April 20th 2019

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COVER STORY Budget 2019: The dark side of 'back in the black': no vision

EUTHANASIA FYI: How to navigate the voluntary assisted 'dying' process

CANBERRA OBSERVED Take your tax cuts and be merry, for tomorrow ... is another day

FOREIGN AFFAIRS New Middle East alliance will challenge Saudis

LIFE ISSUES ALP abortion policy blithely tramples all our consciences

SOCIETY AND TECHNOLOGY Will Artificial Intelligence do the walking for you?

LIFE ISSUES Trump, Shorten and Morrison on abortion

GENDER POLITICS Women abused at Women's Day March

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Bill Shorten's bizarre electric car policy

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Revitalising marriage and family: an especially lay apostolate

ASIAN AFFAIRS Entire nations going out without a baby's whimper


MUSIC 1+1=Sublimity: Explanations are like the back side of a tapestry

CINEMA Shazam!: Ambitious teen finds out what's in a name

BOOK REVIEW What will be left us after the deluge?

BOOK REVIEW Author puts some great minds to work



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Revitalising marriage and family: an especially lay apostolate

by Archbishop Julian Porteous

News Weekly, April 20, 2019

Archbishop of Hobart Julian Porteous delivered the following paper at the National Civic Council’s 2019 Annual National Conference, which was held in Melbourne over the weekend of February 1–3, 2019. Archbishop Porteous recaps the dire state of marriage and family in Australia, both socially and legislatively, and reminds us that reviving these fundamental social institutions is a task specially for the laity.

Cardinal Caffarra, former Archbishop of Bologna, who died in 2017, was a tireless defender of Catholic doctrine on marriage and the family. In 1981 he was asked by Pope St John Paul II to found a Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. From the beginning of his long pontificate, St John Paul II had sought to promote Catholic teaching on marriage and family.

Since September 1989, the Pope had been delivering a systematic catechesis on this subject, which was intended as a deeper explanation of the teaching of Pope St Paul VI in Humanae Vitae. This teaching has become popularly known as “Theology of the Body”.

The founding of the Institute met with resistance within certain quarters of the Church. Caffarra wrote to Sr Lucia of Fatima to request her prayers. In reply, the Carmelite nun sent a message that the Cardinal revealed only several years later.

He said: “In [her letter] we find written: ‘The final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family. Don’t be afraid,’ she added, ‘because anyone who operates for the sanctity of marriage and the family will always be contended and opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issue.’

“And then she concluded: ‘However, Our Lady has already crushed its head.’”

“The final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family”. These are very significant words. We know that we are in the midst of a critical struggle for marriage and family.

The debate in Australia

The national debate in Australia during 2017 on changing the legal definition of marriage was, I believe, a watershed moment in Australian social history. The outcome of the debate was determined in a plebiscite that, despite the enormous resources and funding of those pushing for change, did not receive a clear majority from eligible voters. The Government had made the vote voluntary.

The survey returned 7,817,247 (61.6 per cent) “Yes” responses and 4,873,987 (38.4 per cent) “No” responses. The total turnout was 12,727,920, which comprised 79.5 per cent of those eligible to vote, roughly 16 million. If the plebiscite had been conducted as a compulsory vote, my sense is that it would have been much closer. In any case, what this outcome does show is that we have reached a tipping point in Australian society.

For the first time in the relatively short history of Australia we have reached a point where at the very least half the population has rejected the natural and biblical understanding of the nature of marriage. At the heart of marriage is, of course, the complementarity of the sexes. Thus the outcome is a rejection of this basic biological reality.

This rejection is unprecedented in human history. This rejection builds on the previous rejection in Western societies of the relationship between marriage and the begetting of children, which occurred with the advent of modern contraceptive technologies during the so-called Sexual Revolution.

The importance of the complementarity of the sexes has been challenged vigorously since the Sexual Revolution in an attempt to normalise same-sex sexual relationships. The plebiscite campaign and its success simply shows that the battle to defend this essential reality of human sexuality had been lost for some time through the efforts of homosexual activists working over decades to influence popular culture, particularly movies, music (and, more recently, social media), government bureaucracy and large corporations.

The actual “Yes” vote campaign for change did not really have to do much convincing; that work had already been done. It was simply a matter of reminding voters of how they already felt through emotional advertising, as opposed to rational argument.

The general public largely ignored and considered irrelevant the institutions of society, including the churches and religious organisations, during this process.

The change in the legal definition of marriage touches on a foundational element upon which societies have been built. Societies throughout history have understood that human beings do best when raised by their biological parents in a relationship of life-long committed sexual fidelity. This is why marriage was given special social and political recognition and protections. Marriage has been seen to be about procreation, about the nurturing and raising of children, about ensuring the next generation.

With the change in the legal definition of marriage, this understanding has for the first time in the history of Western civilisation been rejected and replaced with a paradigm for human life and relationships based on feelings.

Marriage is now legally defined in terms of a committed relationship between any two individuals, evidently premised simply on and constituted by emotional attraction alone. It is about having one’s desires satisfied. It is no longer about a union that has its focus beyond the spouses – on procreation and raising and building up a family – but on the needs of the individual.

The clear biological facts of the human anatomy were laid aside in this decision. Societies have always understood that men and women are designed to enter into a covenanted relationship and, within the stability of that relationship, children are conceived and then raised. The idea of family, as the foundation of society, has thus been undermined.

Accepting that a union of two people of the same sex can be legally defined as a marriage will have radical implications for how marriage is understood in our society. The focus is now upon marriage in terms of the desire of two persons of the same sex to have their relationship endorsed by society. The slogan, “Love is love”, determines that all that is required for marriage is that two people love one another; the evidence of nature is ignored.

In nature, the complementary union of two of the species is the source of the continuation of the species. Marriage cannot be limited to the desire of two people to have their relationship legally endorsed. Marriage is ordained towards the begetting of children, and intended to provide a stable environment in which a child can be raised.

A child is the product of the contribution of the male and the female, the husband and the wife. The identity of the child is linked to the biological contribution of two equal but opposite contributions.

The genes of the father and genes of the mother create the unique identity of the child. Indeed, each child has the security of knowing “the rock from which they are hewn”. Simply, they know who they are. They know their lineage and can forge their future based on the knowledge that they are the product of a unique heritage.

The change in the definition of marriage will have deep and long-lasting effects on society. It changes how we understand the meaning and purpose of marriage. Future generations, accepting that this is how society now understands marriage, will view the marriage union as an end in itself. There will be the tendency to see children as an optional extra. Marriage will easily become an expression of a desire to have one’s needs fulfilled. The focus of the meaning of marriage has been changed. Marriage has been turned in on itself. It is no longer outward looking and future oriented.

While human beings throughout history have fallen short of the ideals of marriage, societies have seen that its ideal needs to be upheld in the law. Thus, there have been rules around how a couple can be married, and whom a person can marry. Law has sought to protect the purpose of marriage. Societies have always held a keen interest in the way in which marriage and family are lived because the health of marriage and family are in fact vital to the very future of those societies.

The legal redefinition of marriage has been a significant turning point in Australian social history. The full implications of this decision will slowly manifest themselves in the years ahead. Future generations may look back on this decision and question its wisdom. However, for the foreseeable future, the path has been taken.

Christianity overridden

The vote and subsequent legislation rushed through Parliament before Christmas 2017 has revealed another big shift in Australian culture. Australia has been classed as a Christian nation. Since its origin at the beginning of the 19th century, the Christian faith underpinned the spiritual and moral vision for the nation.

Being of English origins, the Anglican expression of Christianity was seen as the established religious base for the society. Indeed, being a convict settlement, the clergy were seen as an important component for the guiding the religious element of society. They were seen as providing a necessary moral underpinning to the formation of a decent pattern of social life. Convicts were compelled to attend Sunday services as these were considered beneficial to their moral regeneration.

Australia’s government was founded on the principles of the Westminster system, which upheld the ultimate authority of God over the exercise of political power. The rule of law was seen as necessary for social cohesion, and the law was based on Christian principles, particularly the Ten Commandments.

The vote of 2017 saw Australia turn its back on Christian teaching. Even though Christians are still a majority in our nation, many chose to embrace a new way of seeing things.

Opposition to the change in the legal definition of marriage was largely led by Christian voices. However, it is clear that many who identify as Christians yet chose to vote for change. The leaderships of the Christian churches were not able to convince their members to hold to the traditional understanding of marriage.

What is evident from the vote is that the nation no longer looks to the Christian churches to guide its conscience. The vote revealed that many consider the churches as out of date and “on the wrong side of history”.

The vote in the plebiscite made plain what has been happening for years. Many adherents of Christianity have moved away from traditional Christian teaching. It is evident that Australia as a society is now taking a new path. It is allowing societal trends to shape its way of thinking.

Christianity is no longer the spiritual and moral guide to Australian society. Indeed, Christianity is fast becoming a minority religion in Australia. It is not impossible to expect that in the years ahead Christianity will be further marginalised. The Christian teaching on many issues will be regarded by Australian society as no longer relevant.

Our society will shape its future not by embracing a new transcendent vision for life, but by being determined by popular opinion. Its moral and ethical positions will no longer be based on solid reasoned positions, but will increasingly be moulded by the most vocal agents in the popular culture.

Christians will need to come to terms with a new reality. Christians no longer enjoy being the prevailing cultural influence. They are, in fact, now a rather plaintive voice, a “voice crying in the wilderness”.

Religious freedom

The vote on the nature of marriage has opened another arena. It showed the intolerance of those pushing for change. Anyone who dared publically to express their opposition to changing the legal definition of marriage was threatened and vilified. The debate was far from reasoned and respectful.

Those who sought to defend the traditional understanding of marriage were subject to harassment. They were characterised as homophobes, bigots and “haters”. They were labelled and dismissed. Often their views were not listened to but just vigorously attacked. There was no place for the presentation of reasoned argument, and debates readily degenerated into emotional and angry rejection of any views other than those supporting a change in the law.

Venues for meetings of those supporting the retention of the traditional view of marriage were threatened. A number of meetings were forced to be cancelled. The practice of de-platforming sought to silence those who wished to express their views in a reasoned and respectful manner.

Many of those who supported a traditional view of marriage found that it was wiser to stay silent than to attract ridicule and derision. There was a successful “chilling effect”. Many of those who publically expressed their belief that the change was not a good one found that they were socially ostracised.

There were many examples of intimidation during the campaign. This in itself was a sad testimony to what has happened to our culture. Australians had always believed in giving someone a “fair go”. There has been a culture of live and let live. Australians have prided themselves in their tolerance of differing opinions. This clearly is no longer so.

The debate exposed a nasty side to the Australian character. It revealed that there were individuals and organisations determined to shut down debate altogether and simply impose their views on society.

The very notion of debate on this question was referred to as “hurtful” and “offensive”. It was claimed that the public expression of views that opposed the change in the legal definition was to attack and denigrate those in same-sex relationships and their families.

We have entered a new period were our freedom of speech, particularly as Christians, is no longer guaranteed.

For some time it has been socially unacceptable to express Christian teaching on human sexuality publically. Christians have largely already been silenced out of fear of offending others or being ridiculed for their beliefs. But there is now a concerted effort actually to withdraw legal protections for freedom of speech, particularly the expression of religious beliefs.

The attempt of the “Yes” campaign to prevent the expression of opposing views gave rise to calls to protect freedom of speech and religious freedom. Up to this time, religious freedom was considered a given in Australian society. The debate revealed that this was no longer the case.

Calls for protection of basic freedoms led to the decision of the federal government to initiate a review of protections for freedom of religion in Australia. As you would know, Phillip Ruddock was asked to head up an expert panel.

Ruddock Report

The long-awaited Ruddock Report was finally released in December 2018. It was less than reassuring for those hoping that freedom of speech and freedom of religion would be enshrined in some form of legislation. The Report in its opening chapter said that it did not consider religious freedom to be in immanent peril. This claim was made despite the panel being aware of several examples of persecution of individuals and businesses both during and after the marriage debate.

It further claimed that there were no hierarchy of rights. This claim is made despite the fact that international covenants like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) made freedom of religion a non-derogable right.

The Report said the panel remained unconvinced that there was urgent need for change to religious freedom laws, and that it did not receive sufficient advice that the existing framework was causing significant problems.

The Panel considered that it was not necessary to protect religious institutions from losing government funding for providing services such as aged care, health and education because of their religious beliefs as, on a practical level, the government would struggle to find alternate service providers.

However, the Panel was of the view that, in areas where there is only one service provider, the government should be able to insist that there be no discrimination in providing the service, and that in circumstances of limited employment opportunities, the government could insist on no discrimination in employ­ment. This means that a Christian organisation that is filling a need in a rural or a remote community where the government does not provide any assistance might be forced to go against its Christian beliefs.

The Report referred to an Australian Law Reform Commission view that religious freedom should not extend to providers of goods and services for weddings.

In all, the Report is far from encouraging. There is little to be expected in terms of legislation to protect religious freedom in Australia. The panel said that it did not support a religious freedom act, and that the statutory protection of positive rights “necessitates a framework which provides equal treatment for a wide range of human rights”.

We face a future, I believe, where religious freedom will be curtailed and freedom of speech denied.

The lay apostolate

It seems to me that just as organisations like the NCC emerged out of struggles with the rise of communism in earlier years, there is now a need for organisations to rise up to support and protect marriage and family life.

Indeed, there are many such organisations that already exist and new organisations are beginning to emerge. There is a growing Christian response to this serious cultural crisis.

There are two elements to the res­ponse. One is to contest the forces that are undermining marriage. And the other is to seek to rebuild a culture of Christian marriage and family.

First, let us look briefly at some of the signs of the growing resistance to the rapid progress of social change in the area of sexuality, marriage and family.

There was a most extraordinary spontaneous movement in France, entitled La Manif pour tous (Demonstration for all), where, in October 2016, 1 million people massed in Paris to show their support for marriage being between a man and a woman. It clearly revealed that there were many, many people in France unhappy with the government’s approval of same-sex unions as marriages, and the general flow of cultural and legislative change.

This was a sign that there were many who were disturbed about being forced down paths they did not want to go. It could well be that there will be more occasions when the people rise up and say “enough is enough”.

Christians are becoming more organised in resisting social changes that deny a Christian vision of life. The marriage campaign in Australia in 2017 saw Christian groups across the country coming together under one banner so that a single voice could be heard. One result of the campaign is that we now have a database of thousands of Christians who are prepared to stand up for Christian truth.

Another development is that there are now some Christian lawyers ready to defend those who come under legal threat.

The other area to consider is that we need to look seriously at how we can rebuild a culture of marriage and family. It is clear that the understanding of marriage in our society has been seriously debased. Many young people now come from broken family situations. Many do not know how to form relationships that are life-giving and enduring. Few understand the sublime vocation to marriage and family.

Certainly the noble Christian vision for marriage and family is largely unknown. Now is the time to go back to basics. We cannot presume that young people today really know what marriage is.

In my own Archdiocese I have been working on what I am calling the “Matrimonium Project”. This is a multifaceted pastoral strategy aimed at rebuilding a Christian culture of marriage and family. It is a long-term strategy. There are no quick fixes. We have to repair the damage that began in the 1960s, both with the Sexual Revolution and the rejec­tion of Humanae Vitae by Catholics.

One element to this program is to help families develop strategies for living what I call “intentional Catholic family Life”. I think of the words of Joshua in the Old Testament: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

One aspect of this that we are considering is the production of a monthly newsletter offering ideas and inspiration in ways in which intentional Catholic family life can be realised. Subjects on parenting, family prayer, ways to form children will be offered. The target group will be parents who have primary school children.

We are inviting couples to become “Matrimonium couples” so that they can be formed and become a support for marriage and family in their local parish.

We are also going to investigate how we can more actively promote natural fertility options. Developments in natural fertility programs are little known. We need to be more pro-active in offering natural options to artificial means of contraception.

One project will be the development of a Marriage Catechumenate, as proposed by Pope Francis. We are exploring ways in which this catechumenate can be developed. This will include school children as well as young adults.

In late January, we held our first Matrimonium Summer School in Hobart, offering a weeklong presentation of talks on sexuality, marriage and family. It drew upon the approach established by the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, which has operated in Melbourne up to this year.

We are exploring a range of other initiatives that we hope will offer comprehensive nourishment for Catholic family life.

The Church has a rich body of teaching on sexuality, marriage and family. Our challenge at this moment is to radiate this truth and promote the beauty of Catholic family life. St John Paul II described the family as the “sanctuary of love and the cradle of life”, a beautiful way of seeing the vocation to marriage and family.

At this moment we need to be purposeful and determined in preserving and promoting the full Catholic vision.

The family is the basic unit of society. It is true to say that the health of society depends on the health of family life. Promoting family life is not only for the benefit of the Church but will also benefit society as a whole.

Marriage and family are under particular stress in our society. Several forces inimical to marriage and family are severely weakening the quality of family life. The revitalisation of the culture of marriage and family needs to be a priority for the Church. While we look for leadership from bishops and the Pope, this is an area that is the domain of the layperson. There is no reason why lay people cannot spearhead this cultural revival.

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