While Catholics are rightly uncomfortable with the government’s actions and statements, we should also ask why we are so misunderstood Photo from Wikicommons

Alberta premier maligns Catholic schools

  • November 24, 2017
Edmonton – The headline told the story: “Catholic sex-ed proposal puts church, NDP on collision course.” Columnist Paula Simons’ front-page offering in the Oct. 24 Edmonton Journal was correct on at least one point: The Catholic Church in Alberta and the NDP government are deeply at odds. The differences involve revision of the provincial sex education curriculum, as well as new legislation on gay-straight alliances (GSAs). As well, there is Premier Rachel Notley’s insulting characterization of a Catholic sex education proposal as giving moral legitimacy to rape.

First, the recently-passed Bill 24 bars school principals from informing parents that their child has joined a GSA. 

Catholic schools in Alberta have accepted something akin to gay-straight alliances as part of the Church’s mission of mercy to adolescents struggling with their sexual identity. But Bill 24 drew a rebuke from the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association (ACSTA) because it makes the school principal solely accountable for granting permission to establish a GSA and for ensuring the privacy of students who join such groups. The ACSTA also rejected the bill’s categorical prohibition on communicating a child’s GSA membership to his or her parents.

Parental rights as well as the responsibilities of school superintendents and local school boards are also undermined by the legislation, the association said.

Second, the battle over sex education. The battle may be resolvable, but the premier and education minister will first have to emerge from their ignorance over what the Church teaches. 

Simons lambasted Catholic sexual teaching as a “discriminatory doctrine” opposed to science. As a parting shot, she claimed the only reason public funding of Catholic schools continues in Alberta is that no government has had the political will to abolish Catholics’ constitutional right to run our own schools.

Notley engaged the issue the day Simons’ column was published. She claimed a proposal by the Council of Catholic School Superintendents of Alberta (CCSSA) denied the necessity of consent in sexual relations. The implication: Rape can be morally acceptable.

One is hard pressed to find any grounds, either in contemporary Catholic teaching or in the superintendents’ lengthy document, for such an outlandish claim. Alberta’s new United Conservative Party demanded the premier apologize for her remarks, but to date, no apology has come forth.

The ACSTA and the CCSSA, meanwhile, have kept their heads down, not wanting to provoke the government. The superintendents’ council stated blandly that it intends to continue working with the government “now and in the future.” Topics which the government has proposed for its new sex education curriculum can be taught in Catholic schools from a Catholic perspective.

The Alberta bishops were less restrained. Along with their annual letter for Catholic Education Sunday in early November, the bishops issued a last-minute “supplementary statement,” which was read from pulpits.

The bishops ignored the premier’s remarks, instead blaming “the media frenzy” over sex education on inaccurate reporting of what the Church teaches. They also linked the sex education controversy to growing calls to end public funding of Catholic schools. The prelates also defiantly stated they will not apologize for the Catholic faith or for Catholic schools and that they will vigorously defend the right to Catholic education.

Notley has said the government has no desire to scrap Catholic schools. While her statement may assure Alberta Catholics about the existence of their schools, uneasiness remains over the extent to which the government will allow those schools to be Catholic in spirit as well as in name.

Yet, while Catholics are rightly uncomfortable with the government’s actions and statements, we should also ask why we are so misunderstood. Misunderstanding may be unavoidable for a Church that has always stood against prevailing cultural currents. However, the superintendents’ document had a strong legalistic flavour, appearing to argue for the right to be rigid.

The best Catholic teaching is not legalistic, but invitational. It invites all people to a fuller way of life that comes from participation in the Way, the Truth and the Life. The freedom people seek comes via living in that Truth, not from freely inventing one’s own truth. It’s a message we could deliver more clearly, both to the faithful and to the world which seems so hostile toward us.

However, in the current situation, it is unclear whether the NDP has any desire to listen to even the best explanations of Catholic teaching on human sexuality. The story, unfortunately, is likely to continue.

(Argan is a writer in Edmonton.)

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