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Archbishop of Canberra Christopher ProwseCatholic Voice Archdiocese Canberra / YouTube

(LifeSiteNews) — In a move that points to increasing political hostility in Australia towards Catholic and other Christian institutions, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government has moved to mandatorily acquire Canberra’s Catholic-run Calvary Hospital.

The takeover required the introduction of a bill, a change in the law – an unprecedented move in Australia’s history.  

The bill stipulates that the ACT government will move into the premises on July 3 and take over the operation of the hospital. This will occur before any compensation is agreed to or paid. 

The extreme move and hasty implementation – designed to keep public debate to a minimum – is taking place because the Catholic-owned hospital has a history of being pro-life and of not supporting euthanasia. 

A recent ACT government inquiry into abortion and reproductive choice described Calvary Hospital as “problematic… due to an overriding religious ethos.”  The inquiry issued warnings about an “ethically fraught dependence” on the Sisters of the Little Company of Mary for provision of health services.  

The bureaucrats and politicians rely on muted words like “problematic” and neutral phrases (in the press release) like “the evolving needs of the ACT community” to create the impression that this is merely an administrative decision.

This is belied by the fact that it was necessary to resort to hasty and unusual moves in the legislature to make the acquisition possible. Such political and bureaucratic deceptions are as routine as they are tedious and insulting. 

A more accurate picture was provided by the leader of the federal opposition, Peter Dutton, who said that he was “just not aware of an action like it elsewhere in the country or, frankly, around the world, where a government has taken a decision based on their opposition to a religion to compulsorily acquire a hospital in these circumstances a facility that’s working well and in the greater public interest and good in a local community and just for ideological reasons.” 

Father Tony Percy from ACT’s Catholic diocese described the move as “basically religious bigotry writ large,” saying it sets a dangerous precedent that could “see other Christian-owned properties ‘acquired’ in Soviet-style takeovers.” He said the takeover could create a precedent for other governments to seize Christian facilities like schools and aged care facilities. 

The Archbishop of Canberra, Christopher Prowse, protested against the “shocking news” in a letter.

This extraordinary and completely unnecessary government intervention could set the scene for future acquisitions of any faith-based health facility, or, indeed, any faith-based enterprise including education or social welfare. I am also concerned that this action, based on obsessive government control, would deprive future Catholic generations in Canberra of the choice of hospital care based on the ethos of our cherished Catholic faith.

Rob Norman, the Australian Christian Lobby’s ACT director, described the move as an “authoritarian decision… reminiscent of a Soviet style takeover of non-Government assets.” He said the ACT government has “no tolerance for religious convictions that oppose the will of the State.” 

There are two reasons why the move poses a threat to the fabric of Australian society.

One is the lack of respect for Australia’s history. Many of the hospitals and institutions of care in Australia, including Calvary, were established by the Catholic Church without government assistance. This exemplary record of helping the sick and the disadvantaged is widely ignored: not so much religious bigotry as convenient omission. Thus the ACT government can treat Calvary as if it is government property. 

The second, more telling issue, is that there is a widely-held view in Australia that the nation has a legally enforced separation of Church and state. It is not true, or at least only partly true.

Under section 116 of the Constitution there is a guarantee of the Freedom of Religion but these prohibitions only apply to the Commonwealth government, not to the States, which are free to discriminate on the basis of religion.

The ACT is not a state, but a territory, so theoretically it falls under the control of the federal government. But the left-wing Federal Labor government is unlikely to do anything. 

The message to Australian Christians is that if they hold to their moral positions, they can expect to be considered hostile to the state.

Kevin Andrews, a former federal defense minister, writes that Australia’s domestic law contains very little protection for freedom of religion. “This is compounded by the incorporation through a series of Commonwealth, state and territory statutes of one universally recognized freedom – against discrimination – into domestic law, but the exclusion of others, including freedom of religion.” 

The implication is that in Australia, discrimination against some groups, especially those deemed “minorities,” is aggressively outlawed, but prejudice against religious groups, particularly Christians, is not considered much of a problem. The move against Calvary Hospital is a clear indication of the consequences of that inequality.