By Lawrence Gibbons
If you believe the hype, close to 150,000 impressionable young minds will descend on Sydney in July, providing the Pope with ample opportunity to freely espouse his antiquated opinions on modern day life. Born before World War II, Pope Ratzinger (the reborn former member of the SS youth brigade) fiercely opposes sex out-of marriage, birth control, abortion, condom use for the prevention of AIDS, gay marriage and all other aspects of the sexual revolution that have redefined civil society over the last forty years. Many Australians will politely ignore the old man while he pontificates. A few brave souls will exercise their fragile right to free speech by taking to the streets.
And lets face it; Sydney’s streets are seriously over regulated. In the wake of the Cronulla riots followed by the riotous stunt pulled off by the Chaser boys at APEC, you wouldn’t want to cross the street in Sydney while the Pope-mobile was making the rounds. And you certainly wouldn’t want to cross a cop bearing a truncheon, a shield, capsicum spray and a stun gun on a mounted horse. The Pope will love Randwick. He’ll feel right at home.
The few young protestors lining the barricades around the Papal race track will find little comfort in knowing the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell opposes the introduction of a Charter of Human Rights here in Australia. At the peak of Sydney’s chilly season, it would seem free speech at Mass is a God given right, but free speech for the masses is altogether something else. Following the 2020 Summit in April, George Pell took centre stage to oppose a Bill of Rights on the grounds that a civil society might attempt to silence his vitriolic opposition to gays, women and anything else that could possibly tempt carnal Pell. God forbid.
To prove that a Charter of Human Rights would not protect religious free speech, Pell points to Britain, where a pro-life campaigner ‘sent photos of aborted babies to three pharmacies in an attempt to dissuade them from stocking the morning after pill.’ The woman was charged and sentenced for posting offensive materials and appealed to the High Court of Justice arguing that her right to freedom of expression and freedom of thought were violated. The High Court disagreed and found that her actions in fact violated the rights of the people who received the dead foetus photos. The fact that the woman was able to use a Charter of Human Rights to even launch an appeal matters little to Pell, who would happily throw the unborn baby out with the proverbial bathwater. Ideally of course, a constitutional protection of free speech would even extend to religious bigots, zealots and the likes of George Pell. A civilised society must be willing to embrace all points of view, allowing open and vigorous debate on a range of controversial topics. In the absence of a Charter of Human Rights in Australia, let us pray that the few young protestors brave enough to wave condoms in the face of Papal condemnation are treated with Christian compassion outside Randwick Racetrack.