Saskatoon's new Catholic bishop takes on the issues facing his diocese

Mark Hagemoen is new to Saskatoon and southern Saskatchewan, and is taking on a leadership role in the face of some controversy in the Catholic community. Here's how he plans to approach the issues.

Mark Hagemoen appointed bishop to replace Donald Bolen, who was named Archbishop of Regina

Mark Hagemoen is the new Catholic Bishop of Saskatoon. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon's new bishop says he is "changed in many ways" after serving the Northwest Territories, parts of Nunavut, and Saskatchewan's north.

Rev. Mark Hagemoen said the way he sees and approaches pastoral ministry has changed, especially after serving the largely Indigenous population of his former diocese.

"The biggest lesson from the North is to move slowly and relationship-build and meet people, and try to enter into their lives as opposed to bringing preconceptions and judgements as to what's needed," he said.

In Saskatoon, he replaces Donald Bolen, who was named as Archbishop of Regina last year.

Born and raised in Vancouver, Hagemoen is new to Saskatoon and southern Saskatchewan, and is taking on a leadership role in the face of some controversy in the Catholic community. Here's how he plans to approach the issues.

Residential schools apology

Regina Archbishop Don Bolen met with Pope Francis at the Vatican in March. (Submitted)

Hagemoen's predecessor spoke to Pope Francis about residential schools and a possible papal visit to Saskatchewan when he met the Pope last March.

A papal visit to the province is unlikely in 2017 or 2018.

"The Holy Father Pope Francis is very sensitive to and responsive to the needs of people, especially people who have been hurt or oppressed or victimized in any way," Hagemoen said. 

"He may have some surprises. So I look forward to that."

Hagemoen himself learned about reconciliation and healing in his prior post.

"I come from a background where healing may imply you need to fix something, so you do the healing program and move beyond it," he said.

He said he has learned that for many Indigenous people, healing requires a more holistic approach, and is life-long.

"It will be interesting to determine what that looks like here," he said.

HPV vaccine

The Bishops of Saskatchewan recently sent out a letter to the Catholic School Board and parents about the publicly-funded school-based offering of the HPV vaccine. (CBC)

Recently, the Bishops of Saskatchewan expressed their concern about a publicly-funded HPV vaccination program in schools in a letter to the Catholic School Board.

The organization issued a follow-up letter later, and said that the first letter was "out of date."

According to Hagemoen, the issue is two-fold: first, parents need to know what the vaccine is guarding children against. Then, there's the issue of understanding if the vaccine could be connected to sexual activity.

"That's been clarified and that connection is not there," said Hagemoen.

"It's a very good example of being aware in these areas how faith impacts science. What is the motivation for health care initiatives and incentives?"

Hagemoen said science is meant to serve faith, and faith can also inform science.

Faith-based hospitals

Some Catholic hospitals, like Saskatoon's St Paul's Hospital, have come under fire for not providing some services offered in secular facilities, like abortion and medically-assisted dying.

Hagemoen calls those issues "hot spots."

"The latest one is the issue of doctor-assisted suicide, or doctor-assisted death, as some call it."

St. Paul's Hospital in Saskatoon. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC)

Hagemoen said he is proud of the palliative care Catholic institutions provide. The institution may not provide access to medically-assisted dying, but he said such a facility would also "never give the message that life should be held onto at all costs. Dying is part of life."

A Catholic institution, though, will never "be an agent of intervention" that will take a life, he said.

Catholic school controversy

Saskatchewan's Catholic school boards are raising money to appeal a Court of Queen's Bench decision in early 2017 which ruled the province cannot provide funding for non-Catholic students to attend Catholic schools.

The fundraising goal is $300,000.

The decision said that for the province to fund "non-minority faith students" attending Catholic schools would be a violation of the province's duty to practise religious neutrality. The province has appealed the decision.

It's a new issue for Hagemoen, who never ran into such controversy in the Northwest Territories, or previously in British Columbia.

The new bishop said he comes from jurisdictions where "many non-Catholics benefit from Catholic education."

"We speak about public funding, but Catholics and other non-Catholics pay out of their taxes for education and implied in that is the ability to make the decision they want for their young people," he said.

Hagemoen will be installed as bishop in a ceremony Nov. 23 at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon.