VanCity Credit Union Affair: Letter from the Archbishop

MOST REVEREND ADAM EXNER

The following letter by Archbishop Exner, OMI, was sent to The Vancouver Sun, which published it Oct. 1, 2003.

His Grace Adam Exner, OMI
Archbishop of Vancouver


The Catholic church in Vancouver has taken a principled stand at considerable pain to ourselves and others. We accept that many people do not agree with that stand. But you do not have to agree with our principles to understand the decision and our right to make it.

Last Wednesday, The Vancouver Sun reported that the Archdiocese of Vancouver had directed four Catholic schools to end their involvement in VanCity's school banking program because of the credit union's strong support for causes opposed to Catholic moral values.

That news opened the floodgates to letters, e-mails, phone calls and faxes, alleging everything from bigotry to fascism. The word "Nazis" was even used. A small but angry crowd screamed obscenities and threats outside my window late at night.

I found myself accused of teaching intolerance and hatred of homosexuals — something contrary to Catholic teaching and my own convictions.

Other calls and letters supported our decision. One writer on the Sun's letters page called it an example of ethics in action — even while disagreeing with the decision itself. A strong VanCity supporter, she explained "If I were a Roman Catholic and sent my child to a Catholic school, I would expect that my child would receive schooling in accordance with the teachings of the church."

So why did this issue arouse such strong feelings in so many?

First of all, the decision was not made to embarrass VanCity, which had provided a valuable program to our schools. We made no public spectacle of the decision to withdraw from their program but announced it quietly to the schools.

When the story became front-page news, we tried to make clear the Catholic moral principles behind the decision. We provided copies of our reasons to all who inquired, and posted it on our Web site (www.rcav.bc.ca) Perhaps we should have listed the full extent of VanCity's support for causes opposed to Catholic morals; it went far beyond ads featuring same-sex couples.

A second reason for the considerable public criticism was the perception that our withdrawing from the program was "homophobic." This stems from the view some people have that the Catholic faith is antagonistic to homosexuals because we believe the Biblical teaching that homosexual acts are wrong.

There's a flaw in that logic. The church constantly and consistently calls all its members to repentance and conversion, without writing anyone off for a particular sin or weakness.

Consider the Gospel of Luke: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself." There is no room in that injunction for hatred of homosexuals, or anyone else.

Pope Paul VI put it clearly: Christ was "uncompromisingly stern towards sin, but patient and rich in mercy towards sinners." The message of Christ's saving doctrine "must always be joined with tolerance and charity, as Christ himself showed."

There have been times when some members of the church have been uncharitable in sharing their message. It's also true that in this day and age when special rights for homosexuals are the source of heated debates, our defence of Catholic values like the sanctity of marriage may place homosexuals uncomfortably in the public eye. That is truly regrettable. The church has no desire to single out individuals.

Church teaching stresses the dignity of homosexual persons. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that "they must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity." It calls us to avoid "every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard."

At the same time, it is disturbing when people of faith are accused of hatred, intolerance and fascism for acting according to their principles. Homosexuals have a right to respect, compassion and dignity. But Catholics have a right to their beliefs and a right to act on their beliefs. Some of the public comment seems to deny us these basic rights.

Finally, I believe that all people, homosexuals included, have a right to hear the gospel taught without compromise. Many homosexuals may have no interest in the path which the church shows them. However, they are entitled to know it, and I am obliged — and privileged — to teach it.

I recently presided at the funeral of a priest, Monsignor Donald Neumann, who died bravely at the age of 55 from cancer. He once told me, "I do not mind being criticized for teaching the faith as handed on by the church. But I do not want to be condemned for failing to do so."

We will continue to teach in word and action what the church teaches. Disagree if you will, but recognize a principled stand for what it is.

Most Reverend Adam Exner, OMI
Archbishop of Vancouver

For a detailed explanation of the reasons behind the decision of the Archdiocese click here.

The following editorial, "Plenty of intolerance to go around", by Paul Schratz, the editor of the B.C. Catholic, provides background and context, click here.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Most Reverend Adam Exner, OMI. "VanCity Savings Affair: Letter from the Archbishop." Vancouver Sun (October 1, 2003).

This article reprinted with permission from the Vancouver Chancery Office and Adam Exner.

THE AUTHOR

Archbishop Exner was born on December 24th, 1928 into a farming family at Killaly, Saskatchewan. The future Archbishop entered the Oblate Fathers in 1950 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1957. He received Masters degrees in philosophy and theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and holds a Doctoral degree in theology from the University of Ottawa. Archbishop Exner was appointed Archbishop of Vancouver on May 25, 1991.

Copyright 2003 Archbishop Adam Exner


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