In Canada, a bishop protests gender ideology mandate for Alberta schools

College student in a classroom Credit Bill Erickson via Flickr CC BY NC 20 CNA 2 4 15 Bill Erickson via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

"Totalitarianism." That was the word the Bishop of Calgary used to describe the Alberta government's new mandatory gender guidelines.

The Alberta provincial government's gender education guidelines "show no evidence of consultation with, or sensitivity to, the Catholic community," Bishop Frederick Henry of Calgary charged Jan. 25.

"They breathe pure secularism. This approach and directive smack of the madness of relativism and the forceful imposition of a particular narrow-minded anti-Catholic ideology."

On Jan. 13 Alberta's education minister David Eggen announced policies that are mandatory in all schools in the province.

The 21-page policy document said that students have the right to self-identify their gender and gender expression. The guidelines say teachers should allow students to choose their own name and pronoun and which bathroom they use, CBC News reports. It encourages staff not to attach "male" or "female" to students' names in school records, and calls for the elimination of separate activities based on sex, including school sports.

The policies require the establishment of LGBT advocacy Gay-Straight Alliances at any school where a student requests one. School employees in supervisory positions are advised to "anticipate, support and value staff diversity, including diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions."

Bishop Henry's message in part recounted his Jan. 13 critiques of the Alberta government's policy. He was strongly critical of the clubs in schools.

"GSAs and QSAs are highly politicized ideological clubs which seek to cure society of 'homophobia' and 'heterosexism,' and which accept the idea that all forms of consensual sexual expression are legitimate. The view of sexuality that they espouse is not Catholic," the bishop said Jan. 13.

Bishop Henry stressed Catholic schools' belief that all children are loved by God and deserve compassion and respect. Each school has a mission "to help each student to fulfill their God-given potential in all aspects of their persons: physically, academically, socially, morally and spiritually."

He also stressed the importance of chastity.

"Chastity unites our sexuality with our entire human nature. It approaches sexuality as related to our spiritual natures so that sex is seen as more than a physical act. Sexuality affects the whole person because of the unity of body and soul. Jesus is the model of chastity."

Bishop Henry suggested the guidelines violate legal precedent. He cited a unanimous Canadian Supreme Court ruling from March 2015 that protected the rights of a Catholic school in Quebec to teach from a Catholic viewpoint.

The court ruling said that "to tell a Catholic school how to explain its faith undermines the liberty of the members of its community who have chosen to give effect to the collective dimension of their religious beliefs by participating in a denominational school."

"(I)t amounts to requiring a Catholic institution to speak about Catholicism in terms defined by the state rather than by its own understanding of Catholicism," the court continued.

The decision protected parents' rights to transmit the Catholic faith to their children and to guide their religious upbringing.

School boards in Alberta have until the end of March to approve their policies implementing the guidelines. Eggen, the education minister, said there would soon be meetings with Catholic Church leaders about the guidelines.

Bishop Henry's stance has drawn objections from critics such as University of Calgary professor Tonya Callaghan, who is monitoring what she considers to be homophobia in Catholic schools. She told CBC News that the Catholic Church's position is "discriminatory, oppressive and should be abolished."

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According to her faculty profile page, her research aims to "free members of sexual and gender minority groups from religiously-inspired heterosexist oppression."

Bishop Henry countered criticisms that the Catholic view is judgemental.

"Only God can judge the state of the human soul but it is pure nonsense to suggest we cannot and should not judge human behavior. Reluctance to judge moral behavior is the inevitable consequence of moral relativism and moral subjectivism that has eroded confidence in the ability to determine objective moral truth on which sound judgment is based," he said.

He noted that Pope Francis spoke about gender ideology in his 2015 encyclical on care for our common home, Laudato si'.

"The acceptance of our bodies as God's gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home," the Pope wrote.

The Pope noted the need to accept one's body in its masculinity or femininity.

"In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it," Pope Francis said.

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