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Letter to the Editor: Response to Glen Argan’s Editorial, Western Catholic Reporter, Week of Sept. 28, 2015

October 1, 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.

Sincerely,

ECSD Trustee Patricia Grell, Ward 71

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9 Comments
  1. Heather Halpenny permalink

    Sorry about the short comment but the website jumped. I deeply respect and honour the position you have taken regarding the policy on transgender students in the Catholic School Board. Please know you have my thanks and support. Our children are the only future we have.

    • Thank you Heather, so much! This is an issue that is very often misunderstood by the public because it is a new issue for many people so I appreciate your understanding. I believe in time, more people will come to understand the science of gender theory and have better acceptance of the transgender members of our society. In the mean time, I ask all Christian believers to act like Christ and accept and love the marginalized. He asked us to love our neighbour and I think that means even if we don’t always understand them! In time though, I think there will be better understanding as more information is offered by the media on this subject. Thanks again for writing.

  2. Jenn Minsos permalink

    I really respect what you are doing and saying and publishing. Keep strong! Many many people know that being right is not always easy.

  3. Joan Metz permalink

    Good for you ! Joan Metz

    • Thanks Joan! Good to hear from you again! You will always have a warm place in my heart for your beautiful support of me back when I was advocating for LGBTQ students back in December. Those flowers you sent were so gorgeous–thanks again! One day I hope to meet you in person!

  4. Michael Bombak permalink

    Mrs. Grell, your response to Glen Argan has allowed me the opportunity to reflect on this topic as a Catholic teacher, and parent.

    I see here a false dichotomy between taking care of children and receiving council from the Archbishop. Pitting the Archbishop- and the Church- against the welfare of students is simply an unclear picture of events and quite a destructive vision at that.
    Pope Francis is an excellent witness to call upon. We must accompany all students (staff and parents for that matter) in whatever situation they find themselves in, and this is the calling of the Church. Pope Francis has also said the following about the new gender theory:
    “For instance, I wonder, for example, if the so-called gender theory is not also an expression of a frustration and of a resignation, which aims to cancel the sexual difference because it no longer knows how to address it. Yes, we risk taking a step backward. The removal of the difference, in fact, is the problem, not the solution. To resolve their problems of relation, man and woman must instead talk more to one another, listen more to one another, know one another more, love one another more.
    -General Audience, April 15, 2015

    We must as the Church meet everyone where they are at. We must patiently walk with them side by side. But we must never forget that we are leading them somewhere. Pope Francis is careful that they don’t slip along the way. We should be too.
    You are certainly right about the difficulty of being “the servant of two masters,” and it is not a unique experience it you. It is a difficulty shared by all Catholic School teachers in this province. These teachers are anxious for guidance and support. Let’s work at providing them a good witness by serving the right Master- God; in His Holy Church.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts — especially from the perspective of a Catholic teacher and parent. Because I have many things I want to say to you in reply to your comment, I have chosen to make them in a blog post. Please then go to my blog post to see my response. Thanks again for your thoughtful comments!

  5. It is obvious you are not in communion with the Church insofar as transgenderism is concerned. You refer to having two masters and you clearly choose Mammon and his agenda and not God (remember that Our Lord Jesus Christ mandated the apostes to govern His Church “what you bind on Earth will be bound in Heaven”). Your first duty is to obey your bishop and defend the Church. Remember always that you will have to respond to God on Judgment Day for your many infidelities.

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