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Thursday, 14 February 2013
Page: 1529

Mr BOWEN (McMahonMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Minister for Small Business) (11:28): I rise to pay tribute to his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. To say that Pope Benedict took the world by surprise would be an understatement; surely it was a huge shock to everybody. What has become clear is that this was a very brave decision by the Pope, a decision that he clearly had been grappling with to put his church and his faith first. His Holiness has been dealing with the modernisation of what is almost by definition an inherently conservative organisation. By the manner of his departure he has perhaps taken the most spectacular and clear modernising action of them all, and clearly he will be well remembered for it.

You do not need to be a Catholic to respect and admire the Pope or to respect and admire the humility and courage of his decision. I know that parishioners of the Catholic churches in my electorate of McMahon would be pleased, if on their behalf, I paid my respects to his Holiness on his retirement in the House of Representatives.

Our Lady Queen of Peace at Greystanes; Holy Spirit, St Clair; Our Lady of the Rosary, Fairfield; Mary Immaculate, Bossley Park; and Our Lady of Victories, Horsley Park, are all very important parishes in the Catholic community, shared between the Archdiocese of Sydney and the diocese of Parramatta and very important and valued parts of our McMahon community. I know the member for Fowler, my neighbour, has similar views about the importance of the Catholic Church and the Catholic community in his electorate and it is appropriate that we pay our respects.

This pope will be warmly remembered in Australia for his visit and for the canonisation of Mary MacKillop, our first saint—particularly in my electorate again, an event celebrated at Mary MacKillop College in Wakeley, a college that my honourable friend and I share the school fence as the boundary between our two electorates. It does not get much more shared than that. It is a very important part of south-western Sydney community.

I think that Australians will appreciate that respect and honesty of Pope Benedict's motives in resigning. As I said before, he has put the interest of his church ahead of his own. It is a big decision. That he had the honesty to say that he could no longer lead as he believes he should the most important office that he holds and that he is part of something bigger, something more important, was a very moving thing for him to do and a very moving announcement. Our thoughts go to the Catholic Church as they deal with the matter of succession and the election of a new shepherd for the church.

In addition, I would like to put on record my respect and admiration for Pope Benedict's keen interest in pursuing peaceful and genuine dialogue between other great Abrahamic faiths, the people of the book, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism—something that he has really taken a keen interest in and tried to progress.

I would also like to record that his particular concern, and one that I have expressed in the House and the member for Fowler has expressed in the House on many occasions, was the safety and wellbeing of Christian minorities of the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, Egypt and Syria—not exclusively of Catholic; some heavy Catholic representation in Iraq through the Chaldean branch of the Catholic Church but also Coptic Orthodox and Orthodox churches of the east and the Middle East and His Holiness did make representation of those very significant concerns a priority of his time in office.

He led the church into the digital age of Twitter. He registered for Twitter, and I think immediately in seconds had more followers than most people in the House could ever dream of accumulating as hard as we all try. I think that says a lot about his leadership and, as I said, his dealing with the shepherding through and dealing with issues of modernity in a respected and conservative organisation.

He has been vocal on the issue of climate change and introducing initiatives to make Vatican City State carbon neutral. He has also been vocal on the church's role in ensuring a sustainable environment.

This pope has very clearly been a well-respected theologian and a deep thinker as well as the leader of his church. He came to office with that reputation. Now we can all look back and see the tell-tale signs. He was asked about what his view would be of a pope who no longer felt that he had the energy or the health to continue. He said that the Pope could and should hand over office. It was a hypothetical question at that point, but his response showed that he had brought great thought and consideration to the questions of his responsibility: whether his responsibility was to keep going as long as he possibly could or whether his responsibility was to take the action that he felt necessary to ensure that the papacy was occupied by one with the energy, the health and the ability to take the ministry of the Catholic Church around the world and to provide the leadership that one billion Catholics around the world so appreciate and treasure.

I join, I am sure, with every single member of the House, of all faiths and persuasions, in wishing all the very best to Cardinal Ratzinger, His Holiness the Pope, and in paying respect for his time as leader of the institution of the Catholic Church.