Parent takes on bishop over anti same-sex marriage talk


A response to the bishop’s responseOn Tuesday afternoon I received an email from my child’s Catholic primary schoolinviting me to an information night being run by the Australian Family Association. Ifyou haven’t heard of the AFA, here’s a sample of what they’re about: ‘Help defendnatural marriage in Australia before it’s too late…It will effect everyone [sic]’. You canread the full information-night pamphlet in Wednesday’s Illawarra Mercury(grammarians and progressives beware!).

Before I get started I should address some of the comments that have since appearedbeneath the original article.

Yes, I am aware the Catholic Church is against same-sex marriage. Yes, it’s true that Imade the decision to send my child to a Catholic school. Yes, syllogistic reasoning wouldlead one to conclude that either: (a) I agree with these views and wish to impress themon my child; or (b) I have failed to understand the algorithm and should return to (a).

The fact of the matter, though, is I do not agree with these views. Nor do I wish my childto grow up thinking this way. In my naivety, I chose a Catholic school for my childbecause I believe in ‘doing right by others’ and ‘not judging lest he, she or ye be judged’(you know, those other less important messages found in the Bible).

According to the Mercury’s report, it was not the school principal but the parish priestwho offered up the hall for the information evening. Those looking in on this ordealfrom the outside will probably wonder what difference it makes. They’re all in cahoots,right? Well, for those of us wondering just what our kids are being taught, I can assureyou, this was a big exhalation moment. However naïve it makes me seem, I can continueon in the hope – nay, the belief – that the AFA’s views are probably no more closelyaligned with the views of teaching staff than they are with my own views.

Defending the parish priest’s decision, the Bishop Peter Ingham has since made thefollowing statement: ‘Two great cornerstones of democracy are the Freedom of Religionand the Freedom of Speech… I find it difficult for anyone to justify an argument fortolerance, equality and diversity and then attempt to silence other voices that expressan alternative perspective.’

To offer a platform to such a group under the guise of democracy is wilfully deceptiveand maliciously coercive. The subtext to the bishop’s response is that if you’re pro-democracy, you couldn’t possibly be against this information evening. Yet, I stronglydoubt I’m misrepresenting him when I say that there’s no way in the world the sameaccommodations would be extended toward the AFA’s pro-marriage-equalitycounterparts. This event isn’t about the freedom to speak; it’s about the freedom todogmatise.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I accept the Church’s right to say no to same-sex lobby groupshosting information nights in their school halls. What I can’t accept, however, is thebishop’s invocation of democracy as some sort of justification here. It’d be akin todefending the kind of fundamentalist recruitment that has been known to take place incertain Islamic youth centres under the same democratic principles. Shame on thebishop for this pathetic invocation of such an important secular ideal.

This brings me to my next point. It’s actually not the message being delivered by theAFA that caused the most concern amongst my group of friends (as offensive as it is).

Rather, it’s the insensitivity shown in sending it out to parents through the school’semail account. Those of us who don’t have a problem with same-sex marriage know full-well there are people out there in the community who feel differently to us. We’re okaywith this. We live and let live in the hope that actual democracy will be given the chanceto prevail should the nation arrive at a plebiscite.

Receiving this invitation on the same email address that we trustingly gave to the schoolat the beginning of the year, however, made us feel somehow complicit in the AFA’sideological agenda. I can assure you: there are many of us who are not.

Needless to say, there’s much more at stake here than the precious feelings of a fewprogressive Catholics. The priest, the bishop and whoever else was involved know full-well that the families receiving this message include gay people within their immediateand extended ranks (not to mention all the other individuals the AFA has a problemwith – single parents, unmarried parents, IVF parents, etc.).

Consider opening your email to see that the leaders of the community you rely on forsupport have commenced an active campaign against you. And by active, I meantrojaning their way into your home to degrade and castigate you. These flyers weren’thanded out discreetly after Mass on Sunday; they were delivered to unsuspectingparents as they scrolled through their phones on the playground while waiting to pickup their children, downloaded on the same personal computers their children use tocomplete nightly homework tasks. This is absolutely unacceptable and I’m in disbeliefthat the bishop refuses to recognise this.

As sorry as I am to be implicated in these distasteful behaviours, I’m sorrier for the hurtthis has no doubt caused those members of my community more immediately affected.

To those people, I say: please know that many of us acknowledge, respect and welcomeyour family for exactly what it is. To the AFA and their supporters, I say: while you go ondefending some imaginary ideal, know that the rest of us are using our energy to defendthe real people under assault here.

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