Pope’s visit to Sydney prompts draconian controls on free speech

Tony Grew July 9, 2008
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This Sunday lesbian and gay Christians will gather at a church in Sydney to demonstrate against Vatican homophobia as the Pope arrives in the city for Catholic World Youth Day.

“We need to claim our place and give witness to the grace of God in our lives as lesbian and gay people,” Reverend Dorothy McRae-McMahon told SBS.

“It’s time we celebrated all the richness and wisdom that we have offered the Christian community, and show that the negative messages about us are based on fear and ignorance.”

The pontiff’s first Australian visit comes amid mounting protests over his controversial views on homosexuality, contraception and abortion and anger at the New South Wales government’s attempts to stifle protests.

NoToPope, a coalition of religious, atheist, gay and lesbian groups, plans to hold a rally in Sydney’s Taylor Square on Saturday, 19 July where condoms will be handed out ahead of an overnight vigil and papal Mass at Randwick racecourse.

At the start of July the New South Wales police raised the hackles of civil liberties campaigners when they announced sweeping new regulations designed to retard protests against Pope Benedict XVI.

Causing “annoyance or inconvenience” to World Youth Day participants will result in a $5,300 (£2,570) fine.

“It appears the simple act of condom distribution may have been banned,” said Luke Roberts of the NoToPope Coalition.

“We are also asking people to wear condoms on their clothing as a symbol of human rights, sexual freedom and the right to live our dreams in a democracy.

“Let’s establish International Condom Day on Saturday July 19th.”

“These new regulations threaten protestors and skateboarders with fines for potentially ‘annoying’ the Pope,” Rachel Evans, spokesperson for NoToPope Coalition, said in a statement.

“Criticising WYD ethics includes promoting contraception, access to abortion and conducting any criticism of the reactionary views of some Catholic Church leaders.”

While the coalition want the protest to be peaceful, they say they cannot guarantee that the event will be confrontation-free with police or pilgrims.

“We’re not planning to get into any trouble, we don’t want to condemn Catholic youth for being Catholics,” Ms Evans told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“We want to condemn the Pope for being homophobic,” said Evans.

“We think Catholic youth are social justice-minded, we think they are taking up issues against poverty and world debt and we want to engage with them on the key question for the day, the health issue, which is HIV/AIDS.”

Groups in the NoToPope coalition include the Socialist Alliance, Resistance and Atheists Sydney.

The World Youth event, the largest in the world, will run from 15 to 20 July.

“WYD08 will be the largest event Australia has ever hosted,” organisers said.

“It will attract over 125,000 international visitors – more than the 2000 Olympics.

“Through the WYD08 experience, young people from throughout the world will make a pilgrimage in faith, meet, and experience the love of God.

“World Youth Day is an invitation from the Pope to the youth of the world to celebrate their faith around a particular theme. Everyone is welcome to attend.”

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