WCR Logo


September 28, 2015

The Edmonton Catholic School Board needlessly undermined Catholic teaching and its own credibility with a chaotic discussion at its Sept. 15 meeting aimed at meeting the needs of a transgendered student. Board chair Debbie Engel's assurances a week later that the school district is meeting the student's needs and will soon approve a policy dealing specifically with transgendered children should help to calm the storm.

Still, the earlier chaos and unacceptable comments by board members have left a bad taste. In particular, David Eggen, the minister of education, is eyeing the situation after having warned of "consequences" if trustees cannot resolve the issue amicably and satisfactorily. The minister can go as far as dissolving the board, a move that would strike at the heart of the constitutional right to Catholic education in Alberta. Wisely, Eggen has chosen to pursue the path of dialogue with the board.

The Sept. 15 meeting revealed a board seemingly unable to govern itself and with a shaky grasp of Catholic teaching and practice. One trustee indulged in amateur psychoanalysis of transgendered children, claiming (wrongly) that he was upholding Church teaching. Another criticized the archbishop. There were tears, accusations of defamation and a general free-for-all. Engel tried repeatedly and ineffectively to impose order upon the chaos.

The board should be applauded for striving to develop a policy ensuring transgendered children are treated with respect, caring and inclusivity. That all children are treated respectfully is already a board policy; applying it specifically to transgendered children is needed in the current circumstances. Such children ought to be guaranteed an education free of negative moral judgments and bullying.

Still, the "gender theory" increasingly popular in our society does not sit easily with Catholic belief that one's body, including one's gender, is a gift of God, not a characteristic open to change.

Catholic doctrine in this area is not well developed. St. John Paul II, however, took large steps in that direction with his talks on the theology of the body in the early 1980s.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church's pronouncements on homosexuality are the closest one can come to relevant teaching. While the Catechism teaches a homosexual orientation is "objectively disordered," it also asserts "Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained." (See 2357-59.) This contradicts one trustee's contention that different sexual orientations constitute a form of mental illness. The Church does not teach that nor is it qualified to make such a scientific judgment.

Further, a Catholic school board must be in solidarity with its bishop. Public comments from any trustee against the teaching or integrity of the bishop wound the Body of Christ. In extreme cases when a bishop's actions or teaching are divisive or in error, they should be documented and sent to the Vatican. Personal sniping at the bishop is immature and offensive.

Catholics often complain when the Church and its teachings are distorted and mocked in secular media. However, the basis for such complaint evaporates when Catholic leaders themselves distort doctrine, engage in rancorous public debate and attack the local bishop.

We hope the trustees will sort out their disagreements and soon approve a policy that calls for the protection of transgendered children. Catholic education requires nothing less.

Letter to the Editor - 01/11/16