Reasonable debate lacking on issue of ‘same-sex marriage’


Fr Peter


Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, 

As you would all be only too well aware, the matter of ‘same-sex marriage’ has become the most talked about and debated social issue so far this year.

It has been ‘on and off’ the political agenda before, and now because of changes in Ireland and more recently in the US it has come back to our national conversation propelled by an aggressive, well-resourced lobby group.
This group has managed to secure as allies most mainstream media outlets and has enlisted the support of major commercial and sporting organisations.
As has also become clear, anyone who opposes and raises questions about such a momentous social change is immediately labelled as a bigot or homophobic.
It is a sad and somewhat lamentable situation that in Australia you can no longer engage in a reasonable debate because, ultimately, it is the shrill and sharp voices that will prevail.
One political commentator remarked recently on television that the standard of political and social debate in Australia has descended to the level of who can win the 24-hour news cycle.
As many of you are also aware, recently I sent out a pastoral letter from the Catholic Bishops of Australia on this matter, Don’t Mess with Marriage, which was distributed in parishes and schools in our Diocese.
Predictably, there were negative reactions from a few people and, surprisingly, when the matter was further investigated by the local press it dissipated very quickly.
Journalists encountered many parents responding that of course they weren’t troubled by the Church sending out information about what it believes and stands for, after all, that is what you would expect from a Catholic school.
That response is certainly heartening, when the ‘same sex’ lobby group and its supporters would prefer that everyone either agreed with their position or simply
shut up!
I don’t intend to rehearse the position of the Church again here, but alert you to the fact that many who see themselves as progressive, ‘liberal’ and leading social reformers and who advocate ‘equality’ and ‘freedom of speech’ really do so with a caveat attached.
That caveat is: if you don’t agree with my (our) position, then there is something seriously wrong with you! Certainly since the 1960s and the increasing secularisation of Australian society, it has become more difficult for organisations like the Church to be heard in the public forum on many issues.
The recent scandal relating to the sexual abuse of minors and the complicity of some Church personnel and leaders has weakened our standing to speak on moral and social concerns.
Those who are anti-Catholic (and make no mistake there is a considerable number of them) are now using our current dilemma as a weapon to further erode public trust in the Church and render any opinions we may have as either irrelevant or lacking credibility.
In such a climate, there is always a tendency to want to retreat into the realm of the private and to avoid any confrontation or hostility.
To do so on the matter of ‘same sex marriage’ or any other contemporary social issue would be to betray our fidelity to the Gospel and our determination to witness to the truth that we see and know in Jesus Christ.
For those of us who remember a time when the Church (and, in fact, other major Christian denominations) exercised a far greater influence on the life of the nation, to find ourselves in the current situation is a seismic shift.
But we must prepare ourselves to enter where the Church has been before (and still is in places) as a minority. Christendom is gone and the postmodern world with its plurality of culture, religion and secular forces is the reality.
I encourage you to be courageous and not to cower before the huge weight of current fashion. It may not be popular to uphold traditional marriage, to respect the value of human life, or maintain allegiance to the teaching of the Church.
But if our faith sustains us, and our consciences propel us to such a position, then we simply have no alternative. As we read the Gospels we know that Jesus and His teaching was not always accepted by those who heard Him and, in fact, many walked away, including some who had at one time been disciples!
Reflecting on the current state of public discourse in Australia led me to look up a prayer I used many years ago as an evening prayer and which has great resonance for the time we live in:
Be present, merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night: that we, who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world, may rest on your eternal changelessness, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
With my prayers,
Very Rev Peter G Williams
Diocesan Administrator

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