Alberta Bishop Refuses to Apologize for Anti-Trans Letter

>Bishop Fred Henry says the church has a lot to apologize for, but remains a tremendous source of good.
Bishop Fred Henry

The Canadian bishop who referred to LGBTQ education guidelines as “totalitarian” and “anti-Catholic” is refusing to apologize for his comments or to dialogue about the issue, according to a second letter he released.

Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary issued his latest post, “Totalitarianism in Alberta II,” last week, reported the Edmonton Sun. In it, the bishop wrote:

” ‘If you are reading this piece in the hopes of discovering an apology and/or a retraction, you might as well stop reading right now. That’s simply not going to happen.”

Henry claimed he had received “considerable support” for both the substance and style of his initial letter, and quoted comments from Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si  about gender and used Scripture to defend the idea that he should warn people of wrongdoing.

Alberta’s Education Minister David Eggen responded to the letter by reiterating that collaboration and a willingness to put students’ well-being first would facilitate progress when he meets with church leaders in a few weeks. Other responses to Bishop Henry’s repeated attack of the LGBTQ guidelines were less reserved.

Educator and LGBT advocate Brian Hodder again noted how detrimental the Alberta bishops’ resistance to LGBTQ student supports is to actual students.  Writing in The Telegram, he stated:

“As we have found in this province, gay-straight alliances play a critical role in fostering support and understanding for all students. More importantly — as my own experiences in life have taught me — the value of a supportive and equal education system is vital in preventing many of the social difficulties faced by LGBTQ youth as well as others facing any kind of difficulty. Denying them this support is just the wrong thing to do.”

Hodder concluded that it was Bishop Henry, not Alberta’s Education Ministry, “who wishes to forcefully impose” an ideology, and he said that Henry could do so as long as Catholic education was not publicly funded.

Jeremy Klazsus echoed this point in Metro, stating the bishop “makes a better case than anyone that Catholic schools should no longer get full public funding.” The columnist explained further:

“Henry is unelected, and accountable primarily to his church, not the public. Yet he holds significant sway over the publicly funded Calgary Catholic School District as its moral and spiritual leader. . .Given his church’s privileged position, Henry could have responded to the new guidelines in any number of measured ways.”

The bishop’s responses could have included an acknowledgement that Catholics hold diverse views on sexuality or that more consultation with Catholics would be advisable. Instead, Klaszus wrote, Henry “went guns blazing.”

But in The Globe and Mail, University of Alberta law professor Eric Adams cautioned  against setting up the Alberta debate as a battle over religious freedom and human rights, or using the debate to undermine Catholic education. While there are many nuances in Canadian constitutional law and human rights law involved in the controversy, Adams’ broader point about consensus building is worth noting:

“The answer, as is so often the case, is not a battle of constitutional rights, but a co-existence of them. Policies that protect the rights of transgender students to human dignity fall, like other concerns focused on the well-being of students, within the province’s jurisdiction over education. A constitution of pluralism and mutual respect means Catholic schools teaching Catholic values and respecting the choices of transgender students to difference.

“Which rights win? They all do. We do, too.”

As regular readings of Bondings 2.0 will know, the question of LGBTQ policies in Alberta’s Catholic schools, specifically controversies around the Edmonton Catholic School Board, have made headlines almost weekly for awhile now. Each time, conservative church leaders and their allied board members have escalated the stakes with hyperbolic language. Church leaders fight harder and harder against guidelines that would help keep LGBTQ students safe and encourage them to thrive.

For the sake of LGBTQ students, Catholic education, and the wider church in Alberta, this approach to the issue must change. Bishop Henry should apologize for the damage he has caused, and, along with his episcopal peers, find a third way forward with Alberta’s Education Ministry so that Catholic education can thrive even more by its enthusiastic protection and embrace of LGBTQ students.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

7 thoughts on “Alberta Bishop Refuses to Apologize for Anti-Trans Letter

  1. John Hilgeman February 3, 2016 / 1:07 am

    Child abuse takes many forms. And one of them is the perpetuation in schools of anti LGBT policies based on dogma, not on science or reality.

  2. paularuddy February 3, 2016 / 1:51 am

    Thanks for the sanity of this post. Sounds like the educators and the advocates are taking reasonable positions also. I wonder if the bishop chose the photo background, himself head-on, tightly bounded between two steel poles, holding a bible, and a crucifix on the wall. He sees himself as walking the straight and narrow, taking the stand for God? The age-old stand-off.

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