Looking Catholic Education in the Face in Ontario

why did this take so long?

I have been following an issue in Ontario education for over a year now. I have to say right at the start that I have been following this because of a very brave Catholic educator Paolo De Buono. He is brave in a way that I never was. I was a Catholic educator for 31 years. I sat on the governing board of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace – the Canadian Catholic development organization – for 6 years. But in all that time, I never spoke truth to power like Paolo does. He is noble and brave, he is attacked for advocating for LGBTQ students in Catholic schools. He is in my opinion, a true Catholic educator.

I am writing now because I have followed Paolo’s tweets for a long time. In November of 2019, he started writing about an incredibly bizarre meeting of the Toronto Catholic School Board where one trustee, Michael Del Grande, in a motion to the board compared a variety of ghastly and illegal sexual practices to those of the LGBTQ community. The Board had been discussing changes to their code of conduct to include the terms gender expression and identity, a request made of all boards by the Ministry of Education to align with human rights legislation (Toronto Star, October 29, 2020).

For over a year, De Buono publicly advocated for LGBTQ students in Toronto Catholic schools against Del Grande. His tweets appeared daily, but it looked like the board and the Toronto Cardinal Collins just wanted him to go away.

Finally, after a report conducted by Michelle Bird of Rubin Thomlinson LLP, the board was obliged to deal with the incident. In the report, Del Grande was found to have violated the Trustee’s Code of Conduct:

She said “while Mr. Del Grande’s choice of words alone would be sufficient to find that he violated the Trustees’ Code of Conduct, I note that Mr. Del Grande’s actions are exacerbated by the fact that he chose to suggest that including criminals — such as cannibals and rapists — in the Code of Conduct was somehow similar to including members of the LGBTQ+ community … In choosing the words that he did, he created an unwelcoming and harmful environment for certain members of the Catholic school board community.”

Toronto Star, November 6, 2020

The problem with all this goes well beyond the trustee. To me, this looks like a systemic failure of the Toronto Catholic Board’s ability to protect the rights of minorities in their schools. After the report was completed, with everything that had happened, four trustees still supported Del Grande at an August meeting called to consider whether he had violated their own code of conduct.

Finally, on November 11, 2020, after what the Toronto Star called a “tense seven-hour meeting”, Del Grande was found in contempt of the code of conduct. He will be required to make a public apology, is barred from being elected to any representative position or role on the board for three months and will need to complete an equity training program within a month (Toronto Star, November 12, 2020).

But the story is far from over. A week after the November meeting, Cardinal Collins, head of the Archdiocese of Toronto publicly criticized trustees for stopping a meeting delegate from reciting from the Roman Catholic Catechism, specifically the sections on chastity and homosexuality that characterizes homosexual acts as acts of ‘grave depravity’ that are ‘are intrinsically disordered’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Article 6).

Who is Cardinal Collins advocating for?

This would have been a great opportunity for the Cardinal to applaud the work of the trustees who did sanction Del Grande. An even better time to demand an apology from Del Grande, instead, he sided with those at the meeting who defended the trustee. This shows an incredible lack of leadership by a Cardinal and shows how out of touch Cardinal Collins is with mainstream society.

In a great article by Rev. Michael Coren, Debate about Toronto Catholic District School Board is overdue, Coren rightly, in my opinion, challenges the Cardinal and others who ” judge, are legalistic, and ignore the central call to love.”  The Catholic hierarchy is clearly in favour of those like Collins and Del Grande do not want to grant equal rights to LGBTQ students as they are obliged to do according to Ontario human rights legislation.

The point is you can’t have it both ways. You can’t take money from Ontario taxpayers and at the same time say that you don’t have to follow the rules and social norms of that society. You cannot exclude some because you are not comfortable with them, not in a democratic society.

This leads inevitably to the question – again – why are we still funding school systems that think it is ok to discriminate because of a set of beliefs most Catholics do not even agree with? I was a Catholic educator for 31 years, and I was mostly happy working for Catholic institutions. However, this has to stop, we are long past the time where the Catholic minority in Ontario needs special constitutional protection.

Reverend Coren says it best:

The truth is that many if not most Catholic schools are progressive and inclusive in their teaching, with teachers more concerned with the well-being of their students than some of the harsher beliefs of their faith. But there are still school trips to anti-abortion events, cases of LGBTQ students feeling isolated and insecure, and genuine questions about duplication of spending and the need for a separate, Catholic system in the modern age — especially as other religions do not receive the same privilege.

Cardinal Collins’ letter may have the opposite of its intention, but perhaps an open and informed debate is long overdue. Just don’t expect Jesus to attend the meeting.

Toronto Star, November 23, 2020

It is a good thing that we have educators like Paolo De Buono taking a public stand. There are very serious problems however with a system that has such difficulty sanctioning outright discrimination. A democratic society is sustained by its public institutions. When one of those institutions fails in its public mission it is time for that informed debate. This would the sign of a society ready and willing to look at itself and contemplate some important changes.

Time to start this now.