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Australian Cardinal in Rome expresses concern for refugees

Retired Vatican official Cardinal Edward Cassidy, has raised concerns in Rome about Australia's treatment of asylum seekers.

"I wonder if our recent handling of the refugee people seeking to enter Australia has been without blemish," Cardinal Cassidy said while celebrating Mass in Rome.

Cardinal Cassidy, who until his recent retirement was head of the Vatican Council for Christian Unity and a former head of the Vatican's diplomatic corps, made his comments during his homily at an Australia Day Mass in Rome.

The Australian ambassador to Italy, Murray Cobban, was present.

Cardinal Cassidy's comments were further evidence of mounting unease within the Catholic Church and the Vatican at Australia's handling of the asylum seeker issue.

But, last week, Prime Minister John Howard said he was not aware of any concerns expressed by the Vatican or the Pope, despite comments in last week's Sunday Age about the Pope's deep disquiet over the treatment of asylum seekers, from Australia's ambassador to Ireland and the Holy See, Bob Halverson.

Information about the situation of refugees in the Woomera detention camp has reached the Vatican through its diplomatic representative in Australia, Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Francesco Canalini, who has publicly confirmed he sent details to the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Refugees.

Sunday Age