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Yukon's Catholic school boards are out to lunch

We hope the leaders of Yukon's Catholic school boards have prayed a few Hail Marys for themselves lately, for they have failed to make the well-being of students their priority.

We hope the leaders of Yukon’s Catholic school boards have prayed a few Hail Marys for themselves lately, for they have failed to make the well-being of students their priority, preferring instead to fixate on a few passages of scripture that a dwindling number of people, including their fellow Catholics, actually believe.

The boards are asking the Yukon government to set aside the new policy that’s explicit in its support of gay students. They say an older policy suffices, by making more general comments about supporting all students.

The Catholic school chairs insist they just want to see all kids treated equally. By this, they mean that they are offended by the notion of providing special protections to gay students, who are particularly prone to depression and suicide. At the risk of sounding preachy, how shameful.

Thankfully, the current atmosphere at Vanier Catholic Secondary School is, as we understand it, a nurturing, non-judgmental place for all students. That’s a big turn-around from the grim reports that emerged from the school last school year, when a conservative tilt by the school leadership led gay students and their supporters to protest how they had been treated, and to form a gay-straight alliance.

Now the school chairs want to remove the rules that would require the school to allow a GSA.

Church leaders maintain that Catholics don’t view sexuality as a key part of one’s identity. This claim is betrayed by their obsession with sexual misconduct, as they see it.

It’s also a polite way of skating over the fact that the Catholic church views homosexual acts as depraved and sinful. Indeed, they would prefer to not even say the word “gay” aloud, preferring the mealy-mouthed expression “same-sex attraction.”

This view of sexuality is, in the memorable words of the American writer Andrew Sullivan, a dead end for humanity. Sullivan knows something of the matter, as a gay Catholic.

“My childhood and adolescence were difficult to the point of agony, an agony my own church told me was my just desert,” Sullivan writes. “But I saw in my own life and those of countless others that the suppression of these core emotions and the denial of their resolution in love always leads to personal distortion and compulsion and loss of perspective.

“Forcing gay people into molds they do not fit helps no one. It robs them of dignity and self-worth and the capacity for healthy relationships. It wrecks family, twists Christianity, violates humanity. It must end.”

Maybe it’s unsurprising, given this, that researchers with the University of British Columbia recently found that schools that have had gay-straight alliances for at least three years see fewer students commit or attempt suicide than those without.

Curiously, the drop in both suicides and suicide attempts extended to straight students as well as gay students, showing that the mental health benefits are shared across the board. Yet, despite this, our school council chairs hold the miserly view that treating gay students differently is akin to special treatment and is somehow unfair.

If there’s reason to be hopeful, it’s found in how so few Catholics actually believe the core tenants of their faith when it comes to sexual matters.

Last year, Pope Francis sent bishops around the world to poll ordinary Catholics on how they understand and practice church teachings on marriage, sex and other issues related to the family. “The results, at least those reported by bishops in Europe and the United States, have been eye-opening,” the Associated Press recently reported.

“Bishops themselves reported that the church’s core teachings on sexual morals, birth control, homosexuality, marriage and divorce are rejected as unrealistic and outdated by the vast majority of Catholics, who nevertheless said they were active in parish life and considered their faith vitally important.”

Let us also be thankful that Catholics are particularly adept at overlooking violations of their faith, when it suits their fancy. Staff at Vanier, after all, are apparently able to mumble their way through instructing students on how to use a condom, despite the church’s prohibition on spilling the seed.

Presumably, this ability to look the other way when it’s convenient can be similarly applied to a gay-straight alliance. Indeed, that should be the price of having the school continue to receive public funds.

Catholic conservatives are free to hold their beliefs, of course, but publicly funded schools are no place for them to be projected when they conflict with Canadians’ broadly shared understanding of equality and human rights.

Most Canadians, meanwhile, have made peace with the idea of treating gay people as equals, and that is a massive accomplishment worth celebrating. Over the past 20 years, our federal conservative politicians have gone from condemning gay rights to trumpeting them, as the National Post’s Jonathan Kay has noted. Say what you will about Stephen Harper’s government on the accountability and environment files, but it has taken special measures to admit gay Iranians as refugees and strongly condemned anti-gay laws in Russia and Uganda. It must be a lonely time to be a social conservative.

If the Catholic school board chairs were in touch with their constituents, they would understand that most parents don’t enroll their kids in Whitehorse’s Catholic school with the expectation that the staff follow every letter of the Book of Leviticus. They do so, by and large, because the schools are strong on academics and screen out the riff-raff.

This foolish battle with the department only helps to continue to raise a question that the school chairs certainly don’t want to answer: just why does the Yukon need a publicly funded school system for Catholics in 2014, anyway?