Protecting Rights, Protecting People

The murder of a French priest by jihadists, the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East, efforts to wind back conscience rights in healthcare, and 'the pathologies of religion', were among the topics discussed at the PM Glynn Institute's conference 'Protecting Rights, Protecting People' on religious freedom in September.

The conference, co-sponsored with the Ambrose Centre for Religious Liberty, drew together some distinguished speakers for a discussion of these issues to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council's landmark declaration on religious freedom.

Keynote speakers included Fr Raymond de Souza, a Canadian priest and journalist who writes regularly about religious freedom issues, and Professor Margaret Somerville, who has recently joined the medical school at the University of Notre Dame Australia in Sydney as Professor of Bioethics, after many years at McGill University in Quebec.

Fr de Souza spoke about the recent death of Fr Jacques Hamel, who was murdered in July while he celebrated Mass in Rouen, France and has since been acknowledged by Pope Francis as a martyr. Fr de Souza reflected on the death of Fr Hamel and noted that he would have been a young priest in the 1960s, at the time of the Second Vatican Council.

The idea of a priest dying a martyr at a parish church in France fifty years later was unimaginable.

Fr de Souza observed that nothing could be further from the spirit of hope and expectation at the time of the Council than the manner of Fr Hamel's death and noted that the idea of a priest dying a martyr at a parish church in France fifty years later was unimaginable.

Professor Somerville spoke of the conflict facing healthcare professionals arising from pressures to limit their freedom to exercise the right of conscience. During the presentation, Professor Somerville highlighted the role of values in determining protocols for decisions of conscience, and the risks, including censure for professional misconduct, that health professionals face.

Religious persecution was examined in presentations by Archbishop Amel Nona, the head of the Chaldean community in Australia, and Bishop Anba Suriel, who leads the Coptic community in Melbourne.

Archbishop Nona was Archbishop of Mosul before it fell to ISIS in 2014 and spoke about the experience of Christians fleeing Iraq. Bishop Suriel spoke about the long-running persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt and the plight of refugees in the region.

Professor Greg Craven, Vice-Chancellor and President of Australian Catholic University also spoke at the conference on religious freedom and constitutional law.

The one-day conference was held in Sydney on 5 September and again in Melbourne on 8 September. About 65 people attended the two events, including academics, legal experts and members of various Catholic and other faith-based agencies.

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