OpinionOPINION: Catholic schools are not religious orders but public institutions

ETC StaffNovember 20, 20196 min

Galvin Zaldivar, News Editor

Catholic education in this country began as a concession, not as a sign of favour.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Catholic minorities in Ontario, and Protestant minorities in Quebec, feared a loss of their culture and faith should their children attend the public school run by the Protestant and Catholic majorities in their respective provinces.

After much debate and compromise, those of minority faiths were allowed to create and fund their own separate school systems within their community. 

Practically, this meant creating Catholic schools in majority Protestant areas, and creating Protestant schools in Catholic areas.

Currently there are 29 English Catholic school boards in Ontario and eight French Catholic school boards, all publicly supported by those who choose to put their tax dollars towards the Catholic school system. All of this is striving to provide a Catholic-minded, but still public education to Ontario’s Catholic community.

I went to a Catholic school, and it was…fine.

Issues of sexuality and gender were never brought up in all 13 years of my time in Catholic education. Granted this was back in the late ‘90s to early 2010s, and times have since changed, but only to the extent the province required.

As the past couple of weeks has shown, where the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) voted to language concerning LGBTQ+, sexuality and marital status in their Code of Conduct. Catholic education in Ontario must be mindful of the communities they serve.

This is especially true in Catholic Secondary schools, where there was no requirement to prove your Catholic faith to attend. I had classmates throughout grades nine through 12 who held a variety of beliefs.

The silence and willful ignorance of issues of sexuality of my Catholic education made discussing them difficult. Sexuality was the stuff of taboo and rumors, confined to speculation and innuendo on fellow students. Confirmed only with close friends.

I vividly remember my World Religions teacher in Grade 11 calling sexuality “a choice,” and regularly make homophobic remarks to a class of 16-year old students, language I found disgusting in 2010. It is completely unacceptable, culturally, morally and legally for any teacher to use this language or express these views, even under the aegis of religious belief.

TCDSB’s decision to include LGBTQ+ discrimination in its Code of Conduct should be taken up by all Catholic school boards across the province. 

Catholic education is not private, but public, operated and funded by the state, not by the church. They cannot expect to impose church doctrine on students by virtue of their attendance. As I said, in Catholic Secondary Schools do not require a test of faith for attendance or registration. 

If Catholic schools do not keep in mind that they serve a wider community than Catholics in Ontario — and that there is also a great deal of overlap between the LGBTQ+ community and people of faith — what is the message they would be sending by not taking incidents of discrimination and bullying seriously?

Catholics schools should also remember, that since their establishment, the demographics of the country have shifted. We are no longer a minority at risk of assimilation by Anglo-Saxon Protestants, but the largest single Christian denomination in the country. 

We will not be disappearing anytime soon even if we lose our separate school system.