Australia’s Bishops Use Schoolchildren in New Campaign Against Marriage Equality

June 10, 2015
Screenshot 2015-06-09 at 3.15.14 PM

Cover page of the bishops’ document

On the heels of Ireland’s passage of marriage equality, and while other bishops are thinking of ways to speak about marriage in less strident rhetoric,  Australia’s Catholic bishops have launched a campaign for “the very soul of marriage,” employing educators and schoolchildren in Catholic schools as their messengers.

In an 18-page document disseminated through Catholic schools, the bishops call marriage equality a “serious injustice” according to the Goalburn Post.

Titled “Don’t Mess With Marriage,” the document warns against the perceived dangers of same-gender marriages and says it is “unjust, gravely unjust” to allow same-gender couples equal rights to marriage. They continue:

“If we are right in this assertion and if the civil law ceases to define marriage as traditionally understood, it will be a serious injustice and undermine that common good for which the civil law exists.”

Speaking of family and friends with “same-sex attraction,” their preferred language for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, the document says:

“They need love and support like anyone else. But pretending that their relationships are ‘marriages’ is not fair or just to them. . .Same-sex friendships are of a very different kind: to treat them as the same does a grave injustice to both kinds of friendship and ignores the particular values that real marriages serve.”

The bishops also claim religious liberty will be impaired and that children will be negatively affected:

” ‘Messing with marriage’, therefore, is also ‘messing with kids’. It is gravely unjust to them.”

This line is particularly curious, given that several bishops are using Catholic schools to distribute the document, with children as young as six or seven being given the document to bring home to their parents. It also messes with the conscience rights and religious liberty of educators and administrators at Catholic schools forced to promulgate such prejudice or risk their job.

In the Archdiocese of Canberra-Goulburn, Archbishop Christopher Prowse confirmed that the document was sent to 56 primary and secondary schools which educate nearly 25,000 students. He hopes it will be shared in parishes and other Catholic agencies as well, reported ABC News.

In the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Archbishop Denis Hart had “Don’t Mess With Marriage” distributed in dozens of schools, with the added request that principals personally ask parents to oppose marriage equality and write to their members of Parliament, reported the Sydney Morning Herald. Some principals, however, are refusing both requests out of concern for the pastoral effects they may have on LGBT students or those coming from non-traditional families.

In the Diocese of Darwin, where students at St. Paul’s Catholic Primary School received the document, NT News and The Guardian asked church officials who made the decision to distribute the document in that fashion.  Each official or office punted it to another office.

Daniel Alderman of the LGBT group Rainbow Territory, responded to the bishops’ campaign, saying:

“I don’t see what their argument is, this is about equality. . .Bigotry perpetuates hate and as a Catholic one would expect that they would be forgiving and loving.”

Michael Bayly

One would expected the Catholic Bishops of Australia Conference to imitate Christ’s witness of forgiveness, love, and reconciliation, but they have chosen otherwise. Michael Bayly of The Wild Reed , an Australian by birth, called their actions a “new low.” His analysis, worth reading in its entirety, stated:

“As Ireland so resoundingly showed, the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s days of lording it over people’s sexual and relational lives have pretty much past. And thank God for that.

“And yet they persist with their statements and documents dominated by demeaning language and pseudo-science. . .In short, the arguments being put forward by the Australian bishops against marriage equality (and, by extension, against a renewed and reformed theology of sexuality) are the same tired old arguments we’ve being hearing for years, arguments that have been roundly and compellingly rebuked time and again…Not surprising, they are arguments that have also been rejected by the Catholic people, most recently in Ireland. . .

“Let’s be clear: the Australian Catholic bishops’ so-called ‘struggle for the very soul of marriage’ is nothing more than a politically-motivated ploy in their ‘culture war’…It is a reprehensible and insensitive ploy, one that has no place in Catholic schools as it is more concerned with promulgating a discriminatory ideology than it is with embodying God’s spirit of inclusion and compassion present within the Catholic faithful.”

Australian legislators are just a few votes away from passing equal marriage rights, according to News.com.au, and a marriage equality bill has recently been introduced in the legislature. Prime Minister Tony Abbot’s government has not yet allowed a conscience vote that would allow supportive parliamentary members of the ruling Coalition’s parties to vote in favor of the bill. Still LGBT advocates hope for marriage equality by year’s end.

Until then, Australian bishops should know that using schoolchildren to promote their campaign is not ethical or prudential, especially given the local church’s recent problems with clergy sexual abuse and its cover ups.

The bishops down under should follow Irish prelates who have noted that their nation’s referendum instituting marriage equality was a “reality check” and increased “the sum of happiness” in Ireland. There is much wisdom in these remarks–wisdom learned the hard way that need not be constantly repeated as more and more nations advance LGBT rights.

Australia’s bishops should attempt to mitigate the damage they have already done to the church through this campaign by ending it.

For Bonding 2.0’s full coverage of Australia’s Catholic LGBT issues, click here, and for our coverage of the Irish referendum and reactions to it, click here

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


New Australian Archbishop Needs to Replace “Logic” With a Dose of Reality

September 24, 2014

The headline in Australia’s Star-Gazette newspaper was intriguing:  “No place for bigotry against gays in Catholic Church, says Sydney’s new archbishop.”  I was ready for some really good news, but my hope was dashed somewhat when I read the story.  I didn’t need to read very far.  The first sentence hurt enough:

“Sydney’s next top Catholic has told the Star Observer he will not stand for homophobia in the church, but he stopped short of distancing himself from comments made two years ago when he said same sex marriage would lead to polygamy.”

Archbishop-elect Anthony Fisher

It might seem that Archbishop-elect Anthony Fisher is a lot better than his predecessor, Cardinal George Pell, who in 2011, according to the newspaper, “compared homosexuality to the ‘flaw’ in a carpet maker’s otherwise perfect carpet.”  It is not so much Farmatta’s opposition to marriage equality which is so surprising or outrageous, but the way that he argues the case is disrespectful to gay and lesbian couples.

In a 2012 essay on same-sex marriage, Fisher raised the specter that marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples will bring about polygamy:

“Now the social engineers have their sights set on removing the ‘man and woman’ part of marriage as well. All that will be left is marriage as an emotional union: it’s enough, as they say, that people love each other. But if marriage is just about feelings and promises, it obviously can’t be limited to a man and a woman: two men or two women might love each other. But on the same logic so might more than two.”

But he didn’t stop there, and he also predicted other travesties:

“If polygamy is irresistible on the ‘all that matters is that they love each other’ line, so is marriage between siblings or between a parents and their (adult) child. Once again this is not just ‘slippery slope’ pessimism: it simply reflects the fact that the advocates of SSM [same-sex marriage] give no account of marriage that would exclude such intimate partnerships from being deemed marriages. Only marriage understood as the kind of comprehensive union I have outlined can resist such ‘morphing.’ “

The simplest answer to this illogical thinking is:  “No one is asking for polygamous or incestuous relationships to be recognized.”   The marriage equality movement arose because there is a natural equality between the love that a gay or lesbian couple share and the love of a heterosexual couple.  The social goods from such love are also the same in both types of couples.  No one is saying the same thing about polygamous or incestuous relationships.  To make the comparison is not a logical argument, but fear-mongering.

But where the archbishop-elect’s line of thinking is most disrespectful by the fact that he sees the advent of marriage equality as a result of the sexual revolution, and not as a question of justice and liberation, as more and more Catholics have begun to see it. Embedded in this line of thinking is that all that matters to gay and lesbian people is to have their sexual relationship recognized.  That is simply not the case.  What they want recognized and protected is their love and commitment to one another, so that their partnership, which might include a family, can develop strongly, can protect their emotional and personal needs, and can contribute to the common good.

The Star-Gazette news article quoted Fisher’s statement on abhorring discrimination:

“Fisher added that he would not tolerate discrimination: ‘The Catholic Church teaches that God is love and that all He has created is good, God loves everyone and there is no place for hatred and bigotry in His Church towards people with same sex attraction.’ ”

Yet, in this very statement he shows, again, disrespect by using the term “same sex attraction” and not “gay and lesbian” which is how the overwhelming majority of such people identify.   If he wants to show that he is concerned about this community, the first thing he should do is to respect their self-identification.  Even Pope Francis uses the word “gay.”

Fisher, like many other members of the hierarchy, needs to learn that if he really wants to welcome LGBT people to the church, he needs to become more knowledgeable about their lives, the nature of their relationships, and about the real forms of injustice and inequality that they experience.  Too often such bishops think that they are being “compassionate,” when in fact, they are being unjust.

Fisher needs to replace his “logic” with a dose of reality.  His first line of business as archbishop should be to open a dialogue with LGBT Catholics to learn about their faith journeys and their gifts.  I don’t think that someone like him is unreformable, but I think he needs to see how his “logical” arguments are, in fact, pastorally and personally harmful.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

 


What the Synod Questions Reveal About the Vatican’s Views on Family

November 18, 2013

The 2014 worldwide synod on marriage and the family has made headlines not just because of its topic is so important, but because of the fact that the Vatican has, for the first time, encouraged bishops to consult the laity on these topics.  In advance of the synod, the Vatican has issued a letter to the bishops including a set of 40 questions in eight categories, including a section on same-sex marriages.

Many have lauded the Vatican for doing the right thing in consulting the laity, the people who are most directly affected by these topics.  One Australian writer, while praising the Vatican’s effort, has taken issue with the way the questions have been phrased.  Writing at the Australian Catholic website EurekaStreet.com, Andrew Hamilton, notes that the questionnaire reveals several challenges that the bishops face in addressing these topics.

The first issue he has is how the questions imagine what a modern family looks like.  He asserts that there is a

“. . . striking contrast between the ideal of the Christian family that it proposed and the reality of child rearing in our society.

“The document represents a fairly traditional Catholic theology of the family, setting it within a high theology and expressed in elevated language. . . .

“Many children are reared by single parent families, by serial parents, in unmarried partnerships, in blended families and in same sex relationships. Many Catholics, too, are married outside the Catholic Church.

“This contrast is significant because it makes it harder to argue persuasively that the rearing of children within a monogamous and enduring family is the normative state for all human beings rather than an ideal for the few. It makes more plausible the argument that state regulation and formalisation of marriage and family ought to be separated from church regulation and ceremonies. This in turn makes it more difficult to appeal in public conversation to arguments based on natural law.”

Hamilton’s second point is that the document’s view of the family is too nostalgic:

“It looks back to a period when marriage alone had legal sanction, most marriages were in churches, divorce was difficult if not impossible, to be born out of wedlock was a stigma, and there was no social support for raising children outside of marriage.

“Nostalgia tends to overlook the harsher aspects of relationships within many duly married families: the incidence of domestic violence, of loveless relationships, of neglected and abused children, the damaged health and early death of so many women, and the inequality of husband and wife.

“It is also easy to forget that critics of such family arrangements were motivated by concern for the human dignity of wives and children who were trapped in abusive relationships. They were led to press for divorce and for tolerance of different forms of child rearing by the failures in practice of the Christian ideal of marriage when embodied in law and custom.

“Whether changes in social mores have ultimately benefited or disadvantaged women and children is open to debate. But to ignore the failures of societies in which the Christian understanding of family life was imposed by law, and the ethical passion of many of its critics, is to underestimate the challenge facing Christian reflection on the family today.”

Hamilton’s third point is that the document fails to take into account economic contexts of families:

In an economic order that is constructed around the participation of individuals in the market and values people by their financial success, it is expected that both adult partners will work to sustain the economy. Those who cannot engage in paid work are stigmatised and their benefits kept very low.

“This shapes family life. For example, someone who came to Australia from a rural society where the family was the economic unit may have been one of nine or ten siblings, but in Australia will have only one or two children. And it will be normal for the children to be placed in child care so that both parents can work.”

Hamilton’s points are good one, and they highlight the fact that the Vatican  indeed does need to do this consultation.   For far too long, church teaching has ignored the social and cultural contexts of families, and how faithful lay people responded to these realities, even sometimes in opposition to official church teaching.  

A synod usually produces a teaching document for the church.  For the upcoming synod, it looks like church officials will have a lot more to learn than to teach.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 


In Australia, Shifting Leadership Leaves Marriage An Open Question

September 29, 2013

Kevin Rudd, left, and Tony Abbott, right.

After the defeat of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recently, anti-marriage equality leaders in Australia are using this moment to stall progress and leaving legislation for equal marriage rights an open question.

The incoming archbishop for Canberra and Goulburn called for a moratorium on any marriage related legislation. The Canberra Times reports that Archbishop-Elect Christopher Prowse publicly questioned a proposed bill that would equalize marriage rights because of the “fragile moment” that “heterosexual married life” is in. He continued:

” ‘I would be calling for more of a moratorium to suspend pending legislation so that we, over the next period of time, can discuss this in a more reasoned way, where both subjective and objective arguments can be put forward and discussed in an atmosphere of calm and reason, particularly holding forward the importance of traditional marriage and its role in society. ”’

Of note is the shift that Archbishop-Elect Prowse brings to the archdiocese from his predecessor Bishop Pat Power who, while opposing marriage equality, spoke kindly of gay and lesbian people. Power is on record as saying:

” ‘I think it is really important to honour homosexual people and to understand that if that is their orientation, that is the way God has made them’…

” ‘If they are expressing their sexuality in a particular way, I don’t know I would want to be too judgmental about that. I think God is often kinder in any judgments that would be made than sometimes other Christians are.’ “

Alongside ecclesial shifts are political ones. In mid-September elections, Kevin Rudd, who is Catholic and made a strong defense of marriage equality because of his faith only days before the election, lost a re-election bid for prime minister. His opponent, Tony Abbott who is also Catholic, ran on a strong record opposing equal rights for LGBT people. Many credit Abbott’s victory with the internal failings of Rudd’s Labor Party and not their positions on marriage equality.

It appears that marriage equality is stalled at the federal level, but LGBT advocates remain hopeful that provincial legislatures can pass laws in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Similar to the United States, progress on marriage will be ‘incremental’ according to one columnist in The Guardian.

Not yet accounted for are recent comments by Pope Francis that the Church should no longer focus on marriage politically, and perhaps this will mean there is room to grow equal rights in Australia under Abbott’s government. There is also the reality that the new prime minister’s openlylesbian sister is pressuring him to advance LGBT rights.

If you missed Bondings 2.0‘s coverage of Kevin Rudd’s faith-filled defense of marriage equality, you can watch the video clip here. It is well worth a view. 

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Australian Priest Excommunicated for LGBT Support Under Pope Francis

September 24, 2013

Fr. Greg Reynolds with his notification of excommunication

An Australian priest has been excommunicated for his support of women and LGBT people in the Catholic Church in a troubling development while many still celebrate Pope Francis’ inclusive-minded interview released last week.

Fr. Greg Reynolds received notification of his excommunication directly from the Vatican with no explanation provided in the Latin text. The Age notes that the notification is dated May 31, 2013, which is well into Pope Francis’ papacy and reports:

“Father Reynolds, who resigned as a parish priest in 2011 and last year founded Inclusive Catholics, said he had expected to be laicised (defrocked), but not excommunicated. But it would make no difference to his ministry.

” ‘In times past excommunication was a huge thing, but today the hierarchy have lost such trust and respect,’ he said.

” ‘I’ve come to this position because I’ve followed my conscience on women’s ordination and gay marriage.’ “

It appears that Fr. Reynolds’ archbishop in Melbourne did not submit anything to the Vatican about the priest, but that the priest was reported anonymously by someone else directly to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Archbishop Denis Hart did say the excommunication is a consequence of Fr. Reynolds’ continuing to preach and celebrate Mass after he resigned from the priesthood.

Some speculate Fr. Reynolds’ trouble is because of his support for women’s ordination, and only marginally LGBT matters. Fr. Reynolds spoke to The Herald about his excommunication and broader efforts at renewal of the Catholic Church in Australia:

“ ‘Just from my own experience, I’m aware of a number of priests who share my belief and my guesstimate would be well over half of the Australian clergy would share that belief.’

“ ‘Understandably none of them haven’t spoken out publically about it because they fear they will suffer the same fate as myself.’…

” ‘I still love the church and am committed to it, I’m just trying to bring about in my own little way to help highlight some of the failing and limitations.’ “

Last week, Pope Francis’ interview with Jesuit publications was a hopeful sign for many that the Catholic Church was moving towards an era where it is less obsessed with rules and more in a posture of mercy and dialogue. Fr. Reynolds claims that interview makes his excommunication “outdated” as the two men are working for similar ends of renewal and reform. Still the excommunication formally remains.  Does this mean that Pope Francis’ positive words on LGBT issues won’t be translated into equally positive acts from the Catholic hierarchy?  Or was this decision made too early in his papacy to be a real indicator of his attitude?  What do you think?  Offer your thoughts in the  “Comments” section of this post.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Australia’s Catholic Prime Minister Defends Marriage Equality

September 8, 2013

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia

As Australians cast their ballots this weekend, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s promise to pass marriage equality within 100 days of the election will be fresh on their mind. Rudd, who is Catholic, made a strong defense of equality on national television this past Tuesday while responding to an audience member’s question, and cited his Catholic faith at several points.

Abbot led in recent polls, but regardless of the election’s outcome, Rudd’s public witness as a practicing Catholic is worth celebrating. A full essay on why he evolved in favor of equal marriage can be read on The Australian‘s website.

A local Christian pastor asked the prime minister about his evolution on marriage equality on the popular Australian television show “Q&A,”  The pastor wondered whether this evolution was merely politicking to win votes,  BBC News reports that Rudd changed his position on the issue in May, while his opponent, Tony Abbot, remains sharply opposed to equal marriage rights.

You can view the video and text for key moments of the exchange this week on “Q&A” below.


After the pastor finished his question, Rudd first addressed the issue of sexual orientation using the language of an ‘informed conscience':

” ‘I concluded in my conscience — through an informed conscience and a Christian conscience — it was the right thing to do [supporting marriage equality] and let me tell you why. Number one, I do not believe people when they are born choose their sexuality…And therefore the idea that this is somehow an abnormal condition is just wrong. I don’t get that…Secondly if you accept that it is natural and normal for someone to be gay because that’s the way they are, then it follows from that I don’t think it is right to say that if these two folk here who are in love with each other and of the same gender should be denied the opportunity for legal recognition of the duration their relationship by having marriage equality.’ “

Afterwards, Rudd asked for clarification from the pastor on why Christians should oppose equal marriage rights. The pastor cited Scripture and ended with the challenge, “If you call yourself a Christian, then why don’t you believe the words of Jesus in the Bible?” The prime minister responded with a rejection of fundamentalism by saying:

“If I were to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition…For goodness sake, the human condition and social conditions change. What is the fundamental principle that the New Testament? It is one of universal love. Loving your fellow man. And if we get obsessed with a particular definition of that through a form of sexuality then I think we’re missing the centrality of what the gospel — whether you call it a social gospel, a personal gospel, or a spiritual gospel is all is all about…If you think homosexuality is unnatural condition then, frankly, I cannot agree with you based on any element of the science and, therefore, if a person’s sexuality is as they are made, then you’ve got to ask the second question: should their loving relationships be legally recognized and the conclusion I’ve reached is that they should.”

Prime Minister Rudd echoes the beliefs of many Catholics that same-gender relationships are both good and deserving of legal recognition from the government.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


QUOTE TO NOTE: Finding Hope in Overcoming Ugliness

June 16, 2013

computer_key_Quotation_MarksA few weeks ago, Bondings 2.0 reported on Australia’s Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s call for a new Vatican Council to address the sex abuse crisis and sexuality generally.   Bishop Robinson led the investigation of Australia’s clergy sex abuse crisis, and the experience transformed his views on sex and power in the Catholic church.  Recently, Jamie Manson interviewed Bishop Robinson for The National Catholic Reporter.   At the close of the interview, Manson asked Robinson, “What keeps you hopeful?”  His answer:

‘Cardinal John Henry Newman, before he became a Catholic, wrote to a friend, ‘There is nothing on this earth so ugly as the Catholic Church and nothing so beautiful.’ We’ve all seen the ugliness, and abuse is one of the ugliest chapters of all, but I’ve also seen the beauty, mostly in all of the good people I’ve worked with over the years. I don’t want to just walk away and leave that beauty behind. So I’ll work to overcome the ugliness wherever I can.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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