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Whither Catholicism?

By Peter Bowden - posted Friday, 23 October 2015

In an address to the Centre for Independent Studies, an Australian right wing think tank, on Wednesday night, Anthony Fisher, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney suggested "religious freedom" in Australia's democracy is at a turning point, and hinges on the upcoming plebiscite on gay nuptials.

The Archbishop of Sydney has warned of a future in which bishops are jailed, political dissent is all but silenced, scripture lessons are banned, and religious tax exemptions are eroded, should same-sex marriage be legalised.

"Advocates of gay marriage seem to think no reasonable person could think other than as they do; that not only are they right on this issue, but that their opponents are irrational and operating out of blind traditionalism or, more likely, hatred."He added.


Torquemada all over again - the Spanish Dominican friar and the first Grand Inquisitor in Spain's movement to force Roman Catholicism upon its populace in the late 15th century, otherwise known as "The Spanish Inquisition".

We congratulate Archbishop Fisher in his intimate knowledge of the "divine law (that) limits marriage to people of opposite sex" Fisher can be seen talking to the "divine law". We ordinary people have no such access to those so high. It is somewhat like Pope Innocent III's brutal crusade against the Cathars. The rampaging soldiers at the sack of Beziers in 1209 asked the Papal legate, the Abbot of Cîteaux: "Sir, what shall we do, for we cannot distinguish between the faithful and the heretics." The abbot, replied "Kill them all .God will know his own" .

What have gays done to cause such uncharitable, even foreboding, thoughts in the Archbishop's mind? Many of us know homosexual couples. They ask nothing of us except to be treated the same way as are heterosexual couples. They have harmed nobody. They do not break the golden rule in either of its versions: "Do not do to others as you would not have done to yourself". Or "Do unto others…" All they are doing is breaking with a conservative past. To right wing conservatives, that is a wrong. To the Archbishop, it is a sin. The history of the human race has been a long fight against conservative impositions – feudalism, the divine right of kings, the welfare state, even democracy itself have been the big issues. Support for single mothershas been the change, against the then practices of the Catholic Church, now modernised, that possibly has brought more happiness than any other.

The Archbishop's pronouncements are reflecting a massive change in the Catholic Church over recent decades. The Labor split of the 1950s severed what had once seemed a natural link between the ALP and the Catholic Church. The severance was not severe. At least initially. Australianswho attended school in the 1960s and '70s, will remember that Catholics were then a rarity in Coalition cabinets. The Catholic Church, traditionally a left leaning or Labor Party heartland, is now part and parcel of the conservative movement. Many of the current government are Catholic, including Tony Abbott the recently ousted Prime Minister who initially trained to be a priest.

Perhaps the strongest evidence of the church's move to political conservatism has been in the US. John Boehner, a Republican, Speaker of the House…staunch Catholic from a working class family, with a far right viewpoint that is difficult for most non-Americans to comprehend. He is against the Affordable Care Act, the US medicare program designed to bring health benefits to poor Americans. He is also against gun control. He rates A by the National Rifle Association, indicating a pro-gun rights voting record.

And yet, by US standards he is not as far right as one can go in the United States. The Guardian says he battled with the conservative wing of the Republican Party.Yet he denies medical help to the poor, and supports the mass shootings in the US. He cried about the Pope. "The Pope puts his arm around me and says, 'Please pray for me,'" Boehner, a devout Catholic, said: "Who am I to pray for the Pope? But I did."


The Catholic Church will change on these issues hopefully. Pope Francis has already begun the process. George Pell, an earlier Archbishop of Sydney, however, has already given the pope a warning about his "lurch to the left".

The Archbishop could read about religious tolerance. Or read history – on the church's requirement on Galileo that he adopt what the church stated were the correct beliefs. Beziers was the thirteenth Century. Galileo was the 17th Century. It is now the 21st. Nothing, for Archbishop Fisher, has changed. Hopefully, however, with the help of Pope Francis, the Church will change.

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About the Author

Peter Bowden is an author, researcher and ethicist. He was formerly Coordinator of the MBA Program at Monash University and Professor of Administrative Studies at Manchester University. He is currently a member of the Australian Business Ethics Network , working on business, institutional, and personal ethics.

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