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Silencing the Church on Marriage: Australian Archbishop Under Threat

Is it that some people simply cannot tolerate Christian beliefs being held by anyone, spoken by anyone, influencing anyone?


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Explaining the Catholic Church’s teachings on marriage is an action that now risks being categorized as against anti-discrimination legislation.

This is the experience of Hobart’s Archbishop Julian Porteous. Hobart, the capital city of the Australian state of Tasmania, was one of the places the Church in Australia distributed a pamphlet, titled “Don’t Mess With Marriage,” produced by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. The pamphlet sets out the traditional teaching on marriage.

Archbishop Porteous was accused by transgender Greens political candidate Martine Delaney of breaching the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act by circulating the pamphlet to parents of Catholic school students.

Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Robin Banks said the matter should be considered and that conciliation was “unlikely” to solve the issue because “it raises issues of public importance,” the Australian newspaper reported November 13.

Subsequently, however, Delaney asked for the matter to be conciliated. Moreover, in a statement issued this week Delaney said that: “I wholeheartedly support the Catholic Church’s right to oppose marriage equality, and its right to voice its opposition.”

The alternative to a conciliation process is an investigation, likely to last a number of months, involving written submissions and statements.

Archbishop Porteous said his aim in distributing the booklet in Tasmania was to assist the Catholic community in understanding the teaching of the Catholic Church “at a time when debate [on marriage] was widespread within the community.”

“It was never the intention of the document or myself to in any way cause any distress for people,” he said, in a statement issued by the Archdiocese of Hobart.

The move to conciliation follows strong protests against the initial action taken by Delaney.  Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney said the attempt to silence the Church on the marriage issue was “astonishing and truly alarming,” in a statement issued November 13.

«Fair-minded readers of the bishops’ statement on marriage would see it was a very carefully worded and indeed compassionate statement, not designed to provoke or hurt anyone. The concerted campaign that has followed its publication suggests that some people simply cannot tolerate Christian beliefs being held by anyone, spoken by anyone, influencing anyone,” Archbishop Fisher explained.

The Australian Christian Lobby also defended Archbishop Porteous. “Having achieved full practical equality with married couples some years ago, same-sex political activists in their quest to claim the word ‘marriage’ want to legally punish anyone who expresses a different opinion,” said Lyle Shelton, the lobby’s managing director.

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