Criticism of Alberta’s bishops is growing in Canada as they remain silent about anti-LGBT employment policies and other education issues which became public at the end of last year.
Kris Wells, an LGBT advocate and professor at MacEwan University, Edmonton, claimed the bishops “have cloistered themselves away in the hopes that these issues will just disappear.”
The issues to which Wells referred are LGBT-negative “morality clauses” included in the contracts of teachers in some of the province’s Catholic schools. At least three school systems–Calgary, Red Deer, Edmonton–have confirmed the past or present use of such clauses. Furthermore, a lesbian former administrator has filed a human rights complaint saying she was discriminated against and news broke that the Vicar of Education for the Diocese of Calgary has a history of anti-LGBT preaching.
Wells said the bishops’ failures on these issues should prompt a government investigation into Catholic schools, according to the Calgary Herald:
“‘The message we continue to hear is ‘be silent’ and ‘be invisible.’ And too many LGBTQ students have learned that this is the only way they can survive. Many turn to drugs and alcohol, even suicide, because they’re told there is something wrong with them.’
“‘It’s damaging. It’s toxic,’ Wells said.
“‘The [Alberta Education] minister needs to launch a full investigation into what is happening in Calgary Catholic schools, given what has happened with employment contracts, given the experience of LGBTQ teachers and principals, and given the comments from the vicar of education, comparing the pride flag to the work of Satan.'”
So far, Alberta’s Minister of Education, David Eggen, has refrained from any talk of a wider investigation beyond contracts. He said he was “deeply concerned by these documents” and that “our review and discussions with school boards about the contracts they are drafting are ongoing.” Eggen has ordered all 17 Catholic school systems in the province to submit their contracts for review.
LGBT advocates have criticized the bishops’ lack of response as well. Barb Hamilton, who filed the aforementioned human rights complaint, said there was an “illusion of democracy” in Alberta but the message of inclusivity is false because “the absence of conversation [on LGBT issues] is alarming.” Professor Tonya Callaghan, formerly a Catholic school teacher, agreed that more discussion was needed.
Michael Coren, writing at iPolitics, focused in specifically on homophobic homilies from Fr. Jerome Lavigne, the vicar of education mentioned above:
“[The Diocese of Calgary] removed the homily from Facebook and church websites, and responded: ‘The review of Fr. Lavigne’s homily recognizes that the reading from the Book of Genesis expanded to include some reflections on homosexuality. However, these reflections did not fully capture that we are all called to live a life of chastity according to our state in life. We are all created by God and He loves us all so that each person receives from God their inherent dignity. The Catholic Church advocates for the common good of society, so that we live together in an atmosphere of peace, safety and respect for the dignity of one another regardless of age, ancestry, body image, culture, sexual orientation and religion.’
“Yet if this is the case, why is Lavigne still vicar for Catholic education? These are not isolated comments.”
[Editor’s note: To read Bondings 2.0’s recent post about Fr. Lavigne’s homily, click here.]
Coren concluded that the diocese’s actions were insufficient, adding, “Sin, as they surely must know, may be forgiven, but only after the culprit admits, acknowledges, and promises to change.”
While charges of sin may be extreme, the bishops’ continued silence is certainly imprudent and both the faithful and Canadian taxpayers who fund church-affiliated schools deserve answers. Moments of division and crisis like this one can do further damage or, with the right approach, be an opportunity for growth. Alberta’s bishops should not put up defenses, but instead use this moment to practice greater love and inclusion.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 6, 2019