Whitehorse bishop defies Yukon gov't over school policy

Bishop Gary Gordon

Bishop Gary Gordon

April 1, 2013

Whitehorse Bishop Gary Gordon continues to uphold Catholic teaching in the pastoral care of same-sex attracted youth in the Catholic schools despite opposition from the Yukon government.

Education Minister Scott Kent, in an open letter March 19, told Gordon the diocese's policy fails to meet the requirements of Yukon Education as well as other laws, including the Human Rights Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Kent sent the letter to Gordon after a meeting with the bishop March 5. In his follow-up letter, Kent said the territory and the diocese have shared goals of providing an environment of safety, welcome and protection in the schools.

The minister acknowledged the role of Catholic teaching in the Catholic separate schools, but insisted Yukon Education policies and the laws of the Yukon have priority.

Gordon said he preferred not to comment because he is in the midst of sensitive discussions with the Yukon government. There are three publicly-funded Catholic schools in the Whitehorse Diocese that includes all of the Yukon.

The minister said he had instructed the deputy minister of Yukon Education to "make the necessarily staff available to work collaboratively with your school community to help achieve these ends, which I hope can be accomplished in a manner that is acceptable to all concerned."


"This is an issue of religious freedom," said Catholic Civil Rights League executive director Joanne McGarry. "I object to the implication that there is a conflict between Catholic teaching and anti-bullying efforts."

"The essence of our teaching is that everyone is equal, welcome and accepted," McGarry said.

A diocesan document entitled One Heart: Living with Hope Ministering by Love Teaching in Truth outlines Catholic teaching on human dignity and homosexuality. It also gives clear guidelines to teachers and counselors in dealing with same-sex attracted youth.

The document advises teachers not to use "reductionist" terms such as "gay" or "lesbian" to describe youth who may experience same-sex attraction.

It echoes documents prepared by Alberta Catholic school trustees, the Ontario Catholic Schools Trustees' Association (OCSTA) and the Ontario Assembly of Catholic Bishops.

The Whitehorse diocesan document stresses the human dignity of all students; Catholic teaching on human sexuality and marriage; an understanding of natural law; and no tolerance for derogatory remarks, harassment or name-calling in the schools.

The news media has homed in on quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that describe homosexual acts as "acts of grave depravity," which are contrary to natural law.

The Whitehorse diocesan document calls for the possible creation of groups for students concerned about bullying under the name of One Heart groups.

These would be similar to the call from the OCSTA's decision to set up Respecting Difference groups open to all students, not just those who identify as same-sex attracted.


However, provinces are pressuring Catholic schools to allow Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) that have a political agenda contrary to Catholic teaching on human sexuality.

"The reason why Catholic schools exist is to teach the Catholic religion," said McGarry. Doctrines on homosexuality "are only a small part of the whole of Catholic teaching parents expect when they send their children to Catholic schools."

McGarry said she hoped the bishop and Yukon Education would work out their differences. "There is no need for this conflict," she said.