A pro-marriage equality politician in Australia has been barred from addressing a meeting of Catholic social service providers by Melbourne’s Archbishop Denis Hart.
Australian MP Cathy McGowan was asked last November to give the the Mary MacKillop Oration at a conference sponsored by Catholic Social Services Victoria at the end of this month, reported the Sydney Morning Herald. St. Mary of the Cross MacKillop was an Australian nun who founded a community of sisters to serve the rural poor.
But McGowan’s unrelated support for equal marriage rights, including co-sponsoring a marriage equality bill introduced to Parliament last year, disqualified her from speaking in the eyes of Archbishop Hart.
Shane Healy, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Melbourne, said keynote speakers must adhere to Catholic teaching “on that very important topic” and denied that any “malice” had been shown towards McGowan. Officials with Catholic Social Services Victoria defended the archbishop’s move. Executive Director Denis Fitzgerald said his organization should have “factored in all relevant issues” before inviting McGowan.
As for McGowan, who is Catholic, she has said she is “really disappointed” and “very sad” about not being able to speak. She explained to 3AW the reason she had been invited, which unrelated to LGBT rights:
” ‘The reason I was invited to give the oration was because of my knowledge of rural and regional Australia and social justice here, and because of the really good work the church is doing to work with people, particularly homeless people and those without a voice.’ “
McGowan noted, too, the irony of being silenced from giving speech whose namesake, Mary MacKillop, infamously “got in trouble with the bishops.” MacKillop, Australia’s only canonized saint, was excommunicated by her local bishop at one point for insubordination.
Archbishop Hart’s actions against MP McGowan are especially disappointing because he recently allowed students at Catholic secondary schools to bring same-gender dates to formal dances. Bondings 2.0‘s Francis DeBernardo called this decision “one of the healthiest and most realistic ones that I’ve heard a church official make regarding LGBT issues in a long time.” Hart’s latest decision is puzzling, given his accepting attitude toward same-gender dates.
Somewhere in this controversy involving Denis Hart, Cathy McGowan, and Mary MacKillop, there is a lesson for LGBT advocates: our church acts in decades and centuries, not months and years. Mary MacKillop suffered at church leaders’ hands as she founded a religious congregation, expanded Catholic education, and protected children from abusive clergy. Despite being rehabilitated and now recognized as a saint, she was harshly expelled from the institutional church for a time. Cathy McGowan joins the latest generation of lay Catholics whose challenge to the church draws episcopal ire and sanction.
But, step by step, the faithful’s efforts are truly transforming the church. Archbishop Hart’s split decision on LGBT issues in 2016 signals not only how far we have come, but how far we have to go.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry