"Building a Civilisation of Life and Love"

Archbishop-elect Anthony Fisher OP,
24 Oct 2014

Introduction

Thank you to Lyle Shelton, Tony McLellan, and the Australian Christian Lobby for the invitation to address you tonight. Thanks also to Fr Brian Lucas, General Secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, for his kind introduction. Let me take this opportunity to applaud the work of the ACL, its volunteers and friends, for ensuring Christian voices are heard in debates of political and cultural significance. As a Catholic bishop I am very grateful for your capacity and determination to be there in the thick of things.

This conference takes its theme from the Book of Proverbs: "Speak up for those who can't speak for themselves, for the rights of the destitute" (Prov 31:8). So let me begin by reflecting on some of those mute and needy for whom Christian leaders must speak as we seek to build or rebuild a civilisation of life and love.

 


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A. Three recent challenges

1. Surrogacy, child trafficking and new kinds of unjust discrimination against voiceless children

The Baby Gammy Case involved a baby boy, one of two twins born of a commercial surrogacy arrangement in Thailand, whose commissioning parents refused to take him home to Australia with his sister, because he has Downs Syndrome.  There are other unseemly elements to this story: reports that the commissioning father is a convicted paedophile; that he sought to coerce the surrogate mother into having an abortion and to abandon the baby, once born, at a temple; that Australian officials may have inappropriately interfered on his behalf. I don't know the truth of these extra claims which titillate the media but are in some ways a distraction. The main issues as I see it are:
• questions around whether there is something wrong with surrogacy in itself, as life-making is separated from love-making and children reduced to objects to satisfy the dreams of adults rather than being seen as vulnerable human beings in their own right whose interests should be paramount
• compounding this, questions around trafficking in children, as a whole industry in third world wombs, eggs and babies has arisen to satisfy first world demand
• and further compounding this, questions about the new kinds of discrimination these uses of artificial reproductive technologies allow.

Since Gammy's story emerged, others have too, such as the SMH report of another Australian couple picking one and abandoning the other of a pair of twins born of a surrogate in India. Family Court Chief Justice Diana Bryant reports that this was because the rejected child was of the 'wrong' sex and sees it as another example of ART-based discrimination, in this case on the basis of sex rather than disability.  Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit Court, John Pascoe, has likewise joined the growing chorus of those concerned about commercial surrogacy, describing it as "the new frontline in human trafficking".  Clearly troubled by practices that commodify children (and their biological mothers) as if they were objects to be bought and sold, quality controlled, taken or left depending on consumer choice, he notes that according to UN estimates this is now a $10B industry and asks: who speaks for the babies?

2. Marriage and family 'equality' and new forms of unjust discrimination against voiceless children and believers

Same-sex 'marriage' is not legal in this country, though not for want of some people trying.  Recently, a Senate Committee recommended against the recognition in Australia of same-sex 'marriages' conducted overseas.  Several submissions, including that by ACL, argued that this was a backhanded way of redefining all marriage in a way contrary to our legal traditions and to the express will of Parliament and bringing same-sex 'marriage' in through the back door.  Submissions also highlighted the unjust discrimination almost certain to follow for those who hold to the classical definition of marriage, as has happened everywhere same-sex 'marriage' has been recognized.

Australia would do well to keep defending real marriage. The recent case of Janna Darnelle shows why. Her husband of ten years left her and 'married' a man instead, gaining primary custody of their children.  For daring to complain about this she has suffered the online publication of her personal details by her ex-husband, a subsequent deluge of hate communications from many sources, attempts to persuade her company to terminate her employment, and a campaign of "harassment and intimidation" which has troubled even feminist and gay-rights sympathizers.  Another American academic, Robert Lopez, who was raised by a lesbian couple and is an advocate of same-sex rights, but who dared write about the downsides of not having a Dad as well as a Mum (or two), has suffered a similarly relentless campaign to destroy him academically and financially.  Again, whatever of the whys and wherefores of these cases, what strikes me is how the interests of voiceless children are treated as secondary to the preferences of adults and how new forms of unjust discrimination quickly emerge.

For all the rhetoric of tolerance, inclusion and diversity, some marriage reconstruction extremists are pushing for a regime in which there is no room for individuals, businesses and churches to advocate marriage as historically understood or to act according to conscience in this area. People hosting or attending this very conference have been subjected to intimidation and vilification including, as I understand it, being labelled gay-bashers, Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.  In another recent example, the City of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, has ordered Christian ministers to perform same-sex weddings under pain of 180 days' imprisonment for each day the ceremony is not performed and fines of $1000 per day.  Further examples of harassment and discrimination in the name of this latest political correctness could be multiplied. 
 

3. Euthanasia and new forms of unjust discrimination against the voiceless sick, elderly, disabled and dying

Gammy's case, Darnelle's case: now we come to Bleeken's case. Imprisoned at 21 for sexual offences, Frank van den Bleeken was released only to rape and kill a 19-year-old. Released again, incredibly after only seven years, he attacked three more people within weeks, including an 11-year-old girl. Now back in prison, he says he is suffering "unbearable psychological torment" and wants to die. The Belgian courts have decided that the prison doctors might euthanase him or give him the means. Belgium, of course, prides itself on opposing capital punishment: yet what the commentators fail to notice is that in ancient Greece criminals were executed, including most famously Socrates, precisely by giving the prisoner the poison to kill himself.

 
Earlier this year, the Greens released an Exposure Draft of their Medical Services (Dying with Dignity) Bill. As the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference pointed out in its submission, the Bill is deceptive from its very title onwards, as it is not about medical services at all, but about activities repudiated by sound medicine from the Hippocratic Oath through to today's World Medical Association and Australian Medical Association codes.  It proposes to permit a mentally competent adult who is 'suffering intolerably from a terminal illness' to seek 'medical services' to end life in a humane manner; doctors would be immune from any liability for rendering such 'medical services'. The Senate inquiry into the Bill is due to report soon.

The motivation of these euthanasia advocates, like that of the advocates of surrogacy and same-sex 'marriage', is doubtless a heart-felt desire for an opportunity they feel they and people they care about are being denied. But just as redefining marriage to accommodate same-sex unions amounts to abandoning the traditional protection and support for the unique relationship of Mum, Dad and vulnerable kids, so redefining medicine to accommodate 'mercy killing' amounts to abandoning the traditional protection and support for the unique relationship between doctor and vulnerable patient.

Several stories have emerged in recent times from Holland and Belgium, the two jurisdictions with the most experience of medicalized, state-sanctioned killing, of people being euthanased without their true consent, without their family knowing, while too young or disabled or unconscious or depressed to give true consent. Now Belgium allows it for perfectly healthy long-term prisoners. Dr Philip Nitschke, never slow to extend euthanasia to any possible customer, advocates the same for Australian prisoners.  Reason and experience show that euthanasia can't be made safe, and that once permitted the range of cases keeps expanding beyond the 'last resorts' for which it is first sold to the public. Beginning with the terminally ill it is extended to the chronically ill or in pain, then from the physically sick to those with mental health issues or 'existential' pain, from those who consent to those who cannot, from adults to children, and so on. As the lethal dose becomes common the pressure to 'volunteer' grows and people come to think of enduring in suffering as pointless and being a burden on others as selfishness. Vulnerable people become more so and suffering people suffer more. Age and disability discrimination - already major issues in our community - grow. Once accepted practice, health professionals will be required to take part, as is increasingly the case with respect to abortion.

Pope Benedict XVI once suggested that "a culture and a nation that cuts itself off from the great ethical and religious forces of its own history commits suicide".  These examples seem to bear these words out - the last example, literally so. The Christian vision of the common good, especially with respect to the connection between love, sex, marriage and children, and between life, health and care of the elderly, frail and dying, is increasingly overshadowed in politics and culture by ideologies and pragmatism. Elementary notions of life and love, family and fairness are increasingly ignored, denatured or abandoned. Are the rights and needs of vulnerable children or the vulnerable dying being respected? And the rights and needs of ordinary married couples and ordinary health professionals? Or are new forms of unjust discrimination being intruded in the name of 'choice' and 'equality'? These are just some of the troubling questions raised by my examples of the "voiceless" today.


B. Best responses
1. Biblical Wisdom

Chapter 31 of Proverbs records the wisdom that the mother of Lemuel, king of Massa, passed on to him as to how best to run his kingdom. She warns him that ambition, selfishness, lust and 'substance abuse' can lead to abuse of position and neglect of the poor and needy. The rôle of the just king is to speak up for the voiceless, to defend their rights and, interestingly, to ensure the dying receive palliative care (Prov 31:1-9).

 

As Pope Benedict noted, there is an intrinsically ethical element to democratic government.  Peaceful democracies, affluent economies and cohesive societies don't just happen: they are sustained by a complex of ideals, practices and institutions. In our country this social infrastructure is largely an inheritance of our Judeo-Christian tradition, however underappreciated that is. Without notions such as the inalienable dignity and rights of the human person we could go a very different path, like that being prosecuted by the so-called 'Islamic State' who crucify children, behead aid workers and journalists, and drive Christians and anyone else they don't like out of their homelands.

What happens when democracies neglect this? As the Book of Proverbs recognized regarding more ancient forms of government, it's the little ones who lose out. It is the original sin of politics and culture to ignore those who cannot speak for themselves. The Christian answer is to promote leadership that hears and respects the powerless, a leadership of service which has the humility to recognize absolute values given rather than chosen by us, independent of the political process. 

2. The rôle of the Christian as voice for the voiceless

In 2015, the Catholic Church celebrates the golden jubilee of the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. It proposes that rather than always relying on their clergy for direction, "Lay-people should know that it is generally the function of their well-formed Christian conscience to see that the divine law is inscribed in the life of the earthly city."  Regarding what they called 'the difficult but very noble art of politics', the Fathers of Vatican II praised 'the work of those who for the common good devote themselves to the service of the state and take on the burdens of office'. They taught that 'with integrity and wisdom, politicians must take action against any form of injustice and tyranny'. Lawmaking has an important part to play in formally recognising the duties and protecting the rights of all persons, families and groups in the community and forbidding attacks upon those rights and persons.  In this context the responsibility of lawmakers and those who influence them to protect the life of all members of the community from conception until natural death was then reaffirmed by the Church,  as it has been so often since.

St John Paul II also argued in his great encyclical The Gospel of Life that it is the duty of politicians to ensure that the civil law reflects fundamental moral norms (especially those regarding basic human rights), protects from unjust attack the vulnerable (including the unborn, disabled, frail elderly, sick and dying) and serves the common good. It is the duty of politicians to lead rather than merely follow public opinion in such crucial matters. In the current context, it is also vital for politicians and lobby groups to work to protect the rights of children, the married, the frail, elderly and dying, as well as to protect the rights of conscience of those who stand by the traditional wisdom on these matters.

3. Renewing appreciation of life and love

The Catholic Church's Extraordinary Synod on the Family recently concluded. It sparked much media interest, especially around topics such as divorce and homosexuality. What the pundits missed, however, was the main concern of the Synod members: the much more fundamental problem that modernity has forgotten how to love.  That might sound odd in a culture saturated with love songs and 'making love', but it is interesting that the most commonly asked "How to" and "What is" questions of the Google search engines are "How to love?" and "What is love?" Modernity struggles with any kind of love that goes beyond feelings: the cross-shaped, self-spending, Easter sort of loving rather than the heart-shaped, self-pleasing, Valentine sort of loving. People today are less and less willing to commit, for the long haul, to another person or a small community of persons, come what may, even when the loving is hard. They are less willing to engage in the self-sacrifice that requires, to moderate wilfulness, even unto death. They are also less willing to put up with discomfort or to invest themselves in relieving other people's discomfort, when there is no quick fix to suffering available. Many of our current debates reflect the anti-family, anti-life turn in our society over the last fifty years.  In a relativistic culture, unions are seen as merely contractual and revocable, terminable at will,  and lives, especially tiny or disabled or elderly lives, as dispensable when they fail to give pleasure.

At the heart of social and cultural renewal, then, will be the re-emphasising the preciousness of life and love and re-cultivating self-sacrifice, fidelity, patience, hope and endurance. In a culture living the contradiction of a highly romanticized, sentimentalized view of marriage, yet a throwaway view of people and relationships, this is a complex task. But to begin with it requires our own people to appreciate the preciousness of life and love and the arguments for our traditional wisdom about them. We need to demonstrate that this is not about bigotry or absolutism, but about honesty, fidelity and compassion. People living with infertility, same-sex attraction or terminal illness are all children of God in need of our love and support. We can offer that friendship while still speaking up for voiceless children, for true marriage, and for the vulnerable elderly and dying. And I hope we can do so without suffering discrimination and harassment.

 

Conclusion

Looking at our culture today, some are tempted to despair, like those who saw Roman civilization collapsing around them. Little did they imagine that a whole new civilisation was just around the corner, inspired by Christian ideals, and that it would grow and spread and adapt for a millennium and more. We Christians must renew our zeal for converting our culture, and those who are carried by it - our great institutions, neighbours and ourselves. Ultimately, our personal witness to the truth in the public square will have greatest effect. Sometimes, as in the Gammy, Darnelle and Bleeken cases, we'll find more than a bit of sympathy in the general community and even the commentariat; at other times we'll be like the prophets of old unyielding to the zeitgeist. We must keep working for leadership that builds a civilisation of life and love, rather than deconstructs it, and do the proverbial King Lemuel's mother proud.

 

1  See e.g. T Mills, "Explosive allegations in baby Gammy saga", SMH, 17 Sep 2014: www.smh.com.au/national/explosive-allegations-in-baby-gammy-saga-20140917-10ievn.html; S Allan, "Baby Gammy case reveals murky side of commercial surrogacy", Mercatornet, 5 Aug 2014: www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/baby_gammy_case_reveals_urky_side_of_ commercial_surrogacy
2  E Bagshaw, "Australian couple abandons surrogate baby in India", SMH, 8 Oct 2014: http://www.smh.com.au/national/ australian-couple-abandons-surrogate-baby-in-india-20141008-113cmk.html.
3  L Yaxley, "International surrogacy is 'new frontline in human trafficking', says judge John Pascoe; Indian case sparks renewed calls for inquiry", ABC News, updated 9 Oct 2014: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-09/surrogacy-claims-strengthen-calls-for-inquiry/5800258.
4  "Intercountry Surrogacy - A new form of trafficking?" The 2nd LegalWise Annual International Family Law Conference, Siem Reap, Cambodia, 19 Sep 2012: http://www.federalcircuitcourt.gov.au/pubs/html/Speech%20-%20Pascoe%20-%20Legalwise%20-%202012.html.
5  See e.g. The Commonwealth v Australian Capital Territory [2013] HCA 55 which struck down the Same Equality (Same Sex) Act 2013 (ACT); Marriage Amendment Bill 2012, voted down 98-42 in the House of Representatives and 41-26 in the Senate of the Commonwealth Parliament.
6  See The Senate, Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee Report on Recognition of Foreign Marriages Bill 2014, September 2014 at [2.56]: www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Legal_and_Constitutional_Affairs/Recognition_of_Foreign_Marriages_Bill_2014/~/media/Committees/legcon_ctte/Recognition_of_Foreign_Marriages_Bill_2014/report/report.pdf
7  See [1.10], [2.9]-[2.12].
8  See [2.26]-[2.27].
9  J Darnelle, "Breaking the silence; redefining marriage hurts women like me - and our children", Public Discourse, 22 Sept 2014: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2014/09/13692/
10  R Edelman, "Ruthless misogyny", Public Discourse, 2 Oct 2014: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2014/10/13867/.
11  RO Lopez, "A Tale of Targeting", First Things online, 21 Oct 2014: http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2014/10/a-tale-of-targeting and his article, "Growing up with Two Moms: The Untold Children's View", Public Discourse, 6 Aug 2012: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/08/6065/.
12  See K Bartlett, "Nabisco: Sex discrimination is wholesome", Mercatornet, 8 Apr 2014 at http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/breathtaking_conformity.
13  T McIlroy & B Westcott, "Hyatt Hotel defends booking for Australian Christian Lobby's anti-gay marriage conference", SMH, 22 Oct 2014: http://www.smh.com.au/act-news/hyatt-hotel-defends-booking-for-australian-christian-lobbys-antigay-marriage-conference-20141021-1196rn.html.
14  See CNA/EWTN News, "Christian Ministers Told to Perform Same-sex 'Weddings' or Face Jail", National Catholic Register, 20 Oct 2014: www.ncregister.com/daily-news/christian-ministers-told-to-perform-same-sex-weddings-or-face-jail/#ixzz3GjolTjVL.
15  See RR Reno, "The Public Square: Rewriting Nature's Law", First Things, 243 (May 2014): 3-4 and K Kersten, "Legislative Bullying" in the same edition: 21-2. In Houston City, subpoenas have been issued to pastors compelling them to adduce any sermons in which they discuss homosexuality, gender identity or the city's mayor: T Starnes, "City of Houston demands pastors turn over sermons" Fox News, 14 October 2014: www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/10/14/city-houston-demands-pastors-turn-over-sermons/. In Denmark, gay couples now have the right to marry in any church they wish irrespective of the views of the priest who has charge of the church: R Orange, "Gay Danish couples win right to marry in church", The Telegraph, 7 Jun 2012 www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/denmark/9317447/Gay-Danish-couples-win-right-to-marry-in-church.html. In Colorado, a baker was found to have contravened the state's anti-discrimination legislation by refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex "wedding" and will no longer sell wedding cakes: "Colorado baker to stop making wedding cakes after losing discrimination case", CBS News, 31 May 2014: www.cbsnews.com/news/colorado-baker-to-stop-making-wedding-cakes-after-losing-discrimination-case/. In Oregon, a couple faces bankruptcy for similarly refusing to bake a same-sex "wedding" cake: C Moynihan, "Bakery owners face bankruptcy after a discrimination finding", Mercatornet, 9 Oct 2014: http://www.mercatornet.com/conjugality/view/14924. See also B O'Neill, "Breathtaking conformity", Mercatornet, 12 Apr 2013 (originally published on Spiked): http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/breathtaking_conformity
16  L Crealy, "Prisoners with no prospect of release should be given option of euthanasia, Philip Nitschke says," ABC News, 29 Sep 2014, www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-29/life-prisoners-should-be-given-euthanasia-option-nitschke/5775680
17  J Ratzinger, Values in a Time of Upheaval (San Francisco/New York: Ignatius Press/Crossroad Publishing Co, 2006): 52.
18  Ratzinger, Values 55.
19  Cf Ratzinger, Values, ch3, "Freedom, Law, and the Good: Moral Principles in Democratic Societies": 45-52
20  Vatican Council II, Gaudium et spes 43.
21  Vatican Council II, Gaudium et spes 75.
22  Vatican Council II, Gaudium et spes 27 and 51.
23  Cf DC Schindler, "The Crisis of Marriage as a Crisis of Meaning: On the Sterility of the Modern Will", Communio, 41 (Summer 2014): 331-371.
24  See A Fisher OP, "The Gifts and Graces of Marriage", Ray Reid Memorial Lecture, CatholicCare and ACU Faith in Marriage Conference, OLMC, Parramatta, 15 September 2013, available at: www.sydneycatholic.org/people/archbishop/addresses/.
25  Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Roman Rota, 26 January 2013.