The month of September marks the beginning of a new school year. Given the growing rhetoric in Alberta that is once again advocating for an end to Catholic public schools, I thought it is important to outline why maintaining the Catholic ethos and identity of our schools is critical in the face of such arguments. This fall we will also have the election of new Catholic trustees who must be committed to promoting the vision and mission of our publicly funded Catholic schools.
What is a Catholic school and what makes it distinct and relevant in our current society? Catholic schools are communities of faith and learning. They can be diverse in their configuration i.e. public, private or charter, yet focused on presenting the unity of truth which is acquired through reason and faith and which ultimately binds us. It might be a surprise to some, but Catholic schools are not intended to be for Catholics alone nor to exclusively advocate the Catholic faith. They are in fact school communities for all but which are rooted in a Catholic world view, ethos, and identity that serves to inform a wider view of educating our young people.
Catholic schools are not institutions of propaganda, as some would argue, nor are they to be driven by agendas, theories, and educational trends of a government ministry. The Catholic educational tradition offers experiences of learning that allow for evangelization and the catechetical support of young people in the faith. However, the task of education is much broader. It is to promote a wholistic experience of learning that forms and completes every person, preparing them for life, to appreciate the value of their life, and that of others, by offering back to society values and goods that they willingly share for the benefit of all in our society. This is the distinctly Catholic approach to education which enhances the human formation and mature development of the next generation of young people.
Pope Benedict, in his critique of our contemporary educational culture, used the term “educational emergency” to describe the increasing difficulty that we encounter in transmitting the basic values of life and good behaviour to the new generation of young people. At the core of this “emergency” is the belief that truth is relative, that what I subjectively believe to be true for myself is “truth” and must be accepted by others. Pope Francis has also identified this tension between unity and diversity of truth for educators – “Dialogue, in fact, educates when a person relates with respect, esteem, sincerity of listening and expresses themselves with authenticity, without obfuscating or mitigating one’s identity” which is nourished by an evangelical faith and inspiration. This is the role of our Catholic school teachers who must engage in this dialogue through their teaching in a society and culture which is becoming more secular.
The Catholic school curriculum needs to have this intercultural dialogue while balancing the relationship between religious education and catechesis. This initiative of intercultural dialogue is distinctly Catholic and one which we offer to society through our Catholic schools. The teaching of the Catholic religion has it own aims which are different from catechesis which promotes a personal relationship with Christ and a maturing Christian life-whereas religious teaching offers knowledge about Christianity and the Christian life in meaningful and culturally enriching ways. Catholic schools have a core curriculum of religious faith instruction that permeates all subjects. For Catholic students, this might also serve as a pathway of catechesis which must always respect a wider and more meaningful integration within the family and the life of the Church. This curriculum is primarily “knowledge-based” for those students who are not part of the Catholic tradition. It invites them to be reflective, to grow in religious literacy and knowledge while being open to a human formation that reflects the Christian understanding of the human person, their inherent dignity and destiny.
Catholic schools, both public and private, have the potential to contribute to the cultural enrichment of society. Despite the hostility towards religion, these schools will serve as a continuing recognition of the importance of religion and belief in civic society. Therefore, Catholic schools have a unique opportunity to enter these debates to teach about the value of religion and religious ways of thinking to a wider society. The key to the future mission and identity of our Catholic schools is the commitment of the parents and teachers to see Catholic education as an enrichment of our culture through such a Catholic ethos and identity. Education by its nature requires an openness to other cultures without the loss of one’s identity. We cannot lose sight of this rich tradition of Catholic education and schools.
☩ William McGrattan
Bishop of Calgary
There is story told about passengers on a small commuter plane who are waiting for their flight to leave. They’re getting a little impatient, but the airport staff has assured them that the pilots will be there soon, and the flight will take off immediately after their arrival. The entrance opens, and two men dressed in pilots’ uniforms walk up the aisle – both are wearing dark glasses, one is using a seeing-eye dog, and the other is tapping his way up the aisle with a cane. Nervous laughter spreads through the cabin; but the men enter the cockpit, the door closes, and the engines start up. The passengers begin glancing nervously around, searching for some sign that this is just a little practical joke. None is forthcoming.
Soon the plane is moving faster and faster down the runway, and people at the windows realize that they’re headed straight for the water at the edge of the airport runway. As it begins to look as though the plane will never take off, that it will plow into the water, panicked screams fill the cabin – but at that moment, the plane lifts smoothly into the air.
The passengers relax and laugh a little sheepishly, and soon they have all retreated into their magazines, secure in the knowledge that the plane is in good hands. Up in the cockpit, the co-pilot turns to the pilot and says, “You know, Bob, one of these days, they’re going to scream too late, and we’re all gonna die.”
Here are three examples of screams that I have heard recently:
1. On the campaign trail for the Progressive Conservative leadership, Jason Kenney blasted David Eggen, the Minister of Education for “lobbing rhetorical bombs” at the schools which are run by the Baptist Christian Education Society. Kenney suggested that the minister and his officials should not seek conflict in the media. According to the CBC, “If they have a concern or issue with individual schools, they should discretely and with respect and civility sit down and try to find a solution.”
The Baptist Christian Education Society’s board chair, Spruce Grove pastor Brian Coldwell, stated in August that the board’s two schools, which have a total of about 200 students, will not permit gay/straight alliances nor provide “polygender washrooms.”
There is no evidence that these Christian schools have a serious bullying problem, but a government problem – the imposition of the rainbow ideology where it doesn’t fit. Eggen responded in the media that he would “not rule out” cutting funding to the schools, which comprises about 70 percent of the private schools’ instructional revenue.
It’s ironic that a government committed to wiping out “bullying” is going to do so by being a bully, i.e. by repeatedly and habitually using force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others. This is an imbalance of social and economic power being used to facilitate a unwelcomed social re-engineering agenda.
2. At World Youth Day in Krakow, Pope Francis screamed: “There are genuine forms of ideological colonization taking place. And one of these I will call it clearly by its name – is [the ideology of] ‘gender’. Today children – children! – are taught in school that everyone can choose his or her sex. Why are they teaching this? …In a conversation with Pope Benedict, who is in good health and very perceptive, he said to me: ‘Holiness, this is the age of sin against God the Creator.’”
3. Finally, a “silent scream,” as it was not heard by the politically correct establishment, ostensibly because it questions many of the LGBTQ orthodoxies.
Sexuality and Gender published in August by a couple of scientific heavyweights, Dr. Lawrence Mayer and Dr. Paul McHugh, examined nearly 200 peer-reviewed studies in sexual orientation and gender identity. Four of the report’s most important conclusions are:
- The belief that sexual orientation is an innate, biologically fixed human property –“that people are born that way”– is not supported by scientific evidence.
- The hypothesis that gender identity is an innate, fixed human property independent of biological sex – so that a person might be “a man trapped in a woman’s body” or “a woman trapped in a man’s body”– is not supported by scientific evidence.
- Only a minority of children who express gender-atypical thoughts or behaviour will continue to do so into adolescence or adulthood. There is no evidence that all such children should be encouraged to become transgender, much less subjected to hormone treatments or surgery.
- Non-heterosexual and transgender people have higher rates of mental health problems (anxiety, depression, suicide), as well as behavioural and social problems (substance abuse, intimate partner violence), than the general population. Discrimination alone does not account for the entire disparity.
“You know, Bob, one of these days, they’re going to scream too late, and we’re all gonna die.”
☩ Frederick Henry
On May 14th, in Edmonton and Calgary, there were Parents for Choice in Education Rallies protesting against Bill 10 and Minister David Eggen’s Gender Diversity: Guidelines for Best Practices There were also much smaller LGBT counter protests.
Despite the differing signage, ranging from “Flush Bill 10” to “Everyone Can Pee,” the issues are not just about bathrooms, plumbing and urination, parental rights, safety of children, how people feel, GSAs and an imperfect Bill 10. What is at stake is the very order of creation.
Mr. Eggen's guiding principle for best practices is: “self-identification is the sole measure of an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.” This foundational statement is simply assumed to be true and no evidence is offered to substantiate the claim.
Such subjectivity is ever expansive and morally problematic. LGBT has now swelled to LGBTTQQIAAP2S. The two Ts stand for transgender and transsexual and the double Qs represent both “queer” and “questioning”. The I is for intersex; the twin As for “asexual” and “ally”—the latter meaning you’re hetero but down with the cause. P is for pansexual, the catch-all for being up for pretty much anything depending on the situation. The newest addition is the “2S” which denotes being two-spirited, a term used for one who does not fit into the male/female binary. Some have even added “BDSM” for those into bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism.
However, facts, not ideology, determine reality. On April 6, 2016, the American College of Pediatricians, representing more than a hundred pediatricians, issued an important statement concerning gender ideology stating:
- Human sexuality is an objective biological binary trait: “XY” and “XX” are genetic markers of health – not genetic markers of a disorder. The norm for human design is to be conceived either male or female. Human sexuality is binary by design with the obvious purpose being the reproduction and flourishing of our species.
- No one is born with a gender. Everyone is born with a biological sex. Gender (awareness and sense of oneself as male or female) is a sociological and psychological concept; not an objective biological one. No one is born with an awareness of themselves as male or female; this awareness develops over time and, like all developmental processes, may be derailed by a child’s subjective perceptions, relationships, and adverse experiences from infancy forward. People who identify as “feeling like the opposite sex” or “somewhere in between” do not comprise a third sex. They remain biological men or biological women.
- A person’s belief that he or she is something they are not is, at best, a sign of confused thinking. When an otherwise healthy biological boy believes he is a girl, or an otherwise healthy biological girl believes she is a boy, an objective psychological problem exists that lies in the mind not the body, and it should be treated as such. These children suffer from gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria (GD), formerly listed as Gender Identity Disorder (GID), is a recognized mental disorder in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-V). The psychodynamic and social learning theories of GD/GID have never been disproved.
The College’s statement meshes perfectly with biblical and theological truths.
The primordial divine plan was spoken of clearly by Christ himself: “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female? (Mt.19:4).” At the core we see the father and the mother, a couple with their personal story of love: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh (Gen.2:24).” The result of this union is that, both physically and in the union of their hearts and lives, and eventually, in a child who will share not only genetically but also spiritually in the “flesh” of both parents. The family is thus the place where parents become their children’s first teachers.
Pope Francis, “the who am I to judge” Pope, has not minced his words: “the gender ideology is demonic.” He includes gender theory among the fundamental dangers of our era, with the same threatening potential as nuclear weapons and gene manipulation and describes it as an attitude with which man creates a new sin that is directed against God the Creator.
In his long awaited Apostolic Exhortation on the Family, the Joy of Love, Pope Francis renews his criticism of gender theory:
“Yet another challenge is posed by the various forms of an ideology of gender that denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programmes and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female. Consequently, human identity becomes the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time.”
“It is a source of concern that some ideologies of this sort, which seek to respond to what are at times understandable aspirations, manage to assert themselves as absolute and unquestionable, even dictating how children should be raised. It needs to be emphasized that biological sex and the socio-cultural role of sex (gender) can be distinguished but not separated” (56)
“Beyond the understandable difficulties which individuals may experience, the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created, for thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation… Sex education should help young people to accept their own bodies and to avoid the pretension to cancel out sexual differences because one no longer know how to deal with it.” (285)
☩ Frederick Henry