New Calgary Bishop sees growth, but struggling people in need

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New Calgary Bishop sees growth, but struggling people in need

William McGrattan — Calgary's new Catholic Bishop — wants to deliver a message of hope this Good Friday, but he's not shying away from talking about the greatest challenges he says society faces today.

He says the dignity of the human person, the 'sacredness of human life' has come under attack and we're seeing it throughout our lives, from birth right through to death.

"We're seeing it on issues of social injustice, poverty, [the] economically disadvantaged, addictions and now at the end of life," McGrattan said, referring to Canada's assisted dying legislation, which became law last year.  

​He says the law goes against a moral truth, "The dignity of the human person and that we don't have the right to choose to die, but we allow death to take place," he said. McGrattan says the moment of death is a sacred time and we should allow it to take place "and not choose it deliberately."  

Freedom of conscience should protect moral truth

McGrattan says "we have to allow for moral truth to be protected by the freedom of conscience," so that nurses and doctors and others in the health care profession don't feel obligated by their professions, society or law that they are obligated to perform "an act that goes against the very nature of their conscience and truth."  

Caution needed with GSAs 

McGrattan says he wants to draw on his experience in Ontario where he worked with Catholic schools and the minister of education on the creation of student support groups, such as gay-straight alliances, or GSA's. In Ontario, the suggested name for the clubs in Catholic schools is "Respecting Differences."

Alberta allowed for the creation of GSAs to promote a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe-learning environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students in 2015.

McGrattan is against naming the clubs "gay-straight alliances" — he feels it may promote a certain agenda and may exclude other students who are struggling in other areas. 

"That's where we're very cautious about trying to accompany young people and maybe allow them the freedom to know that Respecting Differences is a fairly acceptable way that we want to make sure that there are people who have differences and we need to come to a respect and understanding of them."

The church, homosexuality and the truth 

McGrattan says the church hasn't been afraid of dialogue on issues involving science, politics and other disciplines. He says the truth of the person and the issue of sexual orientation is no different, but he says the dialogue can't be one-sided.  

"Are they as open to hear the church's reflection on such truth?"

The questions aren't easy.

"What is the truth of the person? How do we understand attractions towards someone of the same sex? How do we maintain the dignity of that person?"

He says there may be an opportunity for a shared understanding of the truth.

"Maybe, if not, then we have to then say there's accommodation."

McGrattan says it's not about the church wanting to impose its truth on others. "We're proposing it and we're allowing people to sort of understand and maybe appreciate how the church has come to see this truth."

McGrattan was installed as Calgary's eighth bishop in a ceremony at St. Mary's cathedral on Feb. 27. He moved to Alberta from Peterborough, Ont., where he served as bishop for more than two years.

McGrattan replaced Fred Henry, who was Calgary's bishop for 19 years before his resignation in January due to health reasons.  

The Calgary diocese covers 110,000 square kilometres across southern Alberta, includes 68 parishes and more than 400,000 Catholics. 

McGrattan says he's been struck by how welcoming Calgarians have been. He says so many people come out after church to shake his hand and say "Welcome to Calgary."

'Great concern for social justice, for the marginalized'

McGrattan says he also quickly realized that many Calgarians are struggling during the city's prolonged economic slump.  He says it was surprising to see how many people show up every Sunday for dinner at St. Mary's Hall in Mission.

Hundreds of people, many of them homeless or on low incomes, sit down to a free, hot meal once a week. "It's amazing when I think about it, having that experience in Toronto, I haven't seen that on such a large scale."

Growth but also consolidation

McGrattan says two parishes are experiencing rapid growth and are looking at expansion plans: Our Lady of the Rockies in Canmore and Ascension Church in northwest Calgary.

But there's also a plan to sell off St. Patrick's church in downtown Lethbridge and consolidate the other two parishes into one larger facility.

"I understand how people might be resistant to that type of direction," said McGrattan. "But at the same time it does make sense when we are trying to sort of create a community. It's these particular issues both political and social that become the greatest challenge to my belief, the church's belief and it becomes what I think is where the church has to stand in a prophetic way and begin to continue to point to those truths.

Way of the Cross

McGrattan is looking forward to taking part in his first Way of the Cross procession through downtown Calgary. It starts at St. Mary's cathedral every Good Friday, the day Christians believe Jesus was crucified and died.

The annual procession includes prayer, meditation and song, and it retraces the final hours of Jesus' life.

McGrattan says there is a message of hope for his followers. "This hope is not unfounded, it's founded in love and it's founded in the example of Christ."

As for which hockey team the bishop will be cheering on?

It's the Boston Bruins. He says if the Bruins are eliminated, he'll consider switching allegiance.

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