Who calls the shots at Vanier Catholic Secondary School: Education Minister Scott Kent or Bishop Gary Gordon?
This is no idle question. Both men have given contradictory directives about how the school is to teach about same-sex relationships. Whose orders are school staff supposed to follow?
It can’t be both, by Kent’s own admission. Last week, he deemed that the school’s guidelines to teach students that homosexuality is sinful conflict with an Education Department policy that calls for schools to be safe, welcoming places for gay students.
Earlier this week it appeared that a detente had been reached, when Kent announced that he and the bishop had reached an agreement to pull off the offending guidelines off the school website.
But it turns out that this move is meaningless. For, as the bishop later told CBC Radio this week, school staff would be expected to continue to obey the school’s turfed policy anyway.
That means students will learn that homosexual acts are a “grave depravity,”“intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to the natural law.” Homosexuals are considered psychologically defective, and their only path to salvation is a life of abstinence. Even uttering the word “gay” is discouraged, for fear of legitimizing it.
Teachers are warned that “watering down the Church’s teaching is always a disservice. Such attitudes could lead young people into grave moral danger.”
If the bishop’s aim was to make Kent look like a fool, then mission accomplished. Obviously, the controversy was never about the Catholic Church’s intolerant views being hosted on a government web server. Rather, residents are outraged that said views are being promoted in public schools, with public funds.
This outrage may surprise some. After all, the school guidelines are nothing more than the Catholic Church’s official position on the matter. But Vanier long operated along a liberal interpretation of Catholic beliefs. That ended a few years ago, with the arrival of Bishop Gary, followed by a conservative principal and school council.
Now we have a publicly funded school that appears to have gone rogue, refusing to follow the department’s own policies. Kent has tried to be a nice guy about this. It hasn’t worked. So what next?
We have one suggestion that ought to cause any conservative Catholic to pause and consider whether the current course is a wise one. How about a territorial referendum as to whether the government should stop funding Catholic education?
We suspect a “Yes” vote would win handily. Catholics only make up one-fifth of the territory’s population. Many residents object to their tax dollars being used to promote intolerance. Others note the unfairness of funding religious education for Catholics, but not any other faiths.
It’s true that such a change would require an amendment to the federal Yukon Act. But it’s unlikely that MPs would flout the clearly expressed wishes of the territory’s voters.
Putting it to a vote would also provide an easy out for our spineless territorial politicians, all of whom are too timid to directly confront the territory’s well-organized Catholic lobby. Pursuing a referendum would take some courage, but Kent and company could insist they weren’t taking one side or the other – they’re merely letting the public to have its say.
We’re sure the Yukon Party is seeking a less drastic remedy to the conflict. But, as long as a hardliner like Bishop Gary runs the show, we’re not sure one really exists.
At the very least, Kent needs to declare that departmental policies supersede religious doctrine. It would also probably be wise to curtail the bishop’s authority over the public education system. In 2013, should a religious leader really play a major role in the hiring of government employees here?
But it’s easy to imagine that the bishop and his supporters would object that these moves interfere with the religious character of the school. If that’s the case, Kent needs to draw a line in the sand: if Vanier can’t follow departmental policies, let’s have the public decide whether publicly funded Catholic education is a good idea in the first place.