India’s Cardinal Gracias Wants Homosexuality Decriminalized

February 7, 2016
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Cardinal Oswald Gracias

India’s top bishop supports the legalization of homosexuality in his country, which may now be possible that the nation’s Supreme Court is reviewing the issue. His acceptance is hopefully leading more Catholics to their own acceptance of LGBT people, too.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay said the law which currently criminalizes homosexual acts among India’s 1.2 billion residents should be repealed, reported Gay Star News. He said:

” ‘I have met some groups and associations of LGBTs and I had an understanding for them. I don’t want them to feel ostracised. . .I feel that homosexuality should not be criminalised. For me it’s a question of understanding that it’s an orientation.’ “

The cardinal, who heads the Catholic Bishops Conference of India as well, said, given the choice, “why would you be harsh” and reject people from society instead of loving them. Though he does not accept the validity of same-gender marriages, Gracias said this “does not mean you throw out these people as bad.” He explained, too:

” ‘I believe maybe people have this orientation that God has given them and for this reason they should not be ostracised from society. The Church is concerned, and if you’re Christian or Catholic and if you’re part of the Church you have to have compassion, sympathy and understanding toward them.’ “

These are not Cardinal Gracias’ first compassionate words for marginalized communities. Interviewed by Bondings 2.0’s Francis DeBernardo at last year’s Synod on the Family, the cardinal told LGBT people that the church “wants you, needs you, embraces you.” When India’s Supreme Court recriminalized homosexuality in 2013, Gracias was the only religious leader in India to oppose this controversial move publicly . He has also instructed priests in his archdiocese to exercise greater sensitivity and compassion when discussing sexuality and gender.

The Supreme Court of India said earlier this week it would reconsider whether homosexuality should be criminalized. This rare “curative petition” will subject the Court’s 2013 ruling to a five-judge constitutional bench. Though it is an uphill battle, that the court took this case at all could lead to expanded justice for lesbian, gay, and bi Indians, reported Buzzfeed.

There is and will be resistance from some Catholics, which represent Indian society overall, because many hold sharp prejudices.  For LGBT people, invisibility is the preferred form of social acceptance. But there are others who, like Cardinal Gracias, wish to see LGB people more welcomed in society and even in the church. An article from Open Democracy cited one example which revealed a more accepting, though because of all its complexities, a far from perfect approach:

“Geof, a traditionalist Catholic male confessed, ‘After watching LGBT guests on Aamir’s show [a popular television talk show],  I was reduced to tears. These are real people, making the best of traumatic circumstances they were born into. For long I’ve judged them because I didn’t ‘know’ them. May I add that I’m a straight male who won’t turn gay because of the show. I also support Pope Francis all the way!”

Another Catholic, a retired teacher named Edith, said that before there was no language for LGBT students who suffered intense bullying. She now calls for acceptance:

” ‘They are mocked by other children who are products of a hate-filled heteronormative society. I know for sure that these kids were born this way and not deviants who chose a sinful, promiscuous lifestyle. Their lives are difficult enough. Let’s stop condemning.’ “

These perspectives from Indian Catholics reveal an emerging consciousness that Cardinal Gracias represents about the need to defend LGBT people’s human rights.

For many U.S. and European advocates, the notion that simply advocating for the legalization of homosexuality, while not approving of marriage, could be difficult to understand. Yet in other contexts, like Indian society or the current political debates in some African nations, Cardinal Gracias’ appeal for loving acceptance is radical. To come out as LGBT in hostile areas could mean discrimination, violence, even death at much higher rates.

Cardinal Gracias is a Catholic official who is saying simply that we must accept people’s identities rather than punish them.  In his cultural context, that certainly is prophetic.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Lay Catholics in Italy Split on Civil Unions Question

January 31, 2016
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Outside the Pantheon in Rome, equality supporters, including Catholics, call for civil unions to be legalized.

YesterdayBondings 2.0 explored how Pope Francis and the Italian hierarchy have engaged that nation’s present debate about civil unions for same-sex couples. One theologian’s analysis was that, for Pope Francis, this was an issue best left to the laity. Today’s post explores just how the laity have been involved and what their involvements could mean.

Italian Catholics on both sides of the civil unions question have participated in major demonstrations. Nearly a million LGBT supporters rallied on January 23 in public squares across Italy, bringing clocks with them to call on legislators to “wake up” about the necessity of recognizing same-gender partners in law. Rome’s Gay Center spokesperson Fabrizio Marrazzo said the 100+ demonstrations signal Italy’s “crisis point. . .about civil rights,” reported the National Catholic Reporter.

Among those experiencing this crisis is Andrea Rubera, a married gay Catholic in Rome, whose story, told in The New York Times ,reveals the urgent necessity of legal protections. Rubera married his partner, Dario De Gregorio, in Canada, and they became parents to three children. The Times article explained:

“But when they returned to their native Italy, a transformation occurred. Mr. Rubera suddenly became a single man, and his legally recognized husband in Canada became his single male roommate in Italy. Italian law also divided custody of their children.”

Of this, Rubera commented:

” ‘There are major injustices coming from this, all toward the kids. . .We are dreaming to be recognized as we are — as a family.’ “

Despite this reality, support for civil unions is declining, if the polls are accurate. Latest numbers have support below 50% whereas it peaked at 67% or higher last May, a decline tied to a clause supporting stepchild adoption for same-gender couples, according to some pundits. Attempting to assuage critics, the civil unions bill was watered down, reported Crux, when sponsors added “language clearly distinguishing the relationships from marriage” and other amendments.

Yesterday, groups and individuals against civil unions took part in “Family Day” protests, which received support from some church leaders, including Italian Episcopal Conference President, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco. According to Crux’s John Allen, lay support for conservative church leaders is one reason that the Catholic Church “still has significant social capital and packs a political punch” in Italy. He wrote:

“That doesn’t mean the Italian Church wins all the time; famously, it lost referenda in 1974 over divorce and in 1981 over abortion, and prevailed in 2005 over stem cell research only by persuading Italians not to vote in order to invalidate the ballot.

“Yet Mass-going Catholics remain a sizable chunk of the national population and are well represented in both major political parties, and their sentiments have to be at least considered.”

Yet, simply citing that Catholics are politically involved is not sufficient evidence that LGBT rights will fail. It may actually be evidence for the contrary, as Out Magazine noted:

“At one time, the power of the conservative Roman Catholic Church seemed an almost insurmountable obstacle to the progress of LGBT rights. In 2003, Belgium became the first Catholic-majority country to adopt marriage equality, soon to be followed by Canada, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, France, and, most recently—and in a popular referendum—Ireland, revealing a trend that shatters such a pessimistic illusion. In fact, countries with a Catholic majority make up nearly half of those with marriage equality, and Catholics are overwhelmingly inclined to support same-sex marriages, or at least civil unions. So long as the false narrative of mainstream Catholicism’s lack of acceptance prevailed, LGBT progress for Italy looked bleak. Now, the country of 60 million looks poised to legalize same-sex civil unions. “

Ireland’s referendum and the marriage victories in many historically Catholic countries and states, aided in most cases by lay Catholics’ fervent efforts for equality, are true. But this is Italy, where the church’s political hold remains stronger due to the Vatican’s influence. With lay Catholics active both for and against civil unions, with Pope Francis advancing a more nuanced response, and with Italy’s bishops not united in strong opposition, it seems unclear just what influence Italian Catholics will have on Tuesday’s expected vote.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Are Civil Unions Coming to Italy? Pope Francis & Bishops Hope Not

January 30, 2016
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Pope Francis

Italy’s Parliament began debating civil unions for same-gender couples this week. Whatever the outcome of a vote expected next Tuesday, Catholics have and will continue to play an essential role in the debate. In a two-part story (today and tomorrow), Bondings 2.0 will highlight Catholics’ varying responses to the potential for same-sex unions being recognized next door to the Vatican.

First, and inevitably, there is speculation about how Pope Francis will engage civil unions in Italy. In a speech to the Roman Rota last week, the pope rejected any legal recognition of same-gender relationships, using his strongest language to date. How to interpret his remarks remains disputed and some have suggested, according to The Washington Post, that his comments had nothing at all to do with Italy’s current debate. Theologian Massimo Faggioli, writing in Commonweal, commented that the pope’s address was notably different from his predecessors who would explicitly comment on Italian politics and reference “non-negotiable values.”

In The Washington Post story, Anthony Faiola compared Francis’ approach to Benedict XVI’s response to a civil unions proposal in 2007:

“As Italy now undertakes its most serious effort yet to legalize civil unions, the more nuanced response of the Vatican in its own back yard is turning the bill into a test case for whether Francis’s inclusive tone can translate to change on the ground.

” ‘My impression is that the pope is determined not to be confrontational and fight this law,’ said Massimo Franco, a Vatican watcher and columnist for Italy’s Corriere della Sera.”

Faggioli also sees a distinct difference, noting that Pope Francis was “not directly endorsing the upcoming Family Day [protests],” not appealing to Italian politicians or Catholics directly on the matter, and emphasizing repeatedly that the matter is “in the hands of the Catholic laity.”

Faggioli also identified a split in Italy’s Church between “Pope Francis Catholics” and “those who favor a more muscular response.” In Faggioli’s analysis, Francis’ foremost aim here is “protecting the authority of the pope from any attempt to manipulate it” by Italy’s bishops. He wrote:

“Italian bishops are divided, and the once-powerful lay movements are divided between progressives afraid to go on the record in favor of legislation on same-sex unions or same-sex marriage, and those who continue to use the rhetoric of the culture war and plan to descend on Rome for the rally. The paradox is that the only Catholics who are responding to Francis’s call for the engagement of the laity in public issues are those who use the bellicose language that Francis makes a point of eschewing. Catholics who welcome Francis’s style and ecclesiology are now less organized and less motivated to stake out visible positions in the church and in politics.”

Less nuanced, but still changing, is the response from Italy’s bishops who “have largely sided with the opposition” and helped rally anti-LGBT support. The Post noted, however, that the Italian Episcopal Conference “is not directly sponsoring” a planned protest against civil unions this weekend.

Bishop Nunzio Galantino, the Conference’s general secretary, told Corriere della Sera that society must acknowledge somehow the “growing presence of unions of a different kind” becaue “the state has a duty to give answers to everyone, respecting the common good first.” The newspaper also noted another important fact:

“The Italian news media took note when Francis abruptly canceled a meeting with Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, the president of the Italian bishops conference, after he publicly backed the Family Day protest.”

What impact is all this having on the civil unions debate? Gabrielle Piazzoni of ARCIGAY, an Italian LGBT equality organization, said Pope Francis has had “a meaningful influence” because:

” ‘It’s clear to everyone that the Holy See does not intend to openly support the call to arms coming from other Catholics in Italy.”

If civil unions are approved, Italy will be the last nation in Western Europe (minus Vatican City) to extend legal rights to same-gender couples. The nation faces increasing European pressure to recognize same-gender couples. Last year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Italy violated LGB human rights by not doing so. Some LGBT advocates say civil unions are a compromise, but admit marriage equality remains unrealistic in a country where ecclesial politics are intimately tied to civil politics.

Though the Parliament’s house will likely pass the bill, it is unknown whether there will be enough support in the Senate, particularly if a clause allowing adoption of children biologically tied to one partner is included.

Tomorrow’s post will look more closely at Italian Catholics have been involved in the civil unions debate.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Trans Prisoner Writes Pope Francis After Priest Uses Slur Against Her

January 28, 2016
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A portion of the letter to Pope Francis

A trans prisoner in Malta is appealing to Pope Francis for mercy after allegedly being subjected to derogatory slurs by a Catholic chaplain.

In a January 7th letter, Raquela Richards Spiteri told the pontiff that Capuchin Fr. Franco Fenech used the Maltese slurs bewwiela and imnittna against her. Spiteri further claimed the friar had acknowledged using such words in a meeting with the prison’s director but never apologized.

Fenech responded to the claim by saying, “I deny categorically using these words, but I cannot comment.” He also speculated about how such a letter could have left the prison.

Spiteri also wrote to Pope Francis about inaction by Fenech’s religious superior, as TVM reported:

“The prisoner wrote that a Provincial of the Franciscan Capuchins, Dr Martin Micallef, chose to postpone this problem to the coming June, when the Order’s General Chapter is held in Malta. She further alleged, however, that the Provincial is abdicating his responsibility, as she will have left the Prison by June.”

Spiteri, a Catholic, also mentioned in the letter that a priest had sexually abused her when she was younger.  She seeks a resolution in the church before exploring her legal options against Fr. Fenech. In an aside, she also mentioned how she is being improperly housed in Malta’s prisons which have failed to respect her gender identity.

In the first year of his papacy, Francis made repeated headlines for his handwritten notes to people of all kinds, including a note to a group for LGBT Catholics in Italy. I called it a “letter writing revolution” at the time and, despite his negative remarks on marriage equality more recently, something revolutionary remains about Pope Francis’ preference for personal and intimate encounter. This revolutionary aspect was present, too, when the pope dined last March with gay and transgender inmates at an Italian prison.

While the details of the situation are sparse, one thing we know is that a person is claiming they were hurt by one of the church’s ministers. Especially in this Year of Mercy, it is necessary for church officials at least to investigate the matter and pursue justice, if necessary, and then reconciliation in this matter. Since the pope is open to personal encounter, I hope Spiteri’s letter finds its way to him. His involvement on behalf of one of God’s most marginalized people would certainly advance justice and reconciliation in this pastoral matter.

But if all that does not happen, Spiteri can take advantage of improved legal rights in Malta.  Last spring, legislators in the heavily Catholic nation passed a transgender rights law that is considered the “gold standard” in Europe.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Indonesian Catholics Defend LGBT Students’ Rights Against Education Minister

January 27, 2016
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Minister Muhammad Nasir

Catholics in Indonesia have rejected a government official’s call to ban counseling services to LGBT students in higher education.

According to Asian CorrespondentMuhammad Nasir, who serves as Minister of Research, Technology, and Higher Education, decried such programs at the University of Indonesia, stating:

” ‘The LGBT culture is not in accordance with the values and morals of Indonesia. I will not allow it.’ “

The Minister added that, as moral guardians, colleges and universities had a duty to exclude LGBT groups on campus and said sexuality is a choice by individuals.

Nasir attempted to walk back his comments yesterday, saying that while LGBT people should not be discriminated against by laws, this does not mean “the state legitimizes the LGBT culture.” He specified further that he was not against people, but their activity and wanted to disallow “members of the LGBT community openly displaying their sexuality on campus.” He admitted to lacking the power to enact such changes.

Nasir’s critics claim he is essentially trying to ban LGBT students from higher education, despite his clarifications. Alongside LGBT advocates, civil rights activists, and a Change.org petition, Nasir’s critics include officials in Catholic higher education, reported ucanews.com:

” ‘The minister distinguished between a psychosexual condition and sexual praxis as something against moral values,’ Franciscan Father Peter C. Aman, a professor of moral theology at the Jakarta-based , told ucanews.com on Jan. 25.

“For the psychosexual condition, he said, the community cannot be regarded as violators of the moral values. ‘It’s like heterosexual condition. It doesn’t come out by itself even though it has potential to violate moral values.’

“Catholic universities had a moral obligation to oppose the minister’s remarks: ‘The church must defend the community (in this case),’ he said.”

It is unclear whether Nasir was actually making such a distinction or if Fr. Aman is projecting a distinction, but his assertion that the church “must defend” LGBT people is noteworthy.

Matheus Beny Mite, charged with Catholic education at Atma Jaya Catholic University of Indonesia, said that if the minister’s goals “are against human rights,” they would be rejected by the University.

While it is problematic that these two Catholic officials felt the need to condemn sexual activity, their rejection of Nasir’s uninformed remarks is a positive development. Furthermore, Fr. Aman affirmed that the church has an obligation to be in solidarity with LGBT communities facing discrimination,and Professor Mite rightly categorized this issue under human rights, not sexual ethics. Though Catholics constitute less than 4% of Indonesia’s population, these two Catholics by their acts of solidarity provide an outsized witness for the church — and advance LGBT justice.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right hand corner of this page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Malawi Bishops’ Comments Fail to Defend Marginalized LGBT People

January 26, 2016
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President Peter Mutharika, left, with Archbishop Thomas Msusa

As Malawi debates whether to repeal its laws which criminalize homosexuality, the nation’s Catholic bishops are lobbying heavily for the keeping such laws on the books.

Most recently, the Catholic bishops conference of the nation, called the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM), sought an audience with U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT People, Randy Berry, who visited the country this month. ECM Chair Archbishop Thomas Msusa of Blantyre explained why the bishops wanted such a meeting, as reported by Nyasa Times:

“Any discussion affecting the social and moral fibre of Malawi should at its best be as inclusive and accommodative as possible. Our teaching and a majority of our faithful have spoken clearly against the bullying of our international partners on issues of constitutional change to accommodate homosexuality in our laws.”

But, while Berry met with government offices and civic organizations, he did not meet religious leaders who wanted to defend homosexuality’s criminalization or believed international aid was tied to LGBT laws. Berry said assertions that U.S. aid is conditioned upon LGBT rights are “completely false,” but that these human rights could not be separated from broader concerns about governance in Malawi, reported Nysasa Times.

Five ECM bishops also brought up the idea of alleged international pressures about homosexuality in their mid-January meeting with President Peter Mutharika. They told him to “resist pressure” on LGBT human rights because these are “alien to most Malawians” and are “being championed by foreigners,” said Archbishop Msusa. He continued, according to All Africa:

” ‘As the Catholic Church, we say “no” to supporting these gay activities and we will follow strictly our church doctrine.’ “

President Mutharika recently said LGBTI people’s rights “should be protected,” but believes ultimately the populace should decide on whether to repeal Malawi’s anti-homosexuality law.

Malawi’s church leaders have spoken publicly against homosexuality from the pulpit, too. Bishop Mathews Mtumbuka of Karonga told a Catholic women’s gathering that gay people are “sinners who need to repent.” Bishop Montfort Sitima of Mangochi applauded a Catholic musician for cancelling his concert when questionable reports surfaced about two men kissing in the audience.

Being gay in Malawi is illegal, and a conviction could lead to up to fourteen years hard labor for men and up to five years imprisonment for women.  The government dropped charges in December against two men, Cuthert Kulemeka and Kelvin Gonani, after their arrests for being gay drew widespread criticism.

Justice Minister Samuel Tembenu has issued a moratorium on enforcement of the anti-gay law,until further notice, though anti-LGBT politicians are challenging the legality of this moratorium. Homophobia is still quite prevalent in the nation’s politics. A spokesperson for minority party, People’s Part, said earlier this month that lesbian and gay people should be killed rather than jailed

Malawi’s bishops are promoting misinformation when they claim first that homosexuality is “alien” to Malawians and second that foreign aid is being used to pressure donor nations to adopt LGBT rights. Misinformation is problematic, but doubly so when used to endorse, implicitly as well as explicitly, anti-LGBT prejudices that have and can lead to discrimination, imprisonment, and violence.

Though Catholics are only 20% of the population, Malawi’s bishops possess tremendous authority in the country due to their critical role in the nation’s transition to democracy in the early 1990’s. Their voices weigh heavily in this debate about repealing the criminalization laws which, it should be noted, are not supported by church teaching.

The bishops should be defending the human rights of all people, even if disagreements about sexual ethics exist, instead of providing cover for those politicians and public figures whose homophobia and transphobia has and will have dangerous consequences. But as it stands, the bishops in political and ecclesial arenas alike are failing to defend and may even be causing harm to marginalized LGBT communities in Malawi.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Alberta Bishops Unified in Opposition to Transgender School Policies

January 25, 2016
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Education Minister David Eggen announcing new guidelines

Disputes about proposed transgender policies for Alberta’s Catholic schools have again escalated, as church officials, educators, and equality advocates all weigh in on new LGBTQ guidelines. The bishops are unified in their opposition to these guidelines, but many lay Catholic officials disagree.

Alberta’s Bishops Oppose Trans-Inclusive Policy

Three Canadian bishops joined Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary’s opposition to LGBTQ policy guidelines released by Alberta’s Ministry of Education, reported CBC.

Edmonton’s Archbishop Richard Smith, who is in India currently, released a media statement about his opposition that criticized members of the Edmonton Catholic School Board, too. The archbishop wrote, as reported by CBC and Metro News, that some Board trustees “have caused harm and hostility” and “betrayed the trust placed in them by Catholic electors” by their actions and alleged failure to defend Catholic education.

It is unclear from his statement which trustees and which actions he criticized or if the criticism is for the trustees as a whole who have been incapable of working together. Smith did admit that certain LGBTQ guidelines were “constructive, thoughtful and reasonable suggestions” and, in certain cases, were already being implemented in the province’s Catholic schools.

Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of Grouard-McLennan and Bishop Paul Terrio of St. Paul also spoke out, releasing separate pastoral letters on the issue. Both claimed church teaching disallows what they describe as self-identification for one’s gender, citing recent comments against gender theory by Pope Francis and the Synod on the Family. Allowing students to identify their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression “repudiates the goodness of Creation,” according to Terrio.

Bishop Henry previously said the guidelines were “totalitarian” and “anti-Catholic,” and criticized gay-straight alliances for opposing homophobia and heterosexism. The bishops will meet with provincial Education Minister David Eggen next month.

The Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association weighed in against the guidelines as well, saying the schools were already “very safe and caring.”

Catholic Officials Reject Bishops’ Stance

Grassroots Catholics have reacted strongly against these episcopal assertions. Parents were displeased by Bishop Henry’s letter and a decision by the Edmonton Catholic School Board (ECSB) to distribute that letter widely. Michelle Comeau, who has two children in ECSB schools and is Catholic, told CBC that the letter was “awful” and “embarrassing.” She added:

” ‘From what I can see with my kids and their friends, there’s no issue with them. It’s with the older people.’ “

Additionally, the mother (who asked not to be identified) of a trans girl whose human rights complaint prompted these school policy discussions, criticized the letter and its distribution, too. She told The Edmonton Sun:

” ‘This has nothing to do with the Catholic teachings. This has nothing to do with the Catholic faith. This is a scared man who is clearly anti-gay, anti-transgender, and anti-LGBTQ all together who doesn’t want processes changed. . .

” ‘He hasn’t been around a transgender person, obviously, and he hasn’t been around a transgender youth…you tell me that it’s as easy as pretending to be a bird when you have your seven-year-old child asking you to end her life.’ “

Marilyn Bergstra, who chairs ECSB, apologized to parents and others harmed by the Board’s circulation of that letter, according to The Edmonton Journal. She tweeted that it “never should have happened.” Trustee Patricia Grell voted against distributing Henry’s letter, telling The Edmonton Journal:

” ‘We have to follow the law. . .The law doesn’t care if it goes against our religion. Human rights will always trump religious rights and honestly, for me as a Catholic, trying to find a place for our transgender kids, our LGBTQ kids in general in our schools is very keeping with the gospel of Christ.’ “

An Edmonton priest, Fr. Stefano Penna, attacked Grell and others supportive of LGBTQ policies by comparing them to Nazis.

Jennifer Woo of the Calgary Catholic School District rejected Bishop Henry’s letter, saying the District’s schools would “continue to do what we’ve already been doing, and that is to build up communities where all of our students feel welcomed and respected” because Catholic teaching mandates love for all people and respect for their dignity. Other administrators in Calgary’s Catholic schools expressed similar sentiments, reported the Calgary Herald.

Educators and LGBT Advocates React

Alberta’s Education Minister David Eggen weighed in, saying ECSB trustees should “sort themselves out and make sure they are doing the job that they are elected and paid to do,” according to the Winnipeg Free Press. Eggen said LGBTQ policies currently being considered by Alberta’s 61 school districts should reflect the spirit of the guidelines, as well as lining up with “the letter of the law.”

Calls for Eggen to dissolve the Edmonton Catholic School Board are mounting from parents, community members, and transgender advocates. The Education Minister said he is considering the move because he is “very concerned” about the well-being of the “many tens of thousands of children” the ECSB trustees oversee, according to Winnipeg Free Press. Commenting about the standoff with bishops,  Eggen said school officials are “moving down a path here that is very unfortunate and it has very serious implications.”

Mark Ramsankar, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, said this debate itself is harming school communities. Citing Bishop Henry’s comments specifically, Ramsankar said such “extreme rhetoric. . .would be laughable if they were not so hurtful.” Teachers seek to ensure classrooms are “safe and care places of learning for every student.” He also defended Catholic education in the province, saying it “served communities since before the province was created,” reported 660 News.

A new study of Canadian teachers out of the University of Winnipeg revealed 62% of educators in Catholic schools believe inclusive policies would be “very helpful” to students. But what is troubling in these findings by the “Every Teacher Project” is that, despite 99% of teachers saying it is important for students to have faculty with whom they can discuss LGBTQ issues, only 57% of educators in Catholic schools are comfortable being such a resource, reported Metro News.

An editorial in Medicine Hat News expressed sorrow about Bishop Henry’s letter and church leaders’ opposition to LGBTQ policies:

“It’s sad that such a declaration puts staff in the position where they might have to wrestle between what we know will definitely help students, and the words of higher church authorities.

“It’s sad, because the letter reinforces what many think Catholicism is — stagnant, close-minded, never willing to change for the better. It’s sad, because it reinforces the spiritual alienation many Catholics feel from the church they love and want to be a part of.

“The Bishop can talk about dignity and respecting each child — but it all rings hollow when he’d rather dig in his heels over the constitutional rights for Catholic education mixed with hyperbole over totalitarianism — instead of stepping over to the right side of history and to help vulnerable children not just survive, but thrive.”

The editorial said any solution will require creativity, compassion, and love which are not lacking in the Catholic community, even if church leaders fail to display such qualities. While its important to remember that the People of God support inclusivity, a Metro News column asked a sobering question about the bishops’ campaign:

“But in the battle between civil rights and religious freedoms how many LGBTQ children will be collateral damage?”

The bishops’ hyperbolic rhetoric does not prioritize students. It does not foster a preferential option for marginalized LGBTQ youth. While there are many complex legal, ecclesial, moral, pedagogical aspects involved in this controversy, the heart of this matter  should be protecting students and promoting the best learning environments possible.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


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