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Deane supports Church's right to speak on politics

Criticism of church leaders who speak out on politically controversial issues such as the treatment of indigenous people and asylum seekers was "misconceived", former Governor-General Sir William Deane said at yesterday's launch of the Bishops' Social Justice Statement.

"It wrongly discounts the relevance of morality in our Australian democracy," Sir William said yesterday in a veiled reference to assertion last month by the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, that some church leaders ignored their pastoral obligations to become amateurish political commentators.

In Sydney launching the Statement, which speaks of the need to tackle "widespread racial hostility", Sir William said such criticism failed to understand the Church's mission.

In a nation where more than two-thirds adhere to a Christian denomination, church leaders must give their views and are entitled to be heard "however politically controversial".

"For, at the very heart of the mission of contemporary Christianity, there lies the obligation to respect, to assist and to speak out for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of society."

Chairman of the Australian Catholic Justice Council, Bishop Christopher Saunders, said Mr Downer's comments revealed an underlying philosophy that amounted to the "privatisation" of religion.

"While some points that he raised were valid, the philosophy behind it was worrisome ... certainly un-Catholic and undemocratic and unuseful," Bishop Saunders said.

Sir William received a round of applause when he said: "By any acceptable measure of Christian morality, we Australians are losing our way in so far as our treatment of refugees or asylum seekers is concerned."

The mutual respect and acceptance at the heart of Australian multiculturalism was under extraordinary pressure, he said.

"One sometimes hears suggestions that multiculturalism is divisive," he said.

"For me, multiculturalism means inclusiveness and not division. It's enabled us to blend the many into a pretty harmonious whole without bringing to this new land old hatreds, old prejudices and old conflicts."

Sydney Morning Herald

Deane encourages Church leaders to speak out on social justice (ABC Radio, The World Today)
Former Governor General Deane calls for "Christian" attitude to asylum seekers (SBS)
[Townsville] Bishop calls for cultural tolerance (ABC)
Statement challenges racism with 'generous heart' (17/9/03)
Australian Catholic Social Justice Council | Social Justice Statement - PDF Download

Pell says Downer had a point (29/8/03)
Caritas head hits back after Downer slur on Church (28/8/03)
At the Sir Thomas Playford Annual Lecture (text of Downer speech delivered 27/8/03)
Pope honours Sir William and Lady Deane (16/5/03)
Catholic publisher releases Deane speeches (31/7/02)
Editorial: A man of peace (Catholic Weekly 25/11/01)

18 Sep 2003