Just days before the start of Pride Month, the Niagara Catholic District School Board sent out a letter announcing its decision – for the first time – to fly the Pride Flag at all schools and board sites throughout of the month of June.
The letter, written by director of education Camillo Cipriano, says Niagara Catholic flies a local version of the flag designed by staff in the office of the president of Brock University.
Cipriano wrote that while “not all of our families support the Progress Pride flag…we see the flag as a very clear and public demonstration that all who come to Niagara Catholic schools and sites are welcome. , accepted, loved and respected unconditionally as children. of God.”
It is, he added, a visible statement that schools are “safe and inclusive places to learn and grow”.
Since the letter was sent to families in late May, Niagara Catholic teacher Elizabeth Murphy-Semple has said that all of her virtual Masses for grade 5 children, through Our Lady of the Scapular Church and the Father Paul MacNeil, had been cancelled.
In Fort Erie, Our Lady of Victory Catholic Elementary School confirmed to the St. Catharines Standard that its staff had received a letter from St. Michael’s Church, written by Father Patrick Gilmurray, who said he had “taken the very difficult decision not to enter the school”. school while the pride flag is displayed.
Neither Church of Our Lady of the Scapular nor Church of St Michael responded to The Standard’s request for comment.
Murphy-Semple wants the flag to continue to be raised because children must be at the heart of “everything we do as educators”. Through their young eyes, she says, the flag symbolizes that everyone is welcome.
“It is extremely disheartening that some of our local priests are refusing to enter schools as the Pride Flag flies. The world needs our faith leaders to preach unconditional love and inclusiveness in our schools and communities. communities, now more than ever,” Murphy-Semple said.
“We must protect (children’s) rights to a safe and inclusive learning environment. If it makes a difference to a child, it’s worth it.
St. Catharines Diocese spokeswoman Margaret Jong said Bishop Gerard Bergie left it to the individual priests and “their conscience whether or not they were comfortable going to the schools.”
“The bishop made it clear that the children, the staff, the school, they are all welcome in the church…there is no problem with them coming into the church,” he said. Jong said. “We all believe, and certainly want, that our Catholic schools and our Catholic institutions … be open, accepting and inclusive.”
In response to the board’s reasons for raising the Pride flag — including celebrating the beauty, dignity and uniqueness of all people in their personal journeys, as Cipriano wrote in a memo to Niagara Catholic staff – Jong said, “We certainly want to be loving and welcoming, even if we don’t agree.
Asked how priests refusing to enter school buildings are part of an inclusive message, Jong said it was a difference in what the flag represents.
“From a Catholic point of view, it’s so much more than that — so things that would contradict Catholic or Christian teachings on marriage, family, sex,” Jong said. “It means so much more than acceptance and inclusion.”
OUTNiagara Co-Chair Celeste Turner was raised Roman Catholic in St. Catharines. The first time they asked about the word gay, Turner recalled being told “these are people who like people of the same sex”, followed by “these people are going to hell”.
While praising the steps taken by the Niagara Catholic Council to promote inclusion, Turner said actions speak louder than words and that priests refusing to hold mass or enter a school while the flag rose “send a very strong message”.
“If you really say they’re God’s children, and you care about them and accept them no matter what, then it doesn’t matter what flag is flying,” Turner said. “I don’t understand how this stops you from sharing your message and stops you from wanting the best for these children.”
Turner said LGBTQ+ youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight cisgender peers, and these actions “perpetuate this intolerance and non-acceptance.”
In an email, Niagara Catholic Communications Manager Jennifer Pellegrini said the council was among the majority of Catholic councils in Ontario flying the Pride flag this year.
It is an extension of “our commitment to be living examples of our faith” and an understanding that 2SLGBTQ+ students are at “higher risk for mental health issues, self-harm, or other tragic consequences due to bullying or feeling different,” she said. .
In response to some priests’ decision to cancel Mass or enter school grounds during Pride month, Pellegrini said the council has always had a strong relationship with its diocese and parishes. .
“We respect and appreciate both Bishop Bergie and our pastors as important partners in Catholic education and look forward to continuing this partnership.”
Pellegrini confirmed there have been two instances this week of protests by individuals, including at Sacred Heart Catholic Elementary School and the Catholic Education Center.
People arrived at the Welland Education Center on Wednesday afternoon, telling staff “they were there to pray the Rosary and intended to leave when finished.” They were allowed to do so in the front parking lot, Pellegrini said, and left after about an hour.
“We know there are members of the Catholic community who disagree with Niagara Catholic’s decision to fly the Pride flag. Their prayer vigil was in response to this decision.
Sacred Heart currently has no flags raised due to mechanical issues, but the board expects them to return to school in Niagara Falls next week. The rest of the flags are hoisted across Niagara, per flag protocol, Pellegrini said (lowered every evening and raised every morning).
OECTA Niagara Elementary Unit President Jennifer McArthur said flying the flag represents the association’s support for human rights and freedoms and helps establish a safe and welcoming environment.
Catholic teachers, she said, “want to make sure our 2SLGBTQIA+ communities feel accepted. We are proud that our school board has joined several other Catholic boards across the province in deciding to fly the Pride flag.
“It is disappointing that a priest would choose to stop caring for our students when the pride flag is flying in our schools,” McArthur said.