Catholic leaders and NDP face showdown in Edmonton

Rick Bell

Wednesday, January 27, 2016, 11:30 PM

Whatever else you think, you’ve got to admit one thing about Bishop Fred. He’s got a spine.

This week, Calgary Catholic Bishop Fred Henry gets into the ring for round two, now going toe-to-toe with his critics.

And there’s no bobbing and weaving. He’s a straight-ahead puncher, no fancy footwork.

The bishop is not blinking.

In fact, he puts pen to paper again on the Notley NDP government’s guidelines for gender identity and expression in schools.

These are provincial guidelines for school boards as they develop their transgender policy.

For example, if a boy self-identifies as a girl they could play on a girls’ sports team, could use the girls’ change room and girls’ washroom, dress as a girl and be addressed as “she” or some other pronoun.

School boards will submit their plans on how they will follow the guidelines to the province by the end of March.

A couple weeks back Bishop Fred told the Sun: “The government, because we’re not willing to kowtow and accept the LGBTQ agenda, is all of a sudden starting to try and play a little hardball with us.”

The bishop’s latest offering is titled Totalitarianism in Alberta. Part II.

“If you are reading this piece in the hopes of discovering an apology and/or retraction you might as well stop reading now,” he writes.

“That’s simply not going to happen.”

You see, in our apology culture some inhabitants of social media demand the bishop say sorry and do a U-turn on his remarks, not realizing the freezing over of hell is more likely.

Then there’s those who figure the bishop is somehow going rogue, offside with his own church.

So the bishop quotes Pope Francis — at length.

Then there’s those asking the bishop who is he to judge. You’re not supposed to judge, they say.

Bishop Fred fires off quotations from the Old and the New Testament.

“Only God can judge the state of the human soul but it is pure nonsense to suggest we cannot and should not judge human behaviour,” says the bishop.

Another zinger follows.

“We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as certain.”

Bishop Fred is not alone.

Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith says the principle in the guidelines where “self-identification is the sole measure of an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is “not congruent with Catholic teaching.”

“From this principle stems a number of suggestions for creating an artificial gender-neutral atmosphere in schools, often without proper regard to the rights and protections previously upheld for girls and boys and their mothers and fathers.”

Nowhere near as colourful as Bishop Fred but still a tune from the same songsheet.

By the way, the archbishop also quotes Pope Francis and adds “a Catholic school can’t reasonable be expected to deny its faith base in its day-to-day operations and activities.”

“Our school boards will no doubt keep this in mind as they formulate policy.”

Two other Catholic bishops from north of Edmonton join the chorus. One says the province’s guidelines are “flawed from the beginning” and rejects them, complete with words from Pope Francis.

The other bishop says being funded by public dollars means Catholic schools must respond to laws concerning education “but must do so in a way consistent with Catholic belief and practice.”

It is a full court press.

Calgary Catholic schools say they’re welcoming and caring and are building inclusive communities where everyone is respected and everyone belongs.

As for Bishop Fred …

“We work closely with our bishop. He is our faith leader and guides us on moral and spiritual issues,” says Jennifer Woo, down at the Calgary Catholic school board office.

The next step. David Eggen, the education minister, will meet with Catholic leaders early next month in the capital.

Bishop Fred is expected to be at the sitdown.

“I’m looking forward to having a constructive conversation,” says Eggen.

Oh, for the chance to be a fly on that wall. 

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