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Caritas head hits back after Downer slur on Church

After Foreign Minister Alexander Downer yesterday accused the Catholic bishops of hypocrisy, Caritas Australia national director Jack de Groot said Downer is "misguided" if he thinks churches have no role in speaking out on moral and social issues.

Delivering the annual Sir Thomas Playford Lecture in Adelaide on the topic Australian Politics and the Christian Church, Mr Downer accused religious leaders of "overtly partisan politicking".

He suggested they too often chase "cheap headlines" and seek to "hog the political limelight". He said that in speaking out against the war on Iraq, they lost focus on their core role and divided their congregations.

Mr de Groot responded: "The churches have a role in playing a part in the great moral issues of our time, and war is a great moral issue."

Mr Downer accused the Catholic bishops of hypocrisy, singling them out for their "intemperate denunciations of Australia's participation in the coalition of the willing in Iraq" while at the same time calling for humanitarian intervention in Rwanda, the Balkans and East Timor.

Downer was also angry at the head of his own Anglican Church - Archbishop Peter Carnley - whom he said had blamed the Bali bomb attack on Australia's close alliance with the US.

"There was no concentration on comforting the victims and their families, no binding up of the broken-hearted . . . it was a stark reminder of the tendency of some church leaders to ignore their primary pastoral obligations in favour of hogging the limelight on complex political issues, and in this case a national tragedy," he said.

"Apart from disdain for traditional pastoral duties and pontificating self-regard, how best to explain the clerics who issue press releases at the drop of a hat on issues where the mind of the church itself is unresolved or not yet engaged?"

The University of Adelaide-sponsored event takes place annually in honour of South Australia's longest serving Premier, Sir Thomas Playford. Previous lecturers include Prime Minister John Howard and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott.

The Australian

At the Sir Thomas Playford Annual Lecture (text of speech delievered 27/8/03)
Downer chides church leaders (Sydney Morning Herald)
Downer slams `divisive' clerics (The Advertiser)
Foreign Minister
Caritas Australia
University of Adelaide | Alexander Downer to give Playford Lecture

28 Aug 2003