when catholic teachers from across Ontario gather at the Westin Harbour Castle next week for their annual general meeting, they'll be facing standard resolutions about union dues and collective bargaining - plus a controversial motion to endorse same-sex marriage. Just one week after the Pope declared that gay nuptials degrade marriage and called on authorities to stop approving them, Resolution 151 has stirred up a hornet's nest.
The motion, put forward by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association's human rights committee, asks OECTA to "communicate with the federal government its support for the passing of the legislation changing the definition of marriage to allow for same-sex unions."
An official in the OECTA provincial office says that although members of the human rights committee are chosen by the executive, the resolution does not necessarily reflect the views of the executive as a whole. She says that social justice activists have always had a strong presence in the association, and support for same-sex marriage is merely a contemporary example of their traditional concerns. "This is in the same spirit," she says.
James Ryan, a member of the provincial executive and of the human rights committee, acknowledges that the resolution - which is not guaranteed to actually hit the floor - makes some people uncomfortable. "There's probably a rural-urban split. But it's certainly within the mandate of the human rights committee to deal with issues like that."
There are those who beg to differ, among them John-Henry Westen, editor of LifeSite, the Internet arm of "pro-life, pro-family" newspaper the Interim. Westen says he quizzed OECTA officials about why they allowed the resolution to be listed and was told that there was no censorship - whatever comes forward is included. But he says he doesn't buy that. "Would they accept a resolution denying the Holocaust or something insane? I don't think so."
Westen says the resolution is unfair to Catholics teachers. "It's scandalous, because there are many faithful Catholic teachers in that (association). If (backers of the resolution) can't stomach the teachings of the Catholic church, they don't have to be Catholic."
The Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops is hearing a similar refrain from its membership on the OECTA motion. Response "ranges from surprise to shock," says general secretary Thomas Reilly.
The bishops have made no formal entreaties to OECTA regarding Resolution 151, Reilly says. "But certainly I know a number of OECTA people and I've discussed it with them."
This isn't the first time OECTA has taken up gay causes, to the dismay of the church hierarchy. It backed student Marc Hall's bid to bring his boyfriend to his high school prom - but this time the union could be heading for a holier row.