Cardinal Thomas Collins
TORONTO - Cardinal Thomas Collins has strongly criticized Ontario legislation that gives special status to homosexual students in an effort to halt bullying in the province's schools.
In a May 28 statement, Collins, archbishop of Toronto and president of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario, said Catholic schools should be "free to design their own methods to fight bullying and provide personal support to students."
The Catholic faith, he said, has "a rich array of spiritual resources and methods . . . which not only fight bullying, but shape a school environment that is welcoming to all."
Collins' statement came in the wake of an announcement by the province's education minister that the government's controversial Bill 13 will be amended so that no school board or principal will be permitted to stop students from using the term "gay-straight alliance" (GSA) in establishing a school anti-bullying club.
The minister, Laurel Broten, said the change is necessary because gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students are at increased risk of bullying.
Giving students the right to use the word "gay" in the title sends a message that bullying gays is unacceptable and that gays are deserving of public acceptance, Broten said.
Collins, however, said bullies use many excuses to mistreat others who they see as standing out in some manner.
While the leadership of students is crucial in the fight against bullying, he said, "trustees and principals are legitimate stewards of the spiritual tradition of the school." Provincial laws should not override legitimate adult authority in determining the common good at local schools.
Gay-straight alliances, the cardinal said, "can serve as a means not only to address bullying, but to promote the views with which they disagree." While those who share those views are free to use the GSA method, that approach is not in harmony with the Catholic faith.
"Catholic educators should be free to make sure that Catholic schools are loving learning environments in which every person is treated with love and respect, and to do so in a way that arises out of our faith tradition and is in harmony with it."
In meeting with reporters May 28, Collins said it is too early to discuss whether Catholic schools in Ontario will challenge the legislation on the basis of the constitutionally guaranteed rights of Catholic education.
However, the president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association said Catholic school boards would be looking for ways to fight the legislation if it is approved by the legislature.
In his comments to reporters, Collins challenged the idea that any student should be able to overrule the school principal or district trustees. "That's an unusual way to do things.
"That's remarkable authority. I don't know if 'draconian' is the word, but where's the flexibility? Where's the inclusivity?"
He also questioned why the legislation is focused on only one type of bullying. "What about the kids who are suffering for all kinds of reasons? I think anyone who suffers should be helped."
(With files from the Toronto Star and Jim O'Leary of The Catholic Register)