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Church threatens to pull children from Catholic schools

'We just don't believe in homosexuality,' says Attaalla

Inside the Ti Agia Maria and St Demiana the Martyr Coptic Orthodox Church in Etobicoke. Credit: stdemiana.ca

Ti Agia Maria and St Demiana the Martyr Coptic Orthodox Church in Etobicoke is doing some damage control after its priest penned a letter to the Toronto District Catholic School board threatening that the children of 5,000 Coptic families would be pulled from Toronto’s Catholic schools if the board moves forward with its equity policy, mandating equality for all gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans students.

Father Jeremiah Attaalla tells Xtra youth cannot understand concepts of sexuality, and homosexuality should not be taught in schools.

“We just don’t believe in homosexuality,” he says. “The public schools are already doing [sexuality]. Catholic schools should teach the message in the Bible.”

The message states that, “Homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered,” according to the Catholic catechism. The Pastoral Guidelines to Assist Students of Same-Sex Orientation, developed by the bishops at the Institute for Catholic Education, reads that “gay” is not an identity, that gay sex is “immoral and sinful” and that gay people ought to live a life of chastity. It is the primary guideline for instructing Catholic school administrators and teachers on homosexuality.

Attaalla says that members of his congregation are “upset” and “afraid” that their children “will learn homosexuality” in Catholic schools. He recently wrote a letter to Toronto Catholic District School Board director of education Ann Perron on behalf of St Mark in Scarborough, St George and St Ruiess in North York, St Mourice and St Verena in North York and St Agia Maria and St Demiana in Etobicoke.

“All these churches have a population of at least 5,000 families attending with 12 priests serving those churches, and I would say there is at least 80 percent of those families who have their children attending Catholic schools if not the rest are in private schools,” he writes. “Not one of those families support the public school board because of the implementation of the (EIE) policy, therefore if this policy is implemented at last to be recognized in the Toronto Catholic District School Board even surroundings in which we have larger number of families as (Mississauga with over 7,000 families). We will not hesitate to withdraw our children at once from attending any Catholic school within Toronto or GTA if the requested amendments are not implemented and applied to the Equity and Inclusive education policy as the amendments are faithful to the teachings of the catechism of the Catholic Church.”

Perron did not reply to Xtra’s requests for an interview, nor did anyone else at the board. Superintendent of education Patrick Keyes, who was on holiday when Xtra called, referred the comment to the board chair.

In an Aug 5 Toronto Star story, Attaalla rationalized his letter by explaining that Catholics don’t believe children should be taught anything about homosexuality. “In these young grades, we don’t want teachers talking about God creating Adam and Steve. It’s Adam and Eve.”

Attaalla says his church has 5,000 families with children that attend Toronto Catholic schools. The board receives between $8,000 and $10,000 in public money for each student. So if the church makes good on the threat, it could cost the board up to $40 million.

Attaalla says he stands by his letter. Keyes says he is looking ahead now to the Aug 31 Toronto Catholic District School Board meeting, where the amendments to the equity policy will be debated. “The equity policy has already passed. What is up for a vote are the amendments.”

The Coptic Orthodox Church is an organization with some theological differences from Catholicism. In the Orthodox church, Attaalla says, priests can marry. He has a wife and two children, both of whom attend private school. Before becoming a priest, he says, he was a pharmacist.

When asked what he would do if one of his children came out as gay, Attaalla laughs, presumably questioning the seriousness of the question.

When pressed and assured the question is very serious, he stops laughing.

“I would love him,” he says before a long pause. “I would do what Christ would have done, love him even more than before. I would tell him to go and read the Bible. If this is his choice, that’s his choice. But that’s not according to what we believe… Schools teaching Adam and Steve is a reality, and it’s not what we believe.”