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Lottery fund ban in Catholic schools causes dilemma

The St. Paul Education Regional Division (SPERD) board discussed the impact of a decision by the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton to stop using funds from gambling at its Nov. 1 meeting. Effective Oct.

The St. Paul Education Regional Division (SPERD) board discussed the impact of a decision by the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton to stop using funds from gambling at its Nov. 1 meeting. Effective Oct. 1, 2010, parishes, church groups and school divisions are to withdraw from dependency on gambling revenue which includes raffle tickets, casinos, VLTs and high stakes bingos. An eight page pastoral letter written by Bishop Luc Bouchard, available on the Archdiocese of St. Paul website, outlines a similar policy.

“Because Catholic institutions and organizations are closely associated with the Church’s mission to witness, to evangelize and to instruct, I am directing that, within a maximum of three years, Catholic parishes, schools, and other organizations cease to actively pursue revenues that are derived from gambling,” states Bouchard in the letter written and sent out to Catholic schools in 2007.

“It is guided generally by the principle that we should not seek to profit from activities that we know harm others, especially the poor,” states the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton website. “Catholics are called by the Church's social doctrine to solidarity with the poor and the vulnerable of society.”

However, school board representatives acknowledged this will have a big impact on Catholic schools throughout the province, as using revenue from gambling sources to fund programs has become commonplace.

“We were wondering if the bishop would be willing to allow our Catholic schools to use provincial grants,” said trustee Rhonda Lafrance at the meeting. “I know in his letter he said anything tied to gaming but … gaming funds are in every part of our government funding.”

Jean Champagne, secretary treasurer for SPERD, added that currently, lotteries are the second biggest source of revenue for the province and 98 per cent of the school division’s funding comes from the province.

School board chair Darrell Younghans asked Dean Bardal, president of the parent council for St. Paul Elementary Community School, and Marie-Anne Hebert, the school’s principal, if this decision affected them.

“Well, anything we need, we have to fundraise right from our parents’ pockets,” explained Bardal, adding that unlike other schools, “We don’t have the ability to go to a casino and raise $20,000 if there is something that we need.”

Heather Starosielski, new school board trustee, said in Mallaig, the loss of the funding from gaming would hamper the athletics program and reduce funds for special field trips.

“Basically, all the extracurricular would have to come directly out of pocket from parents and I think what you might see eventually is a downturn of enrollment,” Starosielski predicted. She said that as programs get cut or reduced as a result of the lack of funds, students will choose to go to non-Catholic schools.

Starosielski said it is her understanding that the ban extended to grant money, such as the provincial Community Initiatives Program (CIP) too.

“When we built our school playground, we did access those grants. The cost was well over $70,000 and we could not have done it without that money,” contributed Hebert.

Trustee Ron Rudkowsky pointed out that transportation and the general per pupil grants from the province also contain some money obtained through gambling.

Lafrance suggested that the board contact the bishop and see if he would be open to permitting them to use grant money.

The letter from Bouchard indicates it is not possible for a school or a hospital to sift out revenues received from gambling and those that come from general taxation. However, a group formally requesting recognition from the Ministry of Gaming in order to share directly in the proceeds of a casino, for example, is problematic.

“In my judgment, it is not morally possible to actively seek funds that one knows are derived from legalized gambling as it is currently operated in Alberta. Ignoring those victimized by gambling or even worse, profiting from their suffering, is foreign to the gospel,” states the letter from Bouchard.

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