MONCTON, N.B. – A New Brunswick archbishop has ordered several Roman Catholic parishes to return federal funding they applied for without reading the fine print on abortion rights.
Moncton Archbishop Valery Vienneau says the church cannot compromise its values just to please the government.
“We’re in a democracy, so why should we have to compromise our values to get some summer jobs for students?” Vienneau asked.
The Liberal government this year required that organizations seeking funding under the program check a box affirming their support for constitutional rights and the right to reproductive choice, including access to abortion.
The government says it is not targeting beliefs or values, but churches and other faith-based organizations say they are being forced to choose between staying true to their values and seeking grants to help them run programs — from summer camps to soup kitchens — that have nothing to do with abortion.
“We cannot compromise our human, Catholic, Christian values just to please the government,” Vienneau said.
Vienneau said he sent a memo to all the parishes earlier this year, telling them not to apply for the summer job funding, but some had already sent in their applications.
He said some of those churches were granted federal funding for student summer jobs, but the parishes didn’t read the fine print and he has told them to refuse the money.
He said the diocese usually hires 25 to 30 students each summer for a variety of projects such as office work and the upkeep of cemeteries.
“Of course we are distressed that we are losing all these summer jobs for the students. Some parishes will try to raise the money for some projects, but some will probably not be able to do that,” he said.
The federal government takes issue with the church’s position.
In an email to The Canadian Press, Emily Harris, senior communications advisor for Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Minister Patty Hajdu, said organizations do not have to support rights, they must respect them, and not actively undermine them.
She said when the churches are saying that they are “losing” jobs for students, they are actively refusing the funds.
“We are proud that over 3,000 paid summer jobs are approved in New Brunswick for this summer thanks to our government’s doubling of the Canada Summer Jobs program. All of these approved employers submitted complete applications and are eligible,” she wrote.
“It is disappointing to learn that some organizations are being pressured by their leadership to drop out of the program, because we know that many of these organizations have provided excellent work experience opportunities for summer students in past years.”
Of 42,708 applications to the program, 1,559 were deemed ineligible because of the attestation requirement, according to a government answer to a Commons order paper question tabled by Conservative MP Bob Zimmer.
Vienneau said he’s had no contact with government officials but hopes the application is changed for next year.
— By Kevin Bissett in Fredericton.