February 8, 2016

Edmonton - Archbishop Richard Smith has joined others in expressing his frustration with the provincial government's new gender identity guidelines.

In a Jan. 21 pastoral letter, the archbishop also contends some trustees have betrayed the public trust.

Smith says the guidelines contain constructive, and reasonable suggestions for best practices, but others could pose problems for Catholic schools. The Church, he says, opposes guidelines that allow students to self-identify their own gender expression or identity.

"From this principle stems a number of suggestions for creating an artificial gender-neutral atmosphere in schools, often without proper regard to the rights and protections previously upheld for boys and girls and their mothers and fathers," the archbishop wrote.

The Catholic belief is that the human person is body and soul together, that God created human beings male and female, and that all are called to care for and respect their bodies as created, he said.

(Smith's full statement is on Page 7.)


Smith is the fourth Alberta bishop to have issued a public statement on the guidelines. Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary led the charge by issuing a pastoral letter Jan. 14, a day after Education Minister Dave Eggen released the guidelines.

In it, Henry called the guidelines "totalitarian" and said they "breathe pure secularism" and would impose a "narrow-minded, anti-Catholic ideology."

The guidelines are intended to help Alberta's 61 school boards come up with regulations to protect the rights of LGBTQ students and teachers.

The 21-page document states, among other things, that school policies should allow gender-diverse students and teachers to participate on gender-segregated sports teams that reflect their gender identity and choose bathrooms that also reflect their gender expressions.

Boards have until March 31 to submit their policies to the education department for review. The policies must explicitly protect diversity in schools and provide safe places for all students.

Edmonton Catholic board chair Marilyn Bergstra has said she is "very impressed" by the guidelines. "My wish would be that every single word in that document is adopted but that's not how democracy works."

Following Henry's letter, St. Paul Bishop Paul Terrio and Grouard-McLennan Archbishop Gerard Pettipas released statements expressing disagreement with the guidelines.

In his Jan. 17 pastoral letter, Terrio said nobody can be ostracized or rejected because they have difficulty accepting their biological gender.

"(But) to say that a person's sexual orientation solely depends on self-identification denies biological facts as well as biblical teaching," he wrote. "Femininity and masculinity are not exchangeable roles but rather gifts and callings from the Creator."

Pettipas said the publicly-funded Alberta Catholic schools must respond to legislation, but they must do so in a way consistent with Catholic belief and practice.

"The Church teaches, under an authority that is greater than herself, that humans are created 'in the image and likeness of God . . . male and female he created them,'" the archbishop wrote Jan. 20.

"The Church believes that one's physiological gender is not arbitrary, but determines the identity that we grow into. This process of growth in identity must be respected."

A spokesman for Eggen said the minister plans to meet all four bishops some time in February to discuss the guidelines.

The Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association and the Alberta-Mackenzie Catholic Women's League have also issued statements on the issue.

In a Jan. 26 letter to Eggen, provincial CWL president Cathy Bouchard voiced opposition to the guidelines. "We reaffirm the right of the Catholic electorate to have our Catholic way of life permeated through the life of Catholic schools.

"The Alberta government must not expect Catholic school boards to reject their foundational beliefs to implement the guidelines," the letter says.

"We reaffirm the responsibility and the role of the Alberta Catholic Bishops to provide moral and theological leadership to the Catholic education communities as part of the Catholic community as a whole."