Over the weekend, there was significant media coverage of Archbishop Denis Hart’s stance on marriage equality, which warned that 180,000 employees in catholic organisations could risk employment should they marry a same-sex partner. For those of same sex orientation, it is a difficult time as they face the onslaught of the press, religious institutions and the social divisions that surround this contentious matter. In a joint statement released earlier this week by St Vincent’s Health Australia and the Trustees of the Mary Aikenhead Ministries, both organisations under the umbrella of the Catholic church, the sentiments of Denis Hart have not gone unchallenged:
We want to be absolutely clear: all our LGBTQI employees have the full support of St Vincent’s Health Australia. We value you. We recognise you and are grateful for your contribution and care. That will never change. St Vincent’s has a long tradition of embracing diversity in our workforce. We will continue to support staff in whatever marriage choices they make.
This is a courageous statement as it not only questions Church officialdom, but, it goes to the heartland of gospel teaching. It recognises the fundamental dignity of each person – the very first principle in Catholic social teaching, and it unambiguously states support for those who would otherwise be marginalised in this debate. I do not know if Riverview has any LBGTQI teachers or parents in the College and if they have intentions of marriage: I won’t be asking with a view to removing them from the school. We do have boys who have declared their same-sex orientation that we are currently supporting, along with the families who are processing this at the present time. These boys, while not at a stage where marriage is an issue, are very much a part of our school and they will continue to be included in each and every aspect of the educational program. One of the features of Jesuit spirituality is its readiness to challenge prevailing culture by supporting those who may be adversely affected by the vortex of public opinion and disparagement. So, without weighing into the sacramentality of marriage, those of same sex orientation who are part of our community are welcomed and valued as part of the greater mission of the Church, and that is to bring God’s love to the world and those in need of it.
A very practical demonstration of inclusion in the daily life of the College is the SEIP program. These are our special boys whose very particular psycho-social needs educate the broader College community about the challenges and the joys of working with disability. These young men headed off for their camp at Teen Ranch, Cobbity on Wednesday and then joined the girls who are in a similar program from Danebank Anglican School. There was action aplenty between horse riding, gym sessions, the high ropes, the giant swing as well as the engaging conversations that formed part of the meal breaks and recreation times. It was a time of high octane energy for our SEIP boys, many who arrived back today quite exhausted but with an inner glow that accompanies experiences rich and shared through community living. Many thanks are extended to the dedicated staff who accompanied the boys during this time of growth and engagement.
Over the weekend, a relatively small but committed group of alumni and patrons gathered at Cova Cottage to acknowledge and thank those who give so much by way of impetus and support to the long term futures of the College. Companions of the Foundation, as they are titled, have donated significant funds to ensure that the mission of the College is lived out in the here and now. By contributing to the building program and the Bursary Program, as well as a range of other causes that address the intergenerational desire to uphold the future in context of the past, patrons and benefactors go back to the earliest years when the schools were all funded through philanthropy, providing opportunity for those who otherwise would have been denied it. This is an exercise in preserving the integrity of the foundational story in the here and now; acknowledging the past for the way it has built the present and will inform the future.
We live in complex and confusing times where the future is obscure and on occasions, quite daunting. The events in Barcelona late last week are ample evidence of that. Where such uncertainty may strike next we do not know, but in a Christian context we are encouraged to embrace a positive anthropology that brings with it hope and optimism in a world of uncertainty. I was reminded of this during the week when the boys who joined the immersions to Cambodia (White and Blue) gathered for their reflection evenings. They spoke of the depth and the richness of their experience; of seeing the poverty but equally seeing the joy and happiness of children and communities who are forging their own future amid the trauma of a fractured past and the impediments of the third world. To spend time in the schools, to build structures, to cultivate the fabric of an international community speaks to the forward looking mission of the Ignatian enterprise, one which was captured so beautifully in the reflections of those who experienced it.
So let us be reminded to look up not down, despite the temptation to be overcome by the clouds rather than the sunshine. Let us embrace an inclusive spirituality aimed to equip young people with an understanding of and response to their world, that will see them as agents of change and co-creators of a more just and equitable society. For that we pray.