Keeping the Faith, Tasmania

Silenced for the Offence of Offending

My boy starts school next year and we’re sending him to a local Catholic school.

The decision-making process on this one was heavy.

Considerations ranged from educational to social to cultural to financial to geographical to spiritual. Not to mention whether the uniform colours suited his complexion! Joke. I was just joking.

Yes, all these things (except the uniform bit) were vigorously discussed as we novice parents weighed up what was best for our first-born and our family unit.

For a whole fleet of reasons, we chose the local Catholic school. The decision didn’t come without implications, without some level of compromise.

You see, we are not Catholics. There are parts of the Catholic tradition and liturgy that we don’t adhere to. Yet, in signing those enrolment forms we entered into the construct of a long-established way and we don’t for a moment expect it to change because one little kindergarten kid’s parents don’t do infant baptism or say the Hail Mary.

There’s so much about this school that we love – like the way that the Bible and Jesus are a part of the everyday hum of classroom activity. This school, like many Catholic schools, has an impeccable reputation and is extremely competitive in terms of educational outcomes for its students.

Having just participated in the enrolment process for a Catholic school, I can tell you that I was well informed that the school is indeed Catholic, that it does indeed do Catholic things – like pray and read the Bible.

Perhaps that’s why I am so grieved that its Tassie leader, Archbishop Julian Porteous will potentially be prosecuted for the crime of upholding and reinforcing just what it is the Catholic Church believes in regards to marriage.

If I had a problem with the Catholic Church’s stance on this, or any other issue, would I send my child to a Catholic school? Well, no. That, or I’d come to terms with the fact that an element of my child’s education will oppose my own beliefs.

What an alarming precedent this case sets for anyone holding views that aren’t popular. God forbid that the views be entrenched in Biblical text revered by hundreds of thousands of believers in Australia alone.

We should be worried – extremely worried – when a person can be silenced by the law for the offense of offending – in all its subjective glory.

For those unfamiliar with the case, here’s the nutshell:

  •  Archbishop Julian Porteous this year distributed a booklet titled ‘Don’t Mess with Marriage’ to families with children enrolled in the Catholic education system.
  •  The booklet outlined Christian teaching on marriage and reinforced the current law on marriage, between a man and a woman.
  •  A transgender Greens candidate filed a complaint with the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner who substantiated the complaint.
  •  We now wait on the legal process with the potential for the case to be heard by a tribunal. Archbishop Julian Porteous could be prosecuted for the crime of affirming Catholic beliefs to Catholic people.

It doesn’t even matter what your opinion is on this one.
I’ll repeat: it doesn’t matter an iota what your opinion is on marriage.

What we’ve got is the militant left pulling all stops to gag meaningful debate on an important social issue.

This doesn’t bode well for balanced debate and coverage in the lead-up to the Turnbull Government’s promised people’s vote on marriage.

And if it can happen once, it can happen again.

As I pull my son’s new uniform over his fair, tousled hair, straighten his hat and pull up his socks, I wonder what kind of opportunity he will have to be heard when he graduates.

Eyes like wishing wells and unbridled observations of the world around him will make way for… what? Fear of offense and litigation?

And there I was thinking we lived in a country that cherished things like democracy and freedom of speech.

First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday December 7, 2015.


  1. mrs cotterill says

    Bravo Claire. It is indeed a frightening thought that we may not be able to openly say what we think in the future. The rot started a while ago however, a couple of years ago, I was chatting to a work colleague about an article in the local paper about the proposed gay marriage laws and although we both disagreed with the idea, we spoke in low voices amongst the group in the lunch room..”Look, I said to my colleague, we are whispering….”

  2. “Ms Delaney said she wanted the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to publicly apologise for distributing the booklet.

    She also wanted the Catholic Church in Tasmania to implement a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex awareness program for all staff and students within the Catholic education system.” From the ABC article, 28.09.15″.

    I don’t beleive they are attempting to silence the Catholic church at all. The issue seems to be the tone more than a contradiction of beleifs. According to that article AB Julian Porteous, made some unfortunate statements eg. alluding to gays ‘messing with kids’.. and that’s a bit dumb.

    I hope the Catholic Church do implement such a program as Ms Delaney suggests.

    As for balanced debate, why hasn’t the Catholic Church brought this to the attention of the media? It’s the first I’ve heard of it. Are journalists supposed to be knocking on AB Julian Porteous’s door about this? Get him on the tv and get talking about it.

    The problem with the Catholic Church, and I was raised as a Catholic, is that they see themselves above and beyond everyone else and are very used to being isolated from the other churches and other Australians. They are also extremely well known for their silence full stop…

    You want balanced debate? Make it happen, don’t just groan about it not happening.

    I’d like to see more Priests, Pastors, Imams on the news talking about any range of things.
    Stop playing the victim….

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