As Catholic School District Promotes Pride Flag, Toronto Archdiocese Says Cross the Best Symbol of Inclusion
“Along with the cross, the symbol of the Sacred Heart is the Catholic Christian sign of that love,” said Cardinal Collins, who released a 21-page pastoral letter on the Sacred Heart April 28.
TORONTO — While the Toronto Catholic School District Board has voted to proclaim June as Pride Month and fly the rainbow 'LGBT' Pride flag outside all its schools, the Catholic archdiocese has emphasized the symbolic power of the cross, and Thomas Cardinal Collins sought to emphasize the importance of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
“The cross outside of Catholic schools and any Catholic church, hospital or institution, signals our commitment that all who enter the building are welcomed and loved in their beauty and uniqueness as children of God,” the Archdiocese of Toronto said in a May 4 statement reflecting on inclusivity and acceptance.
On May 6 the Toronto Catholic District School Board, which is elected by voters, passed three separate motions: one that proclaimed LGBT Pride Month in June every year, one that required the Pride flag to fly at all schools, and one that required the Pride flag to fly at the school board office. The board’s LGBTQ2S+ advisory committee, whose acronym includes “queer/questioning” or “two-spirited” concepts of sexuality, had recommended the passage of all three motions.
In its comments before the board vote, the archdiocese said that parents make a “clear choice” when they send their children to a Catholic school.
“They rightly expect that trustees, principals, teachers – all partners in education – will ensure that Catholic teaching is presented, lived and infused in all that we do,” the archdiocese said. “In that regard, the appropriate symbol that represents our faith, and the inclusion and acceptance of others, is the cross, which is visible at the entrance of every Catholic school. It is the primary symbol of our Christian faith: it draws us to contemplate the generous and sacrificial love of Jesus, as he lays down his life for all of us.”
“In a world that would crucify an innocent man, Jesus returns love for hatred and says: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ (Luke 23:34) The love represented by the cross is that sacrificial love, centered not on self, but on others.”
Catholic school systems in Ontario are taxpayer-funded and schools are not owned by the dioceses in which they operate. While bishops set catechetical curricula and ensure sacramental ministry in school contexts, they do not exercise control over elected boards. Provincial governments set basic rules for the operation of those schools, while local decisions are made by trustee boards elected by Catholics at the time of municipal elections.
The Toronto Catholic School District has about 92,000 students and 14,000 staff at 196 elementary and secondary schools. Its budget for 2020-2021 was $1.2 billion.
Cardinal Collins had previously met with directors of education and chairs of Catholic school boards in the archdiocese to discuss inclusion issues, including requests that some school boards fly the Pride flag.
After the school board vote, Keith Baybayon, a student trustee and 11th grade student, told CTV News Toronto that the passage of the motions showed “a solidarity between the board and the students and staff.”
Baybayon, who identifies as LGBTQ2S+, said that after the vote to fly the flag “it felt more free… to say that I'm more free to be myself. More free to express myself and who I am as a person.”
In a statement to CNA, director of education Brendan Browne and chair of the school board Joseph Martino said, “We recognize that this is an important step required to demonstrate the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s ongoing commitment to fostering inclusive environments that are safe and welcoming places for 2SLGBTQ+ students and staff.”
CNA asked the Toronto Catholic District School Board whether it had considered Cardinal Collins’ request to focus on the Sacred Heart during June, but its response did not address the question.
The archdiocese’s statement acknowledged “the passionate feelings on both sides of this issue” and prayed for respectful, thoughtful dialogue.
“It is painful that the public discussion around how to best promote inclusivity has, in itself, often caused division in the community,” said the statement, which stressed that Catholics “must love our neighbor and treat every individual as a child of God, accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.”
“There is a belief among some that unless one embraces secular symbols, one cannot be inclusive or accepting,” the archdiocese continued. “This is simply not true. Where there are cases of injustice and mistreatment of any student, whether they are bullied or rejected due to their sexual orientation, appearance, race, sex or any other reason, we must seize the moment, address the situation and ensure that we lead by example, as we foster a culture of care and love for every individual. That truth is perfectly represented in our most fundamental Catholic symbol: the cross.”
The statement recognized that presenting Catholic teaching at times will “clash with the views held by many in society” whether on human sexuality, sanctity of life, social justice issues, or other beliefs.
“Those who are faithful to these teachings are often ridiculed, mocked and excluded. Frequently, since the time of Jesus, Christian teaching has not aligned with currently prevailing opinions,” it said.
The statement noted that many groups work for many different causes, and many school boards “wisely” decide to fly only the Canadian flag “out of a sense of equity for all.”
In a March 23 letter, Cardinal Collins addressed all Catholic school board trustees, directors of education, and all Catholic institutions about the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which he called the sign of Christ’s “true compassionate love” that all young people deserve.
He noted that the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus falls on June 11 and that June is celebrated in the Church as the Month of the Sacred Heart. He encouraged the celebration of this feast and the month.
“I ask all Catholic schools to focus throughout June, the Month of the Sacred Heart, on this profound symbol of what our life in Christ is all about – of what Catholic education is all about,” he said in the letter, a copy of which the Toronto archdiocese provided to CNA.
Cardinal Collins cited the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as other suffering.
“Across the globe, refugees flee oppressive regimes, and the blood of martyrs rebukes us in our comfortable Christianity. In our own country, social trends antagonistic to the Gospel gather strength,” he said. “To move outward with compassionate love, we need first to go deeper in our life of faith, through prayer, through meditation on sacred Scripture, especially the Gospels, and through the sacraments.”
The cardinal said the Sacred Heart devotion is “a treasure, central to our life in Christ, that is hidden in plain sight in our Catholic spiritual heritage.”
“Even in our secular society, the heart is the common sign of love, as we see every Valentine’s Day, but for a Christian the Sacred Heart signifies the steady, reliable, faithful, life-giving love which we experience in Jesus as we encounter him both in the Gospels and in our life of faith; we are called to imitate that faithful love,” he said.
Cardinal Collins invited everyone in the archdiocese to devote June to meditating on the Sacred Heart and to deepen their commitment to “imitate the compassionate love of Jesus, a love that reaches out to the lonely, to the isolated, to the sick, and to all those who are rejected.”
“Along with the cross, the symbol of the Sacred Heart is the Catholic Christian sign of that love,” said the cardinal, who released a 21-page pastoral letter on the Sacred Heart April 28.
Other Catholic school districts are considering proposals about Pride Month. The Halton Catholic District School Board, in Ontario’s Diocese of Hamilton, recently failed to pass a proposal to fly the Pride Flag. However, the board mandated staff training on the issue to encourage “shared understanding” and LGBT Pride awareness. It also requested a review from the Ontario government’s education minister.
The Canadian Community Health Survey for 2015–2016 reported that 1.4% of Canadians over age 15 identify as homosexual and 1.5% identify as bisexual.
Trans Care BC, a transgender-affirming group run by the Province of British Columbia, has claimed that between 1% and 3% of Canadians identify as transgender. Statistics Canada has not previously collected information on such self-identification and is testing responses for the 2021 census.