My letter defending the integrity of Catholic school boards
Following my campaign for a seat on Edmonton’s Catholic school board, I raised my concern publicly about non-Catholics being able to run for election to serve on Catholic school boards in Alberta. The Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association asked me to write a letter expressing those concerns. That, I dutifully did, sending copies, not only to the ACSTA president and its executive director, but also to the chair of the Edmonton Catholic school board and the archbishop of Edmonton. That was on November 13. So far, I have had a response from none of the above.
It is past due then for me to make my letter public so that this issue does not fall off the table. The integrity of Catholic school boards needs to be respected.
13 November 2017
Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association
205, 9940-106 Street
Edmonton T5K 2N2
Dear Ms. LaGrange:
Praised be Jesus Christ!
I am writing to express my concern about the lack of barriers to the nomination of non-Catholics as candidates to Catholic school boards, in particular the Edmonton Catholic Board, in the October 17 municipal election. I am writing as well to encourage the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association and the Edmonton Catholic Board to take reasonable and necessary steps to prevent non-Catholics from being nominated in future elections for Catholic school boards in Alberta.
The Alberta bishops, in their recent pastoral letter, The Ministry of the Catholic School Trustee, placed great importance on the faith commitment they hope trustees possess and will display. Trustees, they say, should “be not only stewards with exceptional governance skills, but also people of faith and commitment to the Church and her mission.” As well, the bishops say trustees “must be committed to ensuring that their every decision will always accord with the truth of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church.” Further, the bishops declare, “Trustees are first and foremost disciples of Our Lord. Their love of Jesus must be reflected in full participation in the life of the Church and engagement in the community.” In short, the bishops set the bar quite high for trustees’ commitment to Jesus, his Church and the Church’s teachings.
In contrast with the bishops’ high standards, the ACSTA, in its Trustee Election Guidebook 2017, boils down the religious qualifications for candidates to “You must profess to be Catholic to run for a Catholic School Board,” a statement which reflects current statutory requirements. Given that one of the candidates in Edmonton’s Ward 75 in the recent election had not been admitted to the Catholic Church, one has to wonder whether the simple “profession” of being Catholic is sufficient to protect the integrity of Catholic school boards and, ultimately, of Catholic education. Any elector, or indeed any person with an interest in the election, may challenge the Ward 75 election prior to November 27 on the basis of Section 127.2(b) of the Local Authorities Election Act. That section allows for an election to be legally challenged and subsequently controverted if “an unsuccessful candidate was not eligible for nomination and that the results of the election would have been different had that candidate not run.” Such a legal challenge would invite the court to define who is Catholic in a narrower fashion than does current legislation, a prospect which supporters of Catholic education might not find desirable.
The Ward 75 election, in my view, shows the current vague definition of candidates’ Catholicity is open to abuse. If the integrity of the Alberta Catholic school system is to be maintained, a clearer legal definition needs to developed in cooperation with the provincial government and enforced by municipal authorities at election time. Indeed, such a definition could be helpful in determining which electors are eligible to vote in Catholic trustee elections, although enforcing such a definition would admittedly be difficult, if not impossible. Without a clearer boundary separating eligible and ineligible candidates in school board elections, Catholic education is in jeopardy.
Membership in the Catholic Church is not self-defined as current Alberta statutes imply. Membership has a public character such that those “fully incorporated into the society of the Church” not only accept the means of salvation offered by the Church – including the profession of faith, sacraments, ecclesiastical government and communion – but are also “joined in the visible structures of the Church of Christ.” (Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church [Lumen Gentium], 14) To be Catholic is to be publicly a member of a member of the visible society of the Church. Without that condition, none of the Church’s structures, canon law or ecumenical activity would be of any consequence.
In the light of the council’s teaching, it would not be irregular that candidates for a Catholic school board be required to produce, at the time of their nomination, evidence of their baptism and confirmation in the Catholic Church, a letter from their pastor or some other evidence that they are indeed Catholic. Although such a requirement would fall far short of the Alberta bishops’ description of a Catholic trustee, it would establish an objective standard without making onerous demands on legitimate candidates.
Catholic education is a gift the Catholic community makes to Alberta society. Our beliefs in the Trinitarian God and the transcendent dignity of the human person provide a solid foundation for Catholic laity to contribute to the common good of a liberal democratic society. However, the Catholic contribution will be compromised if our schools and school boards are not fully permeated by the belief in and living out of core Catholic teachings. I urge your association to take up the challenge to better protect the integrity of Alberta’s Catholic school boards.
Former Candidate, Ward 75, Edmonton
cc: Dean Sarnecki, executive director, ACSTA
Terry Harris, chair, Edmonton Catholic School Board
Archbishop Richard Smith, president, Alberta Catholic Bishops