Bishop's Blog

The Wholeness of Catholic Education

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

Related Offices Bishop's Religious Education
Related Themes Religious Education Catholic Schools Catholic Teachings Catholic Education

A Blessing in Disguise

On December 20, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada issued an unanimous decision which struck down three Criminal Code provisions regulating prostitution: living off the avails of prostitution; communicating in public for purposes of prostitution; and keeping or being found in a bawdy house. 

Initially, I was not only saddened by this decision but perplexed by the reasoning behind it. The decision says, in part: "The three impugned provisions, primarily concerned with preventing public nuisance as well as the exploitation of prostitutes, do not pass Charter muster: they infringe the s. 7 rights of prostitutes by depriving them of security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice."

I'm afraid that many will conclude that once again the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been invoked, the Supreme Court has spoken, and settled the prostitution issue. 

The quote ascribed to the great philosopher and former New York Yankee baseball player, Yogi Berra, readily comes to mind - "this is déjà vu, all over again."

A few years ago, the Supreme Court said that Parliament may redefine marriage, it did not say that it must redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. At that time the Supreme Court Justices talked about reading the Constitution,"expansively," and that it is like a "living tree which by way of progressive interpretation, accommodates and addresses the realities of modern life."

There are more roots to the tree than simply the Charter of Rights and Freedom. There are also historical, cultural, philosophical, moral, and anthropological roots. The failure to attend to the health of all the roots runs the risk of killing the tree and destroying the public good.

Prostitution is not only anti-marriage but it exploits its participants and causes societal harm.

Chief Justice McLachlin stated: "While some prostitutes may fit the description of persons who freely choose (or at one time chose) to engage in the risky economic activity of prostitution, many prostitutes have no meaningful choice but to do so. Ms. Bedford herself stated that she initially prostituted herself 'to make enough money to at least feed myself.'

As the application judge found, street prostitutes, with some exceptions, are a particularly marginalized population. Whether because of financial desperation, drug addictions, mental illness, or compulsion from pimps, they often have little choice but to sell their bodies for money. Realistically, while they may retain some minimal power of choice-what the Attorney General of Canada called constrained choice-these are not people who can be said to be truly 'choosing' a risky line of business."

The effect of the Supreme Courts decision was suspended for 12 months to give Parliament a chance to respond.

I now see the decision as an opportunity for our law makers to do something right, namely, to change the focus to the criminalization of the purchasing of sexual services. The Government of Canada is perfectly positioned to introduce new legislation on prostitution that will both reduce its incidence and improve the safety and security of its victims. 

The evidence of other countries that have experimented with liberalization of prostitution quickly revealed that such changes led to unintended consequences and to an increase in sex trafficking. A New Zealand Law Review Committee report found in 2008 marked increases in violence and coercion of sex workers following liberalization of prostitution laws in 2003. A recent German report suggested that liberalization of prostitution in 2002 has spawned increased participation to levels of 700,000 prostitutes.

On the other hand, in Sweden, the passage of a law that treats prostitution as a form of violence against women that fosters inequality has resulted in a 50% drop in street prostitution. Sweden is also noted for having the least amount of trafficked women in the European Union.

Furthermore, the law has been successful in changing public opinion with over 70% of the population supporting the law.

The Swedish approach, commonly called the Nordic Model, criminalizes the purchasing of sexual services and offers support and rehabilitation opportunities for prostituted women and exit strategies. Women selling sex are seen more as victims rather than criminals. This model recognizes that the root cause of exploitation of women through prostitution is the demand of male customers, without which the global industry of trafficking and prostitution would collapse.

The Catholic Women's League of Canada has assumed a real leadership role on this issue for quite some time and have repeatedly urged all CWL members to write and/or email their MPs and MLAs in support of the CWL's Resolution 2012.01 Criminalization of the Purchasing of Sexual Services. It's now time for us to follow their prophetic lead.

It is particularly timely, that on Ash Wednesday, March 5, Pope Francis sent a lenten letter of support to Bishops of Brazil in their opposition to human trafficking:

It is impossible to remain indifferent when one learns that there are human beings who are bought and sold like merchandise! Think of the adoption of children destined to be sold for organ transplants, of women who are deceived and forced into prostitution, of workers without rights or a voice who exploited, etc. This is human trafficking. It is precisely on this level that we need to make a good examination of conscience: how many times have we permitted a human being to be seen as an object, to be put on show in order to sell a product or to satisfy an immoral desire? The human person ought never to be sold or bought as if he or she were a commodity. Whoever uses human persons in this way and exploits them, even if indirectly, becomes an accomplice of this injustice.

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Social Justice Bishop's
Related Themes Social Justice Conscience Moral and Ethics Catholic Teachings

Body Worlds and the Brain

TELUS World of Science Calgary is excited to announce the Canadian premiere of the internationally acclaimed traveling exhibition. Body Worlds aims to educate the public about the inner workings of the human body and show the effects of poor health, good health, and lifestyle choices. It is also presented in the hopes that it will stimulate curiosity about the science of anatomy.

The following information blurb is both interesting and provocative: "As a key entry point influencing careers in science, TELUS World of Science promotes values such as curiosity, commitment, courage, and collaboration to help build on the foundation for Canada's future economy."

Notice that there is no mention of ethics or morality. However, it is also pointed out that Calgary's exhibit is about 50% larger than Edmonton's similar exhibit a couple of years ago.

When a Body World exhibit came to Cincinnati, Archbishop Pilarczyk stated: "The public exhibition of plasticized bodies, unclaimed, unidentified, and displayed without reverence is unseemly and inappropriate."

In Kansas City, Bishop Finn and Archbishop Naumann complained: "It represents a kind of 'human taxidermy' that degrades the actual people, who, through their bodies, once lived, loved, prayed and died."

Thomas S. Hibbs, distinguished professor of ethics and culture at Baylor University, not only questioned the tastefulness of the shows but asserted that the exhibits purvey a "pornography of the dead."

What are some of the ethical issues involved?

Catholic moral teaching regards the human person as a unity of soul and body, spirit and matter - beings capable of freedom and love in communion with other persons and with God. As such, the body is more than just a vessel for the soul. The Church's concern for human dignity extends to the body even after the soul is no longer present. The bodies of the dead deserve respect and charity, preserving the God-given dignity of the human person. In lieu of immediate burial, the church does allow for, and in some cases commends, the conscientious free choice of person to "donate" their bodies for legitimate scientific research and educational purposes. In these instances, the deceased body and its parts deserve respectful internment.

Some universities that use donated bodies for study and help students learn how to save other people's lives conduct a funeral service at the end of the year, to which the family members of the deceased are invited.

By way of contrast, "plastination is the process of extracting all bodily fluids and soluble fats from specimens, replacing them through vacuum forced impregnation with reactive resins and elastomers, and then curing them with light, heat, or certain gases, which give the specimens rigidity and permanence" (italics added for emphasis). A cadaver is not a person but it once was and the human body retains its dignity even in death.

Another major issue is whether the bodies have even been appropriately obtained. Did the exhibitors receive the free and informed consent of the persons whose bodies are preserved and displayed? Informed consent requires adequate disclosure of information, each person's ability to understand the full disclosure, the person's ability to make a decision, and the freedom to choose or reject participation in the displays.

The possibility of trafficking in human bodies and the absence of appropriate legislation to regulate the transport and display of plasticized bodies raise concerns that are not easily dismissed.

An ABC News report in 2008 raised a serious caution that a Chinese black market might be selling bodies for $200 to $2000 to Dalian Medi-Uni Plastination labs in Dalian, China. The report sparked an investigation by the state of New York directly targeting Premier Exhibitions competitor of Von Hagen's Body Worlds). The case was eventually settled by requiring the exhibitor to warn customers that the bodies may be those of tortured or executed people.

Von Hagen claims to have a sizable donor roster of several thousand. However, for purposes of inquiring into the issue of free consent, the paperwork is of limited value. Since the bodies are deliberately rendered anonymous in processing, there is no way to prove that this particular displayed body goes with this particular set of papers. There are both privacy and transparency issues to be sorted out.

There is morally laudable self-giving in the donation of one's dead body to further knowledge for physicians in training with a view towards offering health and hope to patients who will be treated by those physicians. A good argument can be made that there is also legitimate educational value in the use of plastinated models to teach anatomy.

However, when fully plasticized bodies are displayed at play or posed in athletic mid-movement or ghoulishness, e.g. throwing a baseball, riding a bicycle, playing a violin, or a flayed person standing and looking downward at his innards with his skin all in one piece draped over his arm like a pallid coat, we have crossed the line from education into the realm of entertainment, questionable art, and commercial showcases.

Good insights are sometimes found by simply following the money. This doesn't look like an non-profit educational enterprise. Who stands to gain by such productions? What's the profit margin?

Whether or not children visit this exhibit is a parental decision. Is it appropriate for all? Probably not. Should attendance be related to a particular course of studies? Probably, and hopefully not just anatomy and economics.

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Bishop's Religious Education
Related Themes Religious Education Catholic Teachings
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