Archbishop clarifies stance: No sacking threat for staff in same-sex marriage

31 August 2017
Archbishop Denis Hart, President, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. Image: ACBC.

On Tuesday 29 August, Archbishop Denis Hart spoke with 3AW’s Neil Mitchell to offer clarity on the Church’s position on same-sex marriage, and what it would mean for employees of the church if same-sex marriage laws were passed in Australia.

Over recent weeks, the Archbishop’s comments on same-sex marriage have been under the media spotlight. Earlier this month, Fairfax media reported that staff working for the Catholic Church—including doctors, nurses, teachers—entering into a same-sex marriage would be at risk of losing their jobs. But today’s interview revealed that these comments, and those drawing the most attention, weren’t in fact spoken at all. ‘I said, “that’s best dealt with at a local level”,’ Archbishop Hart clarified. ‘I said nothing whatever about sackings.’

When asked if he would be comfortable with nurses and doctors in a Catholic hospital who were in a gay marriage, Archbishop Hart replied, ‘I’ve got no difficulty about that.’ Schools were a similar matter. According to the Archbishop, if gay marriage were legalised and a teacher entered into a marriage with a same-sex partner, there would be no question whether their position as a teacher was at risk.

‘We’re not entering into their private lives,’ the Archbishop said, adding that his concern was whether they were willing to teach Catholic teaching in schools. ‘The church, like many other organisations, has certain expectations of staff which have to be fulfilled … we exist to teach certain things and the people in our employ need to be able to do that.’ And that would depend on ‘an assessment at a local level.’

A 2015 paper released by the Australian Catholic Council for Employment Relations reported more than 180,000 Australians working for the Catholic Church in some capacity, making it the nation’s biggest private employer.

The Archbishop attempted to relieve members of staff who may have felt alarmed or threatened by recent weeks’ controversy. ‘We have many good people in our hospitals and elsewhere in [same-sex] relationships.’ He added, ‘Some of the most caring people I know have a same-sex orientation.’

The discussion turned to an opinion poll suggesting that two-thirds of Catholics support same-sex marriage. ‘It reflects their respect for other people, their respect for diversity of views in the community,’ the Archbishop said. ‘It may reflect their compassion for others in the community rather than their own belief.’

Throughout the interview, Archbishop Hart expressed his confidence in Australians’ ability to maintain tolerance and respect when faced with differences of opinion. According to Archbishop Hart, while gay marriage may change society, ‘traditional marriage will always exist. [Australians] are generally pretty tolerant of people who have different views. While I would very strongly disagree, I would want to respect the views and choices that other people have.’

Mitchell probed the Archbishop about the Church’s position on gay people taking communion. ‘Of themselves, there’s no rejection,’ the Archbishop said. ‘We accept people at face value. I’d give people the benefit of the doubt always … I have to respect the dignity of every person.’

With thanks thanks to Melbourne Catholic.

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