Clinging to human traditions - Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Clinging to human traditions - Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)


There is a word which has become a very familiar one to us today. The word is compliance.

Compliance has been described as “adhering to the requirements of laws, industry and organizational standards and codes and principles of good governance and accepted community and ethical standards”. In other words, it is expected that a person will completely cooperate with all laws and standards that have been articulated for a particular situation.

The notion of compliance is an increasing feature of modern life. Detailed and sometimes quite exacting regulation demands more and more of our attention.

Indeed whenever some issue of concern in society is highlighted there usually follows a whole raft of regulatory requirements aimed at dealing with the problem. One has only to think about work, health and safety requirements which are currently being rolled out.

In general we can acknowledge the value of regulations which seek to assist the smooth and safe running of modern society, for instance, the requirement to use of seat belts in our vehicles.

However, it is also true that the weight of regulation and the complex compliance requirements are becoming increasingly burdensome. Some regulatory requirements are blunt instruments, but have been enacted to show a response to a perceived issue.

To ensure that compliance is maintained various instruments of audit are developed. We are used to the idea of audit of financial processes, and would generally see this as necessary to eliminate unfair dealing and fraud. However, audit procedures are becoming increasingly used to ensure compliance. Failure to meet compliance requirements can result in penalties of various kinds.

This is now the world in which we live. It is hard to see anything changing and that increasingly complex regulation and the accompanying compliance regimes will simply increase.

Slowly these processes are creeping into our personal lives. We can see it when we apply for a loan for a house or when we are assisting someone seeking to migrate to this country. The amount of personal detail required is increasing and can be quite an invasion of our privacy.

The effect of complex regulation is that we become passively compliant. We cannot buck the system. It can mean that our personal integrity can be compromised, but there seems little we can do about it.

Creeping compliance is beginning to affect the interior life of people, encroaching on matters of conscience and of personal religious freedom.

One example of this is that doctors in Tasmania who hold a conscientious objection to abortion, on becoming aware that a woman is seeking an abortion or even just advice about pregnancy options, must provide the woman with a list of prescribed health services who will help to arrange an abortion.   In this way, Tasmanian abortion law requires pro-life doctors to be actively involved – and one can say morally complicit - in the chain of events leading to abortion.

The law also prevents a pro-life doctor from advising a patient against having an abortion, even for other grounds, like the age of the person, health concerns or possible psychological implications. A pro-life doctor is assumed to be biased and incapable of providing objective medical advice.

The doctor must comply with the law.  This is a denial not only of the rights of conscience, but also professional competence.

A change in the definition of marriage will have many implications for all citizens. For example, a parent may not be allowed to remove a child from classes which promote marriage between two people of the same sex.

It is the natural desire of all people to conform to the society in which they live. As Catholics we have known discrimination in this country in the past and do not want to find ourselves back in this position again. We would like to be accepted as normal citizens. Indeed we want to be seen as good citizens. However, it could well happen in the future that a Catholic will be forced to choose between compliance with government regulation and matters of our own conscience inspired by our faith.

In the Gospel today the Lord is highly critical of the Pharisees and the Scribes in that they have chosen “human traditions” over the commandments of God.

It is not impossible that we may have to make choices in the future: choosing between obedience to the commands of God and compliance to human regulations required by our society.

As Christians we may find ourselves the odd ones out. Already there are many signs that Christians are being treated as out of step with society. We notice in the media that people are being asked if they are Christians when they speak out against issues like euthanasia, or abortion, or so called “marriage equality”. Once identified as Christians they are dismissed and silenced. Being a Christian is now a liability in public debate.

We must be aware of this dangerous trend. And we need to come to a place of decision within ourselves. If I am challenged about being a Christian or a Catholic will I declare my faith? If I am forced to make a decision between the teaching of God and the regulations of society which one will I choose?

This will not be easy. The Lord himself warned us that the world will hate us because of him (Jn 15:18) and he called his disciples to be prepared to take up their cross and follow him (Mt 16:24).

Are we ready to make the necessary decision if required?


Archbishop Julian Porteous
Thursday, August 27, 2015