SASKATOON -- The Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon is among those across the country expressing opposition to a government program requiring groups to attest that their core mandate supports "reproductive rights" in order to receive funding.
The federal government's Canadian Summer Jobs application describes these rights as including "the right to access safe and legal abortions."
In a letter issued this week, Bishop Mark Hagemoen encouraged concerned Catholics to contact their elected officials to express opposition to the requirement, which conflicts directly with the right to freedom of religion and conscience, as guaranteed in Section 2 (a) (b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"We are called to uphold the dignity and the life of each human person, made in the image and likeness of God, including the lives of unborn children," wrote Hagemoen. "We disagree with the government's interpretation of the Charter and the co'rcion it is using on those applying for funding."
The bishop's letter quoted a recent statement by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops: "Faith communities consider abortion, sexual orientation, and gender identity as major questions with ethical, moral, social and personal bearing which determine our understanding of human dignity and thus appreciation for the meaning and significance of each and every human life. This new policy conflicts directly with the right to freedom of religion and conscience."
In the letter, Hagemoen suggested a plan of action for Catholic organizations in the diocese, encouraging those seeking Canadian Summer Jobs funding to submit a printed application by mail and leave the "I attest" section blank. (It is not possible to complete the online electronic application without making the attestation.) Catholic groups were also encouraged to add a letter explaining their reasons for not making the attestation.
The bishop also asked Catholic groups applying for CSJ funding to contact diocesan Justice and Peace co-ordinator Myron Rogal to share how many students each organization hoped to hire, how particular projects might contribute to the common good, and the anticipated impact on the community or the organization if funding is denied.
"We see this as something highly problematic: that the government is imposing a particular morality that is part of this particular government's stance on this issue," said Rogal. "We see it as a direct violation of the right to freedom of conscience guaranteed in the Charter."
Local groups are being forced to make difficult and painful choices because of this application requirement, he said. He noted that a Catholic summer camp and a cherry festival are among the programs in the diocese seeking to employ students through the summer job program -- but which are unable to make an attestation that denies core Catholic beliefs.
"Even if a particular group's specific project is to run a summer camp or work on climate change, they may not be able to sign on to this, because their core mandate runs much deeper than that single program. Our belief is part of our identity," Rogal said.
"We support the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," Rogal said, but stressed that those rights include freedom of conscience and religious belief. "In a diverse, pluralistic country, where religious freedom is something we all enjoy, and where we are a richer country because of it, we would hope that matters of conscience would be respected."
Rogal quoted the Jan. 25 inter-faith statement signed by some 80 leaders of various religious groups in the country, protesting the Canada Summer Jobs guidelines and application process: "The promise of a free and democratic society is that there be no religious or ideological tests or conditions to receiving government benefits or protection."
He added that it is vital that citizens concerned about the issue contact elected officials to express their opposition, including addressing their concerns directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
"We would prefer that an amendment be made, or that a dialogue could be had about this." However, Rogal noted that with a Feb. 2 application deadline, time is short for government to make a change to the process this year.