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Catholic teaching affirms freedom that may annoy pilgrims


World Youth Day Amendment

The NSW Government's controversial Amendment to the World Youth Day Act is a dreadful interference with civil liberties, and contrary to the spirit of Catholic Social Teaching on human rights.

As an Australian Catholic lawyer, I am saddened that the state has seen fit to curtail civil liberties further in this instance than they have for other significant international events hosted in Sydney.

The great Catholic document on human rights is Pacem In Terris, the 1963 encyclical of Pope John XXIII. He said:

It is generally accepted today that the common good is best safeguarded when personal rights and duties are guaranteed. The chief concern of civil authorities must therefore be to ensure that these rights are recognised, respected, coordinated, defended and promoted, and that each individual is enabled to perform his duties more easily. For to safeguard the inviolable rights of the human person, and to facilitate the performance of his duties, is the principal duty of every public authority.

Thus any government which refused to recognise human rights or acted in violation of them, would not only fail in its duty; its decrees would be wholly lacking in binding force.

One of the principal duties of any government, moreover, is the suitable and adequate superintendence and coordination of men's respective rights in society.

This must be done in such a way that the exercise of their rights by certain citizens does not obstruct other citizens in the exercise of theirs; that the individual, standing upon his own rights, does not impede others in the performance of their duties; and that the rights of all be effectively safeguarded, and completely restored if they have been violated.


No fair application of these principles would permit an extension of police powers simply to preclude protesters from causing annoyance to pilgrims attending World Youth Day.

There is presently strong debate in Australia about the desirability of a bill of rights. The NSW Government is strongly opposed. The Victorian Labor Government is strongly in favour, having enacted its own Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

There is no way the Victorian parliament would have passed a law authorising police to stop protesters simply from causing annoyance to pilgrims.

Any Victorian regulation like that made by the NSW Government would be struck down by the Victorian Supreme Court as being contrary to section 15 of the Victorian Charter, which states that every person has the right to hold an opinion without interference and the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds.

Limitation on such rights in Victoria and the ACT is now permitted only if the limitation can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

The rights of law abiding, peaceful protesters at WYD need to be 'recognised, respected, coordinated, defended and promoted', just as surely as the rights of the pilgrims. The rights of free speech and assembly should not be curtailed only because visiting pilgrims might be annoyed or inconvenienced in public places.

World Youth Day Amendment Regulation 2008 (NSW Government Gazette)
World Youth Day

Frank BrennanFrank Brennan SJ AO is a professor of law in the Institute of Legal Studies at the Australian Catholic University and Professorial Visiting Fellow, Faculty of Law, University of NSW.


Topic tags: frank brennan, free speech, free assembly, frank brennan, world youth day, catholic social teaching



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Existing comments

Bravo Frank Brennan! I found it shaming to be in Catholic and non-catholic company in Sydney over the weekend and to hear people express their profound disquiet at the way WYD has been promoted and subsidised via the public purse. Add in abuse of people's civil rights and you have a a surefire way of reigniting the near dead flames of sectarianism.

Morag Fraser | 03 July 2008  

I suspect that the Catholic Church itself is right behind this law. The organisers will be afraid that the gay community may protest since they (the organisers of WYD) refused to allow gay representation to be available to speak during the congress on matters relating to gay issues among the young people of this generation.

Many of the older males in this country have had our lives severely damaged by the Catholic churches draconian teachings on sex and sexuality, and more especially homosexuality.

Instead of allowing the appropriate advisory gay people the suitable opportunities to be available for the catholic youth (who are struggling with their own sexual developments at this time) attending WYD, the church has completely closed the door to any dialogue. This is directly in line with their dispensation from any of the Australian discrimination laws.

I suspect that the anti-protest laws we are now hearing about is once again the church exercising it's mighty arm of rule. It is such a pity that our church fathers have forgotten that Jesus was out in the world mixing with the tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes. He had little time for the establishment. John XXIII truly followed these ideals.

Murray | 03 July 2008  

Well said. Thank you Frank.

I believe that the Victorian Supreme Court cannot "strike down" a law which is in conflict with the Charter. As I understand it, the Court can publicly advise the Minister of the conflict and invite him to reconsider.

Michael Grounds | 03 July 2008  

It is the democratic right for any law abiding organisation to hold a function/rally as is the WYD. Anyone interfering with that right by an action or intimidation is worthy of a penalty.

philip herringer | 03 July 2008  

Thank you Frank, for articulating your objections to this unholy trampling of the right to protest.

On the broader issue of WYD, I have been building up a "head of steam" on the whole event. The "bulldozer" approach to taking over Randwick, indeed the decision itself to use Randwick when we have the site at Homebush lying vacant and unused most of the time.

The arrogance of holding a procession during a weekday in a teeming city, disrupting the lives of many when a weekend could have been used.

The directive to all clergy to attend the Papal Mass on the Sunday, so leaving the Parishes of Sydney without the benefit of Sunday Mass on that day.

The expectation that the population at large should subsidise the event, which in the last analysis is a religious event participated in by a minority of the population, to the tune of many millions of dollars.

The whole exercise is turning out to be divisive and a sickening exercise in triumphalism, which has the potential, if it hasn't already done so, to alienate the rest of the population including many Catholics.

What would Christ think of this whole exercise if he were to arrive in Sydney today?

Chris Betar | 03 July 2008  

Thanks Frank. I'm embarrassed.

Patricia Taylor | 03 July 2008  

Fr Brennan is unduly panicky. WYD is different from, say, the Olympic Games because, of necessity, it will involve a much greater level of interface between the event and the community generally. Representatives of the No to Pope Coalition have already stated that, while peaceful demonstrations are the aim, this cannot be guaranteed because people have strong feelings.

We know from international economic summits that there are groups who set out quite deliberately to cause violence, damage and mayhem. The NSW authorities want to avoid this and have prudently put in place some temporary, one-off regulations to preserve the peace while allowing people reasonable scope for protest.

An important function of the State is to promote the common good and to co-ordinate the conflict between competing human rights. Mature people are prepared to accept minor restrictions on their liberty to these ends.

In some areas of society freedom of speech is already significantly curtailed. People who respectfully express conservative views on issues such as homosexuality and Islam run the risk of being hauled before the courts under vilification legislation.

As is clear from the quotation that Fr Brennan provides, Pacem in terris maintains a very close linkage between rights and duties, something which is lacking in much modern Australian discourse. Maybe Victoria's Charter of Rights and Freedoms should be expanded to include Duties and Responsibilities.

Sylvester | 03 July 2008  

Allow me to differ with Fr Brennan and Ms Fraser. Devout Catholics should not be annoyed, so I see this judicious and moderate legislation as a perfect opportunity to place half of Sydney’s clergy in the slammer.

DNB | 03 July 2008  

I agree. Sometimes I wonder whether our church leaders want us to be despised and ridiculed! If so, may I remind them that being despised is fine as long as it's for the sake of the Gospel. In this case it seems that we'll be laughed at because we're going against our own principles!

Joan Seymour | 03 July 2008  

It is a mistake for the church to be seen to be endorsing in any way the overbroad "annoyance and inconvenience" provision. It is misleading to suggest that this is just a routine law and order measure.

Where these terms have been used in the past in relation to public places generally, they are usually qualified by the addition of the term "by disorderly or insulting conduct", and these words do not appear in the WYD regulation.

Where these terms have been used without those added qualifiying words, the regulation is usually restricted to trust property or a sporting venue and applied only to public places providing entry or egress to the trust property or sporting venue.

In the case of WYD, the provision is to apply to public places including Hyde Park, the Domain, Botanic Gardens, Centennial Park, Central Railway Station, Sydney Harbour Bridge, much of Sydney Harbour, and the entirety of the pilgrimage walking route.

As the public clamour now shows, the use of an "annoyance and inconvenience" provision, without qualification, is unacceptable law making causing injury not only to prospective protesters but also to pilgrims of good will, WYD organisers, WYD supporters wanting public acceptance of the event, and hapless police having to implement an overbroad unworkable and unjust law.

Surely our focus should be on dignified pilgrimage and peaceful protest under acceptable and workable laws which do not trample the civil liberties of those opposed to a partially taxpayer funded religious event which is spilling over into many public domains in Sydney.

Frank Brennan SJ | 03 July 2008  

Thank God for Frank. What about the mealy mouthed rubbish being spruiked by Church authorities - "we didn't ask for etc. etc."

Jim Jones | 03 July 2008  

How sad to see a man of Fr Brennan's intelligence misled by the SM Herald's inflammatory reporting of this issue. There is nothing in the regulation which interferes with the rights of law abiding, peaceful protesters.

Ronk | 03 July 2008  

Ironically, the church has always had a problem in its central mission to communicate the word ... but this regulation's folly requires Cardinal Pell to tell the NSW government that its "annoyance" regulations are not required ... and, rather that they've already annoyed the Australian nation at large. Now the church risks national ridicule throughout the WYD event.

As others have already noted elsewhere in the media today,the church's founder got crucified for annoying the authorities in his day.

The ingenuity of the determined is not to be easily dismissed.

Those, for instance, who'd like to draw the Pope's attention to the value of condoms as a weapon to counter HIV infection (most especially in those marriages where one of the partners is already HIV infected) might literally look to the heavens...and engage a sign writer to write the words safe sex in the skies over Sydney.

As the founder of a Melbourne-based Catholic AIDS care agency (The Australian AIDS Fund Inc) I'd have to applaud such an initiative.

Brian Haill | 03 July 2008  

Could not agree more. Pacem In Terris has stood the test of time.

Mick Barker | 03 July 2008  

Methinks Frank is pointing the finger at the wrong party! Cannot believe these laws were brought in without a specific request to do so from WYD organisers. The Government is just the lapdog of our Church as with the largesse from the public purse reported to be four times that of previous events in Canada and Germany. Has anyone done an exercise on how much damage this overpriced extravaganza is doing to the Catholic Church generally and the Australian Catholic Church in particular?

Frederick | 03 July 2008  

Thanks Frank. How great it is to have prominent Catholics leaders such as you and my bishop Michael Malone (Newcastle Morning Herald) speak out publicly in agreement with the way so many of us feel about issues such as this. We thank God for this style of leadership.

Bev Hincks | 03 July 2008  

Fr Frank's assertions are okay in theory, in his professorial lectures, but the reality of the situation is that WYD is occurring in an environment hostile to the Catholic Church. The quotation from Pacem In Terris can be applied to demonstarte this.

In 1963, the Church spoke for a majority of Western people, the West had the moral high ground and Pope John XXIII was challenging the West to apply that position to uphold the dignity and the rights of the particularly oppressed in other parts of the world.

Now, the Church does not, sadly, speak for a majority of people in the West. Its position is one of being oppressed and therefore does need, at times, some regulatory guarantees so that its activities can proceed without discriminatory and unjust annoyance and also so its message, intrinsically good and of benefit to the whole of society, can at least be heard above the din of those misusing their newfound power of being the deciders of what is moral and what is annoying or not.

I don't mind being in the minority but I do now claim some of the empathy and some of the special consideration I campaigned for in the past for those groups which also were minority groups and needed special consideration, such as indigenous people, refugees, low-paid piece workers, single mothers, the disabled, etc. etc.

Fair is fair when the majority are willing to allow the minority to also share in what the majority have.

Fr Mick Mac Andrew Bombala NSW | 03 July 2008  


Stephanie Charlesworth | 03 July 2008  

Thanks again Frank. How much we need you, and how often we've been grateful for your brave and wise and informed voice.

Chris Betar's response deserves thoughtful consideration. But I marvel that Fr MacAndrew can equate the disadvantage of pilgrims in a Sydney that he thinks so 'hostile' to the Catholic church to that of the other groups he says he's supported - Aborigines ,asylum seekers etc.

One could respect WYD more if there had been some sort of a program designed to open the eyes and minds of young pilgrims to real moral issues that they will be hungry to explore - for instance to the social justice issues involved in the multiple disadvantage suffered by our Indigenous people.

Without such a program WYD does indeed seem at but a little distance from the triumphalism of Sydney's Eucharistic Congress 52 years ago.

Joe Castley | 03 July 2008  

When I heard this news item it seemed to me foolish to throw out a challenge that any protester worth his salt could not ignore. Have we no longer any trust in the Lord?

Margaret McDonald | 03 July 2008  

I completely agree Fr Frank, as a member of the ALP since 1972 I do not know what has come over the State Government. Has it been pressured from St Mary's? All the best keep up the good work.

Chris J. develin | 03 July 2008  

Professor Brennan's article, whilst timely, should go further and point out the steady decline in human rights under the Labor government in NSW over the last 12 years.

Dr. Bernard Glennon. | 03 July 2008  

Thanks, Frank, Morag and all who have written against this authoritarian madness.

That Australians should be treated so.
Morag, I hope life is treating you kindly.

Bill Dowsley | 03 July 2008  

I agree with the comment below that the church is behind these awful regulations. It's interesting that Frank Brennan quotes John XXIII as it's quite obvious to me that the church under its current leadership (Cardinal Pell and the current Pope) is moving sharply away from the spirit of John XXIII and back to the spirit of Pius X.

Gavin Pilz | 03 July 2008  

I'm left speechless re this decision by the NSW government to further restrict civil liberties during the WYD event. So like those in Egypt, Mongolia and Zimbabwe, I will risk arrest if I speak out or demonstrate peacefully against the pope.

jo dallimore | 03 July 2008  

This regulation (in fact a much more strongly worded one) is unfortunately necessary. Some people actually want to take Catholicism seriously and they do not deserve to be harassed at every turn.

Joe Castley, the WYD program contains a big slice of social justice activity.

Ronk | 03 July 2008  

I accept that people are given the right to protest. I do not think that protestors have the right to be offensive as that connotes not just bad taste but also poor and ill formed judgement.

Mick Jones | 04 July 2008  

Well said frank. But until George Pell denounces the new regulations with equal vigour I'll not believe that the Church was not a partner to this travesty of justice.

Warwick | 04 July 2008  

The wording of the relevant clause in the amendment is interesting...

(1) An authorised person may direct a person within a World Youth Day declared area to cease engaging in conduct that:...

(b) causes annoyance or inconvenience to participants in a World Youth Day event...

I am a registered pilgrim for World Youth Day; a 'participant'. I am a teacher accompanying some students from an Australian Catholic school. I am a committed Catholic who believes in Gospel values and would describe myself as someone at odds with some of the conservative teachings of the institution.

I would suggest that I am entitled under this amendment to ask an authorised person to firstly warn a bishop at a catechesis session if I feel 'annoyed' or 'inconvenienced' by his message. If he fails to heed the warning, then the bishop could receive a $300 penalty!

Equally, I would find it extremely annoying at the papal mass if the pope does not take the opportunity to preach a message of social justice over calling the youth of the world to personal devotionalism. Wouldn't it be great if Benedict the XVI got whacked with a 300 buck fine!

Bill | 04 July 2008  

I agree with you Frank and commend your speaking out, but I cannot get past the feeling the this government has not acted on its own initiative and are hand-in-hand with Church leadership.

WYDSYD should have been a celebration, but the whole saga has been nothing but an intrusion into our lives, our rights, and our freedoms, forced on us by an heavy handed government guided by an uncaring church hierarchy - a demonstration of church power over a secular society.

No matter the truth behind it all, this legislation is another insidious erosion of our freedoms, following ever lengthening line that includes the APEC legislation and the disgusting ABCC act.

Trevor Melksham | 04 July 2008  

Hear hear. Go Frank.

Rory McCrudden | 04 July 2008  

Frank, I too am an 'Australian Catholic lawyer'. I believe the media reaction to WYD, particularly from the SMH and other outlets, has been unnecessarily negative. The WYD areas of protection are the hundreds of schools that are hosting pilgrims, the WYD event sites.

Be reasonable, if you choose to go to the cricket or a concert, you will be subject to the possibility of bag searches, it is par for the course.

Pope John Paul II was the victim of an attempt on his life, what other world leader would move throughout the events as he will?

Why can't youth enjoy a peacful and wonderful celebration of their faith. Let the protestors have their say too, let the media print it, film it, but why wait until the celebration is happening to push their views on the pilgrims and faithful, let them host their own event and in turn the protestors against that event can call on civil libertarians to ensure they are heard, protected and promoted.

There appears to be a need to claim and proclaim it from the high moral ground. Christian youth are easy targets for bullying, it is better the police protect them if it be necessary at all.then others.

Anthony Barber | 04 July 2008  

The NSW Government's WYD Amendment is part of an alarming trend in some state governments (Victoria appears to be the exception by Frank Brennan's article) to curtail our civil liberties. In South Australia we now have so-called bikie gang legislation that allows the Attorney General to deem any group, not necessarily a bikie gang, as an outlaw organisation. This allows police to restrict movement and association for any of its members. The power is given to an Attorney General who is quoted as saying that South Australians "are lucky that they don't have a document like the charter of human rights which is really a charter for criminals".

Greg Martin | 04 July 2008  

Thank you for an objective article. Despite the ridicule piled upon solicitors/lawyers, it's articles like this that make emotionally expressive people like me really appreciate the SJ/lawyer combination.

With thousands of others I am sure, I am shamed by this legislation.

The NSW legislature has succeeded in raising an anti-catholic backlash in the grass roots population that did not exist a week ago.

If WYD organisers do not urgently speak against the "annoyance" legislation, WYD will become infamously memorable.

Lorraine Pavsic | 04 July 2008  

I couldn't agree more. Good on you Frank.

sean flood | 04 July 2008  

The laws that already protect us all are more than enough to protect catholics. God's Macquarie street mafia have gone too far this time.

Trevor Melksham | 04 July 2008  

Thank you Frank Brennan for your article about the World Youth Day Amendment act, and for injecting a note of SANITY into this FARCE. At this time in the World's history such a fundamentalist celebration as CWYD can ONLY be inflammatory.

Melissa Jaffer | 04 July 2008  

The torrent of abuse, derogatory remarks and sarcasm that has been hurled at the Catholic church and the Pope by certain sections of the media has been sickening.
Now that the shoe is on the other foot a bit they cannot take it.

John Tobin | 04 July 2008  

Fr Brennan has invoked Catholic social teaching. However he seems to really be taking an opportunity to criticise the Church, and WYD. And of course those hating the Church have happily fallen in under his banner. I wonder if any Jesuits these days think it is worthy to defend, if not propogate the faith, or if they all spend their time 'critiquing sin in structures'.

Peter | 05 July 2008  

Is this Australia or Zimbabwe? I cannot believe that a so called democracy can enact such a blatantely authoritarian law that simplty stamps on human rights that have been hard won over years. Shame on you all, if ever there were a time for civil disobedience, this is it.

Nick Siragher | 05 July 2008  

Thank you Frank Brennan. Unfortunately the whole thing has become an embarrassing debacle.

Bernadette | 05 July 2008  

Nick Siragher asks "Is this Australia or Zimbabwe?" It's Australia, Nick, the version of Australia that has been fashioned by John Howard and his gospel of fear and his faithful apostles in the states. They took away the rights of refugees, they took away the rights of people suspected of being refugees, they took away the rights of people remotely suspected of being terrorists. They took away the rights of prisoners to vote. Why are you surprised that they have now taken away your rights? Do you think this is the end of it?

Warwick | 06 July 2008  

I guess what makes me uncomfortable with the Brennan piece is we never miss a chance to kick our own. One gets the sense we enjoy proving our independence and the best way is to kick something or anything the church is doing.

Maybe Eureka Street might eventually praise WYD, without its guarded qualifications. Maybe there's nothing wrong in trying to create an event or experience in the lives of young Catholics that affirms their faith, even if to the scholarly music, singing and praying might seem a little superficial.

I say bravo to Cardinal Pell for at least trying something to renew the faith of many younger catholics...

only the impotent are pure - and all i'm seeing from E S is a tutting tuting from the sidelines.

Sam | 06 July 2008  

Okay, okay, so we're all enlightened liberals. Does Catholic social teaching support Neo-Nazi groups marching through Jewish festivals? Probably not, Frank. You're clutching at straws.

Luke | 07 July 2008  

In my initial discussions with the World Youth Day Office last week, I made two points: it should be made very clear to the public that no one in the Church or in the WYD office sought these laws; and there was no need for any church leader to express a public view supportive of such laws which would be criticised by many lawyers concerned about civil liberties.

Given that I am giving three talks to the Magis Youth Festival, the largest WYD youth festival in Sydney, it can hardly be claimed that I am a WYD critic. I just happen to be professor of law at the Catholic University and unsurprisingly the media sought my views on these draconian laws.

As I said on the ABC PM program last night, 'It's an unworkable law, it's a bad law, it can't be made operable ... This is an issue about law and politics, it's not a matter of how best to conduct World Youth Day from the perspective of church leaders.'

Might I assure ES readers that I remain committed to a graced and joy-filled WYD in Sydney even though it labour under some egregious lawmaking which has become a lightning rod for many of our critics in the public square.

Frank Brennan SJ | 08 July 2008  

Don't the pilgrims have rights also? They have come from all around the world to participate in a religious festival. If they were of any other religious persuasion than Catholic we would be up in arms if their right to participate in a religious celebration was interfered with. By all means allow demonstrations but also allow the pilgrims to be pilgrims and enjoy a once in a life time experience.

Peter Anderson | 08 July 2008  

Thanks Fr Frank for your timely, helpful interventions in this debate.

The activities of the gay community in organising Pride marches in Australia were (and are) targets of threatened and actual violence. Yet, there was never a suggestion of the Mardi Gras being underwritten by anything like "annoy and inconvenience" laws. Having the police enforce existing assault laws against the perpetrators - and not the victims - was tough enough.

This is not the place to unpack the systemic relations of "hostile environment" or "oppression" between these two communities. I hope WYD turns out to be successful and thoughtful. But I think it's important to reflect on the peculiar situation that brings together mutual, corresponding concerns about:
- being heard in public;
- bullying of children; and
- negotiating the moral judgement of the wider community.

Big Star | 09 July 2008  

It is refreshing to hear a rational Catholic voice in the midst of what has become an hysterical atmosphere leading up to World Youth Day. The civil liberties of all Australians have now been infringed, and all Australians should be concerned.

Regardless of the decision handed down by the court on Tuesday 15th, there is one group who will remain unequal before the law - namely, homosexuals.

It would be refreshing if Catholics spoke out in public against homophobia. I cannot think of a single practising Catholic that has publicly condemned expression of hatred towards a group of people only because they are not heterosexual. Why? Do we deserve this hatred? The legacy of abuse, vilification, in the past execution, of the Church of non-heterosexuals continues unabated. The silence that surrounds this, the lack of uptake of the issue as compared to the support for the rights of refugees and indigenous people, speaks volumes. And some refugees have been driven here principally because of persecution due to their sexuality. The far greater acceptance of indigenous queers by their people, than non-indigenous queers by theirs, also speaks volumes.

Finally, it is interesting that Scipione's name has not been mentioned throughout the search for the source of these new laws. The NSW Police Commissioner was thrilled at his increased power during APEC, and completely unabashed by the over-zealous use of it. He gets on very well with Iemma, they are both Catholics ...

Fiona McGregor | 12 July 2008  

In my “familiar role as honorary chaplain to the Zeitgeist”, I commend Frank Devine ("Ferals will learn you can’t bash beatitude out of pilgrims”, The Australian 11/7) for his trinity of astute observations: (1) he is “surprised regulations against being annoying are considered necessary”; (2) to be fined “$5500 for annoying or inconveniencing World Youth Day participants requires a high level of dogged persistence”; and (3) he has “no doubt that opponents of WYD will display their T-shirts, brandish their placards and have their say unhindered”.

We two Catholic Franks agree: the WYD regulation is unnecessary and unworkable, making no difference to any planned, peaceful protests. Any doggedly persistent and disruptive protester who breaches the peace or threatens others can be prosecuted under existing laws. The overbroad WYD regulation is bad news for pilgrims, police and protesters alike. We would have been off to a better, more blessed start to WYD without it.

Frank Brennan SJ | 12 July 2008  

The Full Federal Court has now delivered a unanimous judgment striking down the annoyance law. The annoyance provision was not only unsolicited, unnecessary, unworkable, and useless; it was also invalid. It simply provided a lightning rod conductor for those wanting to agitate against WYD. It was a most misconceived exercise in attempted law making.

Frank Brennan | 15 July 2008  

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