Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith, left, and Calgary Bishop Fred Henry.

Bishops say Catholic school rights must be respected

By  Ramon Gonzalez, Canadian Catholic News
  • February 27, 2016

EDMONTON - Alberta Education Minister David Eggen is confident after meeting with the province’s Catholic bishops that the two sides will be able to find common ground on his department’s gender-identity guidelines.

Eggen said he believes the differences can be sorted out based on the spirit of safe and caring schools that everyone shares.

Alberta school boards have until the end of March to develop policies on how they will protect LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Queer) students. The Alberta bishops recently took turns criticizing the guidelines.

The bishops have strongly opposed the province’s guidelines and are united in defending Catholic values in the school system. The guidelines are intended to help Alberta’s 61 school boards craft policies to protect LGBTQ students and contain policies that would allow students to dress in clothing, participate on sports teams and choose bathrooms that the government says reflect their gender identity and expression.

School policies also must ensure all school staff are protected from discrimination, regardless of their stated gender identity, sexual orientation and gender expression.

Calgary Bishop Fred Henry went as far as calling the guidelines “totalitarian” and “anti-Catholic,” while Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith said the Catholic Church opposes guidelines that allow students to self-identify their own gender expression or identity.

“I am certainly looking for a way by which we can accommodate theological beliefs and the letter of the law,” Eggen said. “The letter of the law is not negotiable but certainly you can have ways by which an accommodation can be had and everyone can be satisfied.”

He did not say what kind of accommodation might be reached, but acknowledged there would be some latitude.

Eggen met with Smith, Henry, St. Paul Bishop Paul Terrio and auxiliary Bishop Greg Bittman Feb. 8. Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of Grouard-McLennan also opposed the guidelines publicly but was unable to attend the meeting with Eggen.

Smith described the meeting as “very much a general kind of conversation.”

“It was warm and cordial and it really gave the bishops opportunity to share with the minister a broader understanding of some of the things we have been saying publicly about the guidelines.”

The archbishop said Eggen was “very gracious” and recognizes the role of bishops as faith leaders.

“He understands the reality of the Catholic school system and its dual mandate — I mean its accountability to the provincial government as well as to the Church to make sure that whatever is in our policies is consistent with who we are.”

Eggen also understands he ought to respect the constitutional protections given to Catholic schools, Smith said.

Asked if the bishops got some guidance in how to apply the guidelines, the archbishop said the discussion with the minister “didn’t get into those details” as it is the role of school boards to put together policies.

“However, there is a particular philosophical stance with respect to gender ideology out of which the Church obviously doesn’t work (and) can’t work,” he explained. “That doesn’t mean that we can’t be working together to protect our kids. That’s the fundamental goal.”

Eggen described the meeting with the bishops as “very productive,” saying “we found lots of things in common to talk about. Certainly, everyone has the best interests of all students in mind.”

He believes Catholic boards across the province have been and will continue to be co-operative with his department in creating “coherent policy that is keeping with the law and in keeping with the spirit of ensuring that we protect every single student in their school systems, especially the most vulnerable ones.”

He said his job is to ensure all students, regardless of gender identity or expression, will have safe and caring learning environments.

“I won’t compromise from that, and in the spirit of collaboration I think that all people in that spirit should move in that direction and I think that they will.”

(Western Catholic Reporter)

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