Pressure from human rights organizations and homosexual rights activists appears to be responsible for the firing of the editor of a Roman Catholic family magazine based in Saskatchewan.
Controversy erupted when editor Father Albert Lalonde published “A Psychoanalytic Look at Homosexuality and AIDS” by a respected American psychiatrist who has written hundreds of articles on the subject, in the February 1986 issue of Our Family magazine (see The Interim, September 1986).
The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC) fired off a letter to Father Lalonde, saying that the article depicted homosexuals “in hateful terms and in ways calculated to arouse in the reader feelings of revulsion and disgust.”
The Edmonton chapter of Dignity, an organization of active Catholic homosexuals, sent a complaint to the federal Justice Department asking on how best to proceed on “something we suspect to be hate literature.”
Although the SHRC clarified the meaning of its original letter to Lalonde as merely expressing “concern” over the article and not a reprimand, copies of letters from SHRC were sent to Lalonde’s Oblate Superior (and Our Family publisher) Father Gerald Wiesner. Lalonde belongs to the religious order called Oblates of Mary Immaculate (O.M.I.)
Father Wiesner took the unusual step of putting “a latter from the publisher” in the October issue of the magazine, in which he apologized for the article, saying it had crossed “the line between honest discussion and unbalanced opinion.”
If he hoped to end the matter there, he was too optimistic. The December issue of Our Family contained an unprecedented four and a half pages of letters supporting Lalonde (noting that they were all the letters received to the time of printing) and criticizing the publisher for his apology.
“What club was held over Father Wiesner to intimidate him into writing that cop-out latter…?” asked one priest. Another priest responded to criticism that the offending article had been “crude and unaesthetic” by saying, “When people who engage in filthy and disgusting practices are mounting a campaign for public acceptance and respectability it should be more acceptable to describe their practices than to engage in them.”
By the time the January 1987 issue was published, more critical letters had been received, some in reaction to the earlier letters supporting editor Lalonde over the publisher and some complaining about the articles discussing feminism in the Church and witchcraft, which had appeared in the October and November issues.
The January issue also contained lengthy excerpts from the recently published Vatican statement on homosexuality which restates the Church’s opposition to homosexual activity while stressing the need for compassion and help for those struggling to live chastely.
Behind the scenes, however, editorial responsibility at Our Family had been shifted in December. Editor Lalonde and assistant editor Andras Than had been asked to resign, or given the option to remain for six months “under supervision” while a new editorial team was assembled. Both men declined to quit.
Practically speaking, this means that all articles slated for Our Family are first approved – or refused – by an editorial committee. No more letters to the editor on the matter will be approved and while Father Lalonde has not been told explicitly that he cannot tell his version of the events, he is doubtful that such an editorial would be approved.
The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission has not issued a formal complaint to Our Family. However, the commissioner recently announced that he wants “sexual orientation” added to the provincial human rights code as a prohibited ground for discrimination. Judging by the Lalonde case, censorship of any article critical of homosexuality may well be one of the first fruits of such a move in Saskatchewan.