6 May 2016

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese

Tasmania's Anti-Discrimination Commissioner has decided that it is not in the public interest to continue investigating an anti-discrimination complaint against Hobart Archbishop Julian Porteous and the Australian Catholic Bishops.

The decision by Commissioner Robin Banks follows a voluntary withdrawal of the complaint by complainant, transgender advocate and Greens political candidate for the upcoming federal election, Martine Delaney.

Ms Delaney lodged a complaint in November 2015 under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas) about the distribution of the Don't Mess With Marriage booklet, which was a pastoral letter from the Australian Catholic Bishops outlining the Church's teaching on marriage, in Catholic schools in Tasmania.

The complaint was made against Archbishop Porteous and all the Australian Catholic Bishops, and followed a call to action by Australian Marriage Equality director Rodney Croome, who urged teachers and parents to make a complaint to Tasmania's Anti-Discrimination Commissioner about the pastoral letter.

The reason complainants were encouraged to make complaints in Tasmania is because its anti-discrimination laws are the broadest in the country. The laws make it an offence to engage in conduct which offends, humiliates or insults someone on the basis of their sexual orientation if it is reasonable to anticipate that person might be offended, humiliated or insulted.

Intention is not relevant to the law, nor is the reasonableness of a person taking offense. The only requirement for reasonableness is whether it would be reasonable to anticipate that a person could be offended.
The Commissioner concluded that the complaint had enough merit to proceed to a full investigation, and so the parties proceeded to a conciliation process in an attempt to resolve the matter.

Media reports stated that during this process, Ms Delaney proposed amendments to the pastoral letter from the Bishops, but the Bishops' Conference declined to reissue the revised booklet and proposed a joint statement of regret instead.

Ms Delaney told media yesterday that she had voluntarily withdrawn the complaint, citing a refusal of the Church "to understand the gravity of their actions."

In a statement released yesterday, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said that it entered the mediation process in good faith believing that religious organisations should have the freedom to deliver their teaching to the lay faithful.

"In order to have a flourishing democratic society, it is fundamental that all citizens have the freedom to express different convictions according to their judgements, beliefs or faith in a way that respects the dignity of all persons," the statement read.

"In distributing the Pastoral Letter, Don't Mess With Marriage, the aim was to assist the Catholic community in understanding the teaching of the Catholic Church, at a time when debate on this matter was and continues to be widespread within the community."

Given that the law which permitted the complaint remains in force, a statement from the Archdiocese of Hobart said that the Commissioner's raises a number of issues which remained unanswered, in particular the ability of the Church to freely express its view on marriage.

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