Ernie Klassen of the White Rock Pride Society, left, and James Borkowski of the Archdiocese of Vancouver. ( Photo by Matthew Furtado

Archdiocese, pride group find common ground

By  Agnieszka Ruck, Canadian Catholic News
  • May 10, 2024

If anyone expected to hear the White Rock Pride Society and the Archdiocese of Vancouver clash over love and sexuality, they would have been disappointed.

The two organizations hosted 200 people in an auditorium in Surrey on April 26 for an event titled What is Love? In place of heated debate, there was dialogue and laughter, and considering the groups’ disagreements over LGBTQ+ and religious issues that have often descended into incivility, the gathering was remarkably civil.

In fact, it was friendly.

Starting off the conversation were the hosts, pride society president Ernie Klassen and archdiocesan delegate for operations James Borkowski.

It was a relationship that started less than amicably. In 2019, Klassen was denied a request to rent the hall at Star of the Sea Parish for a fundraiser. He filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. However, before the hearing began, the two sides agreed to resolve the matter outside of the tribunal process.

“It became clear to me … that we could look at a reconciliation process or we could look at a retaliation process,” Klassen said. “We chose to move towards reconciliation.”

Since then, Klassen and Borkowski have continued to converse as friends, not adversaries.

“I’ve never seen this much good come out of a legal case,” Borkowski said. “We started really getting to know each other, and when that happens, we really start to care about each other, and that’s something that our communities have not done enough of historically.”

In 2022, the Archdiocese and the pride society resolved the matter. Included in their agreement was recognition that “people in the LGBTQ2+ community have been deeply hurt all too often by coldness, rejection, judgment, exclusion and lack of loving support from members of the Catholic Church,” and an apology for such behaviour.

Borkowski and panellist Fr. Bryan Duggan both offered personal apologies to those in the audience who had been mistreated by Catholics.

“I think one of the worst habits we have is, we can live as if arguments are more important than people, especially when it comes to moral issues,” said Borkowski. “That’s not how Jesus was, and I personally apologize if you have ever been hurt by that type of approach by Catholics. We want to love better and that’s what this journey, these friendships, have been about.”

Duggan, an archdiocesan priest and registered psychologist, began the conversation about the meaning of love by suggesting that the starting point in a relationship is being known and understood.

“Love begins by letting ourselves be seen,” he said. “It is healthy and holy to be integrated,” rather than hiding certain parts of oneself.

The event was not styled as a debate, and, as such, it was able to bring together 200 people with different ideas about love, morals, sexuality and religion, who sat down to listen rather than argue, offering some hope for those who wonder if there is still room for civil conversation in today’s polarizing world.

Organizers hope their goals of starting conversations, listening and encouraging relationships will continue smoothly, although during the question-and-answer period it was clear some were looking for more substance. Some suggested the event was a missed opportunity to explain certain beliefs or that it left the impression the Church is ready to budge on some of its moral teachings.

The organizers made it clear that disagreements weren’t on the evening’s agenda, focusing on shared beliefs such as the inherent worth of all people.

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