Australian Bishops Face Discrimination Complaint Over Anti-Marriage Book


The cover of the Australian bishops’ document under review

Australia’s bishops are facing a discrimination complaint about an anti-marriage equality publication they published earlier this year, the latest incident in the nation’s debate over equal marriage rights.

Martine Delaney, a politician who is transgender, filed the complaint with the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission in mid-September. She is now seeking conciliation by the Commission rather than a hearing, reported The Catholic Leader.

The Commissioner accepted the complaint initially, affording Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart, and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, an opportunity to respond. There is no word on mediation, but Porteous affirmed his openness to such a process, which may include meeting Delaney. He rejected claims the bishops had offended anyone.

The publication in question, a booklet titled “Don’t Mess with Marriage,” was distributed by Porteous to Catholic school students in sealed envelopes. Copies were also provided for distribution to all Catholic institutions in the diocese, accompanying a nationwide release.

Explaining her objections to the bishops’ document to ABC News, Delaney said:

” ‘It makes several statements which suggest that children being raised in same-sex relationships are not healthy’ . . .

” ‘The church is entitled, as we all are, to freedom of speech but there’s an inherent responsibility with that, that you cannot do it in a manner which is offensive and insulting and humiliating.’ “

Criticisms were widespread when the document was released in June, particularly in dioceses like Hobart where schoolchildren were used as couriers to bring it to their parents. LGBT advocate Michael Bayly went as far as calling it a “new low” for the nation’s bishops.

Marriage equality’s status in Australia remains contested, and this complaint is part of larger political conversations. The federal Senate rejected a statement of support for the bishops, reported The Guardian, but the question of free speech remains prominent.

Concerns have been raised about this case by both anti-equality activists and Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, who is gay and supports marriage equality. Gay News Network quoted Wilson as saying the complaint gave him “chills” for its potential to suppress political speech as Australians prepare for a national referendum on marriage. He said further:

” ‘Understandably, the direction of the Tasmanian case could have a significant impact on the extent of the public debate around marriage for same-sex couples in the lead-up to a plebiscite.’ “

Delaney said her decision to file a complaint was not an attempt to freeze free speech, but rather ensure a balance as there is “an obligation for [bishops] to exercise those rights without causing harm.”

Bishops elsewhere in Australia have criticized the Tasmanian complaint, adding their criticism to their ongoing criticism of marriage equality. Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney called it “astonishing and truly alarming.” Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, who supported more pastoral language on homosexuality at the Synod on the Family, wondered on Twitter if marriage equality is a “new totalitarianism.

While there are speculations as to why Australia has yet to extend civil marriage equality, what is clear is that more and more Australians are on board with it. In September elections, the country replaced former prime minister Tony Abbot, an anti-equality Catholic, with Malcolm Turnbull, a pro-equality Catholic but who nonetheless has sustained Abbot’s proposed national referendum on the question.

Many issues are tied into this discrimination complaint and the larger milieu of marriage equality. Those involved will sort through political and legal considerations, but what needs to be recognized, too, is the pastoral aspect.

A bishop shepherds all the faithful in their diocese, not just the Catholics whose political leanings pair well with the current occupant’s ideology.  Whether or not Australian bishops violated Tasmanian law, their document does not mirror Pope Francis’ call for mercy and inclusion nor does it show a respect for LGBT people.

Hopefully, through mediation, the wrongs incurred by “Don’t Mess with Marriage” can be rectified and Catholics, like all Australians, will be able to debate freely the question of civil marriage equality ahead of the nation’s vote.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry



14 replies
  1. Ned Flaherty
    Ned Flaherty says:

    The Australian bishops’ huge failing is not that they are “offensive, insulting, humiliating” (as marine Delaney claims), or that they omitted “mercy and inclusion,” or that they are “disrespectful” (Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry).

    The bishops’ failing is that they published several statements claiming that being raised in families headed by same-gender couples puts children into poor health.

    That is untrue. The biggest cause of poor health in such children is unfounded falsehoods from these bishops.

    There is not one shred of peer-reviewed, published, scientific evidence to support the bishops’ allegation. The bishops may, if they wish, use theology to oppress LGBT people and their families, but what they may not do is publish junk science for which there is no evidence.

  2. Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM
    Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM says:

    ” ‘It makes several statements which suggest that children being raised in same-sex relationships are not healthy’ . . .” I have great difficulty responding to this with civility. Although my adult daughters and their wives may be insulted and wounded by this very un-pastoral language, my grandchildren have little defense against the spiritual, emotional and even physical violence this attitude promotes. It is the vilest form of bullying. Where is the solid research to back up this claim (and compare it to what is happening to children being raised in heterosexual households)? Our RC hierarchy obviously doesn’t understand the true needs of children since it is so ready to publicly scourge their loving parents.This action demonstrates a willingness to sacrifice innocence on an altar built in worship of an idolatrous god named Orthodoxy. I am very angry and want to overturn tables and whip some butts!! Leave the children alone!! How dare you use our sweet babies to elevate your fearful, self-serving and self-righteous pronouncements………at least I didn’t curse.

    • saddingo
      saddingo says:

      Bravo Rosa! I, too, was outraged at the way this happened. It’s bad enough that so many members of the RCC hierarchy insist on promoting bigotry, homophobia and misogyny BUT using little children to do so? It’s disgusting behavior from a group already steeped in long history of bad conduct. You would think that men who, supposedly, have dedicated their lives to Christ would know better than this BUT I suspect people have been asking this exact same question for centuries (if not millennia). Truly, I can almost hear a voice from the 15th century wondering aloud, “You would think a follower of Christ would be a lot kinder than this….” (as she’s tied to a pyre for burning). I really am beginning to think these men will never learn. SMH. Cheers.

  3. brendathewriter
    brendathewriter says:

    I would make one correction. A Vaticanite bishop speaks to all of HIS Catholics – those who belong to one of the 40 some church denominations within the Vatican. His opinions or his statements may be read or considered by other Catholics, but they are under no obligation whatsoever to abide by them.

    One group in particular that is under represented in surveys are the “Home Roman Catholics” who might send their child to a Vaticanite school, and might register at a local parish if it is a requirement to send their child to such a school, but who practice their Catholicism at home, and who haven’t considered a bishop to be anything more than the executive director of a diocese for generations.
    These Catholic would understandably have been upset to have their child come home, perhaps having opened the envelope, to see statements that in their view aren’t even Catholic.

    Considering that Australia also has Anglican Catholics, Old Catholics, Independent Catholics, and Orthodox Catholics, I think it is important to make very clear that this was a Vatican bishop talking about marriage equality, sex, gender identity, and who was suitable to raise children without ensuring that the message went first and directly to the adult members of his own flock. While he’s perfectly welcome do also go ahead and issue a press release about it, neither he or the author of this essay has any right to claim that all Catholics in that part of Australia are shepherded by this man.

    on the other side I felt that the author did a very good job of explaining some of the very intricate cultural and political issues that are unique to Australia. In doing so, the author was able to make the headlines of the regular media have more context. I think the only thing that was missing, since this was an essay about a Vaticanite Catholic issue, would have been some explanation of the context of the relationship between this Bishop and his boss, Pope Francis. Smuggling highly contested and highly debated issues in sealed envelopes in the hands of school children certainly does not appear consistent with the method and message the Francis has said publicly and it would have been interesting to know what his statements regarding the method by which the booklet was distributed were.

    As a parent I agree with the comment that was made that this was a new low inhale Roman clergy in particular treat they’re only laity.

  4. theknowerseeker
    theknowerseeker says:

    I’m an American, but my Aussie friends, please listen: If you agree to stamp out all speech that is insulting to your ears, then one day your own speech will be found insulting to someone else who has more political power than you. “First they came….”

    • Ned Flaherty
      Ned Flaherty says:

      Australians object not to Roman Catholic bishops holding unpopular opinions, but to the bishops publishing scientific falsehoods (e.g., “being raised in families headed by same-gender couples puts children into poor health”). What the bishops published is junk science for which there is no one shred of peer-reviewed, published, scientific evidence.

  5. Davie Clarke
    Davie Clarke says:

    I’m not sure how many of you have read the “Don’t mess with Marriage” booklet, I have though and I never found it offensive, humiliating etc; at all. All I found in it was the Catholic position on marriage, explained. It opened my eyes a fair bit. Another thing to remember is: No one from the schools actually ever made a complaint. It was only the mentioned transgender Greens MP from Tasmania. As far as I know she has no children, I believe she is just trying to make a name for herself, simple.

    • Ned Flaherty
      Ned Flaherty says:

      Davie Clarke claims that the 18-page “Don’t Mess With Marriage” polemic (25 June 2015) is not “offensive” or “humiliating” at all, and he sees it as nothing more than the “Catholic position on marriage” (his words).

      He is wrong.

      The Roman Catholic doctrine about marriage is overwhelmingly anti-LGBT, because it arises not from modern science, but from over 30 religious superstitions of the Bronze Age (“sexual complementarity,” “natural law,” etc.). This doctrine was authored, approved, and published by two recent popes in 2003, and retained intact by the current pope.

      It claims that every human being is exclusively heterosexual. It denies that LGBT people exist, and views them all as merely heterosexual people who also are: disobedient, dishonest, destabilized, defective, disordered, deviant, disabled, diseased, depraved, demonic, and doomed. This Vatican doctrine is clearly cited in booklet Footnote #5.

      The Australian bishops oppose same-gender civil marriage, and not just for all people of their faith, but also for all people of all other faiths, and for all people of no faith. Their booklet is just a checklist of all the failed arguments attempted by the Vatican and NOM during the 25 years that they spent $100 million fighting to defeat marriage equality across the courtrooms, legislatures, and voting booths of America.

      Consequently, the booklet is not only offensive and humiliating; it also is junk science of the highest order, and it is a theocratic demand which has no place in a modern, pluralist democracy. Despite the sweet, condescending tone trying to sound patient and innocuous, the booklet is, ultimately, just abject bigotry.

      Davie Clarke assumes — incorrectly — that Martine Delaney (Australian Greens party candidate to represent Franklin, Tasmania in the next federal election) is only “trying to make a name for herself” (his words).

      He is wrong.

      Her complaint to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission reflects the repulsion and revulsion felt by LGBT people across Australia, and in other nations, when they read what the Australian bishops wrote. On 13 November 2015, the Commission validated her complaint, and expanded the pending investigation of only Archbishop Porteous so that it now includes all Roman Catholic bishops of Australia.


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