Edmonton Archbishop Smith feels 'betrayed' by Catholic school trustees on gender guidelines

Richard Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton, has joined Alberta's three other bishops in rejecting the province's new gender identity guidelines and accusing some Edmonton Catholic board trustees of betrayal.

Some trustees 'have betrayed the trust placed in them by Catholic electors'

Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith has accused some Edmonton Catholic board trustees of betrayal when it comes to the province's new gender guidelines. (CBC)

Richard Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton, has joined Alberta's three other bishops in rejecting the province's new gender identity guidelines and accusing some Edmonton Catholic board trustees of betrayal.

He takes issue with some board trustees, who he says "have betrayed the trust placed in them by Catholic electors" over their handling of the guidelines, which set the stage for mandatory policies supporting LGBTQ elementary and high-school students. 

Smith, currently travelling in India, issued a statement Thursday, saying the Catholic church opposes guidelines that allow students to self-identify their own gender expression or identity.

"From this principle stems a number of suggestions for creating an artificial gender-neutral atmosphere in schools, often without proper regard to the rights and protections previously upheld for boys and girls and their mothers and fathers," says the statement.

"The Catholic belief is that the human person is created "body and soul" together (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 362f.), that God created human beings male and female (Mark 10:6), and that we are all called to care for and respect our bodies as they are created."

Education Minister David Eggen has given school boards until March 31 to come up with policies that support and protect LGBTQ students. The guidelines state students have the right to self-identify their gender and be addressed by the name and pronoun of their choice.

"The archbishop's letter sent some pretty clear words to the board, and I have done so too," Eggen said Thursday.

The future of the Catholic board is being evaluated and a plan of action is being developed, to be unveiled "sooner rather than later," said Eggen.

"We're moving down a path here that is very unfortunate and it has very serious implications," he warned. 

Joins 3 other bishops in rejecting gender guidelines

Earlier this week the bishop of St. Paul and the archbishop of Grouard-McLennan joined Calgary Bishop Fred Henry in rejecting the new gender-identity guidelines.

In separate pastoral letters released this week, Bishop Paul Terrio of the Diocese of St. Paul, and Grande Prairie-based Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan, expressed their opposition to the guidelines.

Terrio also spoke out against the self-identify issue, saying in his letter that it is a "major problem" for Catholic education that "contradicts our common day-to-day life experience and also repudiates the goodness of Creation."

Pettipas wrote in his letter that "the Church believes that one's physiological gender is not arbitrary, but determines the identity that we grow into. This process of growth in identity must be respected."

Regarding the betrayal of Catholic board trustees, Smith's missive says most trustees appreciate the duality of their job and their faith, but others don't.

Not all trustees appreciate duality of job and faith

"It saddens me to say that this is not the case with some trustees in the Edmonton Catholic School District," the letter reads.

"There, for too long now, we have witnessed the inability of trustees to function in a cohesive way or speak with a unified voice."

The letter further states that actions of some have "caused harm and hostility."

The condemnation stems from a decision by some trustees to send to Edmonton parents Henry's pastoral letter, which denounces guidelines for LGBTQ students.

In his letter, Henry called the guidelines "totalitarian" and "anti-Catholic."

On Monday, board chair Marilyn Bergstra said she was not part of the decision to send Henry's letter to parents because she was at a meeting. She would have advised against the move for a "variety of reasons," she said. 

She apologized to anyone who was offended by Henry's letter.

Eggen plans to meet all four bishops to discuss the guidelines. He said Edmonton trustees need to sort themselves out. 

"Let's not forget that the Catholic school board's issues are around governance, how they interact with each other and how they follow proper board policy and so forth. They have a lot of work to do in that regard, for sure," Eggen said.

Eggen said that "the laws around caring and welcoming schools and the laws around equality and justice for all students reside with the government. Ultimately, the law does reside with the School Act."