Out-of-touch archbishop pontificates on Victorian state election

November 5, 2010
Archbishop Denis Hart.

Melbourne Catholic Archbishop Denis Hart is at it again. In 2004, he told a woman who had been sexually abused by a priest to “go to hell, bitch”. In 2009, he unsuccessfully attempted to pressure Father Bob Maguire, a progressive Melbourne icon, to retire from his local parish.

Now, he and a number of other Melbourne bishops have released Your Vote, Your Values: Some Issues and Questions for Parliamentary Candidates from the Catholic Bishops of Victoria, a document that will be distributed in Catholic schools and parishes, instructing the faithful how to vote with Catholic values.

But whose values are they?

The document urges “each voter to vote consistent with their own values, so that these will be represented in the parliamentary representatives we elect”. At the same time, it outlines a conservative agenda of outdated moral values, which doesn’t reflect the real views of Catholics.

For instance, the first issue the paper addresses is “the sanctity of life”, stating: “The destruction of human life can never be an acceptable solution which is why the Church remains steadfast in its opposition to abortion and euthanasia.”

But these are not the views of Catholics. While the pamphlet is anti-abortion, a 1996 AGB McNair poll found that 72% of Catholics in Australia are pro-choice. While the pamphlet is anti-euthanasia, a 1995 Morgan poll found that 69% of Australian Catholics are pro-euthanasia.

Melbourne activist and Socialist Alliance candidate for Footscray Margarita Windisch said: “On these two specific issues Hart is very much out of touch with Catholics themselves … The question we have to ask is — what is Hart's real agenda? It certainly hasn’t got anything to do with reflecting the dominant view of Catholics! What it does reflect however is Hart's and the hierarchy's archaic views on civil liberties and moral issues.

“If the sanctity of life is really predominant in the church hierarchy's thinking, why do they direct their followers away from voting for parties that call for an end to the brutal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?”

On the surface, the document seems to be non-partisan, claiming: “As Bishops we are not advocating any political party. That is not our role.”

However, the pamphlet’s focus on areas of Greens party policy, such as legalising abortion and euthanasia, is best understood as a response to the massive swing towards the Greens in the electorate of Melbourne.

Hart’s facade of neutrality lasted only briefly. On October 20, the ABC reported the archbishop as saying: “We disagree totally with the Greens view on this issue [of euthanasia]. We believe that the value of life is so important that we can't step aside from it.”

Rigid and dogmatic on in-house issues that matter to Catholic people — such as the church’s opposition to contraception, and insistence on celibate priests — the Roman Catholic hierarchy seems determined to become irrelevant. Religious hierarchies should remember that their power only lasts as long as they hold the hearts and minds of their followers.

In October, more than 36,000 Finnish Lutherans quit their denomination because of homophobic comments made by Finland’s Christian Democrats Party chairwoman Paivi Rasanen, the October 29 Church Times reported.

In religious organisations, as in any social body, the real power belongs not to the hierarchy, but to the people.

[Rev. Karl Hand is an ordained minister of the Metropolitan Community Church, and currently pastors CRAVE MCC.]

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