Parents at a Wollongong Catholic primary school have expressed outrage over a planned talk about the “impacts’’ of same-sex marriage.
A flyer was emailed to parents inviting them to attend the Australian Family Association talk on Tuesday at St Therese School Hall, stating that “natural marriage must be defended in Australia before it’s too late’’.
“Same-sex marriage will effect everyone”, the flyer states. “Extreme gender idealology imposed on everyone,’’ it continued.
“Children denied their mother or father’’ and ‘’freedom of speech will be lost.’’
Parents took to social media to express concern over the event some described as “highly offensive’’, “extremely bigoted’’ and “totally inappropriate to be sent out through a Catholic school parent email list’’.
In a plea sent to the school, obtained by the Mercury, one parent said: “Although the teachings of the Catholic religion is one of husband and wife I find it inappropriate that the Catholic Diocesan of Wollongong … would find it appropriate to be “informed" about this topic by a (group) with a clear agenda leading up to a federal election.’’
“There are many families within our school community that would be extremely offended by this type of ignorant propaganda as they are not a ‘family’ as is defined,’’ the email said.
“I am also shocked that the school grounds of St Therese are being made available … as I am sure there are many families that are a part of that school community that would also be highly offended by the beliefs of this group.’’
The parent hoped reconsideration would be given to this event as the “charism of our school of welcome and justice is in stark contrast to the political agenda that is being pushed.’’
The Mercury has contacted the Diocese of Wollongong (see statement below) and the school for a response.
The Australian Family Association said the presentation “simply aims to inform people on the issue of same sex marriage and neither the message on the flyer advertising the event nor the presentation itself have a political agenda’’.
“Please note that while the AFA is not a political party and the advertised talk does not have a political agenda, party politicians do in fact regularly visit and speak at Catholic schools,’’ a spokeswoman said.
‘’Numerous parents have informed us that they are coming to the talk as they want to hear our side of the debate.
‘’They say that while they have heard the arguments in favour of redefining marriage, they have not heard from those who support natural marriage between a man and woman.
‘’They would like to hear the arguments which support the current definition of marriage in Australia as was written into Australian law with bipartisan support in 2004.’’
Statement from Bishop Peter Ingham
I am aware there has been some discussion about the proposed forum to be held on 14 June 2016 at West Wollongong, as organised by the Australian Family Association (AFA) – some in support of the forum and some expressing concerns.
It is my understanding that the Parish Priest of St Therese West Wollongong, Fr David O’Brien, was approached by a parishioner asking whether the St Therese Hall could be used to hear a presentation by the AFA on the topic of same-sex marriage during out-of-school hours at 7.30pm. I understand the AFA is a not-for-profit, voluntary, and non-party political organisation that is concerned with issues affecting family life.
The hall at St Therese West Wollongong is consistently used for both parish and school purposes as well as public events such as being a voting place during the Federal Election.
Fr O’Brien agreed that the hall could be used for the presentation. The AFA produced the pamphlet advertising the presentation. The pamphlet was emailed to school parents at two of the surrounding Catholic parish schools for the information of parents who have made a conscious decision to enrol their child in a Catholic school. However, it is important to note that the pamphlet was not printed and sent home with students.
Two great cornerstones of democracy are the Freedom of Religion and the Freedom of Speech. As Catholics, we do not take such freedoms lightly nor do we believe they can be used as an excuse for hate speech. As such, we have always looked to affirm the goodness for the individual, the family and the broader society that traditional marriage has given us. Whilst some would like to frame our position as being “anti”, it is important to remember that this is an ongoing conversation and one that Catholics should feel free to contribute to. Such is the heart of a healthy democratic society. I find it difficult for anyone to justify an argument for tolerance, equality and diversity and then attempt to silence other voices that express an alternative perspective.
The Catholic Church’s teaching on the full ideal for marriage and family has been consistently expressed, most recently by Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia: “I would point out that in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur ...”  As part of proposing the full ideal for marriage, the Pope said, “We need to acknowledge the great variety of family situations that can offer a certain stability, but de facto or same-sex unions, for example, may not simply be equated with marriage.” 
Yet, the Pope understands that, “Many people feel that the Church’s message on marriage and the family does not clearly reflect the preaching and attitudes of Jesus, who set forth a demanding ideal yet never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals.” 
Therefore, it is my hope that the upcoming presentation discussing the full ideal of marriage would be done in a respectful and compassionate manner enabling people who attend to be well informed.
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