By Ben Smith, Director, Family and Life Office
Archbishop – elect Anthony Fisher is a champion in proclaiming the gospel of life and love, which is the essence of marriage and the family. Despite the short overlap between the establishment of the Family and Life Office in the Diocese (est. 10 June 2014) and the Archbishop – elect’s tenure, he has laid a substantial platform from which the gospel of life and love can spring forth in the Diocese in 2015 and beyond. One of the most important aspects of this platform is the Diocesan pastoral plan, “Faith in Our Future,” that was launched on February 23 this year and it identified support for families as one of its top 5 priorities.
The key issues of this platform that the Archbishop-elect has highlighted are: same sex “marriage”, euthanasia, bioethics, marriage, sexuality, family, healthcare ethics, abortion, IVF, contraception and the meaning of love. However the most critical issues that he has addressed are: the attempts to redefine marriage and the push to legalise euthanasia.
The Archbishop-elect has been forthright in his defence of traditional marriage as he is well aware that the “the future of humanity passes by way of the family” (Familaris Consortio, 86). He identified and explained in his Ray Reid Lecture at the Gifts and Graces of Marriage Conference, 15 September 2013 that a five stage revolution has been attacking the notion of the traditional family in Western society since the late 1960’s. It started with sex-on-demand that the hippy’s championed with their slogan “make love not war”. This stage involved contraception and abortion on demand as well. The second phase was divorce-on-demand, which resulted in a decline in the view that marriage is for life, destabilising the permanence of marriage and the family and robbing spouses and children of this experience of permanence. The third stage was children-on-demand in which IVF became legal in the 1980’s and was used to ‘manufacture’ children for those who could afford them. The fourth stage was marriage-on-demand that involved the mainstreaming of de-facto relationships in the 1990’s. The fifth stage, which we are currently experiencing, is sexuality-on-demand in which gender, sexual orientation, marriage and family are plastic concepts that can be molded to suit the purpose of any individual.
Inspired by the Archbishop –elects defence of the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family, we must stand against the push to legalise same sex “marriage”. The redefinition of marriage will, based on the empirical experience of European countries who have introduced this change, lead to a weakening of the status of all marriages and facilitate an increase in divorce and a reduction in the rate of marriage.
The Archbishop-elect has also given clear guidance on how this five stage revolution can be countered. He has drawn heavily on the work of St John Paul II whose teaching on the Theology of the Body provides an antidote to the false notions of the human person, love, sex, marriage, family and gender that prevail in our time.
The Archbishop-elect has also been a strong advocate against the legalisation of euthanasia in Australia. The children of the five stage revolution highlighted above are keen to access euthanasia-on-demand. The mentality of the people who argued for abortion on demand in the 1970’s by using the slogan “my body, my right,” are keen to use the same argument for euthanasia. However what seems like a private decision has public consequences as seen by developments in The Netherlands. The Archbishop – elect cited comments by Dutch Professor Theo Boer in a recent submission he sent on behalf of the Australia Catholic Bishops Conference to Federal Parliament on the Exposure Draft of the Medical Services (Dying with Dignity) Bill 2014. Professor Boer stated that, in The Netherlands “euthanasia is on the way to becoming a ‘default’ mode of dying for cancer patients.” Once a practice becomes the default option, a subtle cultural pressure begins to weigh on the decisions of sick people whose decision making is often compromised by their weakened bodies. This is one of the many reasons why the Archbishop-elect has argued that it impossible to protect the vulnerable from euthanasia even with the most stringent legal safeguards. Hence Euthanasia can never be made safe.
Parramatta will soon lose a world class advocate for the gospel of life and love. Sydney will gain a great asset at a time when the Church, as part of the Synod on the Family, is pondering new pastoral approaches for helping marriages and families. Despite our loss we count our blessings for the profound teaching and leadership that we have received, which we are all called to proclaim in our churches, families and workplaces.