Linda Walsh, a former volunteer and local area president of the St Vincent de Paul Society, who is sueing the organisation for religious discrimination, relaxes near her home in Brisbane.
Linda Walsh, a former volunteer and local area president of the St Vincent de Paul Society, who is sueing the organisation for religious discrimination, relaxes near her home in Brisbane.

Vinnies volunteer sacked for not being Catholic

VINNIES has vowed to "take a very different approach" in the future after it emerged the charity sacked a regional president who wasn't Catholic and had to pay her compensation.

The axing has come to light following a report by The Daily Telegraph that Vinnies was furious the federal government had cast it as a winner under new religious discrimination legislation which would allow charities to hire people of their own faith - claiming it would never seek to preference Catholics.

But that claim has been called into question by the treatment of volunteer Linda Walsh who received $27,500 from Vinnies by order of Queensland's Anti-Discrimination Tribunal in 2008.

Linda Walsh won an anti-discrimination case against St Vincent De Paul. Picture: News Corp Australia
Linda Walsh won an anti-discrimination case against St Vincent De Paul. Picture: News Corp Australia

While Ms Walsh had been open about not being Catholic when she joined in 1997, the tribunal found it became a "point of contention" in 2003 after she was made Logan conference president. She was told to either become a Catholic, resign her position.

In its unsuccessful defence, Vinnies pointed to an "international rule" of the society that said the "Catholic Ethos" of its conferences had to be preserved so "the President, Vice-President and Spiritual Adviser should, therefore, be Catholic".

Ms Walsh could not be contacted yesterday, but Vinnies national president Claire Victory said: "I think the society would take a very different ­approach if that situation arose in the future".

Ms Victory also revealed she had sought detailed legal advice on the international rule, which is still in place.

"We want to make sure we are not discriminating against people," she said.

The rule only applied to those three leadership positions within each of its 1100 conferences,

Vinnies were furious when included as a winner in the federal government’s religious discrimination announcement. Picture: Katrina Bridgeford.
Vinnies were furious when included as a winner in the federal government’s religious discrimination announcement. Picture: Katrina Bridgeford.

Ms Victory said, not to Vinnies' 3000 employees or 40,000 shop volunteers.

Vinnies conferences would not be covered by the government's proposed bill, she said, though it would apply to employees and store volunteers.

"The Attorney-General has suggested that we would, could or should use a particular exemption to recruit only ­Catholics as employees or volunteers in our shops or other services," Ms Victory said.

"That's not the case. We wouldn't seek to do that."

Attorney-General Christian Porter declined to comment yesterday, as did Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

A Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney spokeswoman yesterday said "some religious ­organisations may choose not to avail themselves of the protections afforded by this bill, but others may choose to do so. The bill allows for such a choice to be made, which is a positive development in a law that is intended to respect individual freedoms."


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