Traditional views on marriage and the sanctity of human life have been marginalised by a new orthodoxy, Archbishop Christopher Prowse has told the Canberra Times.
Archbishop Prowse was commenting on the quashing of anti-abortion protests and criticism of same-sex marriage opponents. In January, police fined three pro-life supporters and took another into custody for praying in the protest exclusion zone at Canberra's abortion clinic. The zone was introduced around the Moore Street clinic through legislation in March 2016.
Archbishop Prowse said free speech was at risk of being muzzled. "Even if it's a lonely voice from the outer it should be heard," he said. "That's a healthy Australia. We can't all have the same opinion on every topic and march to the beat of a military drum."
He said the ACT government was being precious over its prayer ban. "How can a person just praying nearby impinge upon proper civic behaviour. I'm astounded by that type of preciousness of the government. It seems to me we must have scratched a very sensitive issue and it is a sensitive issue.
"Through modern medicine and foetal photography it's quite clear that from the very early moments [of a pregnancy] it's a human being. It's an issue of when does life begin and we seem to be pushing it out all the time until when we're born. That's outrageous, absolutely outrageous.
"The Church won't be retracting on life issues. From conception to natural death we will be advocates of life."
Archbishop Prowse said the legislation was part of a worrying trend. In 2016 the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference had to defend a complaint against expressing its views on same-sex marriage. The complaint, to Tasmania's Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, was ultimately withdrawn, but supporters of free speech said it should never have been accepted in the first place.
Archbishop Prowse said opponents of marriage equality were being unfairly portrayed as homophobic and he said federal Labor should reinstate a conscience vote. "There's only one side of the debate being heard at the moment," he said. "There's a set opinion and those who hold a different opinion are peripherised and claimed to be homophobic or antediluvian. These are put-downs. We're looking for arguments, not slogans."
Pro-life prayer vigils were common outside Canberra's abortion clinic before the exclusion zone was introduced. (Catholic Voice)