I am aware there has been some discussion about the proposed forum to be held on 14 June 2016 at West Wollongong, as organised by the Australian Family Association (AFA) – some in support of the forum and some expressing concerns.
It is my understanding that the Parish Priest of St Therese West Wollongong, Fr David O’Brien, was approached by a parishioner asking whether the St Therese Hall could be used to hear a presentation by the AFA on the topic of same-sex marriage during out-of-school hours at 7.30pm. I understand the AFA is a not-for-profit, voluntary, and non-party political organisation that is concerned with issues affecting family life.
The hall at St Therese West Wollongong is consistently used for both parish and school purposes as well as public events such as being a voting place during the Federal Election.
Fr O’Brien agreed that the hall could be used for the presentation. The AFA produced the pamphlet advertising the presentation. The pamphlet was emailed to school parents at two of the surrounding Catholic parish schools for the information of parents who have made a conscious decision to enrol their child in a Catholic school. However, it is important to note that the pamphlet was not printed and sent home with students.
Two great cornerstones of democracy are the Freedom of Religion and the Freedom of Speech. As Catholics, we do not take such freedoms lightly nor do we believe they can be used as an excuse for hate speech. As such, we have always looked to affirm the goodness for the individual, the family and the broader society that traditional marriage has given us. Whilst some would like to frame our position as being “anti”, it is important to remember that this is an ongoing conversation and one that Catholics should feel free to contribute to. Such is the heart of a healthy democratic society. I find it difficult for anyone to justify an argument for tolerance, equality and diversity and then attempt to silence other voices that express an alternative perspective.
The Catholic Church’s teaching on the full ideal for marriage and family has been consistently expressed, most recently by Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia: “I would point out that in no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur …”  As part of proposing the full ideal for marriage, the Pope said, “We need to acknowledge the great variety of family situations that can offer a certain stability, but de facto or same-sex unions, for example, may not simply be equated with marriage.” 
Yet, the Pope understands that, “Many people feel that the Church’s message on marriage and the family does not clearly reflect the preaching and attitudes of Jesus, who set forth a demanding ideal yet never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals.” 
Therefore, it is my hope that the upcoming presentation discussing the full ideal of marriage would be done in a respectful and compassionate manner enabling people who attend to be well informed.
Most Rev Peter W Ingham DD
Bishop of Wollongong
8 June 2016