Seminary's Demand for HIV Test May Violate Rights: Commission
'This Is Making It Even Worse'. Archbishop's Claim This Is a Health Issue Removes Religious Question: Rights Official

By Debbie Parkes
The Gazette [Canada, Montreal PQ ]
January 14, 2004

In defending the Roman Catholic Church's decision to require HIV tests of applicants to the seminary, Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte may have inadvertently made its case worse with the Quebec human-rights commission.

A commission spokesperson said the church may, indeed, be contravening Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms if the only purpose for asking for the test is to check the person's state of health, and has nothing to do with trying to determine his sexual orientation.

That's what Turcotte, archbishop of Montreal, suggested at a news conference Monday.

"This is making it even worse," commission spokesperson Ginette L'Heureux said. "They'd be better to say it was for religious reasons."

L'Heureux explained discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation probably would be protected under an exclusion clause in the charter if the church maintained that, for reasons of religious belief, it didn't want homosexuals as priests.

But if the only aim is to determine a person's state of health, then the exclusion doesn't apply, she said.

An employer can discriminate on the basis of a person's handicap if it prevents the person from carrying out the job, she said. For instance, a fire department could refuse to hire as a firefighter someone who suffers from vertigo, since a firefighter needs to be able to climb ladders, she explained.

But there's nothing inherent in HIV that prevents a person from being able to say mass or carry out other priestly duties, she said.

"In a pre-hiring interview, you could ask, 'Do you have sexual relationships?' That's all right, because the Catholic Church's precepts are that you can't have sexual relations (and be a priest)," she said.

"But if now they're saying it's for reasons of health ... we say, no, you can't require of someone that he have perfect health."

The changes in the admission policy for those applying to the S?minaire de Grand Montr?al were made public last weekend in The Gazette.

The story quoted Marcel Demers, rector of the seminary, who said in the event of a positive test result, the applicant would be asked how he contracted HIV. If the person acknowledged being gay, the chances would be slim he'd be accepted, Demers said, saying the church's position is "this profile doesn't lend itself as well to what we require of a priest."

Turcotte rushed Monday to defend his new policy, saying one's sexual orientation is not an issue. He also said the church has a right to know the state of health of someone who is to receive a lifelong position.

Normally, L'Heureux said, the commission wouldn't launch an investigation until it received a complaint from someone who had suffered harm as a result of the new policy.

That said, the commission can investigate at its own initiative if it believes a policy can have a negative impact on Quebec society, for instance, by promoting discrimination, L'Heureux said.

She said the commission will probably examine this week whether it should launch an investigation at its own initiative.


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