Vinnies face trial over bias allegations

A leading Vinnies volunteer who is a non-Catholic is suing the Society for religious discrimination after it advised her to either become a Catholic, resign her elected position, or leave the Society.

The Australian reports that the Society may be forced to change its constitution in Australia because of the looming case in Queensland's Anti-Discrimination Tribunal, brought by former volunteer and local area president Linda Walsh, a Presbyterian.

Ms Walsh was a leading light in the organisation for more than six years, working full-time - as one of the 5,000 non-Catholics in the society's 8,000-strong volunteer force in Queensland - with refugees and migrants, and holding the elected position of president of three local conferences, or area groups, in Brisbane.

But in 2004, despite being previously open about her religious status, the State Council of the Society allegedly informed her that her "non-Catholic" status had become a "point of contention for some members" of the organisation.

Ms Walsh said she was then advised she had three options: to become a Catholic, resign her elected position and remain with the Society only as a member, or leave the Society.

She has not worked with the organisation since. Instead, the mother of four launched legal action against the Society, seeking financial damages for pain and suffering, and changes to the worldwide constitution banning non-Catholics from leadership positions except in extreme cases.

The Society last week lost its bid to have the action thrown out on the grounds it was "frivolous and trivial" and that the ban is exempt from Australia's anti-discrimination laws because it constituted a "genuine occupational requirement".

In its plea to the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal, the society said a worldwide review of its constitution in 2003 had stated that the "Catholic beliefs and ethos" of the organisation must be preserved.

The society's state president, John Campbell, said the organisation welcomed volunteers and staff from "all walks of life" and that assistance was provided to anyone in need.

"But presidents, vice-presidents and spiritual advisers must be Catholic to maintain the ethos of the society," he said.

Vinnies' Catholic bias put on trial (The Australian, 10/4/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Vinnies Australia
Anti-Discrimination Tribunal Queensland

Carbon levy to hit poor, Vinnies researcher fears (CathNews, 29/3/07)
Vinnies volunteer crisis over "sackings" (CathNews, 5/2/07)
Vinnies says "no" to Govt money (CathNews, 6/4/06)

10 Apr 2007

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