Canadian Professor Gives Catholics a Lesson on Courage and Faith

January 31, 2015

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.

660News.com 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

 

 


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: LGBTQ Resources Expand at University of Notre Dame & Elsewhere

September 14, 2013

Classes are underway at over two hundred Catholic colleges and universities in the US, and with the new academic year comes expanded awareness of and resources for LGBT students at these schools, including celebrated developments at the University of Notre Dame.

Already, leading Catholic schools like Georgetown University, DePaul University, and Loyola Marymount University host LGBT resources and programming led by full-time staff, reports USA Today. Many others allow gay-straight alliances and other supportive student-run initiatives, especially colleges rooted in the Jesuit tradition. New Ways Ministry lists more than half of the US’ Catholic colleges and universities on their Gay-Friendly listing, and Catholic campuses become better on LGBT issues every year.

Staff members point out that merely allowing a resource center or student group is not an end though, given the Catholic context they work within, and tensions remain that require greater resolution. Several staff people spoke with USA Today on this matter, saying:

“Although Georgetown’s center has the largest endowment of any LGBTQ resource center in the country, director Sivagami Subbaraman says the programming’s legitimacy in a Catholic university is constantly questioned…

“Since moving into her new position, Maureen Doyle is still determining what her role will be as Notre Dame’s first assistant director of LGBTQ concerns. She plans to improve perceived tensions between Catholic teachings and sexual orientation through campus education.

” ‘I think a lot of it comes in with a misunderstanding of what the Catholic Church’s teachings are…What we’re doing actually doesn’t counter or go against any of the Catholic Church’s teachings. ‘

“Georgetown’s center aims to meet students where they are, rather than take theological positions or attempt to change Catholic teachings, Subbaraman says.”

At Notre Dame last week, over 140 students celebrated the launch of a new student group, PrismND, that was the culminating product of two decades of campus advocacy regarding a group for LGBTQ students. This fall will be a formative time for the group, and is a first step in implementing the University’s pastoral plan released in December 2012. Students and staff spoke with the campus newspaper, The Observer, about the group’s name and launch:

“Student body president Alex Coccia [who led the 4 to 5 Movement for an LGBTQ group] said…

“The fact that [the name] reflects quite a spectrum and a range of interests and passions and identities, I think is something that people will identify with and appreciate when the group gets off the ground’…

“Sophomore Connor Hayes, who helped to launch PrismND, said the name is intended to be all-inclusive, instead of specific to people who identify as LGBTQ.

“ ‘I think relating to the Catholic identity of [Notre Dame] and backgrounds of people coming from religious environments, [some] people don’t really want to identify as gay or lesbian, so … we were just going for a name that was very inclusive…We wanted this name to be one that can last and kind of become a brand.’ “

Christine Caron Gebhardt who heads up the University’s Gender Relations Center told The Observer:

“We realize this is about who we are as a community, and [PrismND is] one facet in which students can feel welcomed and loved and supported on this campus and that we will all work together to try to create the community that Notre Dame can be and I hope will be…“We want the student organization … to emerge from the ideas and the interests and the hopes and dreams of the students in collaboration with all of us across campus.’ “

Elsewhere this summer, members of the University of San Francisco’s LGBTQ Caucus joined in San Franciso’s Pride festivities with t-shirts sponsored by several campus departments (USF is a Jesuit school). In a piece discussing Christian higher education in Pennsylvania, that state’s Catholic colleges such as Villanova University, St. Joseph’s University, and Chestnut Hill College were depicted as  LGBT-friendly Christian campuses for not specifically targeting same-gender relationships in their student handbooks. Benedictine College in Kansas welcomed an openly gay student who was a star athlete, as well.

All of these moments are signs that Catholic higher education increasingly welcomes all students for who they are as God created them. However, challenges remain within Catholic higher education for LGBT students and their allies who will spend another semester this fall meeting with administrators, organizing students, and support one another on more hostile Catholic campuses. As the new academic year begins, it is a fitting moment to offer thanksgiving for advances made, prayers for those still needed, and a renewal by every Catholic to impact Catholic higher education in LGBT-positive ways.

For more information on PrismND, you can view their website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Follow-up on New Ontario Law Allowing GSAs in Catholic Schools

June 14, 2012

Last week, we reported that the Ontario Parliament passed Bill 13 into law which allows students at the state-funded Catholic schools there to form gay-straight alliances (GSAs).

Since that time, there has been some interesting response and commentary, which I would like to summarize here.

Perhaps most importantly, Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins released a statement calling on Catholic schools to respect the new law.  Such a statement is newsworthy because Collins and others in the Canadian hierarchy had strongly opposed the bill. U.S. Catholic quoted the statement, in part:

“The Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario has expressed serious concerns regarding certain aspects of this legislation, as have numerous other individual citizens and groups.

“Recognizing that the Accepting Schools Act is now the law, Catholic partners will seek, as we have always done, in a way that is in accord with our faith, to foster safe and welcoming school communities.

“Bullying, in any form, is unacceptable. At the core of our Catholic Christian beliefs is the command to welcome every person with love and respect.”

Collins’ statement surprised some because the week before the law was passed, he was referring to it as an infringement on religious freedom.

Commentator Michael McGough, in a Los Angeles Times op-ed, noted how vastly different Collins’ approach is compared to how the U.S. bishops have been responding:

“At a time when U.S. Catholic bishops are crying foul — or crying wolf? — about intolerable intrusion on their religious liberty in the form of ‘Obamacare’ regulations, it’s interesting to speculate how they would react to a law like Ontario’s GSA requirement. . . .

“Canada and the U.S. have much in common, but I can’t imagine this country’s assertive Catholic hierarchy humbly acknowledging that an unwelcome enactment ‘is the law.’ ”

McGough’s argument is too complicated to be summarized here, but if you want to learn his reasoning for such a claim, I suggest you read the entire essay.

While the trustees who administer the schools have opposed the bill, great support for the new law has come from the Catholic teachers’ association. The Globe and Mail reports:

“Catholic teachers in Ontario are calling on school administrators to embrace the province’s new anti-bullying legislation allowing students to form gay-straight alliances, even as pro-life activists push for a constitutional challenge.

“Kevin O’Dwyer, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, said his 43,000 members welcome the legislation, which passed third and final reading on Tuesday, because it allows schools to protect students from homophobia and other forms of discrimination.

“ ‘I think it’s going to be a positive experience for students to engage those clubs, whatever name they choose,’ Mr. O’Dwyer said in an interview.

“He is hoping that Catholic school trustees can overcome their objections to legislation that they argue contradicts church doctrine condemning homosexual activity.”

As an aside, I must interject that it defies logic to wonder how administrators can think that supporting GSA’s condones homosexual activity.  Would they say that any support group that includes heterosexual students condones heterosexual activity?

Not all Canadian Catholics, however, support the new law.  MetroNews.ca reports that the Campaign Life Coalition is calling for a court challenge.  A statement from the group said:

“ ‘This legislation now puts a radical homosexual agenda in every publicly-funded, Catholic and Public school across Ontario, under the guise of “bullying prevention,” ‘ said the pro-life group Campaign Life Coalition in a statement released after the bill passed third reading Tuesday. It urged all taxpayers and Catholic School Boards to fight the law in court.

But The Globe and Mail article quotes a political expert who says that such a challenge may end up ringing hollow since so many Catholics support the new policy:

“Frank Peters, a professor at the University of Alberta and an expert in education policy, said the Catholic educational community has not been well served by this kind of forceful opposition. ‘I think there’s a fairly strong segment within the Catholic church who wonder just exactly how this is in contravention of Catholic teaching.’ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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