Melbourne's Archbishop Peter Comensoli, on behalf of the Australian bishops, has welcomed a decision by the Australian Senate on 3 December to allow more time to debate amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act.
Archbishop Comensoli, the Bishop Delegate for Religious Freedom, had warned on 27 November that the right of Catholic schools to continue to teach Catholic beliefs was threatened by proposals to repeal existing faith-based exemptions for religious schools and institutions.
But on Monday, he said the Senate's decision that day to allow more time to debate the complex amendments provided all stakeholders with a chance to carefully consider the ramifications of changes to laws around religious freedom and the operation of religious schools.
Archbishop Comensoli said that with many processes under way or under wraps -- including the review into religious freedom led by former Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, which was presented to the Government in May but has yet to be released to the public with the Government's response to its recommendations -- it was prudent to not rush legislation through Parliament that was aimed to provide a quick solution to a complex problem. Jesuit and lawyer Fr Frank Brennan was a member of the Ruddock review panel.
"The bishops remain willing to engage with parliamentarians to ensure any changes to laws around important protections for religious schools carefully balance the needs of students, staff and school communities," Archbishop Comensoli said.
"Catholic schools do not expel students simply on the grounds of sexual orientation or sexual identity. There appears to be some misunderstanding – or misrepresentation – of the position of Catholic and other faith-based schools. This additional time allows for a more measured conversation."
In Hobart, Archbishop Julian Porteous has described marriage amendments adopted by the Lower House of the Tasmanian Parliament as "deeply troubling" and "dangerous" because they had adopted gender-neutral language.
Writing in the Tasmanian capital's daily newspaper, The Mercury, Archbishop Porteous said the original purpose of the Justice and Related Legislation (Marriage Amendments) Act 2018 was to make Tasmanian laws compliant with the change in the legal definition of marriage that took place last year.
"This only required a very limited addition of terms to allow for the new legal possibilities of the changed definition," he wrote. "The Liberal Government, instead of taking the minimum legal approach, which would have been an inclusive approach, sought instead to take a gender-neutral approach. This involved unnecessarily removing terms like husband, wife, mother and father from a number of Tasmanian laws. All that was legally required was simply adding additional terms such as 'spouse or parent'."
Archbishop Porteous wrote that the Opposition Labor Party and the Greens had amended the Government’s legislation "by seeking to impose transgender ideology on the Tasmanian people".
"I believe Tasmanians will be strongly opposed to the removal of the terms mother, father, wife and husband from a number of Tasmanian laws. There is no group within the community publicly calling for the removal of these terms and there is no legal requirement to make such a change.
"The changes that were passed are deeply troubling and opposed to the human good and wellbeing of the Tasmanian society. It takes us further down a road where the law is not based on objective biological or historical facts and reality but on subjective criteria based in human feelings... The amendments to allow changes to the sex listed on birth certificates, or the absence of the sex classification, are also extremely troubling and dangerous."