In an editorial, Melbourne’s archbishop accused the top political figure in the Australian state of Victoria of stirring up a “spirit of divisiveness” by accusing a local church of bigotry.
Archbishop Peter A. Comensoli made his comments in an article published Oct. 6 in the Herald Sun.
Daniel Andrews, Victoria’s premier, the head of the state government, waded into the controversy surrounding the appointment of Andrew Thorburn as CEO of Essendon Football Club, nicknamed the Bombers.
Thorburn was forced to resigned after 24 hours of being on the job after sermons from his local church condemning abortion and homosexuality were made public.
Thorburn also serves as board chair at the City on a Hill church, which is affiliated with the Anglican church although having a more Evangelical worship style.
Andrews called the church’s views “absolutely appalling.”
“I don’t support those views, that kind of intolerance, that kind of hatred, bigotry. It is just wrong,” the premier said.
Although a Catholic, while in office Andrews has legalized same-sex adoptions, decriminalized euthanasia, and passed legislation that would force priests to break the seal of confession to report child abuse.
In his editorial, Comensoli accused the premier of causing divisions in the state of Victoria.
“The Premier was right in saying that the Essendon affair is much bigger than the forced resignation of the Club’s new CEO because of the beliefs he holds. And indeed, as he rightly noted, our language about other people matters,” the archbishop wrote.
“However, the Premier’s own words about his beliefs and how they play out for the sake of others have tended toward the harmful, because they have sought to uphold the good of one by undermining the good of another,” he continued.
“Referring to Andrew Thorburn’s church and the Bombers’ decision to sack its new CEO, the Premier used words like ‘intolerant,’ ‘bigotry,’ ‘absolutely appalling,’ and ‘no sympathy.’ Such language pitches some members of the community against others and contributes to an unhelpful spirit of division. It leaves ordinary people of faith questioning if they can publicly hold their committed beliefs, or even to be able to exercise leadership and service in the community,” he said.
In his editorial, Comensoli threw down a gauntlet, reiterating his own personal beliefs, which correspond to those attacked by the premier.
“Let me be crystal clear. Unborn children, the most vulnerable among us because they have no voice of their own, have only ourselves to make the plea for their just protection,” the archbishop said.
“Let me be equally clear, faithful and fruitful marital covenants, which men and women freely enter into, also deserve our committed support and encouragement. I hold these beliefs, and always have, and so do many others, because they speak to the good of our humanity,” he added.
To hold these beliefs does not mean I am excused from pursuing the good of people who hold differing beliefs, or who struggle to live by such beliefs. Everybody matters, and the good of everybody matters. Unborn children and expectant mothers both matter. My efforts to ensure this are the measure of my commitment to the common good of all,” Comensoli said.
The archbishop then noted that, “Helpful diversity draws people together. Harmful diversity pushes people apart.”
“We cannot claim to be inclusive if we stir up polarization between sectors of the community, because in our Nation and, I hope, our State, every person, and every community, matters. If the Essendon situation, and some broader reactions to it, is a litmus test of the place and value of people of faith in Victorian society, then we are in big trouble,” he said.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome