Australian Rules-Essendon CEO quits after one day in the job over church links

FILE PHOTO: NAB Group CEO Andrew Thorburn poses for a photocall outside their office in Sydney, Australia May 2, 2018. Picture taken May 2, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Andrew Thorburn resigned as chief executive of Australian Football League club Essendon a day after his appointment following an immediate backlash over his links to a church that expressed opposition to homosexuality and abortion.

Thorburn, chairman of the Christian 'City on a Hill' church, quit his Essendon role on Tuesday, with the Melbourne-based club saying the church's views contradicted their own.

Essendon cited a 2013 article published by the church that urged people with "same-sex attraction" to seek help from senior Christians to "survive these temptations".

"We acted immediately to clarify the publicly espoused views on the organisation’s official website, which are in direct contradiction to our values as a club,” Essendon President Dave Barham said in a statement.

"The board made clear that, despite these not being views that Andrew Thorburn has expressed personally and that were also made prior to him taking up his role as chairman, he couldn’t continue to serve in his dual roles" at the club and the church.

"The board respects Andrew's decision."

Thorburn, a former chief executive of National Australia Bank, one of the country's biggest banks, said in a statement that it was clear to him his faith was "not tolerated or permitted in the public square, at least by some and perhaps by many".

"As it happens, I do sometimes disagree with things I hear in church - but I believe strongly in the right of people to say them, especially when taken in context," he said.

"Reducing complex matters to a sentence is dangerous. Australia has a long tradition of diversity and religious freedom, and that must include preserving space for religious people to be able to express their religious beliefs."

Thorburn's resignation was announced after Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews criticised Essendon for the appointment.

"Those views are absolutely appalling. I don’t support those views, that kind of intolerance, that kind of hatred, bigotry. It is just wrong," he told reporters.

The "Purple Bombers", an Essendon fan group advocating diversity and inclusion, also opposed Thorburn's appointment.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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