The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has decided that it needs to "weigh into" the 2016 Federal Election.

It has done so under the guise of "speaking up for the voiceless" and "thrown-away people", and their statement specifically lists many marginalised peoples who are most worthy of support – which ironically includes survivors of sexual abuse.

A few salient facts on this point have been missed, such as that:

  • a distressingly high number of abuse survivors emanate from abuse by religious personnel;
  • religious institutions in particular, and the Catholic Church specifically, have actively contributed to the "throwing away" and "silencing" of those survivors through not believing and supporting them, not encouraging them to go to police, moving and protecting abusive priests, offering only derisory compensation and attaching confidentiality clauses to even those token amounts.

The Atheist Foundation of Australia (AFA) suggests that the Catholic Church should prioritise getting its own house in order on these issues, prior to purporting to speak on the behalf of victims of abuse. As the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse demonstrates, there is still a long way to go.

However, there is a much deeper issue at work here. The Church has appropriated a number of causes of marginalised peoples – in order to marginalise people.

Like LGBTIQ Australians, marginalised by:

  • Being denied full participation and/or expressions of sexuality if they are religious and wish to remain welcome in their church;
  • Having their call for belated equal marriage rights rejected with continued suggestions that recognising their loving. committed relationships will lead to the destruction of "marriage" and society as we know it.

And Australian women, marginalised by:

  • Having their reproductive and bodily autonomy rights yet again threatened and used as a political football by religious and conservative lobbyists;
  • Holding virtually no leadership positions within the Church, and indeed within most religions;
  • The continuing use of religious scriptures identifying women as somehow subservient or inferior to men.

AFA President Kylie Sturgess noted:

"The Atheist Foundation of Australia does not speak for minorities, or for people who consider themselves of 'no religion', or even all atheists.

But at least we encourage them to speak up and be heard, rather than be spoken for by the people from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. It's a better idea to respectfully listen to the people who do have experiences of being marginalised, than use their causes to advance your own agenda.

If anything, this highlights the necessity of discussion and debate about the impact of religion on Australian society, if a group like those from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference honestly believes they have this much sway in politics."

The AFA calls on all politicians in this election campaign to remember all marginalised and voiceless people in our secular society – without reference to disproportionately loud religious voices, no matter who they claim to speak for.

Kylie Sturgess

Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc
PO Box 3582
Parramatta NSW 2124

Phone: (02) 8007 4503
Email: [email protected]

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