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The Greens, the Church and freedom of religion

 

Catholic church leaders have often demonstrated a particular antagonism towards Australia’s leading minor party, the Greens. Are there any consequences from this for either the church or the party or is it a minor matter? Both major parties still prefer to have the church onside, despite its numerical decline and declining credibility following institutional child sexual abuse. But the Greens may not worry. Younger Catholics also probably care very little what their church leaders say.

The antagonism exists at both federal and state level. The relationship is currently on display as the federal parliament moves again towards anti-discrimination and freedom of religion legislation. Archbishops Anthony Fisher (Sydney) and Peter Comensoli (Melbourne) have joined the National Catholic Education Commission and some other religious leaders in rejecting a role for the Greens in matters concerning religious schools.

Criticism of the Greens by some church leaders has quite a long history, though there have also been priests and heads of church agencies who have defended the party on occasions against charges of being anti-Christian.

The most notable attacks have come from former Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell. Prior to the 2010 federal election Pell was critical of the Greens in concert with the conservative Australian Christian Lobby. He addressed the attractiveness of the Greens’ environmental policies by saying that they were impractical and hurtful to the poor. Going much further he condemned the party as anti-Christian and opposed to the notion of family. In fact, Pell said, for those who value our present way of life, the Greens were “sweet camouflaged poison”.

Greens leader Senator Bob Brown provocatively defended his party as more Christian than the cardinal, hitting back by claiming that Pell was out of touch not just with Australian society but with many Catholics too. Fr Frank Brennan thought Pell’s language was unfortunate and he called for a more dignified distance and reticence from church leaders.

The bad blood between Pell and the Greens never dissipated and was revived in 2017 when, in the middle of legal claims against the Cardinal, the Senate passed a Greens motion to call for Pell to return to Australia. In rebuttal Pell described the Greens as having an anti-religion agenda.

After Scott Morrison’s government failed dismally to find a successful formula for religious freedom/anti-discrimination legislation between 2019 and 2022, the Albanese Opposition made a 2022 federal election promise to do so. Now, as the federal government considers an Australian Law Reform Commission paper on anti-discrimination and religious protection, Archbishops Fisher and Comensoli have urged Prime Minister Albanese to seek bipartisanship with the Opposition rather than to negotiate with the Greens to build a parliamentary majority. While the Opposition Leader has already rejected Albanese’s offer of bipartisanship before proceeding, the archbishops in an Open Letter from 41 religious leaders described the Opposition’s position as “reasonable and prudent”.

Albanese flagged another way and broached in Cabinet the possibility of working with the Greens “if the Greens are willing to support the rights of people to practice their faith”. CathNews then reported that “Catholics say discrimination reform backed by Greens ‘dangerous’”, while the story in the Catholic Weekly was headlined, “Faith leaders urge PM: Don’t deal with Greens on religious schools”. The National Catholic Education Commission added that a positive agreement was unlikely because “the Greens are ideologically opposed to religious schools”.

The issue of religious freedom/anti-discrimination is a wickedly difficult balance to strike and, if unresolved, will be made into a major federal election issue next year by certain religious leaders, including Catholics. Does this matter? Labor’s promise was unwise given Morrison’s failure and the divisiveness of the issue. If the Albanese government is judged to have failed to implement an election promise, however, then it could swing some voters against Labor. It is unlikely to hurt the Greens though as they rely less on so-called religious voters.

How the Church’s political interventions will be judged is another matter. Despite its past support for the breakaway Democratic Labour Party, the Catholic Church is now locked into the major parties, and more sympathetic to the Coalition than it once was. Major party sympathisers, Labor and Liberal, are common in church education bureaucracies at the national and state level.

Being locked into the major parties leads to more conservative outcomes than if the Greens and other crossbenchers are involved. The ‘balance’ will be struck further towards the conservative end of the political spectrum because the defeat of Liberal moderates by the six Teal Independents at the last election means the remaining Liberals are more conservative. One third of voters did not support the major parties in 2022, either Labor or the Coalition.

Such an outcome would consolidate the present conservative image of the church. The Greens should not be taken lightly, however, even if the church being dismissive of the most secular of the four biggest political parties might seem predictable. At the 2022 federal election the Greens won about 12% of the primary vote and about two million primary votes. Its pro-environment, pro-refugee and pro-renter agenda was especially attractive to urban voters. They gained three new House of Representative seats in Brisbane (making four in all) and now hold eleven Senate seats. Surveys regularly show higher support among younger voters for the Greens. It is highly likely that many Catholics, especially younger Catholics, and particularly young Catholic women, voted Green.

Both the Church and the political parties have a common interest in increasing the adherence of young people. Church attendance among young Catholics is spectacularly absent. But the Greens have always done well. Even a June 2023 paper from the conservative Centre for Independent Studies by Matthew Taylor was titled “Generation Left: young voters are deserting the right”. The environment was the top issue for voters under 24 and the Greens score highly on that issue. In the 2022 federal election the four seats with the highest proportion of young voters (aged 18-29) were won by the Greens: Melbourne, Brisbane, Griffith (Qld) and Ryan (Qld).

Church leaders should only initiate a bitter political dispute at the next federal election about religious freedom/anti-discrimination with their eyes open for its potential adverse consequences for the future of their church. Such an approach might alienate young Catholics even further. At the very least younger Catholics, including older secondary school students and recent graduates, should be consulted about their views. Otherwise, the Church is flying blind.

 

 

 

 


John Warhurst is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University.

Main image: Chris Johnston illustration 

Topic tags: John Warhurst, Church, Reform, Greens

 

 

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Existing comments

John, you refer to the Greens having a "pro-environment, pro-refugee and pro-renter agenda" .

Are the Greens then the only major party to actually take seriously Catholic Social Teaching from Rerum novarum to Laudato Si', Fratelli tutti, and Laudate Deum?

Perhaps the two other major parties need to re-read Matthew 15:8.


Joseph Fernandez | 03 May 2024  
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Some more concerns that arise flow from the extent to which the Church has 'got into bed' with the Labor 'Right'.

Both Merlino and Collins moved from government positions into the Catholic educational bureaucracy. These raise ethical questions of proximity, unfair leverage, bias and favouritism, notwithstanding the personal virtues and qualities of those two factotums.

Not only are the two senior archbishops' views on LGBT+ exemptions compromised by this, in the longer term such appointments impact problematically on the way in which Catholic schools are currently funded.

The compromise achieved between Labor and the conservatives on Catholic school funding, while a great achievement in its day, has resulted in Australia having the largest publicly-funded non-government school sector on the globe.

Should that arrangement fracture under external or internal economic pressure, not only would it jeopardise Labor but also bring down the Church, whose major impact in the public domain is through its schools.

It is structurally wrong, with severe hidden long-term ethical consequences to pay, that ex-politicians like Merlino and Collins should move from government into top positions in Catholic Education.

That has enormous potential to corrupt the policy process as well as to compromise the mission of Catholic schools.


Michael Furtado | 05 May 2024  

The Church is concerned with truth, not image. Truth is eternal and unchanging. The Greens have shown us who they are. They are a hodgepodge of Stalinists, Pagans and fools. If they governed they would persecute Christians. They would imprison our prelates. They would persecute Jews. They would make abortionists heroes of the nation. The opposition of the Church to the Greens is not some obscurantism or bigotry. It is an accurate apprehension of just how vile the Greens and their beliefs are. 

There are many things about which reasonable minds may differ, and where the Church must remain indifferent. The Greens trade in those in which there are views that are beyond the pale, and which must be resisted.


Bob | 03 May 2024  

Also of concern for society at large and the Church is a contemporary notion of "freedom" dissociated from the common good and concentrated increasingly and exclusively on individual choice and self-definition.


John RD | 06 May 2024  

The Greens believe, rather assertively if not aggressively, that man can live by bread alone. They are probably quite compliant with some aspects of Catholic teaching. The problem is that they are not compliant with all aspects of Catholic teaching. But, neither are the Coalition, the Tories or the Republicans.


However, the difference between the two groups (meaning that no Catholic can, in general, vote in good conscience for the Greens) is that the Greens are seriously noncompliant on matters that the Magisterium considers to be intrinsically evil while the others stray on matters of prudential morality such as the asylum seeker issue. After all, why should the UK accept any so-called asylum seeker transiting through France? Let the French find the intellectual resources to deal with that issue from their revered laïcité tradition.


s martin | 06 May 2024  

The ethical foundations upon which both Bob and S. Martin develop their positions are based on prudential morality, which mainly serves as a brake on moral philosophy's contemporary discourse, especially that on offer from eminent Catholic theologians dealing with the contemporary world.

Indeed, Catholic moral theology would have no substance if it were based, exclusively and absolutely, on notions of an unchanging truth. There would be no free will and we would all be overtaken by stifling Calvinism, choice always being incumbent upon discernment in the context of wider events that impact on us.

Gerald Arbuckle, the Catholic philosopher and moral theologian actually bases his profound published work on the influence of the Holy Spirit on this critically important topic.

If' having failed to respond to the Father's Love, we had the grandest good fortune to be redeemed by the Son, God's very influence on the World would still be incomplete without the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, which helps us discern a moral path through a constantly changing and complex world. To deny this is to deny the doctrine we affirm each time we say The Creed in acknowledgment of the Trinity.

Without 'Free Will' moral paralysis cripples us!


Michael Furtado | 06 May 2024  

Rather than posting another comment, I will say that Fratelli Tutti expresses anything I could say far better than I possibly could. The Argentinian Jesuit takes 14 pages (Chapter 2) whereas the carpenter from Galilee took 13 sentences according to Luke 10 25:37.

I don't know if I can correctly paste a link here and if it will work but I came across this short clip of the Vice President of the US:

https://nb-no.facebook.com/KamalaHarris/videos/the-parable-of-the-good-samaritan/657296438077395/


Joseph Fernandez | 07 May 2024  

Rather than concern themselves with the wickedness of the Greens, perhaps Bob and s martin would do better to ponder the distrust displayed by Australian women toward religion and religious leaders as recently reported in The Conversation. The study found that:

"Approximately one third of all Australian voting women state they have ‘no trust at all’ in organised religion and religious leaders. Distrust is highest among younger women: almost 50 percent of all voting women aged 18-29 report that they have ‘no trust at all’ in religious leaders. On average, women are significantly more likely than men to report having this negative opinion about religion. Even among women who are religious, around 10 percent report they have ‘no trust at all’ in organised religion and religious leaders, while around 50 percent have ‘not very much trust’ in either. Women who practise their religion most frequently express the highest levels of trust, but still only one fifth of religious women who ‘practises regularly’ report they have ‘a great deal of trust’ in religious leaders.' It appears that the Greens may have a lot less to worry about than the Church !

For a summary see < https://theconversation.com/crisis-of-faith-why-australian-women-have-so-little-trust-in-religious-institutions-228291 > and for the detail see < https://apo.org.au/sites/default/files/resource-files/2024-05/apo-nid326466_0.pdf >


Ginger Meggs | 07 May 2024  

The author’s suggestion that the Church leaders consult young Catholics (who may or do vote Green) to ask their opinion about religious discrimination reforms and how the Church should respond seems - to be blunt- a ludicrous proposal. The Catholic Church’s position is not determined by political expediency (and courting popularity) as this author seems to propose we do. Being Salt. Light. Yeast. … adhering to Truth… is a sure recipe for unpopularity. Ever thus has it been so.


Micah | 08 May 2024  

"The wisdom of the Holy Spirit", which is a vital factor in our moral and social discernment as humans, is an attribute and gift of the God revealed in Christ whose truth, in accord with God's transcendent, non-contingent being, is constant; indeed, an accessible and identifiable "Way" of being.
As "the wisdom of the Holy Spirit", also known as "the Spirit of truth", pertains to good and evil, it is received and held in Catholic faith to be congruent with truth knowable by reason, since we humans, created in the image and likeness of God, are participants in the divine Logos, revealed in Christ's incarnation as God's own Word, whose freedom is constantly oriented to the truth of the Father and the Holy Spirit. in the Trintarian being of God.
In the human person, truth and freedom are meant to function in complementarity: when they operate in concert, their co-operation can universally produce integrity and fulfillment.


John RD | 09 May 2024  
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John is undoubtedly justified in summoning up the strength of the tradition to defend the faith, as Henry VIII himself once did.

In Renaissance times the Vatican issued a bull, 'Sublimis Deus' (1537), reaffirming that Indigenous peoples shouldn’t be deprived of their liberty or the possession of their property and were not to be enslaved.

Canadain Cardinal Czerny, whose Jesuit office co-authored the statement, stressed that the original Doctrine of Discovery had been abrogated and that the use of the term 'doctrine' had caused considerable confusion.

The original bulls, he inferred, were treated as if they were teaching, magisterial or doctrinal documents, while they were clearly political statements.

He added that the enduring purpose of theology is to discover, identify, analyze and overcome the enduring effects of colonialism today.

Even before the Canadian trip, the Argentine pope had apologized to Native peoples in Bolivia in 2015 for the crimes of the colonial-era conquest of the Americas.

It might accordingly be surmised that the Holy Spirit, acting through the agency of the Pope on such morally prescient matters, has a great deal of continuing business on Her hands, including addressing substantial evidence from Paleolithic times onwards of the subjugation of women.


Michael Furtado | 11 May 2024  

The Holy Spirit, by Christ's own authority and promise, indeed has ongoing inspiration to offer the Church in teaching and practice by means of the traditional ecclesial sources initiated by Christ, viz., scripture, tradition - and the Apostolic magisterium (Peter, the apostles and their successors, who, at least since Vatican II, have encouraged lay consultation and participation in the processes of discernment and evangelization).
It is a reductive revisionist narrative, disseminated throughout the West today, of the Church having ever been on the side of good and the poor in colonized countries, or at all influential and active in the recognizing of the dignity of women, that is at least as requiring of discernment and proactive addressing as specific, evidenced injustices historically perpetrated in Christ's name.


John RD | 13 May 2024  

'the enduring purpose of theology is to discover, identify, analyze and overcome the enduring effects of colonialism today.'

The enduring purpose of human enquiry is, among other things, to discover the moral bases for any historical action.

Was colonisation (ie. the expropriation by the visitor of the monopoly of force previously held over a territory by its residents) wrong?

What was Hernan Cortes supposed to have done upon witnessing certain civil and religious rituals by the Aztecs?

Were the British wrong to have taken the state monopoly over force from the Indians?

https://www.history.com/news/aztec-human-sacrifice-religion
https://commons.lib.jmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1262&context=mhr#:~:text=The%201829%20abolition%20of%20the,achievement%20of%20the%20first%20order.

By all means criticise abuses committed by the colonisers. However, whether there is virtue to colonisation is a separate matter from whether there were abuses by colonisers.


roy chen yee | 13 May 2024  

Well yes Roy, it may be a separate matter, but even the act of colonising is surely, by definition, an act of violence and abuse ?


Ginger Meggs | 21 May 2024  

I'd have thought the discovery, identification, analysis and overcoming of the enduring effects of colonialism today were part of the task of history rather than "the enduring purpose of theology", the proper and primary subject of which, as theos-logos indicates, is God.
And surely even history pursued with due impartiality would have to acknowledge some benefits of colonial enterprise?


John RD | 20 May 2024  

There are 1,756 Catholic schools in Australia that bleed the Taxation system by being registered charities and who rely on Government assistance to subsidize their activities.
John, you mention the revelations of the Royal Commission and no doubt many Australian Catholics thought that type of abuse would end.
But it has not. Both APTH in NZ and Redress in Australia are voluntary and run behind the scenes by insurance companies who fight tooth and nail to deny and minimize survivor claims.
Catholicism has its hand out for weekly donations. More invidious is the fact that the Brisbane Diocese run Seminars in multiple churches, (ostensibly branded Centrecare) which focus on estate planning and target the aged in an unashamed quest to solicit legacies. And these are run from the altar in direct contravention of Canon Law.
Australia's 1,756 Catholic schools educate 805,000 or one in five Australian students, and employ over 109,000 staff.
The Edmund Rice Foundation has 120 schools in Australia and whilst thankfully their consecrated "brotherhood" is in complete decline, they are vast collection points for revenue. Twenty of these schools have reported abuse, but the profits from their fees disappear into the Irish bogs.
So respectfully the Greens have a very valid point.


Francis Armstrong | 12 May 2024  
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A very valid point? Which is? Saying that a Catholic school must employ a teacher or admit a student who holds views in serious contradiction to canonical Catholicism? What has that to do with abuse?

Do the Greens admit as officials or parliamentarians people who hold that abortion is wrong? Do they receive funds from the Federal Government based upon the number of votes they received at the previous general election?

https://www.aec.gov.au/media/2022/12-21.htm


s martin | 13 May 2024  

Argument by analogy is seldom convincing, and s martin's attempt to draw an analogy between election funding and school funding is unconvincing. The funding which the Greens, along with other parties and independent candidates get, is to offset the cost of campaigning. Its purpose is to encourage diversity and participation in the electoral process, a common good. It is not to assist or facilitate the delivery of services such as education, health care, etc., the provision of which has been outsourced by the state which is ultimately responsible for ensuring that they are delivered. It is not unreasonable, but rather prudent and responsible, for the state to place conditions in the contract of outsourcing and to cancel those contracts if those conditions are not met.


Ginger Meggs | 16 May 2024  

'Its purpose is to encourage diversity and participation in the electoral process, a common good.'

Change 'electoral' to 'education' and you get an independent school.


roy chen yee | 17 May 2024  

I think the Greens are worried about Catholic schools 'indoctrinating' their students with what were once generally shared religious beliefs amongst all major denominations and the community in general. I would contest that some of the beliefs pushed by the Greens, which they would be quite happy to infiltrate the school system with, are at least equally open to question. There is a real battle of beliefs going on here. It is being fought out in the political arena, but its repercussions will have a major effect on all our lives. In some ways the Greens' seemingly attractive policies are a bit like the gingerbread house in 'Hansel and Gretel': they mark something far more sinister. I think, to some extent, the Greens are environmentalist totalitarians. I think any government that gets into bed with the Greens is making a dangerous mistake. These are parlous times politically in this country.


Edward Fido | 14 May 2024  

Francis Armstrong is undoubtedly right about issues emerging from the Royal Commission Report, one unaddressed aspect of which is a recommendation about the high correlation between a priesthood compelled to observe celibacy as a condition of ordination and the high incidence of closeted hebephile clergy.

While the Church has been quick to respond through enforcing 'safeguarding' as a means of protecting children, its insistence on adult safeguarding is manifestly employed to keep its LGBT+ personnel, including clergy and teachers, well and truly in the closet.

This effectively prevents them from coming out and challenging the homophobic exemptions that the Australian Catholic Bishops insist on maintaining despite Church teaching that we 'teach who we are'.

Such a duplicitous policy is flawed in several regards. Firstly, it contravenes Pope Francis' injunction to 'widen the tent'. Secondly, it problematically supports a 'Don't ask; don't tell' policy when the Church teaches that we are made in the Image of God. Thirdly, it encourages deceit rather than honesty, opening such staff to pressure and blackmail.

Finally, and most egregiously, maintaining exemptions consigns the Church to charge fees that make our schools inaccessible to the poorest.


Michael Furtado | 14 May 2024  
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The school fee point is a good one.
Firstly St Josephs Hawthorn ( formerly run by the Irish Marists) - a school I would never again wish on my worst enemy.
SCHOOL FEE STRUCTURE 2024 .
One Child Two Children Three Children or more PER ANNUM .
Education Fees $3196.00 $4196.00 $4760.00 .
Curriculum Levy Excursion Levy .
$690.00 $60.00 $1380.00 $120.00 $2070.00 $180.00 .
Capital Levy $950.00 $950.00 $950.00
TOTAL SCHOOL FEES
(Annually) $4896.00 $6646.00 $7960.00.

High school fees at Xavier College (per student)
Grade/Year Fee
Year 7 $31,680
Year 8 $31,680
Year 9 $33,680
Year 10 $33,680
Year 11 $33,680
Year 12 $33,680

Elitism sucks but I recall one year I was at Newman in the late 70s, Xavier in year 12 had 54 students who gained entry into medicine at Melb Uni.


Francis Armstrong | 17 May 2024  

Highly selective data, Francis.


John RD | 21 May 2024  

As one who availed of a Jesuit education all my life and well into the postgraduate/postdoctoral sphere, I sympathise with the vituperative edge in your commentary. while understanding Inigo's zeal to create a band of intellectual stormtroopers to take the universities of the time on and challenge the monastic tradition, which is all the Church then had to defend itself, the impulse undoubtedly being a noble one.

That said, we live in changing times and, while the Society has trimmed its sails and adapted to stormy seas, one has to ask, as much in affection as in love, about how much of a moral burden it is to carry our reputation for educating an elite.

This was an ancien regime idea and accounts for the preference for apologetics and argumentation, perchance some of it displayed by the likes of Thou and Moi, that is still the hallmark of some who graduate from the more elitist and expensive Jesuit schools.

In this regard it constantly troubles me that the lads who attended St Francis Xavier's College, Liverpool, as indeed my own school, St Xavier's College, Calcutta, did very much better at Oxbridge than those cushioned at Belvedere, Clongowes Wood and Stonyhurst.


Michael Furtado | 21 May 2024  

'despite Church teaching that we 'teach who we are'.'

The above reasoning is fallacious. We come to Christ as we are but we should leave as Christ is. What's the point of going to him if we leave him unchanged?


roy chen yee | 20 May 2024  

'Finally, and most egregiously, maintaining exemptions consigns the Church to charge fees that make our schools inaccessible to the poorest.'

Independent schools teach students who would otherwise be in the state school system. Independent schools are compensated for taking load off the state school system. The compensation should be on just terms or it isn't compensation but the State getting a free ride.

The extra secular value in an independent school over and above what is gained from a state school as perceived by parents who send their children to it is justly met by fees levied on the parents of those pupils.

Parents don't have to send their children to Sydney or Melbourne Grammar or to a Catholic school which aims to be their equivalent, not that we should be having Catholic schools aping the posh Protestant or interdenominational ones. A modestly run Catholic school which is serious about its primary aim, to conserve the Catholic magisterial culture, should be open to any Catholic family and the poorest families who wish to conserve the faith of their children are justly entitled to subsidy.


roy chen yee | 20 May 2024  

About the only virtue the Greens have is an undisarming honesty about their insanity. It's on par with Lucifer seriously expecting Christ to jump off the parapet of the Temple.

There's no point asking either what they're thinking. However, what's good enough for an exclusionary Green should be good enough for an exclusionary Catholic school. I'm sure the 'feel unsafe' trope could equally be mimicked at the school.

https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/uknews/scottish-greens-expel-13-members-for-declaring-that-sex-is-a-biological-reality/ar-BB1mFnjl?ocid=entnewsntp&pc=LCTS&cvid=ddd7360f6f5a4df9bb21d04b41557e9a&ei=11


s martin | 20 May 2024  

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