Montreal Archdiocese Backs Down From Requiring HIV Tests for Applicants to Seminary School
The Catholic Archdiocese of Montreal has backed down from a policy announced last month that would have required all men who applied to the Grand Seminaire de Montreal to undergo HIV testing, the Montreal Gazette reports. In a statement released on Monday, the archdiocese said that it had obtained legal and ethical counsel and wanted to clarify that it "share[s] and respect[s] the societal values contained in the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms" (Parkes, Montreal Gazette, 2/17). In announcing the policy last month, Rev. Marcel Demers of the Grand Seminaire said that a positive HIV test may indicate that an applicant could be a man who has sex with men. HIV-positive applicants will be asked how they were infected, and if they say that they were infected by having sex with a man, the seminary "will try to see what really is the person's calling," Demers said. Demers added that MSM would not be automatically refused admittance to the seminary but said that their chances for acceptance would be "slim" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/16). However, Montreal Archbishop Jean-Claude Turcotte defended the tests, saying they would be part of routine health examinations for all applicants and would not be used to determine a person's sexual orientation. He said, "If a person, because of HIV, cancer or another serious disease, cannot serve his vocation, we will tell this person that (priesthood) is not an option." In the statement released on Monday, Turcotte said that HIV testing of applicants "is ruled out for the foreseeable future" and that "[n]o written directive requiring HIV tests was ever carried" (Agence France-Presse, 1/16). The statement said that the seminary is in an ongoing process of reviewing its acceptance criteria for the school, according to the Gazette.
"We're very satisfied," Quebec Human Rights Commission spokesperson Ginette L'Heureux said, adding, "I think they've reflected on this and have been enlightened" (Montreal Gazette, 2/17). A coalition of Canadian AIDS groups had asked the commission to investigate the HIV testing policy, saying that it promoted discrimination in the workplace (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/16). However, L'Heureux said that the commission no longer has a reason to investigate because it appears that the archdiocese will abide by the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms. "I'm just happy that this seems to indicate that they got the message that this would have been illegal," Rolf Jurgens, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, said, adding, "For us, the statement is a very positive one and we hope that they are acting in good faith." However, not all AIDS advocates were pleased with the archdiocese's statement. "There's nothing new," Laurent McCutcheon, president of the telephone support hotline Gai-Ecoute, said. He said that some questions remain unanswered, including whether applicants might still be asked to take a test -- even though it would not be mandatory -- or if interviewers might ask applicants about their HIV status. L'Heureux said that she believes that the archdiocese knows it cannot ask this type of question, according to the Gazette (Montreal Gazette, 2/17).