Protesters gather outside the offices of the Archdiocese of Toronto, June 1, 2023, demanding that Archbishop Leo remove Catholic institutions' right to call themselves Catholic if they continue to fly the Pride flag. Michael Swan

Campaign Life demands school boards remove Pride flag

  • June 1, 2023

In the first harsh blast of summer heat, just over a dozen protesters gathered in the shade of the Archdiocese of Toronto offices on Yonge Street June 1, prayed the rosary and demanded that Archbishop Francis Leo remove from Catholic school boards and Catholic health care institutions their right to call themselves Catholic if they continue flying Pride flags.

The same demand was made at protests outside the offices of the Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall and the Diocese of Hamilton. A petition addressed to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops made the same demand of all 83 archbishops, bishops, archeparchs and eparchs with governing powers in the Canadian Church.

Before descending on the Catholic Pastoral Centre in Toronto, the Campaign Life Canada activists had staged a similar protest at the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s head offices.

“We’re asking for the next step to be taken here,” Campaign Life director of education and advocacy Josie Luetke told The Catholic Register. “We’re doing this out of love.”

Luetke claims adolescents are being pressured by Catholic schools to change their gender identity.

In a statement on its website, the Toronto Catholic board said it “is proud to proclaim the month of June as Pride Month in solidarity with 2SLGBTQ+ students, staff and allies.” By flying the Pride flag, like almost all other Catholic school boards in Ontario, the TCDSB “affirms a shared commitment to building and maintaining supportive environments founded on Catholic principles of inclusion, dignity and respect for all,” the board said.

For Unity Health, the large Catholic health-care conglomerate that includes St. Michael’s Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Providence Healthcare, flying the Pride flag is founded in both the Catholic identity and concern for patients, said a statement on the Unity Health website. 

As a Catholic organization, human dignity and inclusivity for all people are a part of our core values and we aim to be a place where everyone belongs, is welcomed and is celebrated,” Unity said in its Pride Month statement.

Not recognizing and welcoming gay and transgender patients is a risk to their health, according to Unity.

“People don’t seek care if they don’t feel safe and welcome, and this barrier impacts health outcomes,” said Unity.

For Resurrectionist Fr. Joe de Viveiros, flying the Pride flag is a pro-life issue.

“It still remains the fact that 2SLGBTQIA+ students are four times more likely to take their lives than their peers,” said de Viveiros, chaplain to the Nipissing-Parry Sound Catholic District School Board.

“When a Catholic school board or hospital or university flies the Pride flag, that doesn’t mean that they’re diverging from the Church’s teaching on morality. It means that they’re trying to create a safe space.”

It’s obvious that Catholics don’t all agree on how to welcome and care for sexual minorities in the Church, said de Viveiros.

“What I would hope though is that we could tone down the rhetoric and tone down the hateful speech,” he said. “How anyone can say that they’re following Jesus by spewing hate, or by speaking disparagingly about another is beyond me.”

Toronto Archbishop Francis Leo used June 1 to draw attention to devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a traditional month-long celebration for Catholics.

“The Sacred Heart of Jesus reminds us of our call to sacrificial, unconditional and generous love for others, for each member of the Body of Christ and the call for us to be the heart, the hands and the face of Christ to all those we encounter each day,” Leo said in his letter to Toronto Catholics. Images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Cross of Christ are the principle symbols of Christian love, the archbishop argued.

The letter makes no mention of Pride Month or sexual minorities. The archdiocese was unable to provide The Catholic Register with an official response to the protesters.

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