London Free Press (Canada), November 3, 2004

SCHOOL FIRES EMPLOYEE WHO GAVE OUT CONDOMS

A King's University College residence employee has been fired for offering condoms to students living at the Catholic school.

Residence assistant Dan Grace was approached several times by administrators about his intention to offer the form of birth control -- which is contrary to church doctrine -- and fired by the affiliated University of Western Ontario school last Thursday.

"This, to me, is a health and safety issue," said Grace, a third-year student on a full academic scholarship. "There's a lot of sexual activity.

"What concerns me is not where the church stands at all. It's the disconnect between church doctrine and the current reality."

King's chaplain Rev. Michael Bechard consulted Bishop Ronald Fabbro before advising Mary Carol Watters, dean of students at King's, on the situation, Watters said.

Though she considers Grace a "wonderful" residence assistant, Watters noted the school won't budge on the controversial issue of supplying birth control on campus.

"The bottom line is, at the end of the day, King's is a Catholic college," she said, noting the residence is committed to informing students about the potential dangers of sexual activity.

"But for an education institution that is directly linked with the Catholic church to actually engage in providing (condoms) is against Catholic teaching. So we make that distinction."

A statement released by Bechard echoed those points.

"Employees of the college are aware of the Catholic mission of the college and . . . need to respect the teachings and uphold them," the chaplain wrote.

"The position of the Roman Catholic church on premarital sex and on artificial contraception has been articulated . . . on a number of occasions."

The issue has proved divisive among the 18 residence assistants at King's, but one colleague is supportive of Grace's stance.

While she isn't sure whether she would hand out condoms, Paris Meilleur, a second-year student, called the school policy impractical.

"I would much rather have a student come to me at midnight and say, 'I need a condom,' than to come to me the next morning and say, 'I'm pregnant,' or 'I have AIDS,' " Meilleur said.

Grace, who was also a residence assistant last year, had a folder on his door filled with condoms that read: If you choose sex, be smart about it.

This year, he hadn't put the sign up before being fired, he said.

Residence employees handing out condoms is nothing new, said a student who lived at King's two years ago.

"Obviously (Grace) is not the first RA to do it because my RAs did it," the former resident said. "People are having sex and . . . it just makes sense. The thought never even crossed my mind that this might be bad. To pretend that (sex) doesn't happen is ridiculous."

Until now, however, school officials hadn't heard of such a case, Watters said.

"This won't be going on in a formal way where a paid employee of the college is openly providing them," she said.

"We make a distinction between what is done in a professional capacity and what is done in a personal capacity."

Despite losing his job, Grace won't be forced out of the residence, she added.

As a Catholic, Grace said he has no problem with church teachings -- but stressed his role, ultimately, was to care for the health and safety of students.

"Church doctrine, a lot of great things can come from it," he said, "but ultimately the students need to come first."

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