Pell derides 'dissenter' complaint

Cardinal Pell yesterday dismissed a letter written by a group of prominent Australian Catholics to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as a "real hoot".

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the group had directly challenged the teaching of Cardinal Pell, who charactised the signatories as Catholic dissenters of the "loyal opposition"

Appealing for the Vatican's intervention, the group's members say Cardinal Pell's "explication of Catholic doctrine is inaccurate, misleading, and not true to the Catholic tradition".

The group does not go so far as to accuse Australia's most influential Catholic of heresy.

Instead, it charges that Cardinal Pell's denial of the priority the church gives to conscience in individual moral decisions places his public views "outside the mainstream" of Catholic doctrine.

It has called on the Congregation to insist that Cardinal Pell confine his remarks to church teaching.

The dissent comes chiefly from outside the Archdiocese of Sydney. Signatories include Loreto Sr Veronica Brady, a senior research fellow at the University of Western Australia, the Melbourne Catholic philosopher Professor Max Charlesworth, the NSW district court judge Chris Geraghty, the pioneer of state aid to Catholic schools, Fr Frank Martin, and a commentator on papal issues, Paul Collins.

"There has never been a traditional Catholic teaching of the primacy of conscience," Cardinal Pell told the Herald. "This was one of the great issues at the Reformation and the word of God remains supreme no matter how uncomfortable this is for the loyal opposition, for Catholic dissenters. A watch or clock is always useful, especially when it is telling the correct time."

The dispute centres on the ultimate right of Catholics to make moral judgements based on individual conscience, even if it is in error. It lies at the heart of debate in the church over contraception and on moral and ethical questions surrounding bioethics, euthanasia and abortion.

The group wrote in November to Archbishop William Levada, recently appointed by the Pope as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Three months later they have not received an acknowledgment, although a group spokesman said this was no indication that the Vatican was not taking the complaint seriously.

The group maintains the cardinal's position places personal conscience and truth as taught by the church in opposition to each other, and is "caricaturing any claim to the primacy of conscience as a rejection of the church's teaching".

Meanwhile the National Catholic Reporter's Rome correspondent John L. Allen - in Sydney last week - reports on a panel discussion that included Fr Frank Brennan SJ, who said he believed Catholics of good conscience could have voted either way on the RU486 bill.

Allen said that Pell was sitting in the audience, with Brennan candidly acknowledging, "I know Cardinal Pell would disagree with me on this."

In his regular Word from Rome column on Friday, Allen spoke of Pell's "strong convictions" as instrumental in making him "an increasingly important point of reference for English-speaking Catholicism worldwide".

Pell subject of complaint to Vatican (Sydney Morning Herald 20/2/06)
John L. Allen: The church and the media (National Catholic Reporter 17/2/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Archdiocese of Sydney

Catholics complain to Vatican about Cardinal Pell (American Papist)
Catholics complain to Vatican over Pell (The Age 20/2/06)
Vatican complaints lodged over Pell (The Australian/Australian Associated Press 19/2/06)

20 Feb 2006