What the Sex Party doesn’t understand about Church and charity

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Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Who controls the weddings, so gays can’t say ‘I do,’ blame it on a book and a 2000-year-old Jew? The Vatican, the Vatican-can. The Vatican-can cause it sticks its nose right in to make the world less good.

Classy, isn’t it?

For those who haven’t had the displeasure of hearing it, the lyrics – to the tune of the Willy Wonka’s classic Candy Man – are from the Australian Sex Party’s campaign advertisement for the federal election.

The song and accompanying video were made following the launch of a crowd-funding campaign (although the cynic in me thinks the video was already made and the crowd-funding was just part of the publicity stunt).

Archdiocesan business manager Michael Digges was quick to respond.

In it, he detailed the significant contribution of the Catholic Church in Australia to the community.

He reminded us that the Church is the biggest welfare and social services provider, serving the homeless, the sick and aged, the addicted and the abandoned, and educating hundreds of thousands of students. I won’t repeat his words, but commend a re-read.

Now that the campaign ad has appeared, I would like to address what the Australian Sex Party reports as its stated purpose: the proposal to “tax religion” by removing currently existing exemptions for religious groups.

That we should tax churches, and particularly the Catholic Church, is something we hear often.

Indeed, you will notice that the comment will appear beneath any article which reports that a Catholic bishop has voiced an opinion about anything in the public square.

The tax-exempt status of churches is due to the federal Charities Act, which defines a charity as a “a not‑for‑profit entity” which has a “charitable purpose” recognised in the legislation.

The approved “charitable purposes” include the advancement of health, education, culture or religion, the promotion or protection of human rights, the prevention or relief of the suffering of animals and more.

The ASP’s proposal is to remove “the advancement of religion” from this list, and the video was intended to be a creative way of bringing attention to this key policy.

The ASP has no intention of lobbying for any other changes to the charities law. In a media release accompanying the video, lead Senate candidate for Victoria Dr Meredith Doig explained: “When we talk about taxing religion we’re not talking about Church schools or hospitals, St Vinnies or the Salvos – they can get charity status under ‘Advancing Education’ or ‘Advancing Health’ or ‘Alleviation of Poverty’.”

So in summary, the ASP has no problem with the Catholic Church continuing to serve the community through its countless charitable agencies.

They are fine for us to go on serving the needy, people of all faiths and none, and doing it for free. They just don’t think that the advancement of religion in itself should be seen as a “charitable purpose”, particularly in an increasingly secular country like Australia.

And, I must say, their proposal sounds almost reasonable, except for one key idea.

What the ASP does not understand is that often, the advancement of religion precedes a person’s decision to do charitable works.

The reason that so many Catholics and other people of faith spend their days, and sometimes even their lives, undertaking charitable works is because they have felt called, by God, to do so.

It was only after someone “advanced religion” to St Mary of the Cross that she established schools in the remotest areas of Australia, providing education to children whose location would otherwise have prevented them from receiving it. It was the advancement of religion which inspired so many more women to follow her example as Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart.

It was only after someone “advanced religion” to soon-to-be St Teresa of Calcutta that she decided to leave home at the age of 18, never to see her mother and sister again, and become a missionary. It was the advancement of religion which inspired her to found the Missionaries of Charity, the advancement of religion which saw thousands more adopt her charism and serve in 133 countries, taking a vow to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor” in addition to the standard vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Of course, there are many people who do not believe in God who undertake charitable works.

Religious belief is neither necessary nor sufficient for good works. But it does help.

That’s why we see thousands of schools, hospitals, aged care facilities, homeless shelters, charity stores, soup kitchens and more run by the Catholic Church and staffed by paid workers and teams of volunteers, and not one run by members of the Australian Sex Party!