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‘The hurt is going away’: White Rock, B.C. parish apologizes to local pride society

Click to play video: 'Catholic church apologizes to B.C. Pride society over rental hall snub'
Catholic church apologizes to B.C. Pride society over rental hall snub
A B.C. Catholic parish and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver have apologized to the White Rock Pride Society for the parish's refusal to rent the organization a hall in 2019. Grace Ke has the story – Jun 15, 2022

A parish in White Rock, B.C. has apologized to the local pride society and 2SLGBTQQIA+ community, ending a years-long complaint process at the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.

The Star of the Sea Parish, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver and White Rock Pride Society released news of their joint resolution on Tuesday after several months of dialogue together.

“The hurt is going away,” said Ernie Klassen, White Rock Pride president. “My reaction is one of gratitude, overwhelming exhaustion — we’ve put a lot of time and energy into this.”

Read more: Inside Pride: Exploring the lesser-known part of the term 2SLGBTQQIA+

In June of 2019, the White Rock Pride Society filed a discrimination complaint against the parish and archdiocese, after the parish declined to rent its hall to the group for its annual fundraising gala.

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When a complaint proceeds at the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, the parties can file their responses and move towards a hearing or agree to take part in mediation to try and resolve it.

“We’ve used this as a learning experience with the hope we can grow closer and find a lot more in common,” said James Borkowski, delegate for operations at the Archdiocese of Vancouver.

“Looking back, I think we could have welcomed better and entered into a dialogue more effectively, but that’s what the parish and archdiocese have done, and we’ve really enjoyed our time with the White Rick Pride Society.”

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Borkowski said the rental hall application may have been declined in 2019 as a “matter of not knowing each other well enough,” and therefore being met “with some awkwardness.”

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Since then, however, Catholic churches and leaders — including Pope Francis — have taken more steps to embrace the 2SLGBTQQIA+ congregants.

“We’ve learned that we need to focus on being a more welcoming church and we need to focus on loving well before we worry about church teachings,” said Borkowski.

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In addition to the apology for actions that caused the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community to feel “unwelcome and excluded,” the resolution includes a commitment to implement guidelines at the archdiocese and parish to improve their interactions with the community moving forward. The guidelines will also provide greater clarity on the management of rental requests by non-Catholic groups.

White Rock Pride, the parish and archdiocese will engage in additional consultation with members of the broader 2SLGBTQQIA+ and Catholic communities as well to identify future opportunities for collaboration in a manner consistent with Catholic teachings and the beliefs of White Rock pride.

“The churches need to let the community know that they stand behind what they say, which is ‘we welcome everyone,'” Klassen explained. “From my background, when you welcome someone, you need to do it with no strings attached.”

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In the joint news release, Klassen said the agreement reached is “far better” than what could have been achieved with a ruling from the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal on the matter. When the process began in 2019, he told Global News he thought the parties were “so far apart” that a resolution would not be possible.

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“We believe that we have made a huge difference in the way the church sees the LGTBQ community, as well as how the LGBTQ community sees the church,” he said from his flower shop in White Rock.

“If we can make strides to build a better and more inclusive community then we have achieved a lot more than we ever intended to do.”

— With files from Grace Ke

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