In Response to "A Pastoral Letter Regarding Bill-13"
An e-mail sent by Phil Little to Bishop Gerard Bergie. Posted on June 18, 2012.
I noticed that you were born 12 years after me and ordained 10 years after me, so that would indicate that there is still lots of growing room left before your required retirement at 75. That perhaps is hopeful.
After getting married, I worked as a teacher in the TCDSB for 23 years, working in both the guidance and religion departments. I worked in different schools at the high school level - and as a volunteer officer with OECTA I also came to know of the reality in many of the schools of the system. Without a doubt, I came to know teachers (including clergy) who were gay - some who were comfortable with "coming out" but others who feared rightly that others might react negatively to them. You can imagine how fearful it was for youth who in coming to an understanding of their own sexual orientation found themselves to be in a minority - but not as small a minority as they thought.
One incident I clearly recall occurred when I was still at St. Joseph's College School, an all-girls school downtown. One senior student in her last year had come to an awareness of herself as a lesbian. Unwisely perhaps she shared this with fellow students and some teachers. One day this student was assaulted and choked in the school cafeteria by another student who clearly acted out of her homophobia, perhaps her own sexual insecurity. The attacker clearly indicated that her unprovoked action was against her fellow student because of her homosexuality. When this assault ended the victim went to the office to explain what had happened and asked that the police be called. The police attended the school and took notes, but the Principal (a nun) assured the police that she would handle the matter internally. The police deferred, wrongly, to the will of the Principal and left. The student who was assaulted was banned from the school cafeteria as if she were the guilty person in the incident. The attacker received no admonition or consequence. Although she was in mid-semester the student who was assaulted left the school because of concerns for her physical safety. She went to the public system.
Although I have now been retired for a few years, I am told by teachers that the separate school system is still not safe for students who "come out" in their high school years. There is a culture of intolerance that is part of the catholic culture, partly fed by the official teaching of the church and by declarations by church officials who continue to display the same intolerance - at least officially. You know, I know - it is clearly documented that the Roman Catholic clergy has become a "gay occupation", and I have no objection to that. What I do object to is the pandering to an official line that is hate filled and ultimately encouraging violence against persons identified as homosexual or "other than" - the LGBT grouping.
On Saturday afternoon I was listening to CBC radio and the program "Under the Influence" with Terry O'Reilly. It is a non-religious program dealing with marketing and popular culture. O'Reilly was citing an example of a hotel chain that sought to learn from its mistakes in order to improve customer relations, emphasizing that it was the "little things" that really do count. He quotes Isadore Sharp, a hotel manager, who said "We are only what we do, not what we say we are."
In the debate about allowing student support groups to call themselves "Gay-Straight Alliances" or whatever the students would wish to denominate their own groups, the Catholic official voice of bishops and school trustees sought to raise alarm, and perhaps not so unconsciously stirring the homophobic cauldron, again demonstrating their obsession with pelvic issues. However the more the official church voiced its objections to something as simple as the name of a student support group, and its refusal to use the word "gay", it became clear that the "church" (as in the old magisterium) was clearly out of touch with society in general and particularly with the catholic community. The OECTA President, speaking clearly on behalf of the teaching body that represents the teachers of the Catholic school system, supported the formation of Gay-Straight Alliances and calling them so. This is the reality - the youth of today are taught to use the correct vocabulary when speaking. As very young children, they are taught to use the correct words when referring to their own body parts. They can say "penis" or "vulva" without blushing although perhaps it might make the older generation blush for they were not permitted to be so correct.
Your letter of June 8 called "A Pastoral Letter Regarding Bill-13" (included below this letter) is most unfortunate, especially because it is coming after the fact and with some obvious distortions that do not help build bridges and open doors. It is almost unbelievable that the government of Ontario is showing greater moral certainty and providing guidance better than the bishops of the province. The premier and the minister of education are both catholic persons - perhaps even without theological training they are able to see what is right and just - for the common good - of the youth of the province. The formation of Gay-Straight Alliances not only provides a place where a few LGBT youth and their friends can meet, but it provides a focus where the entire school community can grow together in a spirit of understanding and acceptance. Could it be that as the bishops have abdicated their traditional responsibility as "teachers", the void is quickly filled by the faithful, many of whom have superior theological formation to most clergy. The "sensus fidelium" is no longer just a possibility but it is becoming the norm - so perhaps the loss of moral compass by the hierarchy has served a purpose in allowing the "church" ( the assembly) to express leadership in the realm of guidance and teaching.
Why would you continue to muddy the waters with this pastoral letter? It is not only just about "words" as you clearly state. "Words are very powerful because they represent concepts, ideas and even ideologies and this is certainly true with GSA's." So what are the words that the bishops, or their underlings among the trustees, would use? Rather than seek words of inclusion, your colleagues opt for words of exclusion - highlighting "differences" and refusing to use the words that are simply "everyday" vocabulary. There are words which are hateful and hurtful when referring to homosexual persons, but the words "gay and lesbian" are simply the words used today. Yet you and your fellow bishops, and the catholic trustees, find it so difficult to even write the word "gay". Does that not say something about your own psycho-sexual development and the secretive hidden gay culture among the clergy?
I strongly object to the image used to accompany your pastoral letter. The burning candle wrapped with barbed wire is widely used by the Amnesty International organization - an effective organization that advocates for the defense of those who are wrongly imprisoned or threatened. It is almost abusive to suggest through this image that you are advocating in the same way. If anything, those bishops who have spoken most loudly, especially the Archbishop of Toronto, are participating in a campaign that seeks to further the difficulties faced by LGBT persons in our society. Human rights is certainly not the agenda of the Ontario bishops. As branch managers appointed by a foreign head of state, you align yourselves with your Ugandan colleagues who are supporting the hideous "Anti-homosexuality bill" which proposes criminalizing homosexuality with penalties up to life imprisonment.
Your reference to the catholic catechism does little to shed light on the issue of homosexuality. Articles 2357-2359 are frankly an embarrassment - the language used is outdated and simply wrong. You are correct that the homosexual act is described in the catechism as "disordered", but we have come to understand that every action of a homosexual person is a homosexual act. It cannot be otherwise. The language of the catechism is laughable and certainly not teachable to the people of God. We know that references to homosexuality in the scriptures of both Jews and Christians is laden with cultural and cult implications that really do not address the nature of homosexuality. Unless I have missed something, there is no reference to homosexuality in anything that Jesus said or did, yet surely as his time was only 2000 years before ours the percentage of homosexual persons in society would be about the same as it is today. It is most likely that among the apostles and disciples some would have been homosexual. Section 2357 is simply wrong when it suggests that homosexual acts "do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity". Any reference to this section of the catholic catechism as an authoritative statement only displays how irrelevant the old magisterium has become, citing such limited perspectives on human sexuality and expression. I know and you know clergy who are in loving homosexual relationships as there are some who are in loving heterosexual relationships. (I was a missionary in South America where many among the clergy, including bishops, more commonly lived in committed relationships - as was required by local custom - even though they could not officially marry even by civil union.)
If the goal of your pastoral letter was to promote the legacy of 180 years of Catholic education in Ontario, I think you failed. Obviously the narrow perspective voiced by the bishops and the catholic trustees (if they even wrote the document that comes in their name?) has raised the question of public funding of catholic education. While no political party is willing to go there right now, it is certainly a topic that is being discussed with a majority of the public now disapproving of funding for Catholic schools. You can be certain that among those who do not favour public funding of catholic schools are many catholics. The reasons for disapproving public funding for separate schools goes far beyond the discussion of LGBT groups and the obvious economic advantages of amalgamation in rural districts where school boards are small and dispersed. When those matters become the focus of public discussions you can be sure that the funding issue will become far more serious.
It is not reassuring that you conclude your letter stating " I wish to assure you that our Catholic schools continue to care for all students including those who struggle with same-sex attraction". People struggle with cancer or perhaps nasty neighbours. Students who are homosexual - from the moment of their conception - when two cells merge to form one cell and the beginning of the development that leads to the birth of a human being as a homosexual person - these students do not struggle with their same sex attraction any more than the majority struggle with being heterosexual. It is part of growing up and coming to feel comfortable in your own skin. What homosexual students do struggle with is the intolerance of others and systems that define them as being "wrong" or "deviant" or "diseased" which is what is implied in the Catholic catechism and in your letter. Catholic homosexuals struggle to be accepted in their church for whom they are and they want as do all persons to be loved for being who they are as they are created by God. If you cannot accept that they are created as homosexual by the same God who also creates heterosexuals, and bisexuals and transgender persons - then perhaps that is where the problem begins.
Perhaps before your next pastoral letter, you might find someone to proofread your draft and ask "does this sound a bit silly?"
"We are only what we do, not what we say we are." The words of the bishops of Canada are hollow and do not inspire or lead the people of God. Have you ever heard of "fracking"? It is a process used to release subterranean gas that is damaging water tables and causing huge problems for people across Canada. Now if you want an issue - why not a pastoral letter on "fracking" - it will lead to an investigation of many important issues that are of vital importance to all Canadians. What are you doing that might interest the Catholic population of Canada? Have you taken a stance in support of the Christian minority in Israel and the occupied territories? If you wish I could suggest a few other real topics that the bishops could speak about - with a guarantee that none of them have any sexual undertones.
You've got more than 20 years left as a bishop - so there is still time to make something of it. Good luck