Alberta’s bishops have taken an extraordinary step to address Catholics across the province after a firestorm of controversies in the mainstream and social media over human sexuality education and calls to scrap the Catholic education system entirely.
The bishops issue an annual pastoral letter for Catholic Education Sunday, which is on Nov. 5. This year, they also released a Supplementary Statement to be read in Catholic parishes throughout Alberta and shared through social media channels. It was signed by seven bishops, including the leaders of the Ukrainian Eparchy of Edmonton and the Mackenzie-Fort Smith Diocese in the Northwest Territories.
“The nature and mission of our schools is rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His teaching is often countercultural in today’s world, just as it was when he taught,” the bishops state. “Much of the media frenzy was based upon inaccurate reporting and a misrepresentation of our moral teaching. We do not apologize and we shall not apologize to anyone for our faith or for our schools.”
“We are grateful to representatives of our school superintendents for clarifying the issues and allowing the facts to speak for themselves. Catholic schools teach the provincial curriculum through a Catholic lens. It is what we have always done; it is what we shall continue to do in all matters, including health and wellness.”
The additional statement was in response to the publication this week of a working document, prepared by the Council of Catholic Superintendents of Alberta, which identified for government officials possible areas of concern in the human sexuality part of the new health and wellness curriculum.
The superintendents said they’ve had a constructive relationship with Alberta Education officials to date, and their input was meant to ensure the new curriculum is not so restrictive that it would prevent Catholic schools from including relevant Church teachings alongside the provincial curriculum.
For example, they would teach the curriculum content on contraceptives and abortion, but also teach why the Church opposes these measures. They would teach about different sexual orientations, but also teach the Catholic view of marriage as a sacramental bond between a man and woman. They would teach that consent is “always necessary” in a healthy sexual relationship, and that there are also other factors to consider in sexual decision-making.
In various media, the educators were then accused of supporting rape, abandoning science, and failing to protect their students – none of which is even remotely true, according to the superintendents.
The reports on the document, released through a Freedom of Information request, also fuelled ongoing calls to amalgamate the Catholic and public education systems in Alberta.
“The calls to dismantle our publicly funded Catholic school system are growing ever louder, and we must not ignore them,” the bishops said in their statement to the Catholic community.
“It is important that everyone be ready to stand up for our faith and our schools. Everyone knows that the existence of our schools, fully permeated with our faith, is a constitutional right. Everyone should also know that this is a right we shall vigorously defend.”
Lorraine Turchansky, chief communications officer for the Archdiocese of Edmonton, said the bishops had two goals: “they wanted to clear up any misunderstanding in the minds of parishioners about what Catholic schools teach, and they also made a very clear call to encourage parishioners to support the publicly funded Catholic education system that we’ve had ever since Alberta joined Confederation.”
“We have received many, many expressions of concern from Catholics who have read or heard inaccurate or sensational media reports about the school curriculum that’s being developed,” she said.
And we’ve also seen a whole lot of hateful messages denouncing Catholic schools and the Catholic faith, prompted by some of those reports.”
The bishops’ statement comes just days after the Alberta government introduced a bill that would amend the School Act to make it illegal for schools to reveal to parents that a student had joined a gay-straight alliance. The Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association said they would study the bill before commenting.
The bishops’ statement includes a call to prayer for teachers, administrators and trustees – as well as government leaders – that they would “preserve and enhance the precious gift of publicly funded Catholic education” in Alberta.
As for any criticism by the premier or education minister, Turchansky said the bishops chose not to enter that media fray.
“Given the significant amount of tax dollars that are entrusted to Catholic institutions to provide quality health care, social services, and education in Alberta, it has been a tradition for the premier to meet with the Catholic bishops who have oversight of those institutions. I think the bishops would prefer to respect the office of the premier and speak with her personally, rather than comment on her remarks in the media.”
Pastoral Letter for Catholic Education Sunday