Calgary and Edmonton Catholic bishops pen letters on GSAs

Calgary’s Roman Catholic Bishop Fred Henry and Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith have added their voices to the debate surrounding Bill 10, the controversial bill about student-led gay-straight alliances (GSAs).

Bishop Fred Henry calls Bill 10 'a win-win for everyone'

Calgary’s Roman Catholic Bishop Fred Henry called the mandating of GSAs 'problematic.' (CBC)

Calgary’s Roman Catholic Bishop Fred Henry and Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith have added their voices to the debate surrounding Bill 10, the controversial legislation about student-led gay-straight alliances (GSAs).

Premier Jim Prentice announced on Dec. 4 that the bill had been put on hold to allow for more consultation, after the legislation caused explosive debate in the legislature and on social media.

After remaining silent throughout the debate, both Henry and Smith penned pastoral letters that were distributed to congregants on Sunday. Henry said he wrote his letter to address the "considerable misinformation and misrepresentation" of the views of Alberta Catholic school trustees, superintendents and the Alberta bishops.

In the letter, Henry called Bill 10 "a win-win for everyone" because it enshrined parental rights, recognized the autonomy of local school boards and student rights without mandating gay-straight alliances in schools. 

“The mandating of Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) is problematic for a number of reasons,” Henry wrote.

“It infringes parental authority over their children, the freedom to instruct one’s children in a manner consistent with their faith, and citizens rights to manifest their religious beliefs by worship and practice in the absence of coercion or constraint by government.”

Edmonton Archbishop Smith echoed that message in his letter, stating that the goal of safe and inclusive schools can be achieved in many ways. 

"This is why we challenge any suggestion that one method be not only privileged among others but also mandated," he wrote. 

"Furthermore, our rights as Catholic schools are engaged here. All aspects of school life must be permeated by our faith. The exercise of this right requires the freedom to determine both the name and content of our initiatives so as to accord with our doctrine."

Bill 10 was introduced to counter a private member's bill from Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman that would have made GSAs mandatory in schools where students wanted them. Advocates for the extracurricular groups say they help protect LGBT students from bullying by creating a supportive atmosphere. 

Blakeman said Sunday's letters make it clear that Smith and Henry are not interested in making accommodations in this debate. 

"In taking the very strong stand that the bishop and archbishop have taken, they have thrown down the gauntlet, they've thrown down the gloves and said this is a fight," she said. 

GSAs must not be mandated: Smith

Henry's letter cited a study by the Toronto District School Board, which reported that the students most frequently faced bullying are attacked based on their physical appearance (38 per cent), their grades (17 per cent), their race (11 per cent) or their gender (six per cent).

"It is imperative that we address the root issue — bullying," the letter said.

Henry said he supports "the establishment of holistic student groups dedicated to the inclusive nature of our schools which serve to promote safe and caring communities" and believes there are already policies, protocols and resources supporting inclusive communities in place.

Smith called Bill 10 a serious attempt to reconcile the safety of students with the rights of parents and schools. 

He said the debate "has not always been kind to the leadership of our Catholic schools" and dismissed the view that they have "little concern for students of same-sex attraction."

Read Bishop Fred Henry's letter below.

Read Archbishop Richard Smith's letter here.


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