Sometimes, writing about writing and words brings you right to the zeitgeist (there, that’s one for the bucket list: using “zeitgeist” on my blog.)
Bullying is in the news almost constantly. News reports about children committing suicide are depressingly common. High schools are finally taking real measures to stop bullying. And now the Ontario provincial parliament is debating Bill 13, the proposed Accepting Schools Act.
The bill has hit a snag, as the Catholic Church in Ontario has spoken out against a single line in the government’s bill, which would specifically allow student groups to call themselves “gay-straight alliances.” These groups, so-named, already exist in public schools in Ontario. (Breaking news: the Ontario Provincial Parliament has delayed debate on Bill 13; it was supposed to have third and final reading today, May 30, but that’s been postponed, and the government has not announced when it will happen.)
Thomas Cardinal Collins, President of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario, issued a long, rambling statement on the legislation to the government. His problem with the government’s bill is that it specifically mentions bullying of homosexual students and mentions gay-straight alliances. “Certainly that type of bullying is wrong, and must never be tolerated,” the letter states.
“But there are many young people who suffer bullying, and most of them are not represented in the category given special emphasis in the bill [“LGBTTIQ,” or “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual, two-spirited, intersexed, queer and questioning” people]. The bill should address the way in which our schools may be made more welcoming to all students. None who suffer should be ignored.”
Cardinal Collins proposes that the legislation should not identify “a limited number of highlighted groups,” but instead allow schools to address bullying “at the local level.”
He adds “each school should follow a way in harmony with its underlying principles...Catholic schools have their own highly developed ways of attaining the goal of creating a welcoming school...based upon the Gospel principles which are the foundation of Catholic education.”
At a press conference, the Cardinal asked "Why are Catholics and Catholic schools not free to attain the same goal, of love and respect for everybody, not allowed to attain the same goals in their own different ways?" (CBC News) He also warned against legislation that “overrides the deeply held beliefs of any faith community.”
One principle of the Catholic Church, promoted in Catholic schools in Ontario, is that homosexuality is immoral. Interestingly, the Cardinal never said that.
What the Catholic school boards, Catholic school trustees and others in the Ontario Catholic community want is more “inclusive” groups, which discourage any form of bullying. Commendable.
However, they are also objecting to the term “gay-straight alliance.” Catholic schools in Ontario have expressed their desire to support and welcome gay students. But they do not want to allow the word “gay” in names of school clubs.
This is a complex debate, and the Cardinal has chosen his words extremely carefully. His submission to the Ontario legislature never uses the words “homosexuality” or “gay,” nor does it explicitly discuss the “gay-straight alliance” name.
What’s your take on this? Is the Catholic Church still so terrified of homosexuality? Or are they justified in their opposition to Ontario law?
Read the full submission from the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario.
Read the text of the proposed Accepting Schools Act.