Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has denounced as “astonishing” and “alarming” the prospect of a Catholic bishop being dragged before a tribunal simply for stating the Catholic view on marriage, suggesting that it would constitute a betrayal of freedoms long valued in Australian democracy.
The archbishop made the remarks in the wake of news that Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart might be hauled before Tasmania’s anti-discrimination tribunal for distributing a booklet explaining Catholic teaching on marriage to families within Catholic schools.
“Catholics, like the overwhelming majority of Australians, support freedoms of religion and speech,” Archbishop Fisher said.
“Just as no-one should be ridiculed or demeaned in the marriage debate, so too no one should be dragged before tribunals merely for stating one side of that debate.
“Australia is party to treaties guaranteeing freedoms of religion and of speech, and regularly exhorts other nations to observe these.
“It is therefore astonishing and truly alarming that people might be proceeded against for stating traditional Christian beliefs on marriage.”
The archbishop said he was consoled by the many statements of support received not only from Catholics but from other people of good will, including leaders of other religions.
“Fair-minded readers of the bishops’ statement on marriage would see it was a very carefully worded and indeed compassionate statement, not designed to provoke or hurt anyone,” Archbishop Fisher said.
“I intend to keep speaking up for Christian beliefs, always respectfully, never with prejudice or hatred; I hope our democracy will treat me with the same courtesy”.
Transgender Greens candidate Martine Delaney made a complaint against Archbishop Porteous in September relating to the distribution of a booklet produced by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC), entitled Don’t Mess With Marriage, to the families of students in Catholic schools.
The commissioner has notified Archbishop Porteous that there was a possible breach of Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act by “conduct that is offensive, intimidating, insulting or ridiculing of Ms Delaney and the class of same-sex attracted people”.
The commissioner’s decision to proceed with the complaint would likely be a landmark test case, with the ACBC listed as the first respondent, and Archbishop Porteous as the second.