Daily Archives: September 30, 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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