YARMOUTH, N.S. - On Norbert LeBlanc’s street there are three houses for sale. They’ve been for sale long enough for the realtor’s signs to start fading and growing rust. House prices in Yarmouth dropped 11.9 per cent between the first quarter of 2010 and 2011, said the Nova Scotia Association of Realtors.

Southern Nova Scotia’s unemployment rate was 12.7 per cent in April, down from 15.9 per cent a year earlier, according to Statistics Canada.

What’s left of the diocese of Yarmouth — a diocese that hasn’t had a bishop since Bishop James Wingle was appointed to St. Catharines in 2001 — now has to raise money to pay for sex abuse settlements past and future by selling real estate.

But it’s not as grim a prospect as you might think, LeBlanc told The Catholic Register.

The Church’s new reality reveals the same old divisions

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ANTIGONISH, N.S. - As Catholics of Antigonish ponder their post-Raymond Lahey life of faith, duelling groups are holding discussions about what a rebuilt Church should look like.

A left-leaning group fired the first salvo last October with a conference featuring academic theologian Paul Lakeland of Fairfield University. A right-wing group will respond later this month with a conference featuring Michael Voris, a conservative apologist and commentator with a dedicated Youtube following.

“We don’t think the Lakeland conference was really a conference that is in conformity with the true teachings of the Catholic Church,” said Wayne Murphy of Port Hood, organizer of the June conference, titled For the Beauty of the Church.

For Murphy, the only good Catholics are right-wing Catholics.

Nobody likes talking about sexual abuse in the Church

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I hate this story.

I don’t hate it because some people fear stories about sexual abuse by priests could tear apart the Church. Journalism can’t destroy the body of Christ.

All men who use sex to dominate the weak, the vulnerable and the innocent are evil. Men who camouflage predatory sex behind the Gospel, who preach mercy, justice and forgiveness by daylight and consume young souls in the dark, they’re worse.

The unfolding of this story ever since Mount Cashel hit the headlines in 1989 is still news. There is still evil to be unmasked. As a journalist in the Church, I should embrace that challenge. Unmasking evil is part of what journalists  do. What could be a greater service to the Church? But I hate it.

When I worked for The Guelph Mercury in 1990, editing the crime page for our weekend edition, I always put the arrest of priests on sex charges at the top of the page with the biggest headline. That was an easy decision. Predatory priests are bigger news than desperate addicts robbing gas bars. Unexpected reversal is what makes a story news.

Teachers may get time off to campaign

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TORONTO - If Catholic teachers want time out of the classroom to campaign for Liberal or NDP candidates during this fall’s provincial elections, their union will pay for substitute teachers, said Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association president James Ryan.

“It’s up to the local units. They raised that as a possibility. They can do that if they decide,”  said OECTA President James Ryan.

Currently, OECTA is endorsing no Conservative candidates among the provincial politicians it labels “education friendly.”

But the political snub is actually the other way around, Ryan explained. According to Ryan, Conservative leader Tim Hudak has refused requests for a meeting.

St. Jerome’s University unveils future plans

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St. Jerome’s University is dreaming big. By 2015 the Catholic college at the University of Waterloo hopes to be well into a building and expansion program that will begin with a new residence and include an updated library and classrooms, a new student centre and a new graduate program.

St. Jerome’s “Strategic Vision: 2015 and Beyond” lays out the broad strokes, but by fall a campaign team expects to present to the board of governors fundraising goals and priorities, St. Jerome’s president and vice chancellor Fr. David Perrin told The Catholic Register.

“What the vision (statement) strives to do is articulate who we are and who we are proud to be, and where we want to go,” Perrin said.

The vision should start to become a reality in time for the college’s 150th anniversary in 2015, said Perrin.

Extending God’s kingdom for 130 years

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TORONTO - When Gerard and Basil Breen were in the seminary, Cardinal James McGuigan, then the archbishop of Toronto, said to all the seminarians, “What’s this I hear about priests having business hours?”

Priests, he said, were to be available to everyone all the time.

The Breen brothers took the cardinal’s words to heart. At 94 and 84 respectively, Msgr. Gerard and Fr. Basil have been “open to the people” for a combined 130 years. This year, the brothers are celebrating the 70th and 60th anniversaries of their ordination to the priesthood.

The brothers were born in Toronto nine years apart. Together with their middle brother, Bill, they were a living example of the famous words of the iconic Canadian short story, The Hockey Sweater: “We lived in three places — the school, the church and the skating rink.”

Prevention of trafficking begins with education

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TORONTO - Traumatized, guilt-wracked victims of human trafficking don’t often disclose what’s happened to them. Despite the reluctance to talk, Toronto’s Covenant House deals with a constant stream of both international and domestic victims, said social work manager Helen Winters.

“We don’t know how many youth who come in here have been involved in trafficking. We know they come through here with trauma, with addictions,” Winters said of the downtown Toronto agency that aids young street people. “The tip of the iceberg are the ones who actually reveal to us.”

Lately, many of the international victims turning up at its doors have come from Africa. There have always been aboriginal girls off reserves and runaways from small towns. In some ways it’s an old story. Men who hang around shopping malls, hostels and bus stations offering a little kindness and attention to vulnerable, lost young women.

“Often the pimps will act like a boyfriend. They’re special. They (the pimps) will wine and dine them. Then they use and abuse them,” said Winters.

Commodification of human beings

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TORONTO - Though she escaped more than a year ago, it’s still difficult for Irais Martinez to hold back tears when she recalls how she was trafficked into a sweatshop in Brampton, Ont.

It’s hard for the 27-year-old psychology graduate from Mexico to think of herself as a victim.

“I feel like I hurt myself without my permission,” she told The Catholic Register.

She hasn’t explained to her parents what happened to her since she came to Canada.

“It’s not easy to tell them, ‘Oh, I was involved in human trafficking.’ ”

Her case to stay in Canada is before the Immigration and Refugee Board, and she knows she faces extra scrutiny because she is Mexican. The IRB has rejected the vast majority of Mexican cases in recent years. The situation makes Martinez “really, really angry.”

Teaching excellence award goes to Toronto teacher

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TORONTO - Toronto Catholic District School Board veteran Léa Lacerenza has won this year’s Premier’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, Lifetime Achievement for her innovative work in special education.

Lacerenza has worked in special education with the TCDSB for 31 years, the past 23 years seconded to the Learning Disabilities Research Program at Sick Kids Hospital as the senior research teacher and lead writer in curriculum development and programs.

Lacerenza leads the collaboration between Sick Kids and the board in developing innovative techniques designed to help students with severe learning disabilities through the Empower Program. The Empower Reading Programs are now taught in hundreds of schools across North America.

Lacerenza says her experience with her youngest sister, Diana, who had a mild learning disability, first motivated her to work with students with learning disabilities. Diana “was immensely talented, smart and creative,” Lacerenza recalled. But in the 1970s, Diana was streamed into a vocational program because of her learning disability. This helped Lacerenza discover her professional vocation.

TCDSB approves its equity policy

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TORONTO - Despite concerns voiced by several Catholic parents and ratepayers, the Toronto Catholic District School Board passed its equity and inclusive education policy at a May 19 board meeting.

But trustees will vote later on a number of proposed amendments to the policy made by some trustees after these are reviewed by the board's legal counsel.

The vote came after months of debate on how a Catholic school board should deal with the equity policy that the provincial government mandated each board come up with. The aim of the 2008 provincial legislation is to combat discrimination in schools based upon sexual orientation, race and religion. The key issue of concern for many was that Catholic denominational rights should be protected in the policy. Many stakeholders in the Toronto Catholic system fear the policy will be hijacked by groups seeking to override teachings of the Catholic Church.

The new policy, which passed by a 7-4 margin, states that "any form of social or cultural discrimination is incompatible with Catholic moral principles." It goes on to say "The board further recognizes that we must uphold the protections entrenched in the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Constitution Act 1867 and confirmed in the Constitution Act of 1982 — the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

Peterborough diocese, Trent U. takes steps to establish Catholic college

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The diocese of Peterborough and Trent University have signed a memorandum of understanding to help further discussions and set guidelines in establishing the future Sacred Heart College, a Catholic liberal arts college in Peterborough.

"It's important that now after a couple of years of discussion with Trent that we've entered into an understanding whereby both the future Sacred Heart College and Trent University are going to co-operate on establishing a relationship that will allow us to grant credit for courses," said Fr. Joseph Devereaux, chancellor of the Peterborough diocese, of the future university college which will be located in the basement of Sacred Heart parish.

The memorandum says that the college and Trent agree to "work together to explore the potential for delivery of distinctive and complementary educational opportunities," such as transfer credit recognition and degree completion pathways.