Catholic archdiocese of Vancouver and pride society opt for conversation, mutually resolving human rights tribunal case

Star of the Sea Parish, the Archdiocese of Vancouver, and the White Rock Pride Society have left the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal behind them and decided on a collaborative approach to resolving a 2020 hall rental dispute. (B.C. Catholic files - CCN)

By Paul Schratz, The B.C. Catholic

[Vancouver – Canadian Catholic News] – One year ago, the Archdiocese of Vancouver and the White Rock Pride Society were at loggerheads, waiting for a hearing before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal as adversaries in a dispute over a church hall rental that pitted religious rights against the human rights code’s anti-discrimination clause.

Now the parties have opted to set aside the tribunal process in exchange for a more collaborative approach, one that acknowledges each other’s rights while making sure the hurt and confusion that prompted the society’s complaint against the archdiocese and Star of the Sea Parish doesn’t happen again.

Ernie Klassen of the White Rock Pride Society and James Borkowski of the Archdiocese of Vancouver hope to build better relations through ongoing discussions. (Contributed photo – The B.C. Catholic, CCN)

The archdiocese, parish, and pride society also hope the resolution can be an opportunity to build relationships between the Church and the society’s members, “many of whom are our sons, daughters, sisters, and brothers,” said James Borkowski, Archbishop’s Delegate for Operations.

The dispute began in 2019 when White Rock Pride Society president Ernie Klassen contacted Star of the Sea to inquire about renting its community centre for a youth fundraising event. After providing information about the event, his rental application was denied and Klassen filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. The tribunal hearing was to begin this year.

But during the lead-up to the hearing, as each side began hearing more about the other’s views, they saw merit in moving discussions to a non-confrontational setting.

The archdiocese and the society ultimately agreed to abandon the adversarial process and resolve the dispute mutually.

On Wednesday the parties publicly announced that the complaint had been resolved by mutual agreement. In conjunction with that announcement, the RCAV has also developed parish rental guidelines for non-Catholic organizations to provide greater clarity on the use of parish facilities.

The guidelines, available online, confirm that a faith and morals clause will specify that use of the hall must be compatible with Church practices and a process will be established to resolve non-compliant applications while treating applicants “with respect and compassion.”

Parishes will be urged to “engage in constructive dialogue” and to consult new guidelines on interactions with the LGBTQ2+ community. Parishes will also receive education and support in implementing those guidelines from the archdiocese, said Borkowski.

Klassen said he appreciated the willingness of the archdiocese and parish to listen and find ways to work constructively with the society to find opportunities for “support, inclusion, and dialogue” within the Church. “In the true spirit of reconciliation, the two groups have reached an agreement far better than what a ruling from the Human Rights Tribunal could have achieved.”

The archdiocese and the parish also released a statement saying they were committed to “better welcoming the White Rock Pride Society, and the broader LGBTQ2+ community, in our hearts and actions.”

The statement includes an apology for times when “individuals in Catholic institutions acted out of fear, not out of love” and for “whenever such actions of individuals led to people feeling rejected or isolated.”

It says “Members of the LGBTQ2+ community have expressed feelings of anxiety, depression, hurt, rejection and even suicide because of this sense of rejection and isolation. This should never happen.”

The archdiocese and the parish acknowledged that they “have not always lived up to our own ideals in our interactions with the LGBTQ2+ community,” leading to “increased divisiveness” with members and with friends and family who support them.

Borkowski said Archbishop Miller encouraged local Catholics to “make room in their parishes and their hearts for members of the LGBTQ2+ community,” citing Pope Francis’ call for Catholics to approach them “with closeness, compassion and tenderness.”

Star of the Sea Community Centre – the Archdiocese of Vancouver and Star of the Sea Parish said in a statement they want to be more welcoming to “the White Rock Pride Society, and the broader LGBTQ2+ community, in our hearts and actions.” (Photo courtesy of Star of the Sea Parish, The B.C. Catholic – CCN)

The joint statement from the archdiocese and Star of the Sea begins with a scriptural and theological foundation for the apology, saying the Catholic Church’s mission is “to introduce people to God and help them to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ.”

It says the archdiocese and parish “desire to welcome everyone into dialogue as a child of God, for every person is equal in dignity and worth.”

The statement concludes with a commitment from the Church and the society toward “repairing and building this relationship into one of ongoing constructive dialogue, informed by mutual respect, honesty, sincerity, forthrightness, and the desire to work towards the shared goal of a local community that is welcoming to all persons in our diverse community.”

The archdiocese is aware some Catholics might be concerned about building a relationship with a pride organization, said Borkowski. They may believe accepting descriptions like “LGBTQ2+ group” will diminish the profile of groups like Courage, which supports individuals with same-sex attraction trying to follow the Church’s teachings on chastity.

Those concerns are unnecessary, he said. “Courage already uses a variety of terms, depending on pastoral context.” The archdiocese also “continues to support Courage in its important ministry,” he said.

Joint Statement of Commitment and Apology to the White Rock Pride Society and Members of the LGBTQ2+ Community, Issued on Behalf of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver and Star of the Sea Parish – LINK

Guidelines on Third Party Rentals to non-Catholic organizations/events and General Guidelines for Engaging with and Welcoming Members of the LGBTQ2+ Community