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Archbishop warns to never take religious freedom for granted

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Archbishop Most Rev. Anthony Fisher OP has used the first anniversary of the ACT Government’s hostile takeover of Calvary Hospital to warn Catholic faithful that religious freedom cannot be something taken for granted.

Speaking on Friday to the Sydney Catholic Business Network, Archbishop Fisher noted it was exactly one-year to the day since the ACT Government “forcibly acquired the Church’s land, operations and staff with, to date, zero compensation” and spoke of the battle against faith being fought on multiple fronts including the areas of health, education, sports and culture.

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In a packed room, the archbishop painted a dystopian picture of a future where faith leaders might have to email homilies or sermons to a ‘Religious Safety Commissioner’ for approval.

“With the help of AI, she (the Commissioner) vets all planned sermons and spiritual talks to be given in Australia each week, catching any inappropriate words or themes before they are spoken,” Archbishop Fisher imagined.

However, while a dramatic example, it is a future that may not be unrealistic, with the archbishop also citing the example of the Australian Bureau of Statistics trying to erase religion from the census. Something Australia’s second long serving Prime Minister John Howard confirmed to The Catholic Weekly two weeks ago was an action of an “anti-religious lobby” operating inside the public service.

“It is difficult to view all these recent proposals as anything but hostile to religious freedom,” Archbishop Fisher said.

During his lecture, the Chair of the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Commission for Education also spoke of growing sentiment in the community to “do another Goulburn” and “close our ministries in protest against cultural, legal and governmental interference.”

“Of course, sometimes strategic withdrawal is in order, especially to repair and regroup. But I am not in favour of fleeing to the caves, at least not yet.”

While the archbishop stopped short of advocating closure, he did explain that if draft laws removing section 38 of the Sex Discrimination Act proceeded, and provisions which allow religious schools to preference employees who share the same religious values as the institution were removed, then there would be a point where the church may have to consider its future in education.

“So there’s an example of, I think, a crunch point that would force us to consider withdrawal from a ministry,” Archbishop Fisher explained.

While there was a strong sense of gravity in His Grace’s words, it was not all pessimistic. Archbishop Fisher explaining that this was not the first time in the past two millennia the Church had come under attack, and it was by faith, grace and fortitude we would again endure.

“We’ve already survived twenty centuries of sporadic persecution and repeated declarations of the death of God and the church. Yet Christ rose from the dead,” Archbishop Fisher said.

The argument for the promotion of religious belief was a strong point of the talk, with illustration of the benefits of religious practice.

“Religion brings many benefits to individuals and societies. Religious belief has been linked to increased levels of volunteering and charitable works, of education, and of greater marital satisfaction, and to decreased levels of domestic violence, criminal behaviour and divorce rates.”

You can find the full text of Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP’s full “Religious Freedom in a Secular World: Doomed or Doable?” here

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