Catholic Bishop of Darwin Charles Gauci has backed away from his threat to close the Top End’s Catholic schools if the Northern Territory changed its anti- discrimination laws.
That’s despite the NT parliament passing what Christian groups consider the most draconian laws for religious freedom in the country.
The Catholic Weekly columnist Monica Doumit explains: “The practical reality of these changes is that Catholic schools will no longer be able to preference Catholic students for enrolment, nor will they be able to preference Catholic teachers for employment, other than perhaps as the school principal or religious education coordinator.”
“Catholic schools will not be able to insist that teachers abide by Catholic teaching in their public or private lives.”
The same rules apply to all other Christian and faith-based schools and educational institutions, childcare centres and nearly every other religious organisation.
NT Attorney-General Chansey Paech told Parliament that the repeal of religious exemptions was designed to strike a balance “reflective of contemporary needs and the objective of our Act to promote equality for all.”
He added: “I am a member of the LGBTIQA-plus community. I am also a proud Catholic.”
The Catholic Weekly reports Mr. Paech privately met with Bishop Gauci and agreed to give certain assurances.
They were read into Hansard with Mr. Paech saying the removal of the exemptions “is not intended to prevent schools from operating in accordance with their religious identity and ethos.”
Bishop Gauci then wrote to NT Catholics telling them he was “quietly confident the church’s schools will continue to be ensured as authentic Catholic schools.”
He conceded he would have preferred that the assurances had been enshrined in the legislation.
“I’m not going to give up wanting to move further. I’m not happy for it just to stay there. It’s certainly a great improvement from what they had planned initially, I believe,” the Bishop told The Catholic Weekly.
He said he would continue to seek advice and would expect Mr. Paech’s assurances to Parliament to be taken into account in any future dispute.
Bishop Gauci also noted that the NT’s CLP Opposition has vowed to repeal the laws if elected to power in 2024.
“I’ve got a long memory, and while I will not tell people how to vote I’ll tell people to look at their conscience and protect our ethos and schools,” he pledged.