Catholic pols defy stem cell communion threat

Catholic politicians in NSW, including Premier Morris Iemma, say they will vote for controversial stem cell legislation despite a warning by Cardinal George Pell that they risk being barred from communion.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Mr Iemma and his deputy, John Watkins, will defy the church's warnings that they face "consequences" in their religious lives to support a bill to expand stem cell research in NSW.

Sydney Cardinal Pell said Catholic MPs would need to think seriously about taking Holy Communion, the sacrament central to Catholic life, if they voted for therapeutic cloning.

Mr Iemma and Mr Watkins yesterday confirmed they would back the bill, while the Nationals MP Adrian Piccoli, another practising Catholic, said he would support the bill, adding "I would like to see them try and stop me [taking Holy Communion]."

Mr Piccoli said: "The cardinal's comments are unacceptable. We don't accept that Muslims should influence politics, so I don't see why Catholics should."

"I'm going to vote for it," Mr Piccoli told The Australian. "Muslims are berated for trying to bring religion into politics, so I'm not going to be accused of the same thing.

"This is a decision for my conscience, and what is in the best interests of my electorate."

A spokesman for Mr Iemma said the Premier would continue to take Holy Communion despite Cardinal Pell's warning.

Cardinal Pell said he was not threatening Catholic MPs with excommunication but he did not rule out that their "yes" vote could "loosen" their bonds with the church, which strongly opposes therapeutic cloning.

The lower house was last night due to begin debating whether to allow scientists to obtain stem cells from embryos through a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer. If passed, it would mirror federal legislation.

Human cloning for reproduction will remain banned in NSW. MPs will cast their conscience votes today.

Another Catholic, the Liberal MP Greg Smith, said he would not support the bill but believed it was matter for each individual's conscience, while the Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, also a Catholic, said he would consider Cardinal Pell's comments before deciding whether to vote for the bill.

Pell cloning threat to MPs backfires (The Australian, 6/6/07)
Catholic MPs to defy Pell over bill (Sydney Morning Herald, 6/6/07)
Archbisop threatens Catholic politicans (ABC PM, 5/6/07)
Vote for embryonic stem-cell research has consequences for Catholic pols, prelate says (Catholic Online, 5/6/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Life Office
Cloning (Wikipedia)
Archdiocese of Sydney

Pell slams "open slather" for stem cell research (CathNews, 5/6/07)
Life office slams human "sub-class" Vic cloning law (CathNews, 11/5/07)
Hart confronts Bracks over cloning legislation (CathNews, 12/4/07)
Bracks defies Pope on cloning (CathNews, 19/3/07)
Archbishop Hart condemns cloning laws (CathNews, 14/3/07)
Christianity not driver in cloning vote: Garrett (CathNews, 19/12/06)
Christian opposition fails to stop cloning bill passage (CathNews, 7/12/06)
Late amendment puts cloning bill passage in doubt (CathNews, 6/12/06)
Premiers face stem cell backlash as Hart criticises debate (CathNews, 24/7/06)
Catholics divided over stem cells (CathNews, 14/7/06)
Don't lift ban on cloning, says Brennan (CathNews, 23/6/06)

6 Jun 2007