Vancouver's Roman Catholic archdiocese has cancelled a near-decade-old partnership with a credit union, breaking ranks because of the financial institution's high-profile support for the gay community.
Calling that support "worrisome" and "harmful," the church has ordered four of its schools to drop out of a junior banking program with the VanCity Credit Union that teaches students about investing and saving money.
At the centre of the dispute is an aggressive ad campaign initiated by the Vancouver-based credit union to woo gay and lesbian customers. An ad that ran in newspapers featured two men in an embrace with the caption: "I want to bank with people who value all partnerships."
The ad ran in mainstream papers as well as gay publications.
The archdiocese took exception and ordered all four Catholic schools that participated in the banking program to quit. One school had run the program for seven years and enrolled 600 students in a savings plan.
Archdiocese spokesman Paul Schratz said Archbishop Adam Exner made the decision after complaints from parents about VanCity's ad campaign.
Mr. Schratz said the archbishop struggled over quitting a program that had such a positive impact on schoolchildren.
But in a four-page letter to the credit union, the archbishop said the "bad" effects of the church's association with VanCity outweighsd the program's benefits.
"VanCity in its advertising and by its sponsorship has publicly manifested its support for agendas which are worrisome and harmful to the church and to society," it said.
The archbishop also called VanCity's support for the gay community "objectionable."
At the end of the day, Mr. Schratz said, the archdiocese couldn't continue a relationship with an institution so at odds with church teachings.
"There was a public perception that here is a Catholic diocese that is trying to put out specific moral teachings and working . . . in a close relationship with an organization that is promoting values and attitudes that are at odds with our beliefs."
The church's edict took VanCity by surprise and angered gays and lesbians who had appreciated the credit union's efforts to attract homosexual customers.
Kevin Simpson, president of Dignity, an organization of gay Catholics, called the archdiocese's move regressive and urged Catholics to protest.
"I think there's a real need for progressive people within the church to begin speaking out on issues that they disagree with, whether it be birth control . . . or gay or lesbian issues.
"[The church]is quite disingenuous in claiming to have a loving stance toward gays and lesbian people and yet opposing every single progressive step that takes place in society, every single one."
VanCity CEO Dave Mowat said he is disappointed with the archbishop's decision, noting the junior banking program is popular and positive.
Some parents have already contacted VanCity, asking it to continue the program off Catholic school property.
Mr. Mowat said the credit union is proud of its attempt to include the gay and lesbian community, calling it a natural evolution.
"Thirty years ago, when we started making loans to women without their husband co-signers, people thought that was crazy too.
"So, it's all a continuum I think."