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'A Catholic point of view': Bishop wants Catholic Family Services Bureau to be more faith-based

The Bishop of the Diocese of Charlottetown wants to put the Catholic back into the Catholic Family Services Bureau.

Groups that refer clients for counselling concerned

The Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Charlottetown wants staff at the Catholic Family Services Bureau to sign an agreement they will present the Catholic teachings on sexuality, marriage and life issues. (Diocese of Charlottetown/Facebook)

The Bishop of the Diocese of Charlottetown wants to put the Catholic back into the Catholic Family Services Bureau.

"Apparently staff has been promoting Catholic Family Services as Catholic in name only, and that it is non-denominational," said Bishop Richard Grecco. 

We'll serve everybody. But we do it from a Catholic point of view, from a Catholic set of values.- Bishop Richard Grecco

"If the board concludes they are non-denominational that was OK by me, provided they remove the name Catholic." 

The Catholic Family Services Bureau offers professional counselling and educational programs, many of them free of charge, to anyone seeking help, regardless of religion.

Fifteen staff in Charlottetown offered more than 8,000 clinical hours of assistance to almost 2,100 individuals and families last year. 

Funding, building at stake

The position taken by the bishop has created debate between the board of the bureau and the diocese about how to be Catholic without losing provincial funding and potentially stepping on employee's rights, some of whom aren't Catholic. 

Grecco left it up to the board to decide the direction it wanted to go. 

Richard Grecco, the Roman Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Charlottetown, sent a five-point letter to be read at the bureau's annual general meeting in May. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

But the Bishop said being non-denominational would also mean losing about $50,000 in funding from Catholic organizations, and the possibility of losing money from individual Catholic donors as well. The bishop also said the building the bureau is in is Catholic-owned.

'We do it from a Catholic point of view'

The board has assured the bishop that the Catholic Family Services Bureau is a Catholic organization. However, the board is now exploring what that means in terms of policy.

You have to listen to everybody, and you have to accompany them, but you don't compromise your pro-life position on anything.- Bishop Richard Grecco

In May, the bishop sent the board a five-point letter, read at the bureau's annual general meeting, outlining what he'd like to see to ensure the Catholic identity and principles of the organization are maintained. 

That includes asking staff to get yearly training and requiring them to sign an agreement to present Catholic teaching on issues including sexuality, marriage, health care and life issues. 

"We don't discriminate against any person or religion or background. We'll serve everybody. But we do it from a Catholic point of view, from a Catholic set of values," said Grecco. 

'If they can't follow the guidelines that's a difficulty'

CBC asked Grecco what that could mean, for example, if a pregnant teen came looking for counselling on an abortion.

"You have to listen to everybody, and you have to accompany them, but you don't compromise your pro-life position on anything," said Grecco.  

"In a Catholic institution the expectation is that people are pro-life."

He added he didn't think counsellors would say 'no' to someone wanting to get an abortion. Counsellors don't give advice, they are meant to help guide people in their own decision-making, he said. 

Grecco is aware that some of the 15 people working at the bureau are not Catholic, but he said he would still expect them to sign the agreement.

"If they can't follow the guidelines that's a difficulty," said Grecco. 

Groups referring clients concerned

The P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women refers clients to the Catholic Family Services Bureau. Executive Director Jane Ledwell is worried about the gap in services this could leave if her organization is no longer comfortable referring people to these services. 

​"There are many services that the Catholic Family Services Bureau provides that aren't provided anywhere else. It fills in a lot of gaps in mental health in Prince Edward Island, especially for low-income people, especially for vulnerable people," said Ledwell.  

Jane Ledwell, executive director of the P.E.I. Advisory Council on the Status of Women, says she can't see referring clients to a faith-based counselling service. (Sally Pitt/CBC)

Ledwell said Catholic Family Services specializes in counselling for couples as well as for children and youth.

But she can't see referring people to a service where staff are required to say they're providing care from a Catholic faith-based perspective.

"Like if I'm in a situation of family violence, I know the Catholic church doesn't believe in divorce. Am I going to be advised to stay with my family?" said Ledwell.

P.E.I. Family Violence Prevention Services also refers dozens of clients to the bureau for counselling each year.

"I was somewhat blind-sided by this," said executive director Danya O'Malley, who has just completed an eight month internship at the bureau.

O'Malley said she is concerned for the staff and hopes groups like hers making referrals to the bureau will be included in discussions on how the Bishop's suggestions will be handled. 

Catholic Family Services also houses the only program in the province for men who have been sexually abused.

'Survivorship of the bureau is crucial'

The president of the nine member board of the Catholic Family Services Bureau, James Muhato, told CBC no decisions have been made about the suggestions the bishop has raised.

"So it's a back-and-forth discussion between the bureau and the diocese, and as well as anyone in the community that we serve, to make sure the services that we do offer are both reflective of today's world and trying to keep with our history. So that is where we kind of try to find that little sweet spot that makes everyone a bit happy," said Muhato.

James Muhato, president of the board of Catholic Family Services, says no decisions have been made yet. (Laura Chapin/CBC )

"But the key point is to make sure that the services we do offer are suitable for our clients. That is our main priority, to make sure the people are still able to be served." 

He also said the board also doesn't want a situation where staff are unhappy. 

"They're the ones on the ground helping people every single day so we have to ensure that they are happy," said Muhato.  

"Because, at the end of the day, survivorship of the bureau is crucial."  

He said there is no timeline for decisions and that there are a lot of factors that need to be considered. 

Provincial funding will continue to flow 

One of those factors is provincial funding.

"It is something that we've had to consider," said Muhato, but wouldn't explain what he meant by this. 

The Department of Family and Human Services contracted $93,700 in services from the bureau in 2016, and the Department of Education contracted the Triple P Parenting Program at a cost of $20,000. 

"The department is aware of the ongoing discussions between the board and employees of the Catholic Family Service Bureau," the Department of Family and Human Services told CBC in a written statement. 

"As these discussions develop, the department is continuing to provide contractual funding so that the organization's clients are not disrupted. Given the nature of the services provided to their clients, it is important they remain uninterrupted during these internal discussions."

Peter Mutch, executive director of the Catholic Family Services Bureau, said in a statement to CBC News services will not be interrupted while the board makes its decision.

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Corrections

  • This story previously reported Catholic Family Services ran a program for male survivors of sexual assault. In fact it houses that service, which is provided by the P.E.I. Rape and Sexual Assault Centre.
    Jun 02, 2017 8:08 AM AT

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