FROM GLEN ARGAN IN SAINT PAUL, CANADA
CATHOLIC organisations which choose to do good work with funds raised from gambling create a scandalous situation that "compromises the religious identity" of the organisation, a Canadian bishop has said.
Bishop Luc Bouchard of Saint Paul said he is giving Catholic parishes, schools and other organisations up to three years to stop pursuing revenues derived from gambling.
In a pastoral letter he called on his diocese to contact their legislators to state four concerns or recommendations.
These include the assertion that legalised gambling does an injustice to a vulnerable minority, and that Alberta should set up "an impartial and open public review of legalised gambling in order to see if the current and future benefits of gambling are not outweighed by their costs".
The province, he said, should substantially increase "the quality and quantity" of counselling resources available for problem gamblers. Video lottery terminals and video slot machines should also be eliminated or, at the .very least, restricted to licensed casinos.
Bishop Bouchard also called on members of his diocese to examine their own gambling behaviour "and resolve not to contribute to a culture of gambling". The bishop said he wrote the letter "after much prayer and thought, solely because the issue is so serious".
The Alberta bishops have spoken against the growing culture of gambling in the province. In 1998, as a group, they issued a statement The False Men of Gambling that urged governments "to avoid seeing gambling as a cash cow to be milked for ever-increasing monies".
In his letter Bishop Bouchard traces the history of gambling in Alberta since 1967 when the only gambling was "relatively innocent games of chance and skill" taking place at agricultural fairs and exhibitions. Currently, the province has 6,000 video lottery terminals, 8,000 slot machines, 2,300 lottery ticket centres, five racetracks, three racing entertainment centres and 17 permanent casinos. Gambling raises about one billion US dollars a year in revenue in the province, according to the letter. "Gambling in Alberta is so visible and so ever present that no one any longer even notices what a profound ethical transformation has occurred in such a short period of time," he said.
While the Church has no well-developed teaching on the morality of gambling it espouses principles such as human dignity, the common good, solidarity and the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, which he says are "in very sharp conflict" with legalised gambling.