Calgary

Bishop defends anti-gay remarks

Bishop Fred Henry is refusing to take back comments he made comparing homosexuality to prostitution and adultery, after two people lodged human rights complaints against him.

Bishop Fred Henry is refusing to take back comments he made comparing homosexuality to prostitution and adultery, after two people lodged human rights complaints against him.

"I stand by the letter, I wouldn't change one comma," the Calgary Catholic bishop said Wednesday, adding he has the right of free speech to express his opinion on the subject.

"Why should I apologize? I think I'm owed an apology for putting me through this rigmarole of harassment, intimidation and attempt to silence me."

In January, in a letter read to congregations in southern Alberta, Henry called on the government to suppress homosexual and other behaviour he considers harmful to the family.

"Since homosexuality, adultery, prostitution and pornography undermine the foundations of the family, the basis of society, then the state must use its coercive power to proscribe or curtail them in the interests of the common good," Henry said in the letter.

Those comments, widely reported in the media, led two people to file separate complaints about Henry to the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

Henry, armed with two phone-book-sized legal documents, defended himself Wednesday to reporters, saying he carefully crafted the letter in question, reading it daily for two weeks before he released it.

"Right now, I find myself in the very interesting position of, having been an advocate of social justice all of my life, I'm cast in the victim position right now, where I must defend myself," he said. "Defend the freedom of religion and the freedom of the right to speak on this particular issue."

While complaints to the commission are confidential, Henry gave reporters copies that contained the names of the people objecting to his statements.

Norm Greenfield, who was shocked Henry released his name, says he was concerned with Henry's demand that government use coercive action to prevent gays and lesbians from getting married.

"I'm not doing this because anybody in my family is gay, I'm just doing it because what Bishop Henry seems to think he can get away with saying in public against an identifiable group," Greenfield said. "I think the debate over same-sex marriage has gotten way out of hand, and we need to bring it back to some level of civility."

Mary Riddle, director of the Alberta Human Rights Commission, says she can't discuss specific complaints, but that an attempt will be made to resolve it through conciliation.

"That's the first step, and it's like mediation. The parties get together with a staff person from the commission, talk about the issue and try to find some common ground, try to resolve the issue," Riddle said.

If conciliation doesn't work, a complaint is investigated and could be put to a panel which would decide whether there has been a breach of the Charter. The process could take up to a year.

Failing a successful outcome to the conciliation process, the complaint will be investigated by the commission and potentially put to a panel who will decide whether there have been any charter breach. That process could take up to a year.

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