Parramatta Laity Make Their Voices Heard in Dispute With Their Bishop

Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen of Parramatta has been criticized by local Catholics for what they see as his favorable and false approach to the homosexual agenda, especially in relation to diocesan schools.

Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen offers Mass on June 16, 2016
Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen offers Mass on June 16, 2016 (photo: Diocese of Parramatta)

Lay Catholics in the Australian Diocese of Parramatta have succeeded in having their bishop moderate his public support for gender identity after they waged a campaign that led him to amend his opposition to local legislation banning discussion of gender ideology in schools. 

Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen of Parramatta has been criticized by local Catholics for what they see as his favorable and false approach to the homosexual agenda, especially in relation to diocesan schools. 

According to his critics, the bishop’s pro-LGBT agenda was particularly manifest in his opposition to a bill introduced in April by Australian politician Mark Latham. The bill introduced in the New South Wales state legislature would “prohibit the teaching of the ideology of gender fluidity to children in schools” and seek to ensure that schools not “usurp the role of parents.” 

It further proposed that “teaching in relation to core values is to be strictly non-ideological and should not advocate or promote dogmatic or polemical ideology that is inconsistent with the values held by parents of students.”

The proposed legislation, which is in line with both Church teaching and Pope Francis’ comments rejecting gender fluidity, has been strongly condemned by homosexual activists. 

The Diocese of Parramatta under Bishop Long’s leadership split from other Catholic leaders in the state and opposed the legislation, describing it in an April 27 submission as “counter to promoting and respecting the human dignity of all.” 

Concerned that students who identify as lesbian, homosexual, bisexual or transgender could be harassed because of the bill’s prohibition on teaching gender fluidity, the diocese’s executive director of Catholic education, Greg Whitby, told the media April 28 that the bill was an “unacceptable incursion into the professional judgment of Catholic schools and systems.” 

After a backlash from some diocesan priests, parents and laity, Bishop Long appeared to overrule Whitby by issuing a new submission on May 5 in which he said the Diocese of Parramatta “affirms the prohibition of teaching gender ideology (gender fluidity) in an educational setting.” He also added that he had “serious concerns, echoing Pope Francis, about this ideology.”

In a further about turn to the previous statement, he said the Parramatta Diocese “strongly affirms the Catholic teaching that parents are the primary educators of their children in matters of faith and education.” 

Latham tweeted his thanks to Bishop Long for “withdrawing” his earlier submission and “replacing it with a statement recognizing parental primacy in education and supporting prohibition of teaching of gender fluidity in schools.” 

Despite the public reversal, the faithful in Parramatta contend that the bishop continues to be sympathetic toward the agenda of gender-identity activists. 

His critics point to the bishop’s May 5 statement, including a proviso that the bill must not “prohibit a school from supporting children who are already at risk of marginalization because of gender identity issues.” They also cite the bishop’s words, quoting Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, that “the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created,” and that he said “it is important that the school community is able to challenge unhealthy, ill-informed and discriminatory attitudes.” 

Dallas McInerney, chief executive of Catholic Schools NSW which backed the bill and supported the protests, welcomed Bishop Long’s new submission, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. “[We] look forward to engaging with Mr. Latham’s inquiry further on this matter now that we have the benefit of a more aligned position,” he said.

But parishioners want to keep up the pressure. 

The bishop’s new submission “is not viewed as a major victory at all,” said Zana, a Parramatta Catholic. “It’s an appeasement to shut us down,” she told the Register, “while he continues his unfaithful agendas in many spheres.” 

Bernadette Ching, who has led much of the resistance to the bishop, said she did not agree with Latham that Bishop Long had withdrawn his initial submission as she believes the bishop still wants a new curriculum implemented that continues to promote an LGBT agenda. The bishop refers to Vatican and papal documents, Ching said, but “defies the letter of what the Pope said” — that teaching LGBT issues in schools “is indoctrination.”

“Catholic means universal,” she told the Register. “We welcome all to learn Christ’s teaching, but what Bishop Long means by this is that we need to learn more about their [homosexuals’] sin to make them feel welcome. So why not teach murder and adultery to children, too?”

Another parishioner, Craig Donaldson, said he found the revised submission “tepid and misguided,” and took issue with its assertion that the diocese “is trusted by local families” on sensitive educational matters. “The diocese is not trusted” by local families on these issues, he insisted, adding that some parents have removed their children from diocesan schools “because they are so concerned about the agenda being pushed.”

He also said that promised collaboration with parents has not materialized and the bishop “avoids any engagement.” 

Opposition to Bishop Long’s approach to the bill followed prior concerns about the diocesan education office and its stance toward same-sex relationships, including a new school curriculum sympathetic to the agenda. Parishioners also have other complaints against the bishop including other concerns about the curriculum (that it contains “divisive” subjects such as Black Lives Matter and pantheism) and claims of financial corruption and mismanagement. 

This led to several lay-led petitions as well as an appeal sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that called on Bishop Long, his vicar general for education Father Chris de Souza, and Greg Whitby to resign. 

Faithful of the diocese continue to hold Rosary protests outside the bishop’s office, the latest one taking place on May 13, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima and the Solemnity of the Ascension.