Cardinal Thomas Collins
TORONTO – Comments from Ontario's education minister that equate Catholic teaching on abortion with misogyny have provoked a letter of protest from Cardinal Thomas Collins and a call for the minister's resignation from other irate Catholics.
Speaking to reporters on Oct. 10, Laurel Broten suggested that under the province's new anti-bullying legislation Catholic schools should not be teaching that abortion is wrong because "Bill 13 is about tackling misogyny."
"We're very clear with the passage of Bill 13 that Catholic teachings cannot be taught in our schools that violate human rights and bring a lack of acceptance to participation in schools," Broten said.
She later added: "Taking away a woman's right to choose could arguably be one of the most misogynistic actions."
Collins sent a letter to Broten to express deep concerns about her comments. He also addressed the issue on Oct. 11 when he spoke frankly to 1,700 people attending the annual Cardinal's Dinner in Toronto.
"It is our mission to speak up for all those who suffer, and especially those who are voiceless, for those who are forgotten," Collins said. "We all have a stake in assuring that the faith identity of Catholic schools is respected."
Collins did not specifically mention Broten, and neither she nor Premier Dalton McGuinty, who announced his retirement on Oct. 15, were in attendance.
The cardinal pointed to Section 93 of Canada's Constitution and Section 1 of Ontario's Education Act that enshrine religious freedom for denominational schools and "make it clear that the Catholic identity of the school must be respected."
That, he said, includes the right for "all in the school community to engage in pro-life activities in order to foster a culture of life. . . . Defending the voiceless is our mission."
When the ministry was asked if Broten would respond to questions or wished to make further comment or clarify her statements, a spokesman said she was unavailable.
Instead the ministry issued a statement that said Bill 13 does not change the curriculum and that the government was "confident that all schools - Catholic and public, English and French - will be able to operationalize the Act."
Campaign Life Coalition has demanded Broten's resignation. It also launched an online petition calling for the repeal of Bill 13. By The Register's press time on Oct. 16, it had received more than 5,000 signatures.
"We are outraged by the (Dalton) McGuinty government's frontal assault on religious liberty, and on the constitutional right of Catholic schools in Ontario to teach the Church's pro-life views," Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition, said in an Oct. 15 statement.
"We have never before seen a government assault on religious freedom like what Minister Broten is promising."
Marino Gazzola, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association, said abortion was not on the table during the debate on Bill 13 and he sees no reason why it should be there now.
"Catholic teachings are all about life. The act of abortion is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church and the values Catholic schools promote," he said.
"The Catholic community needs to mobilize and show that we still believe in our teachings, we still believe in the Catholic Church and that we are going to move forward like we've always done."
Constitutionally speaking, Catholics are on solid ground to defend the right to teach Church doctrine in Catholic schools, said constitutional lawyer Eugene Meehan.
"The Ontario Education Act itself enshrines denominational rights of the schools," he said. "Section 257.52 says that the minister is not to interfere with, or control, the denomination aspects of a Roman Catholic school."