Sydneysiders refuse to turn the other cheek for Pope Benedict

July 2, 2008

Sydney Harbour Bridge, 1 Jan 2008/Tim WimborneSydney is not a city famous for protests. In fact, people usually only get angry at traffic congestion, if their football team loses on the weekend or if rain stops them hitting the city’s sandy beaches. But Sydneysiders have become angry and many are aiming to vent their spleen at Pope Benedict and pilgrims attending the Roman Catholic Church’s World Youth Day here this month.

Except for a handful of people promoting the safe sex message of using condoms, nobody was publicly planning to protest during the Pope’s first visit to Australia. Australians mostly come from a Christian background and Catholics make up the biggest congregation.

But now every man and his dog seems to be planning to take to the streets in protest. What changed?

Sydneysiders believe their civil liberties have been crushed with police introducing tough new anti-protest powers for the papal visit that allows them to arrest and fine people A$5,5000 (US$52,885) for annoying or disturbing Catholic pilgrims. Wearing a T-shirt with an anti-Catholic message or handing out condoms can break the law. Police have asked anyone planning to protest to send them photographs of their banners and what they will be wearing so they can be approved.

Sydney meeting of NoToPope coalit, 24 June 2008/Tim Wimborne“I’ve had it up to my rosaries with my city…Thou shalt not annoy or trespass on World Youth Day,” Bianca Nogrady wrote in protest to the Sydney Morning Herald. “This is religious oppression. Despite being a contented heathen, I am driven by sheer outrage to take up the mantle and T-shirt of every other religion and march proudly through the streets of my secular city.”

The anti-protest laws cover hundreds of city precincts, like cinemas, schools, train and bus stops, and allow police to partially strip-search people.

Before news of the extra police powers, most Sydneysiders were merely annoyed at the traffic inconvenience of World Youth Day, which organisers say could attract 500,000 pilgrims. Now talkback radio is jammed with irate listeners and newspapers have been flooded with letters and emails from angry people, many who now say they will protest. “World Youth Day arrives and roads are closed, parks cordoned off and traffic tipped to be a nightmare, but if we wear a T-shirt that might annoy the visitors we cop a A$5,500 fine. Jesus Christ,” wrote Andrea Kerekes.

Sydney is Australia’s gay capital, annually hosting the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, one of the world’s biggest homosexual parades and festivals, and the new laws have been mocked by the city’s gay community. “So Catholics can protest a gay parade, but we can’t protest Catholics,” declared one angry radio listener.

Workers set up site for Pope Mass in Sydney, 23 June 2008/Daniel MunozDoctors are also angry that the new police powers could stymie the safe sex message of using condoms. “We intend to hand out condoms to young people on World Youth Day. These draconian laws are a public health risk. Governments of this country agree condoms save likes,” wrote two doctors in The Australian newspaper.

One T-shirt seller has started a World Youth Day design competition which has produced several protest T-shirts, such as “$5,500 A small price to pay to annoy Catholics” and “WYDO8. We close 300 roads so 300,000 can close their minds.”

What do you think of this? Has Syndey gone too far in protecting the Pope?


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Whatever happened to freedom of speech? I wonder what other “deals” to deprive people of their freedom the pope has arranged in Sydney and elsewhere. I thought that in Sydney one had the right to peaceful protest. I do not consider that wearing a T-shirt violates this.

I do consider that giving the police special anti-protest powers violates the civil rights of Sydneysiders.

Go get ’em, Sydney. Only upwardly mobile priests and bishops really give give a kangaroo what the pope says.

Posted by Carroll | Report as abusive

Whatever happened to freedom of speech? I wonder what other “deals” to deprive people of their freedom the pope has arranged in Sydney and elsewhere. I thought that in Sydney one had the right to peaceful protest. I do not consider that wearing a T-shirt violates this.

I do consider that giving the police special anti-protest powers violates the civil rights of Sydneysiders.

Go get ’em, Sydney. Only upwardly mobile priests and bishops really give a kangaroo what the pope says.

Posted by Carroll | Report as abusive

how shameful that the Catholic church and the Sydney government see fit to oppress civil liberties is defense of a faith. As a professed but ever-increasingly estranged Catholic, I think this sort of expectation of special treatment is wrong-minded and precisely the sort of un-christian behavior that makes all believers look bad to the secular world.

It seems even more pointed in today’s political climate, as well, where christians are happy to criticize Islamic requests for religious immunity from criticism, but themselves require special laws to protect them from protests. How hypocritical.

All christians are called to suffer gladly the tormets of those who would disagree with us. Yes, because so many minors will be involved, security should be emphasized. But peaceful protest should be neither discouraged nor repressed. The people of Sydney should stand up proudly for their right to disagree, however much others might disagree with them.

Posted by Da6d | Report as abusive

What a disaster WYD and the Catholic Church have shown themselves to be in 2008.

Instead of embracing a gift opportunity to genuinely revitalize the Church and give it new contemporary meaning to young people, Sydney and Australia can see now WYD is just a tired old-guard PR exercise designed to reinforce the same-old medieval dogma.

Posted by nathan | Report as abusive

The new laws are stupid, both in their intent and in their being passed at all. I can understand that people object to their civil liberties being infringed at all, and in this case, needlessly. And I can understand that people would respond to this infringement by protesting the new laws.

However that does not in any way translate to protests or anger at World Youth Day. There is absolutely no evidence that the Catholic Church here in Australia or in Rome is behind the laws, only conspiracy theories. The public reason for the laws is to extend to public places the same type of laws that exist in sporting venues. Yes the wording was ill-conceived and ambiguous enough to cause problems. But that is not the fault of the people who will be travelling to Australia to participate in this stage of the largest ever youth demosntration of international solidarity.

Yes World Youth Day is hosted by the Catholic church. Yes it’s participants are mainly Christians, particularly Catholics. But that does not make it any less an amazing expression of international cooperation and acceptance. Hundreds of thousands of people who gather every couple of years from almost every country on the planet who come togther for a week to share their experiences and their cultures with each other, and with the host city/country.

These participants represent a huge variety of young people. Some of these youth will indeed hold strongly to a strict interpretation of Catholic teachings. And others will live their lives in the spirit of these teachings, basing their choices on the teachings of Jesus and the bible.

Why is there so much anger directed at the Catholic Church? Particularly the restriction against contraception? If someone chooses to follow the practice of not using contraception (and I can’t emphasise the concept of choice enough here) then they are likely to follow all of these teachings – so they are not likely to engage in sex except with their spouse. So what effect does their personal choice have on anyone else? Handing out condoms as a protest is ridiculous! People who believe in and follow these particular teachings are not going to decide to follow one teaching to its most strictest interpretation (no contraception) and then completely flout another (no sex outside of marriage).

But regardless, how do these teachings and some people’s choices to follow them make it ok for other people to make such narrow-minded, bigoted or prejudiced statements?

Posted by Jenni Downes | Report as abusive

Furthermore, on the issue of “free speech”:

Australians do not have the right to freedom of expression (or “free speech”) enshrined in the constitution or in a Bill of Rights. Yet even so it is an international human right that belongs to everyone, everywhere. And yet the right to free speech can not be viewed in isolation. It is part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is supported by two international covenants on economic, social and cultural rights and political and civil rights, and a number of conventions setting out specific rights, such as the rights of the child. The rights contained in these agreements are indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. All of the human rights enjoy equal status, and cannot be positioned in a hierarchical order. Denial of one right invariably impedes the expression of other rights and thus the expression of one right cannot compromise the expression of other rights. Therefore an expression of your rights (such as the right to freely express your opinions) can not take away my rights (such as respect regardless of my sex, race, …religion, my right to free religious expression, and my right to live free of discrimination), because if in excercising your right, you deny mine, then, as all the rights are indivisible, you deny your right and therefore you action is not an expresion of your rights but only an act that denies others their rights.

Just so, a competition that allows the expression of prejudice on the basis of religion is not a protest in defense of our civil liberties but simply a vehicle for an attack on the civil liberties of others.

Posted by Jenni Downes | Report as abusive

“Jenni Downes” Grow up. Read the posts above yours. Your two part essay wasn’t thought out, nor was it original. Obviously Catholics and intelligent people alike read articles like this, and both have a right to write about them. That is the point ~ regardless if one is holier than tho or not, peaceful protest has a place in a democratic society. Without the public having a voice how are we different from Communists? I’m sure you have some very negative feelings about those people as well. Open your eyes and realise.

Until then enjoy your closed mind, and ranting the same recorded message as the next catholic.

Posted by Steve | Report as abusive