Gay clubs are prohibited by bishops at all Ontario Catholic schools, an investigation by Xtra reveals.
That contradicts what’s been said by politicians, school officials and even gay lobbyists, who claim that there are gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in the province’s Catholic schools.
Xtra contacted all 29 of Ontario’s Catholic school boards; not a single one reported having a GSA.
Moreover, not only are GSAs prohibited by Catholic bishops, but Ontario’s taxpayer-supported school system’s understanding of homosexuality — and its gay students — is determined by these religious leaders, not the policies of the Ministry of Education.
According to the superintendent of education for the Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board, Gerald Casey, GSAs aren’t explicitly banned by his board.
“No, I wouldn’t say we ban them. We support student clubs that support inclusiveness, especially for students who might otherwise feel marginalized. But all our clubs must, however, adhere to the Catholic teachings and values,” says Casey.
Could students at a Bruce Grey Catholic school start a GSA?
“The answer would be no,” admits Casey.
Though they don’t have a GSA at the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, Diane Legg, director of communications and public affairs for the board, says, “It’s not about if we allow or not allow them.”
“As a Catholic board, we’re guided by the bishops, certainly. We always have been,” says Legg. “We write our curriculum based on church teachings.”
All curriculum taught at Ontario Catholic schools is vetted by the Institute for Catholic Education. The institute was formed 25 years ago when the province extended full funding to Catholic high schools. Its membership is made up of associations representing Catholic principals, trustees, the teachers’ union, business officials, supervisory officers, parents and the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario (ACBO). The ACBO is the final authority in the province on what is – and isn’t – determined to be “Catholic.”
Sister Joan Cronin, executive director of the institute, explains. “They have the moral suasion of guarding the Catholic tradition. If you read canon law, you’ll see the role of the bishop is to govern, sanctify and teach. They have the responsibility of seeing the Catholic tradition is taught,” she says.
In 2004, the institute published the chief document used to inform all Ontario Catholic school teachings on the subject of homosexuality, the Pastoral Guideline to Assist Students of Same-Sex Orientation.
In the introduction to the 94-page directive, written by bishop Paul-André Durocher, chair of the ACBO Education Commission, he acknowledges the church has “not always been sensitive to the particular needs of students with a same-sex orientation.” Durocher calls for the elimination of “practices like bullying and unjust discrimination” and for the development of policies to meet the “special needs” of “students with a same-sex attraction.”
What follows the introduction is a guide for keeping Catholic students with “a same-sex attraction” safe from both bullying and, more importantly, gay sex. The document avoids using the label “homosexual” as, it explains, “The orientation or act is homosexual or heterosexual but the person is not.” A student may have “a same-sex attraction,” but no one is gay. Further, if a student is suffering from these attractions, they must never act on them: “The bottom line of church teaching on gay sexual activity is simply: Don’t. Ever. This is called lifelong abstinence, or a celibate lifestyle.”
Though the document serves as the principal reference on Ontario Catholic teaching on the matter of their gay students, it has never been posted online by Catholic or Ministry of Education officials. A searchable, downloadable pdf of the Pastoral Guideline can be found at the end of this report.
Tracy Barill, superintendent of education for the Durham Catholic District School Board, explains these guidelines are used to inform schools’ chaplaincy teams, who work with students who experience “a same-sex attraction.”
For Barill, there is no conflict between the best interests of gay students and Catholic teachings on homosexuality.
“The teachings of the Ontario Catholic bishops is that we need to respect the dignity and respect of all human beings,” she says. “Catholic teaching is clearly opposed to marginalization of any individual for any reason.”
Asked if these mandates by the Catholic bishops might conflict with ministry guidelines on equity and inclusive schools, Legg shoots back. “We are to be inclusive, we are to be understanding, and we are to embrace all students. That’s the information I have, and if you’re trying to say something else I can’t support that,” she says.
Though the Pastoral Guideline is referenced in the the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy (PDF), no mention is made of the document’s discrimination between homosexual and heterosexual sex, or its principal contention that gay identity is a myth. Instead, after lamenting the continued evidence of “racism, religious intolerance, homophobia and gender-based violence” in school communities, the ministry commends the bishops for their acknowledgement of “homosexual students'” high rate of suicide and applauds the religious leaders’ commitment to keeping students “free of harassment.”
The ministry repeatedly refused to comment to Xtra on this issue.
In an effort to quell calls for an end to public funding of Catholic schools following the Halton Catholic School Board’s outright ban on GSAs, many claimed Ontario taxpayers choose which board their taxes will support. This is factually incorrect. Catholic schools are funded according to the number of students, not the number of Catholic taxpayers.
Part of this damage control included leaving voters with the impression that the problem of homophobic discrimination was isolated to a single Catholic school board.
Speaking at a public meeting at the 519 Church Street Community Centre on Feb 9, gay MPP Glen Murray, a cabinet minister in the provincial government, spoke on the subject of Catholic GSAs in the province: “Where are the gay-straight alliances? You find just as many in Catholic schools as you do in public.”