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Playing second fiddle to Magda on marriage



Though I watch very little television, I've appeared on the ABC's Q&A from time to time. Last time it was to discuss refugee policy with Jim Molan who prides himself on being one of the chief architects of the policy which has stopped the boats but with the collateral damage of hundreds of proven refugees, including children, having their lives placed on a perilous hold on Manus Island and Nauru.

Karina Okotel and Frank Brennan on QandABefore that, I was on with a somewhat inebriated Christopher Hitchens who with great flourish expressed disapproval of various teachings of the Catholic Church. Q&A is not a program I watch with great regularity. I find it too conflictual, with too little prospect of the conflict contributing to resolution of issues. I knew same sex marriage was a favourite and much overdone topic on the program. Then came the invitation to appear on a panel to discuss nothing but same sex marriage. I accepted with little hesitation. Why?

I have long been an opponent of a plebiscite on this issue. I thought the Liberal Party failed to do its job in the party room. Once the Liberal Party decided that a plebiscite was a precondition for consideration of the matter during the life of this parliament, I expressed my concern with the Labor Party and the Marriage Equality campaign rejecting the possibility of a plebiscite over the last Christmas holidays.

I thought the campaign could be done and dusted while the country was at the beach over the summer and while the politicians and the Canberra press gallery took their overseas holidays. Everyone could have returned to Canberra after Australia Day and the whole thing could have been concluded in February this year. But it was not to be. So now, we've all endured a protracted campaign, exacerbated by Tony Abbott's continued side swipes at Malcolm Turnbull and by the Turnbull team's trailing in the Newspoll 21 times in a row.

I had decided to vote 'yes'. When asked, I was happy to say I was voting yes, and I was happy to say why I was voting yes and why it is important for our parliament to do some further hard work on the issue of religious freedom once the yes vote is in. Even the most convinced 'no' voters need to admit that the issue is not going away, and that the Commonwealth Parliament will legislate for same sex marriage either before or after the next election.

I thought it important to indicate why a Catholic could vote yes. I also thought it important to indicate that the Church has a pastoral care and concern for everyone, including those who are gay or lesbian. I could see the hurt and the harm being suffered by some gay and lesbian friends and acquaintances. I thought this hurt and harm was unnecessary. The whole thing needed to be resolved, with both sides of the debate being more respectful of each other, and with the parliament being given the clear air to do its job.

I was told that the Q&A panel would include two speakers who were voting no, and two who were voting yes. The organisers wanted to avoid speakers who were likely to be so trenchant in their positions as to be hurtful and insulting to those who disagreed with them.


"I have a quite orthodox Catholic position about the sacramentality of marriage in the Church, but I don't see that my theology of marriage determines what ought to be the law about marriage in a plural diverse society like Australia."


I have long been an advocate for respectful dialogue and civil disagreement in the public square. I have been well schooled in it with a lifetime of experience, including some of the testing public conflicts in Queensland during the years of Sir Joh Bjelke Petersen, the divisive 1993 Mabo debate, the vicious 1997-8 Wik debate, and the strident 2009 campaign against a Human Rights Act when I chaired the National Human Rights Consultation for the Rudd government. I have a quite orthodox Catholic position about the sacramentality of marriage in the Catholic Church, but I don't see that my theology of marriage determines what ought to be the law about marriage in a plural diverse society like Australia with people of all religions and increasingly people of none.

Having chaired the National Human Rights Consultation in 2009, I have long been convinced that the legal architecture in Australia at a national level is inadequate to protect all those human rights which our governments and parliaments have espoused over the years when ratifying the various international treaties on human rights. The same sex marriage debate, like any debate of a contemporary contested social issue, would be more harmoniously resolved were that architecture to be in place.

The more I have listened to the arguments about civil recognition of same sex marriage, I have become convinced that the passionate debate is not just about the meaning of the word 'marriage'. Nor is it primarily about differing concerns about the consequences of recognition. I think it is about moving from tolerance and acceptance of committed, faithful, exclusive, and generous relationships of same sex couples to respect for and endorsement of those relationships. We all know that many such relationships, whether same sex or opposite sex, break down or lose their noblest attributes. The issue is whether the ideal should be publicly affirmed by the state for all couples. I think it should and I thought it was time to say so.

I was asked whether I would join the panel with Magda Szubanski. I am such a nerd when it comes to popular Australian culture that I did not know who she was. I've never seen Kath & Kim. I wouldn't have recognised Kath or Kim — let alone Sharon — if I ran into them at a supermarket or an airport. Sight unseen, I agreed to join Magda on the panel.

In conversation a few days later, Tanya Plibersek urged me to read Magda's autobiography Reckoning. I picked it up at an airport and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was moved by the sections relating to Magda's father who lived a troubled life, having been a youth in Poland during World War II, who took justice into his own hands, killing a number of Nazis and presumed Nazi sympathisers. Magda had called the Polish Jesuit priest Tony Slowik to assist her father to be reconciled in his later years. Tony is a mate of mine.

On the day the show was to go to air, the producers asked that we keep our answers to one minute in length. I replied, 'I will be very happy to play second fiddle to Magda.' I wanted my presence to assist a respectful dialogue on the panel and in the audience. I wanted to make it clear that a thinking and compassionate Catholic could have good reasons for voting yes. I wanted to insist that respect and endorsement of loving same sex relationships did not preclude consideration of issues such as freedom of religion.

Karina Okotel and Frank Brennan on QandAI enjoyed the program and have been hugely flattered and affirmed by a lot of the feedback I have received. The downside has been the vile vitriol posted on my Facebook page and the nasty messages left with my staff and religious superiors. They make the Wik debate look like a walk in the park. The more vitriolic critics seem most upset that a Catholic priest would have the temerity to claim that a Catholic could vote yes. Archbishop Mark Coleridge, an eminent scripture scholar and vice president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, made the position clear when pressed by David Speers on Sky News a month ago. The archbishop said:

'Catholics, we're a big mob. Anyone who thinks we're monolithic does not know the Catholic Church. It's like herding cats. Catholics are going to vote yes, some are going to vote no, some are not going to vote at all. Some are going to vote yes for one reason, some for another; ditto with no. To think of a Catholic vote all going one way is just naïve. Of course, it's possible to vote yes. It depends why you vote yes. It's possible to vote no but equally it depends why you vote no. And we've seen some awful stuff on both sides of the debate, or all sides of the debate, because there aren't just two sides As a Catholic you can vote yes or you can vote no. I personally will vote no but for quite particular reasons. But I'm not going to stand here and say you vote no; and you vote yes and you're a Catholic, you'll go to hell. It's not like that.'

He's right that it's not like that. That's why I was happy to play second fiddle to Szubanski indicating why I am voting yes, and  what I expect of my politicians when it comes to voting on a law to extend civil recognition to all committed relationships of couples in the name of equality and with the name 'marriage'. This has to be about extending respect to all. Ultimately respect can be given only to those who show respect. We now need to ensure that the law accords that respect to all couples and to all religions. Let's get it done.



Frank BrennanFrank Brennan SJ is the CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia.

Main image: Karina Okotel and Frank Brennan on Q&A

Second image: Frank Brennan and Magda Szubanski following their appearance on Q&A

Topic tags: Frank Brennan, marriage equality, qanda, Magda Szubanski, Glenn Davies, Karina Okotel



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Existing comments

Heartening to hear sanity and civility like this. Thanks.

Andrew Lynch | 25 October 2017  

"We now need to ensure that the law accords that respect to all couples and all religions". I doubt that the law, regardless of what it decrees on this matter, will make one iota of difference to the passion of the naysayers or that of the ayes. The homosexual community will correspondingly continue to be both condemned and accepted. The law seems to be a double edged sword in this modern world, the great promoter and protector of Western society on one hand and the great destroyer on the other.

john frawley | 25 October 2017  

Good on you, Father Brennan! You are following the Ignatian way, I am so sorry for the tangles the Australian politicians keep getting into, quite unnecessarily. My mother was from Queensland, had the sense to come to Aotearoa NZ.

Patricia Kane | 25 October 2017  

Well said and well done, Frank

Kevin O’Connor | 25 October 2017  

Thanks Frank. I thought what you said and the way you said it was great. As someone, like you, who comes from a large Catholic family, in my case with one sibling living in a same sex relationship with a young child it was lovely to see someone like you expressing an educated Catholic position in such a thoughtful, compassionate and considered way. Good on you Frank.

Nick Dunstan | 25 October 2017  

Well said, thankyou Frank. Next step- that missing legal architecture to enshrine human rights in Australia once and for all.

Pamela | 25 October 2017  

Firstly, do watch Kath & Kim sometime Frank! Like you, I don't watch Q&A on a regular basis but did see the guest lineup when watching Four Corners so I stayed around. Magda was magnificent and this was one of the very few occasions when I would have liked to have had a Twitter account.

Pam | 25 October 2017  

Frank Brennan was an inspiration on Q&A. His well thought through, inclusive and consultant comments made the No folks look a little petty.

Dave | 25 October 2017  

Dear Father Frank once again you make me proud to be a Catholic. Your presence on the Q and A panel was indeed a blessing. My heart bled for Magda and LBQTI people for some of the things that were said particularly in the name of Christianity. To think that a million dollars could be given to the no campaign by a Christian Church is horrendous when there is so much poverty and injustice being perpetrated to human beings. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Anne McNamara | 25 October 2017  

Thank you Rev Brennan for expressing the respect that is central to this debate.

Doris Testa | 25 October 2017  

I am not sure you played second fiddle to Magda, or anyone else, on last Monday's Q&A, Frank. In my opinion you were the standout. You explained your position, which is shared by Mark Coleridge and which would, I think, be approved by the Pope, brilliantly. I am sorry you have been subjected to bitter vilification on the stance you took. There are many sad, bitter and twisted people in our society who really need to have a good look at themselves and not dump on you. They're sickos. Just sickos. Jesus would probably tell them to take the planks out of their own eyes before 'critiquing' you. Twitter and other 'instant media' have really debased debate in our society.

Edward Fido | 25 October 2017  

Well said Frank. Some of the haters on social media could learn much from your reasoned and respectful position on this divisive topic.Some of the most vitriolic comments come from those who have the gall and temerity to call themselves Christian. Go figure!

David Ahern | 25 October 2017  

I have the same feelings re Q and A and watch it less frequently these days. Love your words and those of Archbishop Coleridge. Have occasionally witnessed the vitriol of the hard right- I just can't reconcile that with being Christian.

Andrew Chinn | 25 October 2017  

Well done, nicely handled, Frank Brennan! This debate needs more calm voices, not ideologues ramming their views down our throats.

Frank Golding | 25 October 2017  

Frank Brennan as usual was a breath of fresh air on Q&A. Magda was awesome both were magnanimous. As a recovering Anglican I was ashamed by the narrow mindedness of the Anglican cleric on the debate. The rank hypocrisy to state that he did not wish to influence opinion despite tithing a million bucks to the "No" camp. The lack of grace to not only deny Magda and others a church marriage but worse,impede legal civil Marriage. Frank champions human rights: isn't that what clerics are meant to do for God"s sake! I concur with the post during the programme from a viewer:" if there were more Father Brennans there would be less lapsed catholics" Go Frank!! promoted to lead violin

Denis Bartrum | 25 October 2017  

I have always appreciated your profound and clear contribution to social issues including your recent contribution to the Q&A discussion on marriage. Like many Catholics, I have already voted 'yes' in support and repect for the many gay and lesbian people in committed relationships. I can see that society can and should accept such relationships and churches can and probably will reserve the right to define sacramental relationships as betwwen a man and a woman. However, Magna Szubanski's description of her mother's funeral, her sadness at being deprived of the sacrament of marriage, whatever the law, left me feeling very sad. Recognising that many people are not heterosexual, is there not a way that the church could re-define marriage to include homosexual people - or develop a liturgy which would respect, include and support all people?

Judith Houston | 25 October 2017  

A nicely weighted piece from Frank Brennan. But the unprecedented vitriol his appearance on Q&A appears to have attracted must surely be of concern. Of course it does not represent all of those on the 'No" side. I suspect (or at least hope) it represents only a small group within this cohort. But this level of hatred is worrying nonetheless. I can't help but think that part of the explanation lies in the dismal failure of the Catholic Church (or at least the Irish version of my childhood) to deal with sexuality at any level. A consistent message emanating from a Catholic secondary education and five years in a Catholic seminary was the less said about sexuality the better. When it was spoken about, sexuality was wrapped up in totally detached theological language or associated with serious sin. Even masturbation was enough to send you to Hell. While not an excuse, I suspect that many of those who pushed back at Frank Brennan and his staff in such a vitriolic manner are plagued by feelings of confusion and guilt about their own sexuality. (And yes - there is so much more to the wonderful Magda than her portrayal of Sharon).

Lawrence Moloney | 25 October 2017  

Fr Brennan - if there were more clergy like your good self, then perhaps I would have never left the faith. You sir, are the true embodiment of the Christian ideal of love for your fellow man. Respect, Sir, Respect. That is the one word that sums up my thoughts about your deliberations.

Greg Iverson | 25 October 2017  

I felt sadness when I recorded my no vote. I am sad that we feel that the only way to bring equality is to change the definition of marriage: by doing that make it into something quite different. My sadness is that we as a civilisation are not creative enough to acknowledge the difference and name homosexual relationships differently. What we know and understand about homosexuality is quite different from what it was when a cousin of mine was arrested and thought by the family so disgraced he was sent to England and has never returned. The Church moves slowly and may in the future develop a suitable ritual to acknowledge such a relationship. Meanwhile the secular law should support them.

Margaret McDonald | 25 October 2017  

I thought the Q&A discussion on marriage equality was a good one. Father Frank's input was very valuable as he put a point of view that was logical, compassionate and respectful. I am not a Catholic, but for many decades I have worked with people from a variety of backgrounds on human rights, social justice, peace and care for the environment including progressive Catholics. As Frank stated, in a multicultural society like Australia, we need to be able to respect the viewpoint of others whether we agree with them or not. For me, marriage equality is a matter of human rights. If heterosexual people can have their partnerships recognised under the law, then so should those, who no fault of their own, are born LGBQ&T. I am now 74 yo and have seen some big changes in our society. As a young person, I remember some totally intolerant and unthinking people go out of their way to harass and even commit violence against LGBQ&T people. Hopefully, when there is agreement to recognise the partnerships of these people, there will be a greater chance of stopping such intolerant attitudes. I agree that there is so much support for change on this issue that we did not need to have a very expensive survey/referendum.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 25 October 2017  

The discussion on Q&A was amazing- it is at times like this that we feel proud to be Catholic. It is not about the 'yes' or the 'no' as so much as having an opportunity to think issues through in an informed , compassionate and inclusive way. Thank you Fr. Frank Brennan for facilitating a process of 'thinking about thinking'

Susan Vasnaik | 25 October 2017  

Thank you for your previous articles and for this piece. The sadness of this debate comes from the negative vibes that surround it. Your end point is important, I think. Respect certainly can only be given to those who show respect. Hopefully the law will accord that respect, as you suggest. Best Wishes.

Jina Mulligan | 25 October 2017  

I have voted NO because my belief system and who I am informs me so; who I am and what I believe also teaches me to respect the YES of difference and the necessity of recognition and accommodation. Thank you Frank Brennan SJ for your enlightened calm and instructive wisdom. A great sorrow that our Pilate Politicians continue to wash their hands of responsibility.........another abject failure of those to whom we entrust government.

Charles Murray | 25 October 2017  

As a practising Catholic of many years, I want to say that I thought you were the ideal person to represent the views of thinking Catholics who no doubt have a divergence of views. I am sorry that you have had to sustain such criticism from some quarters

James Biggs | 25 October 2017  

Thanks Fr Frank for letting myself, and the many other readers of Eureka Street who have long since discontinued watching Q&A, know your perspective on same sex marriage. One can only wish your attitude was more common in the many political arguments we have in this country on 'matters of conscience'. I do hope that most Australians recognise that Tony Abbott and other card-carrying Catholics of the conservative wing of the Coalition do not represent the majority of Australian Catholics.

Ian Fraser | 25 October 2017  

This episode, with Frank and Magda's comments, helped me understand a bit better Fr Brennan's previous ES article, where I demanded there can only be one moral response - yes or no, but not both. The fact that people should not be prevented from civil marriage just because the church has a different definition of sacramental marriage which is based on procreation and the complementarity of the male/female union which constitutes a family. But the discussion by the Anglican Archbishop led me to believe what he's really saying that it's better not to be gay - with all his floral and heavenly comments about God's plan and what Jesus wants, it's hard to conclude what he really meant. And although I'm partially satisfied with this yes/no advice for Catholics, I can relate to Magda's angst about her marriage not regarded as sacramentally valid. There's a mystery in the sacraments, and in my holistic view of spirituality and morality, would love one day for what's good for Caesar is also good for God. Frank mentioned the church's view on sexuality has evolved - but there is still a long way to go.

Aurelius | 25 October 2017  

Such a wonderful article by Father Brennan. History will judge you kindly. This is probably the most sensible and well reasoned article i've read during this whole SSM debate. God bless you.

Renato Marasco | 25 October 2017  

At the other end of the panel from Frank Brennan was the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney who more explicitly, I think, identified himself with the teaching of Jesus on marriage. I thought of a particular gospel scene when Magda in effect asked Glenn Davies, which is the greater commandment, that of marriage as between a man and a woman, or that which commands we love one another? No knock-out blow there; I thought of the wisdom of Jesus who invited twos and threes to get together and keep working out what it means to be human, what it means to have a good anthropology that addresses marriage in human history; to entertain the thought that the law on marriage that Jesus subscribed to is subsumed in, not subtracted from, that of loving one another. Then Frank from his position reminded me of Jesus challenged to answer whether it was lawful to pay tax to Caesar. Of course it is, we live in a world where there are both religious and secular values. Again, the wisdom of Jesus, to get into twos and threes and in his name keep working on the business of being properly human, calling up worthwhile exemplars, Christian and otherwise. And from there wagering responsibly on what is worthwhile for you, on what you think will prove to have been the 'ought to be of life' when all is said and done.

Noel McMaster | 25 October 2017  

Dear Frank, I don't think you played 2nd fiddle to Magda the other night. Like you, while I mainly watch ABC, I was reluctant to watch Q & A because it is usually conflictual, no meaningful debate and no solutions. I have in the past criticized you for your continued support of George Peel. I am a lapsed Catholic (and still a lawyer) because I consider that the Church is not fulfilling it's pastoral duty to take care of those whom are now 'broken' due to systemic abuse by the Catholic Church (I haven't been abused nor do I know anyone who has). However, the other night you identified the critical issue in the same sex marriage debate - tolerance. I was hopeful that the 'No' campaign might be tolerant of your position (as we should be respectful of theirs), but obviously not. But I know that Christ will share your pain and comfort you at this time. I am just VERY proud of you.

Liz O'Connor | 25 October 2017  

You give me hope Fr Brennan that the Church will find its heart once more and be true representatives of Christ who spoke up for the outsiders, the rejected

Vineta O'Malley | 25 October 2017  

I agree with you Frank

Garry Mann | 25 October 2017  

Well said. It's so refreshing to hear some sanity in this debate. Apparently, surveyed Christians are divided 50-50. Of course no one can say what a Christian must vote.

Anne Shannon | 25 October 2017  

I don't think I've read so much light weight waffle in my life. If you believe a Creator created men and women the way we are then clearly homosexual sex is a disorder as the late and great St John Paul said and is clearly written in the Catechism. Simple as that.

Marcus L'Estrange | 26 October 2017  

Dear Fr Frank, You have explained so well why you voted Yes. I respect your views as so well put. I however voted No. Blessings! Alan

Alan Panambalana | 26 October 2017  

Commercial TV stations know what most people like to watch - conflict. The Block on Channel 9 on four nights last week rated over a million viewers - 1,571,00 on Sunday night 14 October. The only competition in the one million plus club was 60 minutes on 9 and Supercars on 10 Q&A is never going to be in this league with its cerebral conflict. The Yes/No dichotomy presented by the Same-Sex Marriage Survey doesn't rate. The four chosen panellists, Archbishop Glenn, comedienne Magda, Liberal Party Executive Fiona and Father Frank were, for the most part conflict-averse. Respectively and respectfully they had recourse to the Bible, anecdotal gay experience, fearful predictions of social disaster, and bland scholastic distinctions between the sacred and the secular. This discussion went nowhere and the questions from the audience didn't suggest any new interesting paths of inquiry. A show along the lines of Family Feud (on 10) where the opinions of 100 ordinary citizens have to be guessed by two rival families might have been more enlightening. After all the SSMS is really only an unnecessary, non-compulsory, non-binding & very expensive Opinion Poll dreamed up by a spineless government. ,

Uncle Pat | 26 October 2017  

Frank, you 'done good' yet again on Q&A! God love you, lad.

Michael Furtado | 26 October 2017  

Thank you Frank. Yet again.

Beth | 26 October 2017  

And very graceful you were, too. Thanks. Really interesting seeing how you cooled things down.

Rosemary Lynch | 26 October 2017  

Dear Father Brennan, I'm a little confused at your support of Same sex marriage. As a Christian I am called to witness to the love and peace that can be found within Jesus Christ. A love and peace that is not compatible with fornication and other false teachings that deny, the dignity of the human person. I'm a little bemused at how a person on the one hand can say that the idea of SSM is ok, and thus encourage people to pursue such commitments, and then on the other hand. However if you want to be a Catholic and have the fullness of truth. Which is really a full relationship with Jesus Christ, then this is something that you will have to leave behind. So on the one hand you are encouraging a commitment to a fornicating lifestyle, then on the other you are trying to bring people out of a fornicating lifestyle to lead a life with Christ. But not just Christ, in Christ we are also called to love everyone with the same love that we would want to be loved with as well. Certainly if I suddenly decided that it was now ok to have two wives, or perhaps a sexual relationship with yourself instead of my wife you would be Ok with that I presume. For if that is how we both felt who could discriminate against such a union? Have no fear I simply have used yourself as an example. An example of a poor man who needs to get back in touch with reality. We are all sinners and need Gods grace to live a life of love and service. If the above scenario was a fact I would hope that I would have at least one friend who would put me on the straight and narrow, Praise be to Jesus Christ.

Peter Shanahan | 26 October 2017  

I appreciated the clarity of your responses, Frank to the questions raised on last Monday's Q & A. As one who sees life through the "catholic lens'' (broad and all as that is) your answers expanded my understanding. I am grateful for that. I believe that you presence on the Q & A panel did assist a respectful dialogue. It was one of the better Q & A programs as it was less adversarial and more respectful listening to the way life has shaped each of us. I believe that your priestly presence contributed to that. Thank you Frank for being such a positive witness to the strengths of Catholicism and Religious life in a time when it is perceived to be "dying embers" You encourage us all to keep kindling the fire!

Patty Andrew | 26 October 2017  

Father Frank Brennan's Church has his calling as Father by the sacrament of Ordination of greater excellence than my calling of Father by the sacrament of Marriage. In allowing the status of marriage to homosexual couples Father Brennan is consistent in maintaining inequality of these purported sacraments. Oliver Clark

Oliver Clark | 26 October 2017  

Yet again, we have cause to rejoice in Fr Brennan’s sharpening of the blunted conscience that informs so much of our social and political discourse. This time, it was within the unlikely auspices of the Q and A shoutfest where the “still, small voice” of conscience cut through the cant with clarity, compassion, and courage. In a political and social landscape littered with attacks on truth, the undermining of civic institutions, and sellouts to the highest bidder, Fr Brennan stands as a beacon for a thoughtful, measured, informed and respectful public discourse. More than that, though, he helps us carve out pragmatic and achievable ways of making our world a better place for the most vulnerable. And there are plenty of them. More power to you, Fr Brennan. We’re looking forward to your cameo appearance on Kath & Kim before too long, and they’ll be playing second fiddle to you!

Michael Noone | 26 October 2017  

In two minds to watch QandA. Glad I did. One of the best discussions so far. Frank and Magda outstanding in giving their reasonings. Well done and thank you.

Joy Stapleton | 26 October 2017  

I found Frank's responses compassionate and inspirational. It contrasted with the biblical literalism of the conservative patriarch and the incoherence of the LP stooge. Let's hope she does not get pre-selection. She cannot mount a logical argument.

John Collard | 26 October 2017  

I don't watch Q&A for the same reasons you stated, Frank. But I'm sorry to have missed you ... thanks for this inspiring article.

Paul Mitchell | 26 October 2017  

What wonderfully sincere and respectful comments. It is heartening to read something so well balanced.

Wayne Brabin | 26 October 2017  

We did watch Q@A and were delighted to see the ultra NO vote exposed so clearly by the intelligence of Fr. Brennan and the wisdom of Magda Szubanski.

Jenny Raper | 26 October 2017  

Well, not really, Oliver Clark; I happen to be a father as well as a gay man, though now divorced and with an annulment to show for it. Fr Brennan has simply and superbly advanced a Catholic rationale for making it possible for persons like me to contract civil marriages, should we be lucky enough to find another whom we love and who chooses to spend the rest of their life in an exclusive legal marital relationship with me. His opinion on this matter is founded upon the quality of his thinking as a human rights lawyer, accompanied by the benefits of his formation as a Jesuit. He also has a record of speaking with integrity and lucidity in the public domain and appears to be very fully aware of the complexities of context and inculturation. Several Popes, from Leo to Benedict, have addressed the importance of inculturation in the continuing development our theologies, moral behaviour and Catholic teaching. I'm sure that Frank would be the first to say that his view has almost nothing to do with his status as a priest and a great deal more to do with his context as an informed and theologically literate Catholic.

Dr Michael Furtado | 26 October 2017  

Well done Frank, your calm considered views were very welcome and much appreciated. Keep up the good work. I too have just finished Magda's book and found it enlightening, challenging and heartening. The insight into her wrestle with acceptance of her self and her sexuality was very moving.

Annie Meadows | 26 October 2017  

Uncle Pat and Peter Shanahan have introduced some truth and non-populist appraisal to this commentary - Uncle Pat outlining the banality of the whole thing and Peter Shanahan the undiluted, Christian/Catholic position. Neither are afraid of the criticism their commentary might attract from those who seek favour and acceptance for their "humanity", "compassion" and dedication to "human rights". The Divine has not yet been replaced by the Human regardless of how cleverly we strive to re-invent God's intention for his creation and teachings .

john frawley | 26 October 2017  

The state has been engaged in marriage for but a short time in human history. Why can't all couples be able to register a union with the state? We register births and deaths without a government endorsed ceremony, No, lets leave marriage to religious organisations.

John Thompson & Jilpia Jones | 26 October 2017  

Excellent article, thanks Frank

David Feith | 26 October 2017  

Thank you Frank Brennan for your wise and considered contribution to this debate and for your support of Magda.

Christine Choo | 26 October 2017  

Thank you, Frank. You are a stand-out in relation to restoring the credibility of Catholics. Long may you continue to do so.

Kevin Liston | 26 October 2017  

Well articulated Frank, though I think you too modest. Clearly the WINX of the program.

J Carson | 26 October 2017  

I saw Q and A last monday and was so impressed with what Frank Brennan said. I am a supporter gay marriage for reasons like his. He and Magda were consistent and reasonable in their views. Thank you both.

Jean Gledhill | 27 October 2017  

Both Magda Szubanski and Michael Furtado are intelligent, practicing Catholics who fully realise that you were not, are not and could not offer them the slightest possibility of SSM within the Church. What you were discussing was the possibility of a Catholic being able to vote Yes in the recent plebiscite regarding civil recognition of SSM. This is a purely civil matter about recognition and respect. You have not made any pronouncement on morality. Archbishop Davies did and earned Magda's ire for that because he seemed to be saying that same sex attraction and partnerships were inherently wrong. He comes from a Conservative Evangelical background and would say that. It muddied the water. The Catholic Church has a deeper wisdom. This is not the place for preaching or moral judgement. There is a place for spiritual and moral direction but this is done on a one to one basis, not from the podium. It should also be done with understanding and compassion. The Church was perhaps previously deficient in both. There are those within the Catholic community who have Church celebration of SSM on their shopping list. This is also irrelevant. I do not think it will happen but the plebiscite was not about that.

Edward Fido | 27 October 2017  

once again I agree with you fr frank, I was in full agreeance with the plebiscite being putforward as it gives us the right to have a say in our country, I am not saying how I will vote but just the chance to have a say is very important

maryellen flynn | 27 October 2017  

Dr Michael Furtado states that Father Brennan's "opinion on this matter is founded upon the quality of his thinking as a human rights lawyer, accompanied by the benefits of his formation as a Jesuit." St Ignatius' "Rules for Thinking with the Church" at n.356.4. of the Spiritual Exercises state: "We must praise highly religious life, virginity, and continency; and matrimony ought not be praised as much as any of these." The teaching in Humanae Vitae, 1968, 12 that union and procreation, including provision of education, are inseparable required as a precondition that marriage and ordination were equal in excellence and both superior to the sacramental of celibacy. Adding gay marriages to the "great majority of [heterosexual] marriages [that] are invalid", this latter pointed out by Pope Francis, will further increase abuse of children and vulnerable adults by priests and religious acting out their anger at being deceived by their parents that these callings were superior to marriage. Only the taking hold of the inseparability of union and procreation in valid natural marriages has that absolute power of authorisation of all other participants in the process of education to be able to carry out their responsibilities. Oliver Clark

Oliver Clark | 27 October 2017  

When I read the initial flush of admiring responses I was tempted to whisper ‘memento mori’ to Frank. Then came the responses that didn’t really address Frank’s rational argument but instead fell back on belief. The sad thing is that Frank is like a voice crying in a Catholic wilderness. Where are the archbishops and others in authority? What are they saying ? The truth is that no Australian Catholic bishop or archbishop would be game to stick his kneck out and say what Frank has said, Ivan if said + or += believed it.

Ginger Meggs | 27 October 2017  

I wish those commenting, such as Paul Shanahan, would stop concluding that LGBTI people are intrinsically sinful. This comment column is not a confessional, and nor is it a place to throw stones at sinners.

Aurelius | 27 October 2017  

Fr Brennan's church and the state can only properly be those that natural marriage and family is helped by. This help cannot be by their colluding in anticompetitive product differentiation of purported sacramental church marriage and homosexual civil marriage into which these participants in education are lured with status inducements. Fr Brennan's humanly celibate but spiritually fertile marriage to his God is purported to be more excellent than either of these other two. This is not a cultural (enculturation) issue but economic in which a false status is traded in an occult incest connected abuse of religious liberty for primarily the economic advantage of families of the invalidly married in their not keeping the inseparability of union and procreation, including provision of education. This advantage is of cheap education, free time, and a false status by association with this falsely purported higher vocation hence at grave risk of being abusive, particularly sexually, of children and vulnerable adults by the purported celibates so taken advantage of in their acting out this incest connected abuse of them.

Oliver Clark | 27 October 2017  

If God created man and woman in his own image where do LBQTI people stand? Surely respect for all God's creation and the Gospel value of love one another are the key to how we should live our lives. Well done Fr Frank!

Kathryn | 27 October 2017  

In Ireland, 62% of those who voted were in favour of same sex marriage. And the percentage was much the same for Catholics, we’re told. I imagine the figure will be much the same here in Australia when the results are published in a fortnight. I have found the remarks of Archbishop Martin of Dublin helpful. Immediately after the vote in May 2015, he said: ‘The Church needs a reality check right across the board, to look at the things we are doing well and look at the areas where we need to say, have we drifted away completely from young people? When I met Pope Benedict at my first synod as archbishop, he asked me, where are the points of contact between the Catholic Church and those places where the future of Irish culture are being formed? He talked to me about young people, about theatre, about media, about universities. We [the Church] have to stop and have a reality check, not move into denial of the realities. We won’t begin again with a sense of renewal, with a sense of denial. I appreciate how gay and lesbian men and women feel on this day. That they feel this is something that is enriching the way they live. I think it is a social revolution.” He also said that “if this referendum is an affirmation of the views of young people then the Church has a huge task in front of it to find the language to get its message across” to them. “I ask myself, most of these young people who voted yes are products of our Catholic school system for 12 years. I’m saying there’s a big challenge there to see how we get across the message of the Church,” he said. This month when preaching for the opening of the law year, he told Ireland’s lawyers: ‘Our society speaks much about pluralism. Pluralism is not given as a well-wrapped package. Pluralism must be constructed. Pluralism can be sought in a climate of respect and difference. It can also be a negative force for division and antagonism. We need a sense of national purpose. We need to learn anew a language and conversation of civility that constructs and is not simply negative and insensitive. We need to criticise but we also need to recognise and even rejoice in the success of others.’ He then went on to say: ‘Pope Francis likes to speak of a Church that reaches out to “the periphery”. It is not just that he asks us to go out directly with concrete help to those who are poor or marginalised. He is telling us that it is in the periphery that we encounter Jesus. We will never encounter Jesus if we live isolated in our own security and comfort. The more we reach out to the periphery, the more we will realise that Jesus is there. Jesus is there in those who suffer, in those who are ostracised, in those who fail and fall into sin, in those who seek the meaning of life, and it is in the periphery that we learn at times the weakness and the false certainties of many of our own ideas of faith.’ See http://www.dublindiocese.ie/law-mass-2017/

Frank Brennan SJ | 30 October 2017  

I watched Q and A on the said evening, and I was both proud and relieved that Frank Brennan was able to express a non dualistic position on an important and complex issue, Thank you Frank.

Sue Gesell | 30 October 2017  

Before you go Frank, maybe you should have watched a bit of Kath and Kim. 'I am such a nerd when it comes to popular Australian culture that I did not know who she [Magda] was. I've never seen Kath & Kim. I wouldn't have recognised Kath or Kim — let alone Sharon — if I ran into them at a supermarket or an airport.' (FB, Oct 2017) 'He is telling us that it is in the periphery that we encounter Jesus. We will never encounter Jesus if we live isolated in our own security and comfort'. (Archbishop Martin, May 2015) And finally, < www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-15/kath-and-kim-show-how-australia-can-accept-gay-marriage/8945296 >. [ABC Sep 2015] Thanks again for your article.

Ginger Meggs | 31 October 2017  

"Pluralism must be constructed. Pluralism can be sought in a climate of respect and difference. It can also be a negative force for division and antagonism. We need a sense of national purpose. Pluralism is not given as a well-wrapped package." Most of all, pluralism happens. I think of Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin's evolutionary image of history as "the descending current", in which we as human and hopeful might be "rising eddies". The descending current has already split into many streams and in the face of such pluralism it is one thing to seek to maintain a connection between the many downward currents, another to choose which one of the rising eddies will be successful in the long run, as the ultimately proven "ought to be" of life, even against the flow.

Noel McMaster | 31 October 2017  

The Same Sex Marriage Survey is not a plebiscite. Otherwise it would have been conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission. It is not even a Claytons plebiscite. We were asked to express our opinion, not vote, on the question. "Should the Marriage law be changed so that same sex couples can marry? Yes or No? There was no nuance. No third or fourth option. No hint as to what the changes might be. What other laws might need to be changed. No indication as to what action the government may or not take. No reference to possible consequences. I read the other day in the American magazine National Catholic Register that some Catholic moral theologians have come up with a distinction regarding the Indissolubility of marriage to accommodate the Pauline and Petrine exemptions. While marriage is by its nature intrinsically indissoluble, they say. some marriages may be extrinsically soluble. I don't envy those lawyers in the AG's department tasked with drafting changes to the legislation that would accommodate same sex marriage. But I would recommend they don't consult Catholic moral theologians.

Uncle Pat | 31 October 2017  

Is pluralism an absolute or relative value? Is Father Andrew Hamilton (in another article) out of line for unpluralistically opposing the proposed Victorian euthanasia legislation --- even if, if a referendum on euthanasia were to be held in Ireland, it would be unsurprising if 62% of the recent products of Archbishop Martin’s parochial education system, full of the empathy of the young for those in pain, were again to buck the Faith? And should Archbishop Martin and Father Brennan hit the rings-of-Saturn peripheries because the social justice-orientated Pope said so, what would they pluralistically say about the weakness and false certainties of many of their ideas of faith to those wanting to be euthanised?

Roy Chen Yee | 01 November 2017  

Re Uncle Pat's post. "...marriage is by its nature intrinsically indissoluble ..." - but wait! say some moral theologians, "... some marriages may be extrinsically soluble". The capacity of moral theologians to create a gobbledegook language that few if any others can understand is mind boggling. Couldn't agree more Uncle Pat, that Catholic moral theologians shouldn't be consulted on matters of moral importance to humanity. I think they often confuse themselves. The moral hoi polloi (like me and our parliamentary reps) have little chance of understanding them !

john frawley | 01 November 2017  

Roy, is there really any need to draw a sharp line between absolute and relative moral values? The church is an attempt to embody the spirit of Christ - ie the spouse of Christ - but it's still a human organisation that's can in know way embody the full depth and breadth of God's wisdom. It's tempting to seek reassurance and security - but in the end only God can judge. Ecc 12:6 "Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don't wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well."

Aurelius | 03 November 2017  

Dear Frank Brennan, you are an inspiration. My Grandfather was a Jewish rabbi and he would have been just as respectful as you always are on controversial subjects. We are looking for equality among people. This plebiscite has divided the people and more importantly, families. Please come on Q&A more often. Your voice is needed.

Mira Zeimer | 07 November 2017  

Father Frank is the best, but Magda outshone everyone that night. She is a star! May God bless her always. (Cannot believe you didn't know her, Frank!)

BPLF | 08 November 2017  

For those commenting about the merits or lack thereof when consulting a theologian/moral theologian on matters of importance to humanity - if the response is overly obtuse or incomprehensible, then I suspect you're consulting someone not grounded in reality...... theology isn't rocket science or physics, and it's deeply embedded in context. (Think of the image of the Buddha with one hand pointing wards towards the heavens, and the other touching the earth).

AURELIUS | 09 November 2017  

Aurelius, ever think this life we lead here is not the be-all and end-all? Have you ever thought how your 'ideas' may have changed by the time you reach 85 or 95 years of age? Millions of Catholics believe in the four certainties: Death- Judgment- Hell- Heaven, don't you?

Game Theory | 09 November 2017  

Millions of people believing doesn’t make a thing a certainty, Game Theory. Where’s your evidence? I’ll grant you death as a certainty, but where’s the evidence for the other three ?

Ginger Meggs | 09 November 2017  

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