.- Catholic schools in the province of Ontario will abide by a law requiring them to allow “Gay-Straight Alliance” clubs, despite concerns about the loss of religious freedom.
“The Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario has expressed serious concerns regarding certain aspects of this legislation, as have numerous other individual citizens and groups,” said Cardinal Thomas C. Collins of Toronto, after the Ontario Legislature passed the measure known as Bill 13.
“Recognizing that the 'Accepting Schools Act' is now the law, Catholic partners will seek, as we have always done, in a way that is in accord with our faith, to foster safe and welcoming school communities,” Cardinal Collins said in a June 5 statement.
The cardinal reaffirmed that bullying “in any form, is unacceptable.” He also stressed the Church's commitment “to welcome every person with love and respect.”
Bishop Frederick J. Colli of Thunder Bay told CBC News that Catholic schools would follow the law by allowing “gay-straight alliance” clubs if students request them. He also said the groups would have adult oversight to protect schools' Catholic identity.
“We will remind the students about the teachings of the Catholic church and about what the Catholic faith expects of them and also about what our Catholic values are because that’s the basis of our schools,” Bishop Colli told the CBC.
He stressed that the Catholic faith affirms the fundamental dignity of all people, but noted that the Church cannot support the “homosexual lifestyle.”
Proposed as an effort to stop bullying, the Accepting Schools Act was eventually amended to force Catholic schools to allow “gay-straight alliance” groups.
“Right from the beginning, when this bill was introduced, we were working together with the government, to try and come up with solutions that would be best for all students in Ontario,” recalled Marino Gazzola, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association.
“The amendment came unexpectedly,” Gazzola told CNA on June 6.
“But it's now passed. We want to focus on ensuring that all our students are safe, are protected, and get the support that they require. And if these groups are formed, the legislation says they're allowed to be called 'Gay-Straight Alliances.'”
“We're encouraging our boards, our schools, and our administrators to comply with the law,” the president said.
Despite the religious freedom concerns that accompanied its consideration and passage, Gazzola said civil disobedience of the law “was never considered.” He also confirmed that the Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association is currently “not considering a legal challenge” to the statute.
Instead, he said, schools will follow the guidelines of the association's “Respecting Differences” document – which states that “the activities and organization of all groups or organizations formed within Catholic schools must be respectful of and consistent with Catholic teaching.”
On May 14, the Canadian bishops' conference released a major pastoral letter on the subject of conscience and religion. The letter stressed the right of conscientious objection, and the duty to resist laws that are "contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel."
But Gazzola said it would be “very premature” to speculate about the future of religious freedom in his country on the basis of the Accepting Schools Act.
“I don't think anybody can predict the future,” he said, stressing instead the need to “deal with what we have” and act in students' best interest.