Bishops, Eggen meet to discuss guidelines

Archbishop Richard Smith meets with reporters Feb. 8 to discuss the meeting of the Alberta bishops with Education Minister David Eggen.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Archbishop Richard Smith meets with reporters Feb. 8 to discuss the meeting of the Alberta bishops with Education Minister David Eggen.

February 22, 2016
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Alberta Education Minister David Eggen believes he has found common ground with some of the Alberta bishops who recently took turns criticizing his department's gender-identity guidelines.

Speaking to reporters at the Legislature Feb. 8, Eggen said he believes the differences can be sorted out based on the spirit of safe and caring schools that everyone shares.

"I am certainly looking for a way by which we can accommodate theological beliefs and the letter of the law," the minister said.

"The letter of the law is not negotiable but certainly you can have ways by which an accommodation can be had and everyone can be satisfied."

He did not say what kind of accommodation might be reached, but acknowledged there would be some latitude.

Eggen met with Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith, Calgary Bishop Fred Henry, St. Paul Bishop Paul Terrio and auxiliary Bishop Greg Bittman Feb. 8.

The bishops have strongly opposed the province's guidelines, which are intended to help Alberta's 61 school boards to craft policies to protect LGBTQ students.

In January, all three bishops sent out public letters criticizing the guidelines. Henry called them "totalitarian" and "anti-Catholic."

Smith said the Catholic Church opposes guidelines that allow students to self-identify their own gender expression or identity.

Terrio also opposed the guidelines on the basis they allow students to self-identify their own gender expression or identity, calling this "a major problem for Catholic education."

Archbishop Gerard Pettipas of Grouard-McLennan also opposed the guidelines publicly but was unable to attend the meeting with Eggen.

The Alberta Education guidelines contain policies that would allow students to dress in clothing, participate on sports teams and choose bathrooms that reflects their gender identity and expression.

School policies also must ensure all school staff are protected from discrimination, regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation and gender expression.

Speaking outside the archdiocese's headquarters, Smith described the meeting with Eggen as "very much a general kind of conversation."

WARM AND CORDIAL

"It was warm and cordial and it really gave the bishops opportunity to share with the minister a broader understanding of some of the things we have been saying publicly about the guidelines."

The archbishop said Eggen was "very gracious" and recognizes the role of bishops as faith leaders.

"He understand the reality of the Catholic school system and its dual mandate - I mean its accountability to the provincial government as well as to the Church to make sure that whatever is in our policies is consistent with who we are."

Eggen also understands he ought to respect the constitutional protections given to Catholic schools, Smith told reporters.

Asked if the bishops got some guidance in how to apply the guidelines, the archbishop said the discussion with the minister "didn't get into those details" as it is the role of school boards to put together policies.

PHILOSOPHICAL STANCE

"However, there is a particular philosophical stance with respect to gender ideology out of which the Church obviously doesn't work (and) can't work," he explained.

"That doesn't mean that we can't be working together to protect our kids. That's the fundamental goal."

Eggen described the meeting with the bishops as "very productive," saying "we found lots of things in common to talk about. Certainly, everyone has the best interests of all students in mind."

BOARDS COOPERATIVE

The minister said he believes Catholic boards across the province have been and will continue to be cooperative with his department in creating "coherent policy that is keeping with the law and in keeping with the spirit of ensuring that we protect every single student in their school systems, especially the most vulnerable ones."

He said his job is to ensure all students, regardless of gender identity or expression, will have safe and caring learning environments.

"I won't compromise from that, and in the spirit of collaboration I think that all people in that spirit should move in that direction and I think that they will."

School boards have until March 31 to develop policies on how they will protect LGBTQ students. Eggen said he has no reason to doubt any of the boards will meet the deadline.