Some Vanier concerns still not resolved

Yukon's lapsed Catholics and left-leaning heathens must be shouting hallelujah this week, following news that Bishop Gary Gordon will soon be packing his bags for Victoria.

Yukon’s lapsed Catholics and left-leaning heathens must be shouting hallelujah this week, following news that Bishop Gary Gordon will soon be packing his bags for Victoria.

For many, the bishop will be remembered as the guy who sought over the past few years to ensure that Vanier Catholic Secondary School is run along the church’s own strictures – specifically the bit that views homosexual acts as sinful depravities.

The outcome, of course, has been completely contrary to the bishop’s goals. Following a public outcry, the education minister tossed out the proposed policy. The school now boasts an active gay-straight alliance club. And, judging by the number of Vanier grads who donned rainbow socks during their graduation ceremony to express solidarity with their gay peers, his views are not widely held by the school body.

It’s to the credit of the school’s administration, staff and students that they have set matters straight and restored Vanier’s reputation as a supportive, socially progressive environment. But that does not mean this drama is over.

Let’s remember that Yukon’s education department helped douse the Vanier controversy at its peak by promising to institute certain policy changes, to ensure future flare-ups didn’t occur. These promises remain unfulfilled, more than a year later.

One was to produce a new same-sex policy for Catholic schools, to replace the one that had been rejected. Another was to review the bishop’s role in hiring staff at Catholic schools.

The department appears to have given up on trying to make good of these promises.

Talks with the bishop over drafting a new same-sex policy appeared to have been held up by the diocese, and the department has imposed no deadline to have such a deal in place. And a departmental spokesman has lately asserted that the hiring policy isn’t a departmental concern, but rather the purview of Yukon’s Catholic school association.

In short, education officials have washed their hands of the matter, and it remains unclear whether either promise will be fulfilled.

In the absence of a same-sex policy that caters to Catholic schools, the territorial policy prevails, which makes clear that gay students should feel welcome and included. So, on that front, a stalemate still seems to be the bishop’s loss.

Not so with the hiring policy. The current rules give whoever replaces the bishop considerable clout in hiring decisions. In recent years, Bishop Gordon used these powers to ensure conservative staffers were hired, laying the groundworks for the eventual public blow-up, with students accusing administrators of creating an intolerant atmosphere.

Who knows how the bishop’s successor will apply these rules? Only new hiring rules that soften the bishop’s say on such matters will offer any certainty that we won’t see another relapse later. At the very least, seeing as the department promised a review, wouldn’t following through on that commitment be in order?

Even if that were to occur, there remains the inconvenient fact that the bishop’s views on homosexuality are the same ones expressly held by the Catholic Church. And, when stated baldly, it’s clear these views have no place in a publicly funded school like Vanier, which is expected to reflect the values of tolerance that are enshrined in Canadian law.

No matter all the hate-the-sin-not-the-sinner throat-clearing, it’s hard to create a welcoming environment for gay students if they’re being told, as the bishop has said, that they essentially have a disease, no different from diabetes. Likewise, being told that your attractions are a “grave depravity,” “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to the natural law,” as the church’s Catechism has it, is not terribly welcoming either.

This leaves Vanier staff with the unenviable job of having to paper over some of the contradictions at the heart of this matter. In short, they are expected to run a Catholic school, but not one that is too Catholic.

Judging by the glowing assessments given by gay graduates, it seems this is being handled admirably. The Education Department owes students and staff the courtesy of ensuring that clear rules are in place to ensure this continues, as promised, no matter who fills the bishop’s seat. 

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