2.0 reported on a controversy in the Alberta province of Canada concerning Bill 10, a proposed law which would give local school boards the final say on whether a gay-straight alliance (GSA) could be established by students in a school.  This is especially important for Catholic schools in Alberta, which are state-funded, and run by Catholic boards.  The bill would make it more difficult for students to establish a GSA.

Alberta’s Premier delayed a vote on the bill so that a wider debate could happen among parents, school board members, administrators, students, and faculty.

But it seems that the hoped-for debate has not taken place. At least that’s the feeling of one University of Alberta professor, who recently penned an open letter calling on the Catholic school boards to start discussing the matter openly.

Dr. Kristopher Wells

Dr. Kristopher Wells of the university’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies challenged the trustees to start speaking, but he suspects their silence is caused by the fact that even though a recent poll showed that 80% of Albertans support GSAs, the two bishops of the province would like to see the controls put in place that Bill 10 offers. quoted from Wells’ letter:

“What we’re asking is for that curtain of silence to be lifted. We certainly have seen the pastoral letters from the bishops in Edmonton and Calgary but our democratically elected trustees have yet to speak and talk about how they understand GSAs and if they’ll support them.

“They can’t bring the issues forward out of fear for precautions and certainly the premier has promised consultation and we feel like democratically elected trustees should be part of that consultation, and we should be hearing from them, that’s their jobs.”

The Vauxhall Advance quoted Wells’ allegations that it is fear imposed bishops which caused the silenced discussion and interference with democracy:

“Catholic school trustees are not speaking out. We know that, for example, Catholic students have been silenced, parents have been silenced, along with trustees, teachers, and administrators on these LGBQT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer and Transgender/Transsexual) issues in schools. So what does that say about democracy if so many people are prevented from speaking out on these issues? I think for many of the Catholic trustees, and teachers in particular, there’s a great fear of retribution, where they’ve been told to stop speaking out.

“We’ve seen the letters from the Catholic bishops who refuse to support gay-straight alliances in schools. The fact that we have this ongoing censorship, I think as a public we have to ask if democratically-elected Catholic trustees are forbidden to voice their views, or speak on behalf of their constituents, is democracy being served? Do voters and their views not count?”

Wells noted that in the past the trustees did not always side with the bishops on other issues of controversy such as HPV vaccines:

“Science, reason and the evidence moved trustees to make decisions that would support students in their schools, and we’re asking for the same kind of consideration here on this issue surrounding gay-straight alliances — let the science, let the research, and let the evidence speak, and let’s have discussions, rather than this curtain of silence being dropped on trustees, with no dialogue, no debate, and certainly no democracy being served.”

This development is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in our Catholic Church when lay people are afraid to speak their opinions because of fear of the hierarchy.  Fortitude/courage is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church gives this description:

“Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause.”

And Canon 212 of the Code of Canon Law states:

Ҥ2.The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.

“§3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.”

Pope Francis has clearly signaled that debate and discussion should not be foreign to Catholic circles. That is the method of discernment that the Church should exercise.

The road to LGBT equality in the Catholic Church would be much easier if more Catholics found the courage to speak their beliefs to their pastors, bishops, and other leaders.  We should all pray to always have that kind of courage.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



3 replies
  1. Anton
    Anton says:

    SILENCE IS DEATH! “Say but the word, and my soul shall be healed!” “I came that you might have life, to the fullest.” Jesus spoke and dined with Pharisees and Publicans and Prostitutes and had a reputation as a glutton and a drunkard. At one point he only refused to come out of the crowded house to see his family who came for him because they thought he’d lost his mind. Other critics said he was possessed by Beelzebul. He was NOT afraid to engage in conversation with anyone, even though it “scandalized” his disciples – like with the Samaritan woman at the well. Pope Francis says the same thing in EVANGELII GAUDIUM – the church should not be afraid to get dirty. What are our bishops and prelates afraid of? They remind me of Jonah, running the other way when asked to “go to Nineveh.” The lesson was not just for the Ninevites but for the prophet himself who was refusing to do his job and had a very narrow way of thinking. “The Ninevites are pagans, why should YOU, God, be concerned about them?” And then Jonah was more bent out of shape more because the tree that gave him shade was eaten up by a bug! And I’m not saying our bishops are being asked to go to sinners, just to LGBT persons. Perhaps we all need to be swallowed by the BIG ιχθύς and regurgitated on the shore of the area God sends us to and we are trying to avoid. Let us be brave enough to utter the request of Bartimaeus at Jericho, the sin-city of the area and of that time, when Jesus asked “What do you want me to do for you?”: “My Teacher, let me see again.” May the JOY OF THE GOOD NEWS be available to everyone.

  2. Annette Magjuka
    Annette Magjuka says:

    LGBT people are part of the Body of Christ. They deserve all the rights and sacraments I would have for myself. The Holy Spirit has made this clear, and many Catholics know beyond a doubt that this is true. So it is our obligation to speak, and speak, and speak some more. We must also love the bishops, priests, and others who block rights of LGBT people, but loving them does not mean allowing the discrimination to continue. Discrimination cannot be a tenet of faith, and no one should be silent and complicit in this wrongdoing.

  3. Friends
    Friends says:

    Bravo to Anton! What he wrote above is essentially a PROSE POEM, in praise of Jesus’ boundless love for His People — who are “Those who believe upon His Name”. We affirm Jesus’ Redemptive Love for His People EVERY TIME the opening verses of John’s Gospel are recited. It seems to me that too many bishops, archbishops and Cardinals are personally paralyzed and traumatized by anger and fear. (And forcible celibacy certainly doesn’t help!) These are NOT the emotions that Jesus Himself wanted us to proclaim to the world — through the witness we give by our lives, our actions, and (above all) our LOVE for one another. Pope Francis has come closer (at least) to living the Testimony of Jesus than any other Pope in living memory since St. John XXIII. Of course nobody’s understanding is perfect, this side of Heaven — not even the discernment of the Popes. But let us all walk Forward In Love together, and trust that Jesus Himself will never betray his Gospel Promises to us.


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