Bishop Henry Asserts Authority Over Catholic Schools: Stop Immoral Fundraising Or Lose Catholic Label
By John Jalsevac
CALGARY, Alberta, June 26, 2006 (www.LifeSiteNews.com) – Canada’s most out-spoken Catholic Bishop, Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary, is once again making headlines, this time as he comes head to head with the Calgary Catholic School Board.
The dispute between Bishop Henry and the Board is ostensibly over what the bishop says is the immoral practice of using monies raised by means of gambling. On a more fundamental level, however, it is a battle over what right a person or institution has to call themselves Catholic if they will not accede to the Church’s ecclesiastical powers when those powers are acting within the proper bounds of their authority.
In a pastoral letter on the matter, Bishop Henry explains that on December 9th, 2005 he renewed a request that he had made seven years previously—that the Calgary Catholic schools desist from fundraising monies by means of gambling, which, he says “exploits the weak and vulnerable.” On May 31st of this year the board formally refused to acquiesce to the bishop’s request, instead accepting a Task Force’s recommendation that Calgary schools remain free to determine what means to use to fundraise, including gambling.
“The acceptance of the Task Force’s recommendations constitutes a failure in Catholic leadership, pays lip-service to the pillar of ‘Catholicity,’ and is equivalent to Esau selling his birthright for a mess of pottage (cf. Gen. 25:29-34),” writes the bishop in the scathing pastoral letter that leaves little room for loose interpretation.
Ward 2 trustee, Janice Sarich, however, defended the Board’s decision, saying, “The feedback I’ve received from parents…is strongly against any motion that would restrict the flow of money generated by casinos,” according to the Edmonton Sun.
But in the Bishop’s opinion there is no room for negotiation; his request, he makes abundantly clear in the letter, is not a suggestion, but an order, and an order that he has the authority to enforce.
“Morality is not determined by a straw-vote,” he writes. “The School Board, the individual schools, and related parent councils and societies must get out of bingo and casino gambling fundraising activities. There is no question as to ‘what’ has to be done but there is room to negotiate ‘how’ and ‘when.’”
The School Board, and its trustees, says the bishop, must do more than merely “understand where the bishop is coming from.” He goes on to quote the Code of Canon Law—the code of law that governs matters in the Catholic Church—which states, “Even if it really be Catholic no school may bear the title Catholic school without the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority,” suggesting that as Calgary’s “competent ecclesiastical authority” he would remove his consent for the schools to call themselves Catholic if the Board did not change its mind.
“Given the importance of the outstanding issues, and my disagreement with the Board’s conclusions, I will not be presiding at the opening of the year Calgary Catholic District School liturgy,” concludes the bishop. “If satisfactory solutions are not found, other consequences will also be forthcoming in September including the black-listing of schools that engage in immoral fund-raising.”
Although Catholic teaching does not condemn gambling as such as immoral—as long as it is conducted within certain strict limits—Bishop Henry explains that in this case the school Board is cooperating and profiting from the gambling industry as a whole.
“The gambling industry,” he says, “is attempting to sanitize its operation by suggesting that it is only harmless entertainment or ‘gaming,’ and ignoring the fact that the whole industry is based on greed and leaves a whole host of people, not only gambling addicts, damaged in its wake. For a Catholic, people are not just regrettable statistical casualties.”
"Gambling attracts a disproportionate number of welfare recipients, pensioners, and working poor. It is morally wrong for a Catholic institution to formally cooperate in an industry that exploits the weak and vulnerable. The end does not justify the means."
Bishop Fred Henry is one of the few bishops in Canada that has consistently and vocally defended Church teaching on moral matters, including homosexuality and abortion. He has several times been hauled before Human Rights Tribunals for repeating Church teaching on homosexuality. He made headlines in 2003 when he publicly stated that he would refuse Communion to former Prime Minister Jean Chretien for his public pro-abortion stance.
Here is the full pastoral letter as displayed on the diocesan website.