The recent pastoral letter entitled "We are the salt to the Earth" penned by Catholic Archbishop Porteous of Hobart, Tasmania, on the 2nd May 2024 has sparked crucial discussions surrounding faith, freedom, and the LGBTIQ+ community in Australia.  Initially circulated to students at Guilford Young College in Tasmania, the Archbishop's missive has since found its way to several other Catholic schools in the state.  

While the Archbishop's views may reflect his historical Catholic teachings, this blog post aims to encourage a spirit of open dialogue on this complex issue.  There are often multiple perspectives, and true understanding can come from listening to and learning from others. This topic also extends beyond the recent letter, as the Church of England and many other religious institutions are grappling with similar questions.

If you haven’t read ‘We are the salt to the Earth’ click here, however to briefly summarise, Archbishop Porteous's letter emphasizes the importance of Catholic faith in contemporary society. It underscores the inherent value of every person as created by God and reaffirms traditional marriage. The letter expresses anxieties about potential restrictions on religious freedom due to proposed legislation, particularly within educational settings. This likely references the proposed changes to the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act and the Justice Miscellaneous (Conversion Practices) Bill 2024 (Tasmania). It advocates for legislation that upholds his view of religious freedom, referencing principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and letter calls on Catholics to actively promote their faith within society.

Sadly, the letter argues against laws banning conversion therapy, portraying it as parental guidance. However, conversion therapy is widely condemned by medical professionals for its harmful and very serious psychological effects and banned in many Australian states, on 22 March 2024 NSW Survivors and Equality Australia have welcomed the passing of landmark legislation banning LGBTIQ+ conversion practices in NSW. 

In the context of the Archbishop's letter, a paradox becomes particularly pronounced in the Catholic Church's promotion of traditional marriage and its rejection of LGBTIQ+ identities and relationships, along with its support for conversion therapy practices. These positions are often perceived as incompatible with the principles of equality and non-discrimination enshrined in the UDHR. The call for legislation that upholds such doctrinal views while referencing international declarations like the UDHR raises significant questions about the church's commitment to fundamental human rights and the potential impact on marginalized communities.  

The Archbishop's call for legislation upholding religious freedom is significant. However, a key question arises: can religious freedom be used to justify practices like conversion therapy? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), referenced in the letter itself, enshrines the right to equality and non-discrimination (Article 2,3,5 & 7). This creates a tension between the right to religious freedom and the rights of LGBTIQ+ people.

Article 3: "Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person." Conversion therapy has well-documented negative psychological effects, potentially violating this right to well-being. Article 5: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." Conversion therapy can be considered cruel and degrading based on its psychological impact. Article 7: "All are equal before the law." Conversion therapy singles out LGBTIQ+ individuals for potentially harmful treatment, violating this principle of equality.

This juxtaposition underscores the complexity of balancing religious beliefs with the principles of universal human rights. Could you imagine teaching these theological and legal concepts to year 11 students, I think that might prove to be quite the feat, especially given their stage in schooling. The letter's evident one-sidedness could also present a challenge in providing a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter.  Reflecting on insights gleaned from a leadership conference at Oxford last year, where the pressing concerns of the millennial generation were explored, it's evident that issues of hypocrisy and the curtailing of human rights resonate deeply. 

While attempting to address social issues the Archbishop's letter falls short in its approach. It presents complex topics like sexuality and gender with a narrow lens, neglecting well-established scientific advancements and the rich tapestry of lived experiences within the LGBTIQ+ community and queer theology. This one-sided view lacks empathy for the struggles faced by LGBTIQ+ individuals and could be particularly harmful by advocating for conversion therapy, a practice demonstrably detrimental to mental health. 

In John 4:7-9, Jesus speaks to a Samaritan woman, a group traditionally ostracized by Jews. This act of kindness challenged societal norms and demonstrated Jesus' willingness to engage with those deemed different.  Perhaps, in the spirit of Jesus' inclusivity, a more open dialogue that acknowledges the scientific understanding of human sexuality and the experiences of the LGBTIQ+ community could lead to a more compassionate and inclusive Church.

A source of hope in this conversation is the recognition of common ground between the Catholic Church and the LGBTIQ+ community. Both cherish values such as love and compassion that offering a potential basis for understanding and reconciliation.  It's evident that LGBTIQ+ individuals are fully capable of creating loving families and making meaningful contributions to society. However, the question arises: how can we progress towards mutual understanding and inclusivity when the Church's stance on this matter has largely been one of rebuke towards the idea? As Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 reminds us, "For everything there is a season" societal attitudes evolve over time and perhaps it's time for a season of acceptance and dialogue.

A closer look at the Archbishop’s letter intimates that LGBTIQ+ identities run counter to divine intention, many individuals successfully reconcile their faith with their sexual orientation or gender identity. Fundamental to this is the acknowledgment of the rights and dignity of all members of the LGBTIQ+ community. The letter's simplistic portrayal of sex, grounded solely in biological determinants, disregards the scientific understanding of a spectrum of sex characteristics and gender identities. Respectful dialogue should incorporate this scientific perspective, for example as the church has done with the COVID vaccination. After all, acknowledging scientific evidence and insights has been pivotal in their response to the pandemic. 

However, questions arise about the Archbishop's leadership and the compatibility of personal bias with institutional guidance. For example, his request during COVID for exemptions for unvaccinated priests clashes with Pope Francis's stance on vaccination as an act of love. This highlights a pattern where his personal convictions may appear to diverge from broader Catholic teachings. 

While the right to express one's beliefs is sacrosanct, it must not encroach upon the rights of others. Safeguarding LGBTIQ+ individuals from discrimination does not equate to impinging upon religious freedoms; striking a balance between these rights is imperative. While parents maintain the prerogative to select educational institutions aligned with their values, it is incumbent upon all educational settings, including Catholic schools, to ensure that LGBTIQ+ students are not subject to discrimination. Upholding religious beliefs must not come at the expense of fostering an inclusive environment for all students. Legislation safeguarding religious freedoms must concurrently guarantee equal rights and protections for all Australians, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Phrases used in the letter like "enough is enough" raises concerns, as they carry connotations of urgency and confrontation. Within the sensitive discourse surrounding faith, freedom, and LGBTIQ+ rights, such assertive language might inadvertently hinder the pathway to mutual understanding. With due respect, while acknowledging the Archbishop's concerns regarding religious freedom, it's important to recognize that attitudes towards LGBTIQ+ individuals within our community are evolving, as evidenced by recent actions such as Catholic Bishop Stephan Ackermann's apology and call for increased support for equality and inclusion. Embracing a more inclusive and empathetic approach in our dialogue is imperative, especially in light of efforts to build bridges between the LGBTIQ+ community and the Catholic Church. The Church has the opportunity to embody love, compassion, and acceptance for all individuals, fostering a more harmonious and understanding environment.

This article serves as a springboard for broader discourse. Share your insights and perspectives in the comments below.

Let us pray:

Source of Light and Love, In this time of uncertainty and change, We seek your guidance and strength. As the world seems to shift beneath our feet, Grant us courage to face the unknown With open hearts and curious minds. Help us find compassion for those who differ from us, And wisdom to navigate the challenges we share. May we find strength in unity, And purpose in the face of change. We ask this with humility and hope. Amen.

Editor's Note: In the wake of this blog's publication, further reflections on 1 Corinthians 1:10 highlight the significance of unity within the Church, advocating for the alignment of minds and thoughts. Against the backdrop of discussions ignited by His Grace's letter and the looming prospect of leadership transitions as he approaches 75, this scripture echoes as a plea for consensus and comprehension.

Beyond "Salt and Earth": A Clash of Rights in Catholic Schools Beyond "Salt and Earth": A Clash of Rights in Catholic Schools Reviewed by Shane St Reynolds on May 21, 2024 Rating: 5

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