Why We Should Amend Ottawa Policy on Partners

January 22, 2013

Over the last four months the Catholic community in Ottawa has been subject to four different public scandals. The common thread underlying each of the four scandals was a board partnership with an individual, or organization that has publicly advocated for positions that are incompatible with the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.

Each scandal has contributed in its own way to the public perception of a weakening of our board’s Catholic identity, sowed confusion in the minds of our students and demoralized parents. The phone calls and emails you've received over the last four months are testaments to the dissatisfaction of the Catholic community in Ottawa. The strong attendance tonight is another confirmation of that dissatisfaction.


The first scandal involved a civics trip by two high schools that involved campaigning for President Obama. President Obama's advocacy for abortion is public knowledge as is the Church's teaching that the killing of an unborn child is always intrinsically evil and can never be justified.


The trip was eventually cancelled due to the outcry of concerned parents, like the ones you see here tonight. Yet, why did it take an outcry from parents for those in charge to realize the trip was inappropriate for a Catholic school? The organizing teacher, Mr. Searle, was very clear and open that the students would be campaigning for President Obama, as was revealed later when documents from a Freedom of Information Act request were made public. The principal and superintendent of the board both signed off on the trip with full knowledge of what would be transpiring. Not a single red flag was raised.


The second scandal involved the visit of Justin Trudeau to St. Claire Elementary school during anti bullying week. It was difficult for many parents to understand the choice of Mr. Trudeau as a guest speaker for anti-bullying in a Catholic school, in light of the fact that he refuses to afford any protection to the most vulnerable and innocent in our society, the unborn. His highest qualification seems to be that he is a very popular politician. But should popularity be the measuring stick of who does and who doesn't get access to our students and schools? To most parents, an individual's public words and actions are a better barometer than political success or polls.


Here is a short list of Mr. Trudeau's public words and actions just in 2012:


Mr. Trudeau has publicly stated in another anti-bullying venue, a public school this time, that he found Catholic opposition to GSA's in Catholic schools repulsive.


Mr. Trudeau has publicly stated that he would consider supporting the separation of Quebec from Canada if he saw Canada moving to provide legal protection to children in the womb, or a return to a legal definition of marriage being between a man and a woman. That is, he so despises Catholic moral teaching on human sexuality and the sacredness of life, that he would rather see a breakup of our country than to have its laws reflect Catholic moral teaching.


A third issue for PAFE is an upcoming social justice trip for students from three different high schools visiting El Salvador. During this trip, students will be meeting with groups that have publicly advocated for the legalization of abortion, for the legalization of prostitution, for the promotion of contraception and the right to adoption for lesbian couples. Despite the repeated requests parents have submitted asking to replace these groups with other groups, the schedule of the trip remains unchanged.


The fourth concern we wish to bring to the board involves a co-op placement of a St. Paul's high school student with a homosexual activist organization called Jer's Vision. This organization promotes the normalization of homosexuality. According to their website, Jer's Vision partners with the pro-abortion group Canadians for Choice, pro-prostitution groups such as Maggie's Sex Work, and Sexapalooza. 


The scandals mentioned have not all come from one teacher, or even one school. Rather each involved a different group of individuals and schools, illustrating the failure of existing board policies to prevent these occurrences from happening.


Our Church leaders, the bishops, have confirmed by their actions the importance of having effective protocols in place to ensure partnerships are in harmony with Church teaching.


The bishops of Canada, after it became known to them that their official international development organization had been partnering with groups not in conformity with the Church's teachings, particularly in the areas of human sexuality and the sacredness of life, began a process of reform within that organization. Those reforms, still ongoing, aim to ensure that all future partners are in harmony with Catholic teaching.


Our very own Archbishop Terence Prendergast has also given us an example to follow. In March of 2011, Archbishop Prendergast cancelled the speaking engagement of Father Luis Arriaga, the director of the Miguel Pro Centre for Human Rights, who was scheduled to appear in various parishes across the diocese. A notice on the archdiocesan website at the time said the following,


Since the Centre’s support of groups in favour of abortion rights in Mexico is incompatible with the Church’s defence of the right to life from conception to natural death and the mission of Development and Peace, and in order to remove any doubt about this commitment, the speaking engagements of Fr. Arriaga have been cancelled.”


Note that Fr. Arriaga did not plan to speak about abortion during his visit, and that the organization that he belonged to did not directly participate in abortions. That is, it was only his organization's public statements of support for abortion that had resulted in the cancellation of all his speaking engagements in the diocese.


PAFE would like to see the board make some changes to its policy on board partners.


We would like the policy to be explicit that board partners may not publicly undermine the goals of Catholic education.  The pope has made recent requests that bishops see that charities the church partners with respect the teachings of the church on the dignity of the person and the sanctity of life.  The board should also ask that its partners not teach against the dignity of the person.  The policy should say that board partners

(a) will not publicly advocate for positions that are contrary to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, and

(b) will not present or encourage discussion of material that is not in harmony with Church teachings.


Second, the crux of the matter is that the board needs to devise a vetting process that will provide real oversight.  Perhaps the board could consider establishing a committee just to review proposed partners.  After one is devised the policy should then outline the vetting process.


We want to suggest another improvement to the existing policy on board partners that would also help.  Current board policy rightly says that partnerships must respect Catholic social teachingsBut why say social teachings and not, more simply “all the teachings of the church should be respected,” and give reference to the teachings of the Magisterium and of the body of local bishops?  This change would give equal billing to the life issues and be a more balanced guideline.  Board messaging going along with the policy changes could help to spread the word to the school community that these teachings should receive equal attention along with the concerns of social justice.


To sum up, PAFE seeks to improve the process by which the board approves its partners.  We suggest three changes to the existing policy:


       1)   It should state that partnering groups can’t publicly advocate for or assist groups that have un-Catholic views on human nature and the value of human life

       2)   It should put in place a vetting mechanism for groups

       3)   It should draw the attention of those consulting the policy to the whole body of church teachings, including the teachings on life and family


We need to restore credibility to the Ottawa Catholic School Board's claim to a Catholic identity.  On behalf of Ottawa ratepayers, PAFE asks Trustees to refer all the presentations here tonight to an ad hoc committee including Trustees dedicated to drawing up a stronger policy on board partnersWe trust that Trustees and staff will work together to prevent future incidents for the benefit of the students of the board.


I would like to end by thanking the board for hearing my delegation, and thanking all the concerned fathers, mothers, grandparents and other ratepayers for being here tonight to support our request for a new policy.

About:  Parents as First Educators holds Ontario Catholic Trustees accountable to taxpayers through grassroots activism.  We educate and activate over 15,000 supporters throughout Ontario, monitoring and intervening to ensure Board officials keep their activities transparent to the public. We hold them responsible for their actions and expect them to promote the teachings of the Catholic Church.