Cardinal Thomas Collins addresses the crowd at the annual Cardinal’s Dinner in Toronto Oct. 11. The cardinal took issue with comments from Ontario’s Education Minister Laurel Broten, who equated the Church’s anti-abortion teachings to misogyny. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Broten sparks outrage with misogyny comments

  • October 17, 2012

TORONTO - Comments from Ontario’s education minister that equate Catholic teaching on abortion with misogyny have provoked a letter of protest from Cardinal Thomas Collins and a call for the minister’s resignation from other irate Catholics.

Speaking to reporters on Oct. 10, Laurel Broten suggested that under the province’s new anti-bullying legislation Catholic schools should not be teaching that abortion is wrong because “Bill-13 is about tackling misogyny.”

“We’re very clear with the passage of Bill-13 that Catholic teachings cannot be taught in our schools that violate human rights and bring a lack of acceptance to participation in schools,” Broten said. She later added: “Taking away a woman’s right to choose could arguably be one of the most misogynistic actions.”

Collins sent a letter to Broten to express deep concerns about her comments. He also addressed the issue on Oct. 11 when he spoke frankly to 1,700 people attending the 33rd annual Cardinal’s Dinner in Toronto.

“It is our mission to speak up for all those who suffer, and especially those who are voiceless, for those who are forgotten,” Collins said. “We all have a stake in assuring that the faith identity of Catholic schools is respected.”

Collins did not specifically mention Broten, and neither she nor Premier Dalton McGuinty, who announced his retirement on Oct. 15, were in attendance.

The cardinal pointed to Section 93 of Canada’s Constitution and Section 1 of Ontario’s Education Act that enshrine religious freedom for denomination-al schools and “make it clear that the Catholic identity of the school must be respected.”

He said that includes the right for “all in the school community to engage in pro-life activities in order to foster a culture of life . . . Defending the voiceless is our mission.”

When the ministry was asked if Broten would respond to questions or wished to make further comment or clarify her statements, a spokesman said she was unavailable. Instead the ministry issued a statement that said Bill-13 does not change the curriculum and that the government was “confident that all schools Catholic and public, English and French will be able to operationalize the Act.”

Campaign Life Coalition has demanded Broten’s resignation. It also launched an online petition calling for the repeal of Bill-13. By The Register’s press time on Oct. 16, the petition had received more than 5,000 signatures.

“We are outraged by the McGuinty government’s frontal assault on religious liberty, and on the constitutional right of Catholic schools in Ontario to teach the Church’s pro-life views,” said Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition, in an Oct. 15 statement. “We have never before seen a government assault on religious freedom like what Minister Broten ispromising.”
Mary Ellen Douglas, Campaign Life’s Ontario president and a former Catholic school trustee, called on all voters, “whether Catholic or not,” to protest the infringement on religious rights, what she called a “lingering threat to our most fundamental freedom.”

Marino Gazzola, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association, said that during the debate on Bill-13, abortion was never on the table and sees no reason why it should be there now.

“Catholic teachings are all about life. The act of abortion is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church and the values Catholic schools promote,” he said. “The Catholic community needs to mobilize and show that we still believe in our teachings, we still believe in the Catholic Church and that we are going to move forward like we’ve always done.”

Constitutionally speaking, Catholics are on solid ground to defend the right to teach Church doctrine in Catcholic schools, said constitutional lawyer Eugene Meehan.

“The Ontario Education Act itself enshrines denominational rights of the schools,” he said. “Section 257.52 says that the minister is not to interfere with, or control, the denomination aspects of a Roman Catholic school.”

Meehan said Broten’s comments only add fuel to a potential legal challenge of Bill-13.

“It does add additional weight because that opinion makes it clear both on the Charter and Canada’s Constitution that there are certain things that the province can do on the religious context and certainly things that they clearly can not do,” said the former legal officer of the Supreme Court of Canada. “Catholic schools and Catholic school boards being told whether they are to be pro-choice, pro-life, pro-anything doctrinally does sound awfully close to being told — in a religious context — what religious tenets can be taught and which can not.”

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