An Australian archbishop has banned a priest supportive of LGBT rights from speaking at a Catholic conference, a silencing that has led to cries of hypocrisy over the archbishop’s own claims about free speech.
Australian Jesuit Fr. Frank Brennan had been scheduled to speak at the CatholicCare Tasmania conference next February until the local archbishop intervened. Brennan, who heads Catholic Social Services Australia, has a highly affirming record on LGBT issues. He was a vocal proponent of marriage equality, and called the successful postal survey on the issue last year “a resounding win.” But that record led to controversy recently, reported PinkNews:
“Archbishop [Julian] Porteous [of Hobart], a strong opponent of LGBT equality, confirmed the decision to ban Brennan from speaking.
“His spokesperson said: ‘Archbishop Porteous addressed the conference on the issue of marriage. His Grace felt it was inappropriate for Father Brennan to speak at the conference, due to his public position regarding same-sex marriage.’
“LGBT campaigners branded the Archbishop a hypocrite for clamping down on pro-gay voices while regularly complaining about his own free speech being ‘violated’.”
Rodney Croome, spokesperson for the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group, said, “Archbishop Porteous only cares about free speech when he is the one talking.” Croome described Porteous as hypocritical, and called on the archbishop to reverse his intervention in Brennan’s speaking at CatholicCare Tasmania.
The archbishop, like other Australian Catholics who opposed that nation’s marriage equality law which passed last December, has signaled that his free speech is threatened by LGBT rights. Since 2015, when he was subject to an anti-LGBT discrimination complaint, Porteous has repeatedly warned about the alleged “direct challenge” and “chilling effect”on free speech that marriage equality or non-discrimination laws would have.
Fr. Brennan, a former law professor, is a highly-respected Catholic voice in Australia, one who has thoughtfully weighed in on many issues in the civil square, including LGBT ones. As early as 2011, Brennan was on record supporting civil unions for same-gender couples. From 2013 onward, he supported civil marriage equality, particularly when done through separating civil and religious marriages. Ahead of Australia’s postal survey on marriage equality, Brennan had prophetically warned it “risks turning very nasty.” He vocally supported a “Yes” vote when that survey did commence. While defending church leaders’ legal right to fire LGBT employees, he has sharply warned against any such discrimination. Brennan has also called for changes in church teaching’s language about homosexuality in light of Pope Francis’ pastoral tone.
Despite the archbishop’s warnings, what has happened to Fr. Brennan is the true challenge to free speech. Once again, a church leader is suppressing dialogue and the free exchange of ideas over the issue of marriage equality, which, as a settled issue in Australia, would have hardly come up at the conference. It is unfortunate that Fr. Brennan’s much needed voice is being silenced by an archbishop who seems to offer little to the public conversation beyond misguided fears.
— Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 10, 2018