Hobart, Australia, Jul 8, 2015 / 02:04 am
In a recent pastoral letter on marriage, Australia's Catholic bishops reaffirmed Catholic teaching. And one of the bishops has countered a leading same-sex marriage activist who said the pastoral letter should be reported to the Tasmanian government for illegal bias.
"The Catholic Church in Tasmania is exercising its right to freedom of opinion, just as opponents to the Church's views on marriage are also exercising their rights," Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart said, according to the Catholic Leader newspaper.
His comments concern the booklet "Don't Mess with Marriage," a pastoral letter the Australian bishops' conference released May 28. He said the booklet "explains the meaning of marriage enshrined in our laws from a religious perspective."
Australian political leaders are considering whether to define marriage in law to recognize same-sex unions as civil marriages.
"A document defending the current law in our nation could hardly be called discrimination," Archbishop Porteous said.
"We are being asked to abandon the plan of God for marriage and family (and) this would be a disastrous step to take."
The pastoral letter was sent home with students of Catholic high schools in several archdioceses, including Hobart. It stressed both respect for all and respect for the unique nature of marriage as a union of man and a woman.
Randy Croome, national director of the gay marriage advocacy group Australian Marriage Equality, claimed the booklet is illegal under the law of the Australian state of Tasmania. His group cited laws that bar offensive conduct, inciting hatred, and publishing notices that promote or express discrimination.
"The booklet likely breaches the Anti-Discrimination Act and I urge everyone who finds it offensive and inappropriate, including teachers, parents and students, to complain to the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner," Croome said June 24.
A formal complaint against the archbishop has been filed with the commissioner, according to the newspaper The Australian.
Lyle Shelton, a spokesman for the non-denominational group The Christian Lobby, said Croome's effort was an "outrageous" attempt to "dictate what a private religious school can and cannot say about marriage."
"Where have we come to as a society when the political activists for redefining marriage want to use the law to stop children in religious schools from being taught that religion's teaching?" he said June 25.
"If a family sends their child to a Christian school they should not be surprised if their children are taught the faith and morals of the school's religious identity."
Australian Marriage Equality has attracted powerful allies in its push to redefine marriage. These include major businesses such as Google. Polls indicate a majority of Australians at present support redefining marriage.
Croome claimed that the distribution of the pastoral letter to the Catholic school students was "completely inappropriate," and that the Catholic Church had enlisted young people "as the couriers of its prejudice."
He said that the booklet harms homosexual students, and that he had received several complaints from Catholic school teachers about the booklet distribution.
"Any principal or teacher who exposes vulnerable children to such damaging messages not only violates their duty of care, but is a danger to students," Croome stated.
Archbishop Porteous said many parishioners and Catholic parents have spoken positively about the pastoral letter, and that the pastoral letter respects diversity and "does not advocate hatred or vilification of people with a same sex attraction."
Anthony Cleary, a religious education and evangelization official in the Sydney archdiocese, said positive comments outnumbered negative complaints "about two or three to one." He noted that other information often goes home with students.
"Also we see schools as part of the evangelizing mission of the Church, not apart from it," he told the Catholic Leader. He said advocacy of marriage redefinition is "saturating mainstream and social media."
"There is very little given to the opposing viewpoint," he said.
The pastoral letter itself rejected claims that Australian law and Catholic teaching on marriage wrongly discriminate.
"If marriage is an institution designed to support people of the opposite sex to be faithful to each other and to the children of their union it is not discrimination to reserve it to them," the bishops wrote. They compared marriage to programs that specially target Aborigines, refugees, children, athletes, and those with disabilities.
To redefine marriage would be "a serious injustice" that undermines the common good, the pastoral letter notes, saying that redefining marriage would "legitimize the false assertion that there is nothing distinctive about a man and a mother and a father"; it would ignore the importance for a child to have both a mother and a father; and it would further destabilize the place of marriage in society.
"We all know and love people with same-sex attraction," the booklet said. "They need love and support like anyone else. But pretending that their relationships are 'marriages' is not fair or just to them."
"As Christians we must be willing to present the truth about marriage, family and sexuality and to do so charitably and lovingly."
CNA contacted the Archdiocese of Hobart for comment, but did not receive a response by deadline.