Letter to the Editor: Response to Glen Argan’s Editorial, Western Catholic Reporter, Week of Sept. 28, 2015
Dear Mr. Argan,
I am disappointed that you have written an editorial based upon your viewing of a chaotic ECSD public board meeting without contacting any trustees to ask what led up to such chaos. I would have hoped that your education and training as a journalist would have included getting all sides to a story. The events of Tuesday, Sept. 15th didn’t just happen – there are many events that led up to a meeting which you describe as having left you with a bad taste.
I don’t think you really appreciate the catch 22 of being a Catholic school trustee. First of all we are publicly elected officials paid for by the government by way of tax payers’ dollars. We are also Catholic officials and so by Canon Law our school districts are only considered Catholic by the local competent ecclesial authority – in ECSD’s case, Archbishop Richard Smith. We therefore serve 2 masters: the Archbishop and the taxpayers through the Minister of Education. My experience these last 2 years on the Board of Trustees has led me to conclude that indeed “no one can serve 2 masters” as Scripture says. As Catholic trustees, we live an incredible tension trying to serve these 2 masters. That our meetings are often filled with rancour and bitterness is an indication of the tension we are attempting to deal with to the best of our abilities.
Consider for example our current situation: we are told by the Archbishop that we must follow his protocol for our transgender students. The church does not accept the science of gender identity and therefore his protocols do not accommodate transgender students to participate in their school according to the gender with which they identify. If we choose to ignore the Archbishop’s protocol then there is the concern that our catholic designation will be taken away, our district will be dissolved and we would see the end of Catholic education in Edmonton. No trustee wants to see that. If we do follow his protocol however, then we are neglecting our other master—the Minister of Education — who wants to see us protect all our students – especially our most vulnerable. If we follow the Archbishop and not the Minister then our Board risks being dissolved because we are seen as incapable of producing appropriate policies to protect our students.
The only way through this catch 22 in my opinion, is to have an ecclesial authority who is willing to collaborate with us in creating welcoming, loving and truly Catholic school communities in which all our students can learn, grow and thrive. It is not against church teaching to welcome transgender students and help them feel at home in their school communities. As Pope Francis said in his 2013 interview with Fr. Spadaro, SJ “We must always consider the person…In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation”. Our schools accompany students in their situation – some students are gay, some come from divorced and re-married parents, some have Catholic parents who use contraception, some come from single parent families, some live with their gay parent and their partner, some students are not even Catholic—but we accept them as they are and hopefully by the time they graduate they will have a deep sense of God’s love for them and their dignity in the eyes of God. Hopefully they will take this understanding out into the world to share with others.
I am sorry you believe that in making my comments at the public board meeting that I was not in solidarity with our bishop. In making my comments to the public on Sept. 15th I was alerting the tax payers of the fact that the Archbishop has chosen not to meet with the Board’s ad hoc policy committee and that he has even gone so far as to tell us to stop writing such a policy and follow his. I can show you his letter which expresses his wishes very clearly.
The tax payers who pay my wages, need to know that an unelected person is attempting to circumvent democracy and in point of fact, is disrespecting our role as elected officials to write policies for the district we govern. I’m sorry that you do not like hearing the truth however, those who elected me have a right to know the truth. Yes, I will write to the Apostolic Nuncio about this issue but getting a response back could take many months. In the meantime, the Archbishop has put himself in the centre of our Board and caused through his intransigence, deep divisions on our Board.
In the mean time, those who actually hired me—the electors –need to know what constraints all our trustees are under in going forward with a policy to protect our transgender students. The public has a right to know that there are some trustees who are following their conscience in following the Archbishop and other trustees who are following their conscience by not following the Archbishop. Yes, I am willing to go against the Archbishop for the sake of the welfare and safety of our vulnerable transgender students. Their high suicide rates are enough to convince me that I must in good conscience as a Christian and a Catholic, forgo communion with the local ecclesiastical authority. This time, the Archbishop is wrong and the kids come first.
ECSD Trustee Patricia Grell, Ward 71