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Motion and Speaking Notes: Gender Identity and Expression Policy, Sept. 15, 2015

September 18, 2015

Motion:  that the Board of Trustees gives first reading to the Gender Identity and Expression Policy (pages 21-22)

Speaking Notes:

Part 1

Before I begin my remarks I want to read to you a quote from the Second Vatican Council:

“…with respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent”. Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope)

The policy I am bringing forward tonight is all about respecting the fundamental rights of our students, families and staff.

On May 19th at a 6 hour meeting on our bathroom issue our lawyer Kevin Feehan suggested that “Well, what Boards do best is write policy”.  So we announced to the public that we would “continue to discuss policy with respect to this issue in consultation with the Archdiocese of Edmonton, medical specialists, parents and educational experts”.

Five days after we made this public statement, our Board received an email from our Superintendent stating that Catholic Superintendents in collaboration with the Archbishop were developing a policy for transgender in our schools.  Their intent was to have a draft ready by the end of June.

Knowing this, our Board went ahead to establish an ad hoc committee with the intent that we would certainly incorporate portions of the Archbishop and Superintendent’s policy that had merit. We respect the fact that the Archbishop is according to Canon Law the ecclesial authority that determines whether schools districts are Catholic or not.

We showed our respect by inviting him to our meeting with Dr. Petryk and requesting a meeting with him to discuss the policy we were developing.  He was too busy to meet. We also wanted to respect the promise we made to this transgender student and her family to provide a policy as soon as possible and no later than the beginning of the school year to ensure she would feel welcome and included in her school.  We were unable to incorporate the Archbishop’s policy because it has been delayed again and again.

On August 21 I received a communication from the Archbishop through Chair Engel stating that the Superintendent’s group was established “to ensure that there be consistent practice in all of our districts.  Our communion demands this, so my expectation is that each district of the Archdiocese will follow the common protocol, and not act on their own…My request of the Edmonton Catholic Board, then, is to wait for, and follow, the protocol produced by the superintendents group and, therefore, not proceed any further with the work of your committee.”

So after reading this email, I better understood why he didn’t want to meet with our policy committee—because he wants us to accept his policy.

We need to ask ourselves, if unelected officials are writing policies for democratically elected Catholic trustees, and do not even wish to collaborate with us, why have elected Catholic trustees?  And if Catholic trustees are voting for policies the Archbishop has developed out of constant fear that our catholic designation will be removed, then why have Catholic school trustees?  The $350,000/year salary we receive for the 7 of us — multiplied by 15 Boards across Alberta—would be better spent hiring more special needs teachers for our schools than rubber stamping policies written by unelected officials.

So I ask my fellow trustees to support this policy which was created by your ad hoc committee.

Part 2

I want to focus my closing remarks on some quotes from Pope Francis in a now famous interview with Father Spadaro:

“How are we treating the people of God? I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess. The church’s ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleanses and raises up his neighbor. This is pure Gospel. God is greater than sin…The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them…The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. The bishops, particularly, must be able to support the movements of God among their people with patience, so that no one is left behind. But they must also be able to accompany the flock that has a flair for finding new paths (my emphasis added).”

He goes on to say:

“The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you…A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person…In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation.”

This policy promises that our district will accompany our transgender students with mercy.  It is what our Pope is calling us to as ministers entrusted with the care of over 40,000 students.

The mother of this transgender student told me very clearly that she is not asking the church to change its teachings but to welcome her child in her situation.  When we deny her the ability to use the girls’ washroom, are we not being small minded?  When we say come to our school and we will support you in every way possible to be the person God has created you to be, are we not offering her mercy?  Did not Jesus do this when he encountered marginalized people?  Providentially, last Sunday’s Gospel reading reminded us that Jesus was crucified because he stood up to the small mindedness of the chief priests and scribes.

During his return flight from Rio de Janeiro Pope Francis stated that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, “I am no one to judge”. “Religion” he went on to say, “has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.” (for Fr. Spadaro`s complete interview with Pope Francis go to America Magazine: Pope Francis Interview

So our Pope would agree that our Catholic schools are to teach Catholic doctrine but in the end our students, staff and families whom God in creation has set free, will have to choose for themselves how to live their lives.  This too is Catholic doctrine. I ask my fellow trustees to support my motion in order to support the vision of church advocated for by our Pope.

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