Catholic parents disgusted by letter sent from parish priest containing provocative questions
Durham Catholic board and Toronto archdiocese are reviewing practices of sharing information between parishes and schools.
By: Leslie Scrivener Feature writer, Published on Sat Mar 09 2013
Have I committed adultery or fornication?
Have I become intoxicated?
Have I been disobedient or disrespectful to my husband?
Have I taken active part in any non-Catholic worship?
Some parents in two Durham region Catholic schools were shocked when their elementary schoolchildren came home bearing a letter from their parish priest that included provocative questions. The letter, a call to return to Catholic practices, came with a two-page “examination of conscience” and invitation to reflect on sins before going to confession.
Other sins included: “Have I done unnecessary servile work (physical labour) or shopping on Sunday?” and “Have I denied my spouse his or her marriage rights?”
Complaints from parents have led the Durham Catholic District School Board and Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto to review their practice of sharing information between parishes and schools, says the board’s acting director of education Mitch LePage.
The letters, from Rev. Charles Forget pastor of Saint Leo the Great Catholic Church, in Brooklin, Ont., were sent in sealed envelopes to students at St. Bridget and St. Leo Catholic schools, he said.
The letters and the adult-focused list of sins, were intended for parents, not children. Two parents who contacted the Star said the letters were not sealed.
“We will be reviewing how we can continue to support all the parishes in our jurisdiction in a manner that is collaborative and invitational to everyone,” LePage said.
“There was a more pastoral way to welcome people back to the church,” said Neil MacCarthy, spokesperson for the archdiocese. “You have to find the most caring way.” Forget declined to be interviewed, MacCarthy said.
But the letter had the opposite effect on some families. One parent, who asked not to be named, says because of the letter she is withdrawing her children at the end of the term and will send them to public school.
“Made for an interesting conversation, where my kids were asking what abortion and masturbation were — since it came in an unsealed envelope addressed to no one, and they read it,” the parent said in an email. “Hardly appropriate material for a kindergarten to grade 8 school.”
If the letters were mailed and addressed to adults, “this would be a non-issue.”
Another parent said Forget’s letter seemed a throwback to the church of the 1940s. “I thought it was disgusting. The school didn’t even proofread it before it came to the kids.”
She, too, asked not to be named. “The church is authority and you don’t buck authority,” said the 37-year-old mother of two. “And a lot of people bite their tongues and hope someone else will fight the battle for them.”
She added: “There is a new school being built and we are having a lot of discussions. ‘Are we switching schools?’ ”
In his letter, sent at the end of February, Forget wrote: “If you are a Catholic and are not attending Mass each Sunday it is a serious and grave sin for it is the breaking of the Third Commandment — to “keep holy the Sabbath Day” ... If you have children, this same sin may be passed to your children as well ...”
He acknowledged that his words “seem blunt, but these are strange days when we are seeing the steady erosion of faith and morals ...”
He concluded his letter: “Pray about it. Do not be afraid. Come, be reconciled!”
LePage said complaints from parents have been “not much of a response.” The two schools have a combined population of 1,100 students. Only seven parents called the schools’ principals, and two called the school board, he said.
Different Catholic organizations have different guides to examining conscience before going to confession, called the sacrament of reconciliation. Some reflect a social justice perspective: “Am I disproportionately concerned for my own good at the expense of others?”
Some are for children: “Have I talked back to parents, teachers or other adults?
“Have I pouted and been moody?”