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‘Essendon affair is about all of us’

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The-then NAB Group Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director Andrew Thorburn addresses the NAB’s 2018 AGM. He survived just 24 hours as CEO of AFL club Essendon before being forced to resign for his faith. Photo: AAP Image/Ellen Smith
The-then NAB Group Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director Andrew Thorburn addresses the NAB’s 2018 AGM. He survived just 24 hours as CEO of AFL club Essendon before being forced to resign for his faith. Photo: AAP Image/Ellen Smith

The Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher OP, has commended former Essendon AFL CEO Andrew Thorburn for holding fast to his faith under intense public pressure.

“Sport, once our country’s great unifier, is giving us increasing examples of an intolerant and mean-spirited marginalisation of Christians: Israel Folau, the Manly Seven and now, Andrew Thorburn,” Archbishop Fisher said in a statement.

“Respect and equality, the ‘virtues’ of our time, are being demonstrated time and time again to be a one-way street.

“I commend Andrew Thorburn for his steadfast faith and his refusal to reject his beliefs …”

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“Any organisation that trumpets tolerance, inclusivity and diversity yet excludes people based on their religious beliefs must ask serious questions of itself.

“I commend Andrew Thorburn for his steadfast faith and his refusal to reject his beliefs under intense pressure.

“However, this is not merely about Andrew Thorburn but about the millions of ordinary Australian Christians who see what has happened to him and worry that the time will soon come when they will be forced to choose between their faith and their livelihoods.

Anthony Fisher OP, has commended former Essendon AFL CEO Andrew Thorburn for holding fast to his faith under intense public pressure. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
Anthony Fisher OP, has commended former Essendon AFL CEO Andrew Thorburn for holding fast to his faith under intense public pressure. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“People of faith continue to contribute so much to our country in sport, in health, education and social welfare, in professional and political life, in families and in religious communities.

“They too deserve to be included, not as pariahs but as participants.”

Archbishop Fisher joins Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli and other faith leaders in supporting Thorburn, who resigned under pressure 24 hours after being appointed due to his position on the board of the Anglican-affiliated City on the Hill church.

“Andrew couldn’t be chairman of the church with those views and CEO of the Essendon Football Club.”

Thorburn resigned once excerpts from City on the Hill pastor Guy Mason’s sermons on sexuality and other life issues, which espoused traditional beliefs, were circulated in the press.

“Andrew couldn’t be chairman of the church with those views and CEO of the Essendon Football Club,” Essendon chairman Dave Barham said.

“Today it became clear to me that my own personal Christian faith is not tolerated or permitted in the public space, at least by some and perhaps by many,” Thorburn replied in a LinkedIn post after his resignation.

Thorburn spent just 24 hours as CEO of Essendon before being told to choose between his CEO position and an Anglican church that believes in the sinful nature of homosexual acts and the grave evil of abortion. Photo: Daniel Anthony/Unsplash
Thorburn spent just 24 hours as CEO of Essendon before being told to choose between his CEO position and an Anglican church that believes in the sinful nature of homosexual acts and the grave evil of abortion. Photo: Daniel Anthony/Unsplash

Archbishop Comensoli said he had resigned his Essendon club membership over the debacle, adding that he was worried Christians would be “seriously undermined in their employment and in their future prospects.”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews described City on a Hill’s teaching on homosexuality and abortion as “absolutely appalling”, prompting a further rebuke from Archbishop Comensoli, who said the Premier sought to “uphold the good of one by undermining the good of another”.

Mr Andrews hit back against Archbishop Comensoli’s remarks, implying with “utmost respect” that the Archbishop was wrong about Catholic teaching.

“My faith is important to me. It also guides me in my sense of what is right and what is wrong …”

“I’m not here to be having a debate with faith leaders but I will just say this: I am a Catholic. I send my kids to Catholic schools,” Mr Andrews said.

“My faith is important to me. It guides me every day.

“It also guides me in my sense of what is right and what is wrong, and if I can just say with utmost respect, calling out homophobia is not the problem.

Sydney Anglican Bishop Michael Stead. Photo: Patrick J Lee
Sydney Anglican Bishop Michael Stead. Photo: Patrick J Lee

“Homophobia is the problem. I’ve always spoken out against it. I always will.

“Everyone should be treated equally. Everyone should be treated fairly and for me, that’s my Catholicism. That’s my faith,” Mr Andrews said.

Anglican Bishop of South Sydney and chair of Christian legal Think Tank Freedom for Faith, Michael Stead, said in a statement that the case signalled the urgent need for a Federal Religious Discrimination Bill.

“Freedom for Faith notes that no-one has alleged that Thorburn has discriminated against anyone who is gay or lesbian or who has had an abortion, including while leading several very large organisations in CEO roles across his career,” Bishop Stead wrote.

“Many religious people … would be looking over their shoulder and going, ‘oh my gosh, what does that mean for me and my beliefs?”

“He has been pushed out of his new role solely because of the moral and religious views expressed on a Church website with which he is associated.”

Well-known Baptist minister and former World Vision CEO Reverend Tim Costello said Christians in prominent roles would now be “looking over their shoulder”.

“Many religious people, including many Catholics, who are on footy club boards, secular company boards, would be looking over their shoulder and going, ‘oh my gosh, what does that mean for me and my beliefs?’” Reverend Costello said.

“Andrew [Thorburn] participated in gay rights and marches. [NAB] sponsored the AFL’s pride round, the very first one, and Andrew was very prominent.”

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