From Industrial Relations to Personal Relations:
The Coercion of Society
The Catholic Church---Freedom and Anti-Discrimination
Bishop George Pell
Like Henry Richard Nicholls I am proud to acknowledge
a Ballarat connection, a beautiful city where I was
born and bred and worked for many years as a priest.
My hope too would be that Australians will always
retain the liberty to describe even the highest in
the land as "a political judge"; just as they might
legitimately describe someone as a "political bishop"
or as an "impolitic politician" or even as an "unparliamentary
parliamentarian". The theme of your conference is
"From Industrial Relations to Personal Relations :
The Coercion of Society."
My topic or sub-theme is "The Catholic Church, Freedom
and Anti-Discrimination". I shall begin by describing
some aspects of the intellectual and ideological situation
within which the Christian churches in a Western society
like Australia have to operate, before sketching some
of the dangers to religious freedom, traditional values
and institutions from an ideology of intrusive anti-discrimination.
My particular focus of concern will be the consequences,
short and long term, to social institutions and even
the Churches of the Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Bill
With the fall of Communism in 1989 in Europe the American
writer Francis Fukayama proclaimed the end of history,
because of the world-wide consensus for liberal democracy
and a market economy; the principle of votes and videos.1
This was a highly implausible claim, and won a justified
notoriety, although I believe that the recent elections
in South Africa were one example of the principle at
work, perhaps redefined to votes and the promise or
possibility of videos.
Where prosperity is not readily available, the system
does not work (some might even see the popular vote
as a hindrance to prosperity), but in Australia where
we have enjoyed the vote for a long time and videos
for some time other important struggles are continuing.
From a religious point of view probably the most important
development in the West has been the steady spread
of secularism. It has flowed and ebbed; and the fall
of Communism must be seen as a spectacular and perhaps
terminal reverse for the Marxist form of secularism,
after Nazism the most virulent form of neo-pagan secularism;
a massive blow to the whole Enlightenment project.
On the other hand religion is far from vanquished:
e.g. few societies in history have been as religious
as U.S.A. society; there is a huge network of Christian
institutions and influence in this country.
But religious practice continues to decline, the percentage
of non-believers is rising, the Christian bases of
much of our legislation are under regular attack, e.g.
on abortion and the "chattering classes" in Australia
at least are dominated by agnostics and atheists, including
a good spread of "R.C.s" ie retired Catholics.
One Australian strength should certainly be acknowledged.
Australia still enjoys a high level of religious peace,
very high even by the standards of the English speaking
world. We are a world away from Northern Ireland,
geographically and culturally, with its violence and
overt sectarianism. There have never been anti-Popery
riots as in England in the nineteenth century and there
is little possibility of an anti-Catholic attack like
that of Ferdinand Mount in The Spectator in
early 1994. 2
We have little of the virulence of the U.S. anti-Catholic
tradition here in Australia. Australia has never had
a Catholic church or convent burnt down by a hostile
mob! While we are a less religious society than the
United States of America, we are also less anti-religious.3
There is no denying the existence of some anti-religious
and anti-Catholic traditions in Australia. We recognize
the religious tensions of the Conscription issue in
the First World War, in the struggle for "state-aid"
for Catholic schools, in the Labor party split of the
50s and even the simmering religious undertones in
the Republic debate today. But acknowledging all this,
we still have a commendable legacy of religious harmony
which we must work to preserve.
Naturally religious tensions do remain, but they are
not the religious/racial tensions of yesterday's Australia.
The religious tensions today in Australia are not
Protestant versus Catholic, not Christian versus other
religions, but Christian churches/values versus neo-pagan
secularism. A minority of secularists are strong defenders
of most of the traditional Christian ethic, but most
are opponents of Christian influence and reject the
one great God.
A subset of this struggle with secularism is taking
place in all the major Christian denominations in the
sometimes bitter battles between liberalism and "orthodoxy".
The developments in the history of moral thinking
in the secular tradition since the 18th century Enlightenment
also help us to situate our present political differences.
- a. Christian moral content without Christ and the church
and often without God., e.g. Kant.
- b. Relativizing of Christian moral teaching, e.g. the
contemporary American Jesuit Richard McCormick.
- c. the attempt to reconstruct moral theory on an explicitly
non-Christian and/or non-theistic base. Nietzsche,
Marx and Freud provided the intellectual foundations.
Nazism and Communism are the most unfortunate examples
of these theories in practice.
- Professor Peter Singer of Monash University with his
explicit approval of infanticide, abortion and euthanasia,
his enthusiasm for animal liberation is an influential
These different approaches are reflected in our political
and legal struggles of today.
An important question for all of us, Christian and
otherwise, who appreciate and value the traditional
strengths and stability of our liberal democracy, who
value the rule of law, free speech, religious freedom,
in other words, the virtues of our civil society is
this: where are the agents who are maintaining and
reinforcing the strengths of our civil society?
Much more than self-interest (economic or broader)
is required for long term peace and prosperity.
The question is important; the answers difficult and
The continuing cohesiveness of civil society remains
a mystery, resting on preconditions like religion,
family structures, inherited moral habits and particular
Not all the signs, even in Australia, are good.
Just recently Fukayama reviewed a book by Ernest Gellner
on "Conditions of Liberty". In discussing "fluid,
secular late-industrial societies" like Australia,
he wrote that "Gellner rejects the theory that secularized
society lives morally on a kind of inherited moral
capital, left-over from the age of faith. Yet it is
hard to point to sources other than inherited moral
capital to explain contemporary community and considerable
evidence that that capital is slowly depleting".5
Let me give two examples.
The Decline of the Family
The first example is the decline of the family. In
the U.S.A. today the rate of white illegitimacy (22%)
recently passed the rate of black illegitimacy that
prevailed 30 years ago when Daniel Moynihan issued
his famous report on the crisis in the black family,
warning that the gains of President Johnson's Great
Society would be cancelled by a spiral of family disintegration.
He was right.
American inner cities and their schools are now approaching
a nightmare of total social atomization rarely seen
in the West since the Dark Ages.
The Australian illegitimacy rate (24%) is today two
points higher than the white rate in the U.S.A. Do
the U.S. inner cities in North America now provide
a glimpse of a significant section of Australian life
thirty or fifty years into the future? Earlier today
the correlation of youth suicides and unemployment
was demonstrated. Family disintegration is another
factor in this grim mix.
The search for effective policies to support the family
should not be seen as an antiquarian enthusiasm of
the "religious right" but as a prerequisite for the
well-being of tomorrow's citizens.
Progress of Gay Liberation Movement
Family decline has run in parallel with the expansion
of homosexual activism. Public opinion has changed.
The overwhelming majority of Australian opinion now
is that within limits these people "deserve a fair
go"; there is no widespread acceptance of homo-phobic
There is considerable merit in the old-fashioned view
attributed to Edward VII, who is alleged to have explained
that he was not too much concerned by what people did
as long as it was not done in the streets to frighten
Naturally a percentage in this movement is not content
with this; they want full public legitimacy and equality
for their lifestyle and an end to any form of hostile
discrimination. They seek a sexual revolution and
a revolution in attitudes and culture.
Most Australians would have an intuitive and pre-articulate
anxiety about this. A strong minority would be more
outspoken in their opposition, their conviction being
that the extreme claim for autonomy here undercuts
the common good. This is my view.
Under the influence of gay and lesbian movements Australian
society is progressing (in these matters) as the poet
Alexander Pope wrote
- "Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
- As to be hated---needs but to be seen;
- Yet seen too soft, familiar with her face,
- We first endure, then pity, then embrace."
Tolerance (endure) to compassion (pity) and then on
to full affirmation (embrace) : this is the gay agenda.
Some expressions of the first two steps are a Christian
imperative, but the third step is socially undesirable
(as I shall explain a little later) as well as being
It is ironic that what were once considered private
acts are now highly publicized, while public privilege
is claimed for these same acts because they are private.6
Three personal conclusions can be drawn from this
- 1. Australian society (presently constructed) owes
a lot to Christian influence and it is in the interests
of the Australian community i.e. those who value our
civil society for the churches to continue to be free
to do their work and to teach their doctrines, however
politically incorrect these might be in some areas.
- 2. The family remains the essential building block
of sociability and the parliaments, the law, the churches
must do more to protect and enhance the family, if
only for financial reasons.
- 3. Genuine tolerance and compassion should be extended
to gay and lesbian persons, but their wider claims
to equality, affirmation and embrace for their activities
should be resisted for social reasons.
These convictions help explain my attitudes to the
Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Bill 1994.
Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Bill 1994
The operative provision of the Bill states:
- Sexual conduct involving only consenting adults acting
in private is not to be subject, by or under any law
of the Commonwealth, a State or a Territory, to any
arbitrary interference with privacy within the meaning
of article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights. Clause 4.
An adult is defined as a person of 18 years or over.
The International Covenant states:
- No-one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful
interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence
nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation.
The Commonwealth has used the external affairs power
to introduce this law. The High Court has so interpreted
the external affairs power that when Australia adheres
to an international treaty or covenant, the Commonwealth
can pass laws to give effect to the treaty or covenant,
even if that means overriding State laws in areas hitherto
the exclusive preserve of the States, e.g., the criminal
laws of a State.
In the Explanatory Memorandum which accompanies the
Bill, the Attorney-General has explained that it is
not intended to affect present State and Territory
laws against, among other things, incest, bestiality,
prostitution and child pornography. Omitted from the
list is any mention of abortion or adult (as against
Does the Bill leave open the door for such matters,
notwithstanding what the Attorney-General said or left
unsaid? The short answer is: it all depends on how
you interpret the words used in the Bill.
The Bill as drafted gives a wide scope to those who
must interpret its meaning. There is no definition
in the Bill of: sexual conduct, arbitrary interference
The United States experience shows that "privacy"
can be interpreted to mean freedom to engage in certain
activities without government interference. This underpins
Roe v Wade, the US Supreme Court decision which
It is not possible to say whether the High Court of
Australia would take such a path. However, this Bill
makes it highly likely that it will be asked to do
so some time in the future by one or other litigant.
If the Bill was amended to exclude abortion laws,
this danger would be removed.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference wrote to
the Attorney General on 27/10/94 to express their disquiet
about the Bill, picking up the points outlined in the
- 1. No definition of critical terms.
- 2. The Bill, unlike Explanatory Memorandum, gives no
assurance that existing laws on e.g. incest would be
- 3. No reference to laws on termination of pregnancy
and adult pornography.
They also expressed their concern about the educative
role of this bill.
There was a reply from Federal Attorney General Michael
Lavarch (undated) and a further letter from Cardinal
Clancy of 18/11/94.
Archbishop Peter Hollingworth of Brisbane expressed
his concerns8 as did the Conference President of Churches
of Christ in Queensland. Generally the concerns are
shared across the Christian Churches.
In the view of the Catholic bishops two serious difficulties
- 1. The inconsistency in content at the heart of the
Attorney General's response.
- 2. The Attorney General's unwillingness to amend the
Bill itself, not just his own Explanatory Memorandum.
Let us turn to the first difficulty.
In his letter to the Bishops, Mr Lavarch wrote,
- All Australian jurisdictions make incest a criminal
offence. There is a clear consensus throughout Australia
that such laws are justified on medical and other grounds.
Such laws recognise and protect the special nature
of the relationship between grandparents, parents,
children and siblings.
Surely that is very well said.
But on pp 4 & 5, after recalling the Bishops'
suggestion that the Bill can be taken to condone or
to promote sexual practices between consenting adults
in private which can be promoted as alternative practices
and lifestyles to the dignity of marriage and the procreation
of children the Attorney General states:
- "The Bill does not purport to endorse nor condemn
any alternative to the dignity of marriage and the
procreation of children."
Yet it appears to equate them. This equation is unacceptable
to the Christian Churches: more importantly in a pluralist
society such an equation is completely undesirable
on social and economic grounds.
Secondly we also regret the unwillingness to amend
the Bill itself. As Cardinal Clancy wrote to the Attorney
- "Your proposal to amend the Explanatory Memorandum
for the Bill will make the Government's intentions
even more explicit. However, our concerns are not
with the Government's present intentions for the legislation
but with future interpretations of it by the courts..........
Similarly, we note your assurance that the Government
has no intention of endorsing or condemning sexual
practices outside the marriage relationship. However,
what counts in assessing the educative impact of legislation
is the meaning which the community, not the Government,
attributes to it."
The Attorney General in his letter had offered to
amend the Explanatory Memorandum to deal with the termination
of pregnancy and pornography.
We believe that Parliament's moral leadership is important:
a fact explicitly recognized by the gay lobby in this
Until a few decades ago, parliamentarians were often
nervous to speak out, or legislate on issues of morality:
they were intimidated by a school of jurisprudence
which held that there was no intrinsic connection between
law and morality, and a taboo which said that morality
was "not the Law's business".
In recent years, however, this has changed very much.
Members of Parliament frequently insist that a given
proposal involves a moral issue, and that this fact
makes it very much their business: the moral aspect
must be intrinsic to any considered judgement which
they reach on the proposal.
There is one current in our society which has fierce
antipathy to such strong and specific leadership on
moral issues. They have a different concept of rights,
different ideas about where the limits of personal
freedom are to be set. Some voices become quite shrill
against those who firmly declare that in Australia's
mores, sexual promiscuity is unacceptable on moral
grounds, as always, and now also on the new public
health and hygiene grounds that it spreads sexually
transmitted diseases. Parliament's firmness and confidence
in this will be a powerful step towards eliminating
sexually transmitted diseases.
For these reasons the Catholic Bishops wrote to the
- "Law plays an educative, as well as a punitive role.
The Government appears not to have paid sufficient
attention to the educational impact on the community
of legitimising 'sexual conduct between consenting
adults in private'. For example as an instrument of
community education the Bill can be taken to condone
or to promote sexual practices between consenting adults
in private which can be promoted as alternative practices
and lifestyles to the dignity of marriage and the procreation
It is a political fact that small groups, who receive
disproportionate publicity, want to destroy any special
status for heterosexual marriage. Just as certainly
the leadership of the Judaeo-Christian communities
in this country would want to preserve marriage and
family, protect it and enhance it: as does a clear
majority of Australians at this time. Every political
party clear headed enough and courageous enough to
realise this and work persistently for such goals,
would not only be doing a favour to the future and
the nation: it would also reap real political benefits,
as well as a torrent of abuse from the politically
correct. This is one issue where the silent majority
does exist. It only needs consistent leadership and
intestinal fortitude to translate these semi-dormant
popular convictions into effective policies.
In some imaginary world, smoking, drunkenness and
sodomy might be immune from harmful consequences.
In the real world, however, smoking can cause cancer
and heart disease, and drunkenness often leads to violence
in the home, and to death and terrible injury on the
roads. Sodomy has been the principal means of transmitting
the HIV virus in Australia.
Until recently opponents of smoking and drinking were
stigmatised as puritans and wowsers. Today however
Parliaments and Governments are forthright in denouncing
the harm that they lead to. It is to be hoped that
they will be equally forthright about the appalling
consequences of sodomy, whether between heterosexuals
Criminal Law is concerned not only to punish, but
also to educate. It guides public opinion. Even with
slight or moderate sanctions it bears powerful witness
to society's approval or disapproval of various kinds
of human acts, whether because of their intrinsic nature,
or because of their likely consequences, or both.
We know of dreadful new consequences of sodomy. It
would be quite bizarre if Parliament chose this very
moment to take a step which would plainly suggest that
society has now become complacent about it: to take
a step which would encourage the homosexual minority
to claim endorsement for their lifestyle rather than
tolerance for their activities.10
This Bill should be radically amended: even better
would be its defeat.
- 1 F. Fukayama's article "The End of History?" first
appeared in The National Interest, Summer 1989. He
discusses the theme once more in The End of History
and the Last Man, Penguin Books, 1992 e.g. pp.
- 2 The Spectator, London. 29/1/94.
- 3 George Weigel, "The New Anti-Catholicism", Commentary,
June 1992. pp 25-31 provides a fascinating catalogue
from the culture wars of today "Get your rosaries off
my ovaries" back through the Ku Klux Klan, the opposition
to Al Smith, the American Protective Association of
the 1880s, the Know-Nothing Party of the 1850s and
the Philadelphia riots in 1844.
- 4 Peter Singer, Rethinking Life and Death. The Collapse
of our Traditional Ethics. The Text Publishing
Co. 1994. See index for abortion, euthanasia, infanticide.
- 5 F. Fukayama, The Times Literary Supplement.
28/10/94. Pg 4.
- 6 "The Homosexual Movement. A Response by the Ramsey
Colloquium" is an interesting statement of position
by Jewish and Christian scholars on this issue. First
Things (41), March 1994. pp 15-20.
- 7 This section is heavily dependent on the evidence
of Archbishop E. D'Arcy of Hobart before the Senate's
Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee on 1/12/94.
- 8 Sunday Mail, 6/11/94.
- 9 Letter of November 18.
- 10 These previous four paragraphs are an almost verbatim
account of one section of Archbishop D'Arcy's submission
to the Senate Committee on 1/12/94.