ELEMENTS of the Christian faith are using the Israel Folau contract dispute with Rugby Union Australia as a "trojan horse for an argument about religious freedoms", said the former Anglican Bishop of Newcastle who spoke out about child sexual abuse in his church.
Using the Folau case to argue for religious freedoms was "a furphy and misplaced", said Bishop Greg Thompson only weeks before taking up a new position in South Australia supporting chaplains to some of that state's most disadvantaged and vulnerable.
The Folau case, where the gifted rugby player's contract was terminated after social media posts stating homosexuals, among others, would go to hell, also diminished the argument for religious freedoms in parts of the world where people's lives were at risk because of their faith, Bishop Thompson said.
"I'm just totally disappointed that some elements of the church want to get caught up in this contract dispute between a sportsman and his employer. Freedom of religion is critically important, but it sits alongside a lot of other rights, like the rights of children to be safe from sexual abuse and the rights of women to be safe from domestic violence.
"People need to be able to express their religious fervour, but not to crush those they disagree with."
He knew of Anglicans who were judged by their peers because relatives were gay, and they isolated themselves from gay loved ones because of it.
"The problem with the Folau case is that Folau is not self aware of the public shaming of others that goes with his words," Bishop Thompson said.
"The people who want to hold to hold onto what they feel are traditional principles need to take a good hard look at the principles they feel they must hold."
Elements of the Christian church displayed a "fragility about sexuality" that alienated the church from a majority of Australians, and from many in the church who see the fight about homosexuality as an issue distant from the teachings of Christ, Bishop Thompson said.
"I don't think people want to be involved in a church that fights within itself," he said.
Bishop Thompson spoke on the religious freedoms issue two weeks after his successor, Bishop Peter Stuart, said religious people in Australia did not experience oppression, and the religious freedom of Anglicans in the Hunter region was not under threat.
As the Morrison Government proposes sweeping new laws to protect religious beliefs, Bishop Stuart said he was "wary of any changes in legislation that create opportunities for discrimination".
Bishop Thompson resigned from his position in 2017 after the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse held a public hearing into Newcastle Anglican diocese's shocking history of child sexual abuse.
The hearing included extraordinary evidence of a complaint against him by a group of senior Anglicans after he revealed he was sexually abused by a bishop.
The hearing also included commission chair Justice Peter McClellan challenging a lawyer and prominent Anglican of leading "coordinated opposition" to the bishop. Bishop Thompson said the opposition left him feeling like "the bishop not welcome in his own cathedral".
While he felt some apprehension returning to a role within the Anglican Church, reporting to an archbishop, Bishop Thompson said he also felt very positive about the role working with chaplains in health, welfare and prisons.
"I kind of feel I've been shaped to help people work through their own experience of trauma, and the challenges of how you help the helpers," Bishop Thompson said.
The royal commission into aged care showed chaplains could perform a valuable role in aged care facilities and hospitals as the "eyes and ears of what's going on" who "should be advocates for very vulnerable people".
In 2018 he spent four months working as a pastoral carer in the Catholic system at Adelaide's Calvary Hospital, visiting up to 15 people each day, many elderly and alone.
Bishop Thompson said while the Anglican Church and other churches had launched new policies so that people were more alert about perpetrators and the reporting processes, "the next step about understanding the culture that gave rise to the history of abuse is missing".
"There needs to be reflection about people stepping up to speak where there is evidence of the cultural issues that give rise to abuse. After the royal commission, no one can be a spectator," he said.
"We shouldn't have bullies in the church, whether ordained or lay people. Some people are drawn to religion to be bullies."
While the royal commission brought people, "in terms of the fractures of mistrust and ideology within the church, it is still riven".
"If there's anger that's still in me it's not about Newcastle. It's about a church that's still waking up to contemporary issues in sexuality, which seems to occupy an undue weight in the eyes of the church, or some sections of the church."
Bishop Thompson said he felt positive about the future of the Anglican Church in the Hunter region under Bishop Peter Stuart who is "bringing in the changes that are needed".
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