Monthly Archives: September 2009

The Right to Discriminate

The Age September 30: Illustration by Dyson 'The right to discriminate'

The Age September 30: Illustration by Dyson 'The right to discriminate'

The Age continues to portray the recent success of the campaign for Religious Freedom in Victoria negatively as “the right to discriminate”. The cartoon above and the ratio of letters (Three to One against) are examples of this.

But discrimination cannot in itself be declared illegal. All employers have the right to discriminate, and in fact the entire employement process is, in essence, a process of discrimination. Employers discriminate on all manner of issues to determine the best person for the job. What employers do not have is the right to discriminate unjustly. What is at issue between the religious communities and popular opinion is what constitutes “unjust” discrimination. It is not, for instance, deemed unjust for political parties to discriminate on the basis of political preference when hiring employees for certain positions within the party. And I believe there has even been some argument about the legality of those wishing to hire table-top dancers as to whether they could discrimnate on the basis of the sex of the applicant.

With regard to the current issue, there are several issues at stake:

1) Is the person to be hired appropriate for the position?
2) How do we balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of communities and associations to conduct their affairs according to their communal ethos?
3) How far should the State go in legally determining the ethos of communities and associations?

It is not, perhaps, surprising that some religious communities will answer these questions in different ways. Some communities, for instance, the one from which Bishop John McIntyre speaks , may have fewer problems with the prevailing mores in our society than others. They may have different interpretations of what is “appropriate” or “unjust” discrimination. But they cannot claim that they do not employ to some degree the “right to discriminate”. I have heard that there are Christian communities in the world which will, for instance, when screening ordination candidates, discriminate against those who are opposed to the ordination of women as priests or bishops. Bishop McIntyre’s community may be a case in point. I would regard that as unjust. Bishop McIntyre may not.

It should also be pointed out that it is not inherently unjust to discriminate according to the appropriateness of an individual’s mores or personal ethos for various occupations. It would be surprising, for instance, if a person who was a conscientious objector to immunisation would be hired to run the swine flu vaccine rollout. Nor would the RSPCA be likely to employ an officer whose personal hobbies inlcuded blood sports. This is not a question of the employer passing judgement upon the moral life and decisions of the prospective employee – it is a question of whether the employee’s moral outlook is appropriate to the job for which they are being hired.

The point is that the right to discriminate exists. The point of disagreement is simply about what is just and appropriate discrimination and what is unjust and inappropriate.


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Swimming among Container Ships

Driving along one of Melbourne’s truck-laden freeways yesterday: not for the faint-hearted or the claustrophobic. Photo: Wayne Taylor of the Age

Driving along one of Melbourne’s truck-laden freeways yesterday: not for the faint-hearted or the claustrophobic. Photo: Wayne Taylor of the Age

Geoff Strong of The Age writes:

DRIVING a car on one of Melbourne’s freeways or ring roads can feel a bit like paddling a canoe between container ships. It is not for the faint-hearted or the claustrophobic.

He ought to try it with a motorcycle. I have always felt that that experience was like riding between office blocks going 100km/h. To use Strong’s comparison, it is like swimming among container ships.

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Tomasi UN statement not helpful

I can’t find the actual text of Vatican UN Observer Archbishop Silvano Tomasi on the internet, but if reports (see here and here) are to be believed, the statement is not one that could be considered “helpful” in the current climate. Of course, when backed into a corner (as appears to have happened by the specific and targeted attack from “international representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union” Keith Porteous Wood), it is perfectly understandable that the Vatican Observer should react defensively. Yet, surely he must know that pointing the finger at the crimes of others was not ever going to be an effective way in which to answer such an attack.

All that being said, the situation in which the Vatican finds itself is somewhat unique. What other body, whose operatives (we cannot say “employees”, since priests are not employees of the Vatican but of their local diocese) have been guilty of these crimes, has an international head office that could be held to account in the way some are trying to hold the Vatican to account? It is true, as the Archbishop points out, that the incident of child abuse is no higher among Catholic priests than among protestant, jewish, or in fact no-religion-at-all organisations, but the hierarchical set up of the Catholic Church does mean that the Vatican is an “easy target”.

Personally, I find the statistical comparison “no more than anyone else” more than a little distasteful. The Catholic Church should be one place where all people are ENTIRELY safe from such predatory abuse, and I am ashamed that it is not so. It makes the task of evangelisation and of the promotion of the Catholic Faith a hell of a lot harder than it should be.


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“A Higher Status than Sainthood”?

How silly some secular reporting is. Cathnews is carrying this story from the Irish Times: John Paul ‘to be more than a saint’, the main thrust of which is:

AN IRISH Catholic bishop has predicted that Pope John Paul II, who arrived in Ireland 30 years ago today, will most likely have a higher status than sainthood in the Catholic Church. The Bishop of Meath, Most Rev Michael Smith, who was centrally involved in organising the papal visit, said he would not be surprised if Pope John Paul II was made a Doctor of the Church.

I won’t speculate about what his Lordship said that gave the reporter the impression that being a “Doctor of the Church” was a “higher status” in the Kingdom of Heaven than “sainthood”, but you and I know that it ain’t so. There is no higher calling or status that any human being can attain than the beatitude of sainthood. Anything else you might be – like, for eg., pope or a doctor of the Church or a Catholic blogger – is in a different category all together.

However, I do believe that the good bishop is right in his guess about the “Doctor of the Church” status of the late pope. Whether that decision will be made in our life time, I very much doubt. These things take time. St Therese of Lisieux, for instance, died in 1897, was canonised in 1925, but only declared a Doctor of the Church by JPII in 1997. There are only thirtythree doctors of the Church, none thus far from the 20th Century. Perhaps John Paul II will be our 20th Century Doctor? I for one think that the “John Paul the Great” title will only catch on if he is accorded the status of “Doctor of the Church”, but I don’t think that will be in our generation. Future generations are far more likely to appreciate him than today’s.

Of course, John Paul II isn’t the only theologian pope with which we have been blessed in the past 100 years. Next to John Paul II, Pope Pius XII would be another, if the number of times his writings are quoted by the 2nd Vatican Council are any indication. It could be possible more easily to proclaim Pius XII a “Doctor of the Church” than a “Saint” in the current climate. “Doctor of the Church” is a statement of the value and authenticity of his teaching, not of the holiness of his life. I don’t dispute the latter, but unfortunately, there are still those who are stoking the fires of controversy in that camp.

But of course, we are now in the 21st Century and must be looking ahead for today’s “Doctor of the Church”. Who could that be, I wonder? Could we have back to back papal Doctors? According to the Irish Times, Bishop Michael Smith:

also suspected Pope Benedict might, in time, become a Doctor of the Church. “In this generation we are very blessed to have had two popes who have made an enormous contribution to church teaching and church belief.”


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Cathy and David At the Movies: “District 9”


David:  Peter Jackson produced writer-director Neil Blomkamp’s District 9 – a alien/monster genre movie of incredible originality. Wikus Van De Merwe is a company operative who is put in charge of relocating a slum on the outskirts of Johannesburg with military backup. The twist is that the slum occupants are aliens, whose mothership was stranded floating above the city 20 years earlier. In the process of carrying out the eviction, Wikus has an accident with dramatic consequences, which gives him a radical new perspective on the aliens.

 Cathy:  Initially, I found the documentary style at the beginning of the film quite engaging, but ultimately I found this an extremely difficult film to watch. While I appreciated the message about segregation and alienation of those who are different, it was an extremely grim film with much graphic violence. At one stage, I felt like I couldn’t watch any more.

 David: Well, it was certainly visceral. Body parts and fluids everywhere. You could almost smell it, at times. I liked the “documentary” conceit too, but it was not consistently followed through, with much of the later part of the movie in more of the traditional “action” style. Everything else in the film was entirely consistent and narratively satisfying. Setting it in South Africa is rather obvious given the theme, but also made the movie work on an intellectual level.

Cathy:  I found it difficult to connect or empathise with any of the characters. The aliens were pretty gross, although I did feel some connection for the alien “Christopher Johnson” through his relationship with his son. Wikus (although extremely well-played by Sharlto Copley) had no sense of compassion or understanding for the plight of the aliens.

David:  By not using well known actors we get to see the characters as real people. Wikus undergoes several transformations in the film which redeems his character by the end. But despite the serious social comment in this film, District 9 has more in common with “Frankenstein” than “Cry Freedom”.

Cathy:  The trouble is, despite the alien element, the scenario is not too far removed from a shameful reality. I can see that it is a well made film – it just didn’t appeal to me. I’m giving it two and a half stars.

David:  It appealed to me greatly. I’m giving it four stars.

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When Good news is reported as Bad

You know there is something fundamentally wrong with the world (or perhaps just with the newspaper you are reading) when the media reports a “Good News” story as a “Bad News” story.

I refer to today’s Sunday Age story: Government bows to religious right which reports the joyful news that the religious communities in the State of Victoria have been successful in defending their religious freedom and basic human right not to employ (and in some cases to provide “services” to *) people who do not uphold their “ethos”.

I have reported before on the efforts that our community leaders went to to defend us against this threat to our religious liberty. It was a very well organised campaign that showed that the feeling on this subject in the community was not that of the Thought Police who are trying to rewrite our social mores for us by means of the law. In short, the Social Reformers were horrified that religious communities should be able to “discriminate” by employing staff (or providing services to clients) who shared and upheld their religious ethos. Today’s decision marks the failure of the psuh to stamp out this “injustice”.

And The Sunday Age isn’t going to take this lying down. Their “reporter” Melissa Fyfe allows a good deal of editorial bias and comment into what should be a news report. She writes

  • that the State’s religious communities will be allowed “to continue to discriminate against gays and lesbians, single mothers and people who hold different spiritual beliefs.”
  • that “church groups” will be allowed “to continue discriminating on the grounds of sex, sexuality, marital and parental status and gender identity.”
  • That “the decision has dismayed groups that argued that the review was a chance to eliminate entrenched discrimination in Victoria.”

So the exercise of religious freedom – the freedom to reject the mores that are being foisted upon us by the New Morality – is now to be condemned as “discrimination”.

And, according to Fyfe, “leading discrimination law expert Professor Margaret Thornton said that it was a win for fundamentalist religious groups.” So. The religious communities who reject the New Mores are all to be labelled “fundamentalist”!

Just for our information, who are these “fundamentalists”? Represented at the SARC hearings on August 5 were the following organisations:

Catholic Bishops of Victoria
Catholic Social Services
Anglican Church of Australia
Presbyterian Church of Victoria
Islamic Council of Victoria
Christian Schools Australia
Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria
B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission
Mt Evelyn Christian School
Australian Christian Lobby
Catholic Education Office
Association of Independent Schools of Victoria
Victorian Independent Education Union

When these are all condemned as “fundamentalist”, it is hard to see that any room at all is left in the rational, moderate camp. It seems, in fact, that we are all to be written off as “fundamentalist”, except for some significant mainstream Christian organisations who no longer espouse a recognisable Christian ethos in the realm of sexual- and bio-ethics.

[BTW, it is worth noting who the supporters of the change in our laws were. They included: the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, the Human Rights Law Resource Centre, the Law Institute of Victoria, Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, ALSO Foundation, and Tansgender Victoria.]

(* It is my understanding that an example of such “services” would be the provision of ad0ption services to same sex parents.)


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How would this be handled in a Catholic School?

I am very intrigued by this story in today’s edition of The Age: School the most dangerous place for young gays.

I wonder how such situations are handled in our Catholic schools?

First, let me say a couple of things:

1) I abhore violence, persecution and victimisation toward anyone, including those who self-identify as homosexuals. Paragraph 2358 of the Catechism says: “[M]en and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies…do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

2) I affirm with the Church (always thinking with the Church on this blog!) that (in the words of the Catechism again in the prior paragraph): “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity [cf. Gen 19:1-29; Rom 124-27; 1 Cor 6:10; I Tim 1:10], tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered”141 [CDF, Persona humana 8]. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

3) I am surprised that a boy in Year 6 (aged 11 or 12) could already be so sexually aware and mature as to be able to identify himself as “gay”.

4) I myself received distressing victimisation and name calling in later primary school and early secondary school in a country school, being called a “poof” simply because I acted differently from most of the other country boys my age with reference to matters of taste and culture. (I did not, at any stage, however, self-identify as “gay” – I would not have imagined such a thing).

So, given all that, how would the situation of this young man be handled in a Catholic School today? What would be the appropriate pastoral response?


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