Bishop stands firm against STD vaccine in Catholic schools despite lawsuit threat
Patrick B. Craine
CALGARY, Sept. 14th, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – As a Calgary lobby group threatens a lawsuit against the city’s Catholic school district over its opposition to the HPV vaccine, the city’s bishop is questioning their chances.
“I don’t know what grounds they hope to proceed on – the vaccination program is an optional program,” Calgary Bishop Fred Henry told LifeSiteNews Friday. “The availability of the vaccination is not the issue as it is readily available in multiple venues, we are providing all the information to parents to make an informed choice, and far from being a denial of rights, our approach is an affirmation of parents rights.”
The HPV vaccine, which prevents certain strands of the sexually transmitted infection that can lead to cervical cancer, has been administered through Alberta’s schools in grade 5 and 9 with provincial funding since 2007, but at Bishop Henry’s urging the Calgary Catholic School District has refused to participate in the program. Instead they have directed parents to clinics where they can get their children vaccinated if they choose.
According to Bishop Henry, administering the vaccine would undermine the schools’ effort to teach children about abstinence and chastity in accord with the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Despite pressure from some members of the public, the district’s trustees have stayed firm, so a lobby group called HPV Calgary launched a public campaign in June calling on the trustees to defy Bishop Henry.
But they are now planning a lawsuit because the trustees have refused to reconsider the vaccine. “It was the previous board that took this action to ban it and in the past two years this board has never discussed it,” Dr. Ian Mitchell, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Calgary, told Sun Media. “We haven’t heard any reasonable argument of why no vaccinations.”
LifeSiteNews did not hear back from the Calgary Catholic District by press time, but board chairperson Mary Martin told Sun Media that parents expect them to take their lead from the bishop, and so they have no intention of changing the policy.
“There’s nothing now that would change its course,” she said. “We’re leaving it squarely in the hands of parents.”
The Calgary Catholic School District is now Canada’s only school board in a major city that does not offer the vaccine. It has also been banned by Catholic school boards in eight other districts of Alberta as well as Yellowknife, and Halton in Ontario.
In 2009, health officials in Calgary expressed concern that only 18.9% of grade 5 students in Calgary’s Catholic schools had been vaccinated, compared to about 70 per cent in the public schools.
The lobbyists at HPV Calgary have taken aim at Bishop Henry’s argument that the vaccine encourages promiscuity.
“That’s something that can be studied. It has been studied and it doesn’t produce promiscuity,” Mitchell said in June. “If the bishop has evidence, then I believe that evidence should be available for us to look at.”
But Bishop Henry says the vaccine essentially avoids the real problem leading to HPV, and so actually undermines the effort to prevent the disease.
“If we don’t attempt to change sexual behaviour that is responsible for transmission of the HPV, but attempt to solve the problem by getting a series of shots, then we don’t have to exercise self-control, nor develop virtue, but can use medicine to palliate our vices,” he wrote in June. “The technological solution requires no change in behaviour.”