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Roman Catholic Bishop Patrick Henry of the Diocese of Calgary issued a pastoral letter on 2005-JAN. 1 The first part of the letter explained the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and one of Bishop Henry's personal beliefs. Later in the letter, he said that the government "must use its coercive power to proscribe or curtail" homosexuals.  Then he said that same-sex behavior is "evil" -- apparently even when it is between two loving, committed, and married spouses.

This essay describes reaction to that letter.

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Distributing the letter to the general public:

The letter was subsequently published in his column in the Calgary Sun newspaper for 2005-JAN-30. However, critical sentence which distressed so many gays, lesbians, bisexuals, religious liberals, civil libertarians, etc:

"Since homosexuality, adultery, prostitution and pornography undermine the foundations of the family, the basis of society, then the State must use its coercive power to proscribe or curtail them in the interests of the common good."

was omitted. 2 It is not clear whether Bishop Henry deleted the sentence or whether the Calgary Sun censored his column because it violated their policies against hate content.

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Reactions to the letter:

Negative reaction came from a number of sources:

bulletThe Toronto Star newspaper issued an editorial which was critical of Bishop Henry's letter. They were distressed at two sentences: One called for government oppression of sexual minorities. The other stated that all homosexual acts are evil. The Star stated: "This is a stand the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops should promptly distance itself from. So should leading individual Catholic prelates. Weighing in on the specific issue of legalizing same-sex marriage, which the federal government proposes to do, is one thing. Urging Ottawa to 'coercively' target homosexuality is another. This can only inflame prejudice, encourage hate-mongering and undermine the church's pastoral mission to reach out to every community. Henry seems to court controversy. During last year's federal election campaign, he cast doubt on the depth of Prime Minister Paul Martin's Catholicism over the PM's positions on same-sex marriage and abortion. This latest outburst once again crosses the line. Canada's bishops should say so." We have been unable to find any indication that the bishops have censured Bishop Henry. 3
bulletStephen Lock, a Calgary representative of the Canadians for Equal Marriage Coalition called the bishop "a fascist...I mean that quite sincerely....How dare he? This is supposed to be a good Christian?" 4 He also expressed concern that Bishop Henry wants the state to suppress one segment of the population. He said: "I have some really strong issues with that. That's calling for the institution of some sort of police state. That's very problematic. It's a total demonizing of homosexuals and homosexuality, and it's not very nice from our point of view." 5
bulletHelen Kennedy, spokesperson for Challenge the Church, a progressive Canadian Catholic group, said: "It has become evident that defeating the equal-marriage bill is a must-win for those who want to roll back the clock on human rights. Their goal is not just to defeat the bill. They want to use such a defeat as a platform not just to continue the debate about marriage but to broaden that debate to include the very place of lesbian and gay people in our society. They want to turn back the clock....It's a sad day for gay and lesbian Catholics when a Canadian Catholic bishop describes our relationships as evil." 6
bulletAccording to Michael Valpy of the Globe and Mail: "The Anglican bishop of Calgary said he had 'a great deal of difficulty' with his Catholic counterpart's choice of language, and academic theologians said Bishop Henry had not made a wise choice of words." 7

Bishop Henry apparently uses the term "homosexuality" to refer specifically to persons engaging in same-sex sexual behavior. We suspect that he would not want the government to oppress persons who happen have a homosexual orientation, as long as they remain celibate.

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References used:

  1. F.B. Henry, "On Same-Sex Marriage," 2005-JAN, at: http://www.rcdiocese-calgary.ab.ca/
  2. Tom Cerber, "Homosexuality, Newspeak, and Censorship: Bishop Henry Hit with Human Rights Complaint," The Politic, 2005-MAR-30, at: http://www.thepolitic.com/
  3. "Editorial: A bishop goes too far," The Toronto Star, 2005-JAN-19, at: http://www.thestar.com/ This is a temporary listing which requires a subscription to access.
  4. Rich Peters, "Canadian Bishop: Gay Marriage A Sin," 365Gay.com, 2005-JAN-16, at: http://www.365gay.com/
  5. "Bishop wants government to act against gays," CBC  Calgary, 2005-JAN-17, at: http://calgary.cbc.ca/
  6. "Calgary cleric's comments reveal larger goal: The state does have a place in the bedrooms of the nation," Canadians for Equal Marriage, 2005-JAN-15, at: http://www.equal-marriage.ca/
  7. Michael Valpy, "Calgary bishop attacks gays, " The Globe and Mail, 2005-JAN-18, at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/

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Copyright 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-NOV-03-
Latest update: 2005-NOV-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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