Canon Law and the Alberta Bishops

by | December 24, 2014

In an article in the Calgary Herald, Dr. Kristopher Wells says,

The research is clear: Gay-Straight Alliances can be a lifeline for many students at-risk for depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide. Currently, GSAs exist in over 90 public schools across Alberta. However, not a single GSA exists in a Catholic school. The reason for that is simple: Catholic school boards have refused to allow GSAs in their schools. In recent pastoral letters, Alberta’s Catholic bishops outlined their reasons for supporting the rights of school boards to continue to block GSAs. This doctrinal reasoning warrants further examination.

Wells lists five examples of Alberta’s Catholic bishops’ “doctrinal reasoning” and goes on to say,

There is one other disturbing development in the discussions about Gay-Straight Alliances, that being the censorship of open discussion by Catholic school trustees of this matter. One Edmonton trustee has been quoted saying that she would no longer speak publicly on this issue because “I promised the Archbishop I wouldn’t do this anymore.” In some ways this is the most ominous step of anything we have seen in this whole debate — not only is the freedom of association being restricted with GSAs, but it feels like freedom of speech is now also being denied.

In an Edmonton Journal article, the trustee, Patricia Grell, cites the canon law that gives the bishops the authority to grant an educational institute the right to call themselves Catholic and claims,

“It’s just that the church doesn’t want the state to tell them what to do. … The Catholic Church wants to reach out to these kids in their own way.”

It’s true that, according to Can. 803 §3 of the Code of Canon Law, “no school is to bear the name Catholic school without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority.” Both Grell and the bishops: Smith of Edmonton and Henry of Calgary should read all of the relevant sections of the Code of Canon Law:

Can. 802 §1. If schools which offer an education imbued with a Christian spirit are not available, it is for the diocesan bishop to take care that they are established.

Canon law is clear: if the bishops don’t want the state to tell them what to do and if Alberta’s publicly-funded schools are not Catholic enough, the bishops should establish and pay for Catholic schools that do conform to canon law. Then, we’ll see how many parents want to pay for schools where the Catholic Church reaches out to LGBTQ kids in its “own way.”

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