It has been so edifying to witness so many different faith groups in Victoria unite in order to challenge the inconsistencies under Victoria’s ‘roadmap to reopening.’
While ‘Step 3’ of Premier Daniel Andrews’ roadmap allows cafes and restaurants to seat up to 20 people indoors and 50 people outdoors, religious gatherings remain restricted to outdoor gatherings of 10 people, and – bizarrely – the gathering is not permitted to be a ceremony.
This last part of the rule, the prohibition on the specific religious activity to be undertaken at a religious gathering, doubles down on the inconsistent treatment because it has a disproportionate impact on those faiths – like Catholicism – that are inherently liturgical.
Many of you would have read the column in The Catholic Weekly written three weeks ago by Melbourne priest Father Marcus Goulding. In that piece, Father Goulding wrote that he would not be silent about the “spiritual, emotional and psychological anguish” that he could see afflicting his people, and reminded us that all people of faith – religious leaders in particular – have a duty to hold civic leaders to account for every unnecessary threat to our freedoms.
The day after the article appeared, Father Goulding spoke to Neil Mitchell of 3AW about the inconsistencies.
After speaking with Father Goulding, Mitchell, not known to be a particularly strong advocate for the Catholic Church, agreed that there was an inconsistency and said: “There is an inconsistency there. You can’t regulate the churches, but it must be possible to trust them a bit.”
Trust the churches? Coming from a person that is often a critic of the Church? It was really something.
That same day, the Catholic Bishops of Victoria released an open letter to Premier Andrews, pointing out that the unequal restrictions imposed on churches “literally fail the pub test.”
“If people of faith can gather in a restaurant or bar catering for a particular number of patrons (and remove their face covering),” the Bishops wrote, “they ought to be able to put on their mask, cross the road and worship in their faith community with the same numbers.”
Following this, Neil Mitchell addressed the topic again on his radio program, this time speaking with Archbishop Peter Comensoli, who stressed that there needed to be ‘parity’ for churches.
Responding to the Archbishop, Mitchell commented that keeping people away from worship for so long was ‘destructive’ and suggested that bureaucrats and government officials should attend church more often because, “they seem not to understand it.”
The support for the basic notion of fairness was obviously resonating, and this would only be the beginning.
Father Goulding and others began an online petition, similar in terms to the Open Our Churches one that ran in NSW and invited other faith groups to join in the campaign.
Within a week www.equalityforfaith.com.au had the endorsement of religious groups like the Victorian Council of Churches, the Islamic Council of Victoria, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, the Hindu Council Australia, the Presbyterian Church of Victoria and organisations like FamilyVoice Australia, the Knights of the Southern Cross Victoria, the Australian Catholic Medical Association, the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, the Catholic Women’s League Victoria & Wagga Wagga and – I am proud to say – The Catholic Weekly.
As we go to print, it has obtained more than 10,000 signatures and received thousands of comments. And it is still going. And it will go until places of worship are treated equally to other venues, and people of faith are shown respect from a government that often appears deaf, indifferent or even hostile to the concerns of ordinary believers.
This is a great example of co-operation amongst faith communities. That in less than a week, peak Christian and non-Christian bodies can come together in support of a particular cause and speak with a united voice is no small feat, but it is happening with increasing frequency.
I have found that one of the graces that come from campaigning on social issues is the unity that occurs amongst faith groups.
It was first really evident to me with the collaboration that occurred during and after the same-sex marriage vote, a collaboration that continued and increased during the various religious freedom battles at a state and federal level, through the abortion campaign in NSW, and now through the attempt to try and pressure the Victorian Government to provide equal treatment to places of worship and people of faith.
It only happens with good leadership, though and I am so delighted that it is the Catholics in Victoria who are leading the charge.
Let’s continue to be the leading voice amongst all believers. Just as David “ran quickly toward the battle line” to meet Goliath (1 Samuel 17:48), we too need to be ready to run towards the challenges that face us during this time.
We will become stronger with every battle, even if we lose them, as long as we stand up and fight.