Priest as governor-general: a less-secular Australia
Next month, Archbishop Peter Hollingworth becomes Australia's first cleric governor-general.
Australia's modern reputation was built on golden beaches, lavish high-camp movies, and outback adventure. It is known much more for pleasure than for piety. So the recent appointment of an Anglican priest as the new governor-general - the official representative of Queen Elizabeth II - has surprised this traditionally secular nation.Skip to next paragraph
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Rev. Peter Hollingworth is the latest high-profile appointment of a religious figure. In this nation, where 70 percent of people claim to be Christian but barely a sixth of them attend church, many people are questioning whether religious ideology is being allowed into government. Others wonder whether there are deeper stirrings of religious sentiment.
"One swallow does not make a summer," says the Anglican bishop of South Sydney, Robert Forsyth. "And there is still an intellectual antireligious fervor in much of Australia. But I think the appointment reflects a desire for some moral leadership."
Those who agree with that desire present evidence: A legal heroin injecting room opened this week in Sydney's red-light district of Kings Cross. Australia is home to 200,000 slot machines (15 percent of the world's total). Soft-core pornography is available at most news stands, and television programs are more permissive than in the United States, depicting nudity and sex.
But others say there's more than "one swallow" here. Prime Minister John Howard, who recommended the Rev. Hollingworth for approval to the queen, appointed a former Catholic priest two years ago to review the nation's welfare system. The Rev. Patrick McClure, now the head of an evangelical charity, made a report last August reinforcing the government policy of making welfare recipients, including mothers and some disabled, work for their checks.
Mr. Howard also appointed a Salvation Army commander, Maj. Brian Watters, as Australia's antidrug czar, who has pursued a US-style "war on drugs," rather than the liberal policies of legally prescribed heroin and marijuana decriminalization.
Hollingworth, archbishop of Brisbane, has tried to assuage the concerns of those who are uncomfortable with a man of the cloth holding a position that traditionally goes to a retired politician or jurist. "I'm a committed Anglican, and I'm also a committed ecumenist. I believe deeply in the importance of interfaith dialogue with all the great religions of the world," he says. "Hardest of all is that I will have to set aside for the next five years my role and function as a diocesan bishop in order to ensure that I will be in a position to serve all the people of Australia. I shall, of course, be a bishop for life, because that is the nature of Holy Orders. But I will not be able to exercise that function in a public way while I am governor-general."
He also pledged not to interfere in politics, trying to bury Australia's lingering ghost of 1975, when the governor-general dismissed the elected social-democratic Labor government and then dissolved Parliament. "The government of the day ... is the government that has been elected by the Australian people," Hollingworth said. "It is not the role of the governor-general to interfere. I would not cross the line."