Bishop Henry Pontificates on Gay Straight Alliances

On January 13, 2016 The Most Reverend Frederick Bernard Henry, the seventh Catholic Bishop of the diocese of Calgary well and truly lost it.

Henry wrote a pastoral letter denouncing Education Minister David Eggen’s “edict” that public, Catholic, French and charter school boards must support LBTQ students who wish to form gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and queer-straight alliances (QSAs) in accordance with section 16.1 of the School Act.

He said it was an act of totalitarianism.

bishop-fred-henry

The Bishop

Henry’s argument (if one can call it that) is this:

  • Before Pope Francis became pope he gave a speech about the need for “sovereign love”. This was in the context of Argentina’s election of a new government and serves no purpose other than to give Henry a flimsy platform for his allegation that the NDP government is totalitarian.  
  • The “madness of relativism and the madness of power as a monolithic ideology” impede sovereign love.  Henry is concerned you won’t buy his totalitarian argument so he’s thrown in relativism (judgment is relative, it depends on the situation, the person, or the era) and power as a monolithic ideology (10 principles espoused by Kim Yong-ju, younger brother of North Korean leader Kim Il-sung demanding absolute loyalty to The Great Leader).
  • Eggen’s “edict” is secular and anti-Catholic and smacks of relativism and totalitarianism. Why? Because Henry says so.
  • Catholic schools believe all children are loved by God (including LBTQ students presumably).
  • Catholic schools are inclusive, teaching compassion for everyone regardless of age, race, sex, gender or sexual orientation…but…
  • God created males and females and they should accept their sexual identities.
  • Sexuality, as defined by Henry, means the capacity to love and procreate.
  • Sexuality is tempered “according to God’s plan for the appropriate expression of love in the marital relationship of a man and a woman”. Ah, so that’s it. Eggen’s plan violates God’s plan which apparently was delivered directly from God’s lips to Henry’s ear.
  • GSAs and QSAs are “highly politicized ideological clubs” intended to cure society of “homophobia” and “heterosexism” and this is not a Catholic view of sexuality. No kidding! It’s also not the NDP’s view, or any sane person’s view, of Section 16.1 of the School Act.  
  • And lastly, the Supreme Court of Canada in the Loyola case said the state cannot tell a Catholic school how to explain its faith. True, but in the Loyola case, the state won a partial victory.  Quebec passed legislation making all schools teach a course on world religions in which doctrine, practices and ethics would be taught neutrally. Schools could apply for an exemption if they offered an alternative course. Loyola wanted to teach the course from a Catholic perspective. The SCC said Loyola had to teach doctrine and practices neutrally but it could teach ethics from a Catholic perspective. NOTE: Henry is not offering a Catholic alternative to GSAs and QSAs. He’s denouncing them as anti-Catholic heresy.

There’s relativism and then there’s politically correct relativism

Does Henry’s unwavering belief in universal truth untainted by relativism apply to all societal issues? Um, no.

The Catholic Church played a major role in assimilating Aboriginal children into the Euro-Canadian Christian culture by removing them from their families and placing them in residential schools. It was a universal truth that assimilation was the only way to treat Canada’s Aboriginal population.

However, on Feb 24, 2014 Henry joined the Catholic Bishops of Alberta and the NWT to apologize for the role of the Catholic Church in this process. Apparently Henry’s belief in the absolute doctrines of the Catholic Church has some limits.

Let’s try this as a limit:  Children should not suffer at the hands of bigots. Not in residential schools in the interests of assimilation, nor in Catholic schools because a bishop thinks Catholic doctrine is under threat.

How sad that a man of Bishop Henry’s stature fails to understand the first principle—God loves all children, period.

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28 Responses to Bishop Henry Pontificates on Gay Straight Alliances

  1. Thank you for this deconstruction of the destructive dogma of Bishop Henry. This positioning is why the church has no place in matters of State. Keep religion a matter of private faith. Keep human rights a matter of public responsibility.
    Time to make all religious-based school choices private matters – including funding?

  2. anonymous says:

    Was Bishop Henry not copied on the latest memo from god?

  3. Well done Susan; gracias. No doubts Bishop Henry didn’t get the memo, but, regrettably, his rather medieval position is not new – I have the perception that he simple detest humanist secularism – in any case, as this matter may also involve constitutional issues, the question also is whether our government is willing to go that far and – for instance – invoke the “Notwithstanding Clause” in our Charter … Also. I think Kent raises an important dimension here – funding. A good number of provinces have already removed funding for religious schools, including Ontario & Quebec – perhaps the time has come to do the same here? …

    • The issue of funding needs to be secular. If you want specialised aspects of faith-based education that says choice but private choice. Taxpayers don’t have to fund private beliefs. Citizens can as individuals but public education should be secular and public not faith and private.

    • rww says:

      Ontario has definitely NOT removed funding for the parallel taxpayer funded Roman Catholic School system. No party (except the Greens) dare take what they perceive to be a Catholic voting block..

      • The “schools question” has troubled the federal government since before Alberta became a province. The North-West Territories Act of 1875 allowed religious minorities to fund separate schools through taxation. This provision rolled into the Alberta Act of 1905 when Alberta joined confederation and we have yet to find a way to resolve it. I don’t know how big the Catholic voting block is, but I’m sure it would be joined by all of the other religious and charter schools who receive public funding. This could be a very interesting debate. Too bad that only the Greens are prepared to take it on.

      • rww says:

        If Querbec can get rid of government funding of religious schools, which they did via a constitutional amendment , any province can.

    • Leo, your perception that Bishop Henry detests humanist secularism rings true. In his letter he says Eggen’s Guidelines show no evidence of consultation with or sensitivity to the Catholic community and they “breathe pure secularism”. I found this to be an odd comment as I would expect nothing less than a secular approach from our government.

  4. ABCanuck says:

    “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”

    According to the Gospels, Christ recognized the importance of the separation of Church and State and recognized the two could live in harmony.

    When there is no separation of Church and State, the only answers seem to be Crusades and jihads, Inquisitions and beheadings, racial or religious profiling, and witch-hunts.

    However, even in the best of societies, there will always be differences in opinion about the exact boundary and circumstances under which Christians, or any other religion, cult, or political movement, submits to earthly authority.

    In that regard all debate concerning Bishop Henry’s opinions are healthy as they force all of us to think about moral values, boundaries, and politics.

    • Well said ABCanuck.

      The media could have turned this into a meaningful discussion if it had done more than simply repeat what Bishop Henry said in his letter. Why didn’t someone ask the bishop to explain how issuing guidelines slid the NDP government across the line from a democratically elected government to a totalitarian state; and why the bishop thought Alberta could now take its place with North Korea as a shining example of a monolithic ideology. There’s more to reporting a story than simply parroting a letter or a news release.

  5. jerrymacgp says:

    If one accepts, as Bishop Henry does, the premise that there is a Supreme Being that created the universe and all that is in it, would it not logically flow that that Supreme Being (God, if you will) created LGBTQ people as well? If so, are they not entitled to the same compassion and respect as anyone else?

    As an atheist, I don’t accept that premise, and agree with many here that state support of denominational schools is a concept whose time has passed. However, no argument is as weak as one that fails even given the worldview of its proponents, such as Bishop Henry. He is offside, period.

    • Jerry, lawyers are trained in logic. When we make a statement someone will ask us to back it up with our “authority” (precedent, legislation). It would have been very interesting to hear Bishop Henry develop a logical argument for his position. His argument appears to be: (1) God loves all children, (2) children grow up to be men and women (3) men and women should respect their “sexual identity” and (4) “sexual identity” is defined by genitalia. I’d like to see his “authority” for (4). Well, I’d like to see his authority for all of it, but I’d settle for (4).

  6. Carlos Beca says:

    Bishop Henry has the right to his opinion has everyone else does. What baffles me is the control that these representatives of the Roman Catholic Church still have on our media and to a certain degree over the minds of people in general.
    To me they have lost any moral authority and statements about sexuality should only be credible within their own ranks infested with pedophiles that are not brought to justice due to cover up from the very top. Although not proven yet, even the retired pope seems to be involved in protecting at least one of their top officials. I disagree with giving these people any saying at all or even discussing their views. They are lucky that there is no courage in the Canadian elites and politicians to get them banned, just like I am sure they would have done if it was with any other minor religious institution.
    As far as I am concerned, Bishop Henry should be concerned about their own lack of morality rather than trying to teach us whatever is that they believe in.

  7. Carlos you make an excellent point. I recently saw the movie Spotlight which describes the sexual abuse inflicted by Catholic priests in Boston and the cover ups and payoffs that occurred under Cardinal Bernard Law’s watch. When the scandal broke, Cardinal Law was spirited away to the Vatican. Apparently the cardinal feels that he was “badly done by” and his fellow cardinals see him more as a victim than anything else. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/06/cardinal-bernard-law-disgraced-boston-child-abuse-scandal-vatican-haven-spotlight
    If the Catholic church spent as much energy ridding itself of pedophile priests as it did fighting enlightened legislation it just might see an increase in membership.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      I also watched spotlight and that is just one case in Boston. This is still happening around the world and in Places like South America and Africa where they still command high levels of power I am quite sure it is disgraceful, but they are just poor kids, many of them orphans so what does the Church care?
      It is an absurd and paying attention to these people is just a big waste of time. As far as I am concerned Bishop Henry can make whatever comment he wants. They have no meaning to me.

      • Carlos. It looks like Bishop Henry’s comments have had a number of unintended consequences. Many members of the Catholic School board in Calgary and Edmonton say he should not have sent the letter and parents of children in Catholic schools like Donal O’Beirne said in the press “The bishop is just flat out wrong on this. It’s embarrassing. It’s hurtful. … It puts Catholic education on the wrong side of public opinion, especially in these days of funding questions. This opens a lot of doors to why are we paying for two systems, especially when the system that teaches 25 per cent of the kids is teaching these kids in many ways that being gay is not OK.” This is a very bold statement considering that in 2003 Bishop Henry said Prime Minister Jean Cretien was not a good Catholic and risking his eternal salvation by supporting same-sex marriage. Get the impression Bishop Henry is not going to waste his time praying for our benighted souls?

  8. Carlos Beca says:

    I am glad that the reaction is against bishop Henry.
    The Catholic Church is against same sex marriage but does very little for their pedophile ways as well as their readiness for aggressive schooling like the residential schools case. In the so called third world they certainly do not ‘spare the rod’ at all. They were known for being brutal. Again they were just black kids and needed to be converted to the love way of God.
    This is all bizarre to me. I am not sure these people really believe the Earth is going around the Sun.
    In the meantime Donald Trump, now supported by classy Sarah Palin, is surging to 50% of the GOP vote. This is the man who declared just recently that climate change is ‘A Chinese Invention’. I have this feeling that we are reliving the 1939 – 1941 amazing surge of Hitler and Stalin.

  9. ronmac says:

    Let’s put the shoe on the other foot for a moment. Imagine if an elected official demanded that all local pastors and preachers submit their Sunday sermons for scrutiny.

    Well this actually happened recently when the mayor of Houston, who is a lesbian, tried to force pastors to turn over sermons and speeches related to a local transgender rights ordinance on the grounds it might be inciting hatred.

    She later backed down. Anyways food for thought.

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/oct/15/houston-backs-off-church-sermon-subpoenas-in-trans/?page=all

    • Carlos Beca says:

      Ronmac – if the sermons were in fact inciting hatred they should be recalled. Any doubts about that? It is actually too bad that we do not take that more serious because according to reports I have read, there are some Mosques in Canada where that has happened.
      By the way you cannot forget that the Catholic Church is one of the great violators of children’s rights and very little has been done.
      I keep repeating this because unfortunately those people that quickly show up on the streets to defend the life of the unborn, seem to not care when it comes to the life of children already born and sexually abused in religious institutions. For some reason this subject, just like the murdered and raped native women, seems to be unimportant.

  10. Julie Ali says:

    It is so sad that folks in power do not work to help all people but instead try to ensure divisions between people. The Bishop is hard to understand and I am glad you were able to translate his chatter for us Susan. Even after the translation I am wondering why the Bishop would want to be pouring oil on what appears to be pristine waters.

    As a parent, I’ve never seen the need for the Catholic School System or for that matter for a separate health system based on faith-such as Covenant Health in Alberta. While my sons could have gone to Catholic schools we sent them to the excellent public schools in Edmonton–Grandview Heights School and Strathcona High School. Both schools have hard working teachers and the boys received a comprehensive education without the need for religious trimming.

    The cost of a two system way in education is never considered by the public. Why are we paying for two systems? There is no need for the two systems.

    We are going to be strapped for cash for a long time folks. Why bother to have two systems? The amount of cash that the NDP government will have to play with is limited with the current bust in the oil and gas sector.

    So this might be the time to ask ourselves as parents and citizens whether it is time to merge the two systems into one system.

    My feeling is that we should amalgamate Catholic and public school boards into a superboard so that we can eliminate all these costly school boards that do not do much (in my humble opinion after going to many of these school board meetings) other than prepare ordinary citizens for other political positions. I see no reason for the school boards and I don’t feel I should be paying for the training of folks for politics. School boards are not useful, the parents never (for the most part) go to the meetings, and they hardly ever advocated for the students until the recent rebellion by the boards.

    Besides the costs of unnecessary school boards we should look at all the school administrators we are paying for. There seems to be a ton of these folks getting major cash for doing what? School boards are supported by administration that costs major bucks. If you just look at the school superintendent salaries we are paying out, it’s all adding up to major money that does not make it out to our kids in services or front line staff. What exactly do these superintendents do? I’m not sure. Here is the Edmonton Public School job description which seems to say that the superintendent takes care of a whole pile of other staff that cost us more money.

    http://www.epsb.ca/ourdistrict/departments/superintendent/
    The Superintendent provides advice and support to the Board of Trustees and ensures board policy is implemented effectively.

    He is supported in this work by the Superintendent’s Office, which is made up of the Superintendent, Assistant Superintendents of Schools, Executive Directors, and the District Support Team.

    The Superintendent is also responsible for planning, organizing, directing, controlling, coordinating and evaluating administrative regulations, and sound educational and business practices to achieve the District’s Vision, Mission, Values and Priorities.

    **************************

    So not only should we consider making one school system, thereby removing any interference from folks who have no business interfering with the education we want as parents for our kids which should be a modern inclusive education for all kids-but we should also ensure efficiencies in administration by pruning the entire bloated administration and reducing the numbers of superintendent positions in Alberta which seems rather excessive to this parent.

    The Most Reverend Frederick Bernard Henry, the seventh Catholic Bishop of the diocese of Calgary seems rather old school. Parents aren’t going to be listening to his decrees. We’re going to look at our kids and be wanting them to be kind, generous and welcoming with all kids –no matter what their sexual preferences are, no matter what race, colour or belief of any kind they carry like signs –it’s simply the right way to be in the world. And didn’t Jesus promote that? If the Bishop wants to keep yapping in this old school fashion he should realize that he is merely turning off Catholic parents like myself. I am increasingly glad I did not put the boys in the Catholic School System and instead went public.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      Julie, very well said. One school system has made sense for more than 30 years. The problem is the too big too fail syndrome that affects us and is pulling us back on many fronts. We do not change unless there is a crisis. Canada was ahead of the world because it was a young country daring to try and challenge new ideas. Now we find ourselves dragging on everything. The reason is simple. our democracy and democratic processes are failing because the entrenched groups want the power and control. We seem paralysed and unable to act. I also ask myself what are all those directors and superintendents and assistant this and assistant that and no good results. As far as I am concerned we have an education law and the principals in schools and they should directly respond to the minister. One system for everyone and those who like religion can go to church or mosque or synagogue and get it. Everyone is a citizen regardless of gender and sexual preferences. It is really not that complicated.

      • Julie Ali says:

        Common sense is not used by government in making economic decisions that must be made and will be made because there will no longer be tons of cash to play with. The bureaucracy that is present in Alberta is pretty appalling. There are so many layers everywhere I look.

        Not only are the public and Catholic school boards costing us major cash but we also have the problem of all the post secondary administration folks who have been gifted with private sector compensation while front line staff make do with temporary teaching positions. The over-the top compensation for the President of say the University of Alberta is unacceptable when you look at what starting faculty staff are making. Many of them cannot get a permanent job. There is no reason to go into graduate school unless you want to go from place to place in a gypsy fashion seeking shelter and certainly the compensation for post doctoral positions is not good. I do not believe the executive staff at the University of Alberta should be getting the salaries they are getting when we have such problems in terms of revenue generation in this bust. Heck, I don’t believe they should have EVER got the salaries they got because in my mind there were no deliverables that verified their performance in these positions.

        In terms of the bloated administration business at all levels of the education pyramid– it must be pruned. In terms of the same situation at AHS and Covenant Health, there will be an inevitable downsizing of salaries and attrition. It is inevitable because it is unsustainable. We can’t afford all these executives in these positions such as at Covenant Health who earn major bucks for doing exactly what? This is a good question. Physicians and nurses do far more work than the sort of political and issue management that the executive staff appear to do at these places yet their compensation is nowhere near the big bucks earned by the topdogs at these places. Such salaries need to be winnowed down to reasonable pay for work done.

        Not only must there be cuts —I feel that there should be the complete elimination of AHS and Covenant Health. In the past the ministers of health were able to blame these public bodies for failures in performance by the government of Alberta. With the elimination of these costly and ineffectual public bodies the problems experienced by families in the health care and continuing care systems will rest with Alberta Health. The direct control of issues will ensure that the Minister of Health is made responsible for the failures in service delivery, the failures in care of residents in continuing care, as well as the failures in accountability and transparency about issues that the public was unaware of. When these problems are placed in the lap of the Minister of Health, we might then have change that is long overdue especially in continuing care.

        The fiscal challenges that the NDP government are now facing will be the impetus for change but of course there must also be the political will to make change happen.

        This change has not happened in the past–because the Tories simply didn’t have the ability to do the transformation of systems or did not bother to do it.
        This change has not to date happened with the NDP government.

        But this change will happen sooner or later in our society. It just remains to be seen if this change will happen with an NDP government or with a Liberal government.

        I am betting that there will be a Liberal resurgence in Alberta what with the good moves being made by Team Trudeau at the federal level.

        These are very wonderful times folks. Team Trudeau understands what we want. Team Notley does not yet understand what we want. The Catholic Church Team are clueless. But luckily, citizens are waking up and we can ensure that we hold our hires accountable to what WE WANT.

  11. Julie and Carlos: interesting question you’ve asked about why governments continue to support the public and Catholic/religious school systems, especially now when Alberta’s access to revenue is severely curtailed. You’d think that conservatives (PCs and WRers) who’ve long advocated that free market principles should guide the government in how it provides public services would twig to the fact that the duplication of educational systems is both inefficient and costly. But these decisions are being made by politicians who ignore the opportunity to reduce costs and avoid duplication by merging religious schools with public schools because they don’t want to lose their Catholic and evangelical supporters. And so it goes. Politics trumps common sense and clergymen like Rev Stephen Penna, a trusted adviser to the Edmonton Catholic Schools, can compare advocates for LGBTQ inclusion to Nazis and university gender studies programs to a modern day eugenics movement.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      You got that right. 🙂
      Coming from people that have seen the light, it makes it a very sad and frankly very boring story.
      Common sense is the real miracle these days. I just heard on the news this morning that pope Francis is making the BIG WAVES because he is including women in the church ritual of washing feet. WOW what an advance. I feel dizzy.
      Women finally have the right to get their feet washed by the pope. It took 2015 years to get here. Not bad.

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