Physician, heal thyself

The Yukon's Catholic Church leaders are free to live in the 1950s for as long as they want, provided they do so on their own dime. But it's different when a bishop tries to impose his own retrograde views on human sexuality.

The Yukon’s Catholic Church leaders are free to live in the 1950s for as long as they want, provided they do so on their own dime. But it’s different when a bishop tries to impose his own retrograde views on human sexuality upon part of the territory’s publicly funded school system.

Such now appears to be the case, with the introduction at Vanier Catholic Secondary School of guidelines regarding same-sex relationships that fall in line with the church’s official views.

This includes the view that homosexual acts are a “grave depravity,”“intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to the natural law.” They can be condoned “under no circumstances.”

We expect many Vanier teachers possess more enlightened views than the badly outdated notion that being gay is a psychological defect. But they’re advised to keep their personal views to themselves. The school’s guidelines warn that “watering down the Church’s teaching is always a disservice. Such attitudes could lead young people into grave moral danger.”

It’s hard to square all this with the Department of Education’s sexual orientation and gender identity policy, which calls for schools to be welcoming places for gay students.

It’s true that the church also calls for gays to be treated with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” and that “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” Yet it’s also hard to not see the church’s views on homosexuality as anything but discriminatory, when the only sanctioned path available to gay Catholics is celibacy. Sex, after all, is only permitted in wedlock, and the Catholic Church doesn’t recognize gay marriage.

Vanier and the church are working on creating a support group that teaches the “Catholic perspective” on homosexuality. This perspective includes avoiding the very word “gay,” for fear of legitimizing it. The bishop’s own explanation that gay students are treated no differently than students with diabetes or nearsightedness does not exactly inspire confidence that such measures are compatible with the government’s own policies.

Vanier long operated on a pretty liberal interpretation of the Catholic faith. But that’s changed over the past few years, with the introduction of a conservative principal and school council. A slew of longtime staff have left and many of those who remain are demoralized by the school’s rightward tilt.

Conservatives shrug at the discontent and note that Vanier is a Catholic school. Why shouldn’t it teach the Catholic Church’s official line on sexuality? If gay students are uncomfortable with this, shouldn’t they attend elsewhere?

As we’ve already said, this argument would be a lot more compelling if Catholics were paying their way for the school. They aren’t, and there’s no sign that the bishop and his followers are prepared to do so. Given that, it’s not unreasonable to expect Catholic schools to comply with the territorial government’s policies.

One rather defensive reader has even asked why this newspaper is singling out Catholics, rather than the school systems of Jews and Muslims. The simple answer is that we would, if these faiths received public funds to operate schools. They don’t.

That leads us to another question: just why exactly should Catholics, alone among religions, have a publicly funded school system? We’d love to hear a good answer to that one.

The historic justification in Canada dates back to before Confederation. Back in the 1700s, you see, the largely-French-speaking Catholic majority feared persecution by the Protestant majority.

This, needless to say, is not a big threat in the Yukon in 2013. Boosters of the territory’s Catholic school system are educated, affluent and organized. That’s why no politician of any stripe wants to mess with them.

Given this, the people in the best position to influence the direction of Vanier are the parents of students attending. If they don’t support the school’s present direction, they need to make themselves heard. As far as the bishop and his conservative supporters on the school council are concerned, they’re merely acting on their mandate.

By doing so, they’ve unintentionally drawn the public’s attention to the absurdity that Catholic schools receive public funding in the first place. This opens up more interesting questions, like should Yukon government employees be hired on the basis of religious discrimination, as is the case with teachers at Vanier? Is that even constitutional?

And should we really be depending on the leadership of the Catholic Church for advice on healthy sexuality, given the shocking prevalence of the sexual abuse of children within the church, and the institution’s preference to cover-up these crimes rather than confront them? As the preacher once said, “Physician, heal thyself.”

When it’s all said and done, the bishop may well have wished that he had not reached so far.