Coast to coast controversy over stem cell vote

A NSW minister has compared Sydney Cardinal George Pell to controversial Muslim cleric Sheik Al-Din Hilali over his cloning vote intervention while the WA Speaker has described a similar message by Perth Archbishop Barry Hickey as a "contemptuous incursion" into parliamentary deliberations.

Addressing the NSW Parliament, Cabinet Minister Nathan Rees said that Cardinal Pell could be compared to "that serial boofhead Sheik al Hilali", the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Mr Rees, a Catholic, accused him of "emotional blackmail" for warning that Catholic MPs faced "consequences" in their religious lives if they supported a bill that would expand stem cell research.

"The hypocrisy is world-class. No government would seek to influence church teachings when providing taxpayer funds for refurbishment of St Mary's Cathedral, or taxpayer funds for the education of Catholic school children, or taxpayer funds to subsidise rates exemptions for churches," Mr Rees, the minister for water utilities and emergency services, said yesterday.

Catholic Labor frontbencher Kristina Keneally said she would not support the bill but criticised Cardinal Pell, accusing him of not taking a "pastoral approach to this issue".

"If the cardinal's approach is to start excommunicating Catholic MPs, I think he might want to know of my support for the ordination of women."

Planning Minister, Frank Sartor, a Catholic who supports the bill, described Cardinal Pell's comments as reminiscent of the church in the Dark Ages.

"I'm very sceptical about people who claim to speak in the name of God but are human beings, because if you look at history people have been burnt in oil in the name of God," he said.

"Now I don't think God ever wanted them burnt in oil - I would have thought that we have moved on.

"These are matters for individual conscience. Churches are there to guide us; they are not meant to be there to tell us."


The group Australian Reforming Catholics said Cardinal Pell had limited jurisdiction over Catholics in Australia and it could not be assumed he was an influential figure for all Catholics.

"Some Catholics assume he is the head of the Catholic church in Australia, but he isn't. He wouldn't even speak for all Catholics in his archdiocese, let alone all Catholic MPs in the NSW Parliament," the group's spokesman, John Buggy, said.

"He has gone beyond his jurisdiction - any action he takes can only be within his jurisdiction of the Sydney archdiocese, which does not even include all of Sydney."

But Catholic Healthcare Australia CEO, Francis Sullivan, said Cardinal Pell had a legitimate right to put the church's position.

The Catholic Women's League NSW has also come to Cardinal Pell's defence.

The Wollongong branch's Communications Officer Wendy Kiley said that the cardinal was "only doing his duty in reminding our local leaders of the responsibilities of their apostolate as Baptised Catholics."

Hickey criticised in Perth

Meanwhile, Perth Archbishop Barry Hickey, who backed Cardinal Pell, was also under fire for saying Catholic politicians supporting stem cell research could be refused holy communion and may face excommunication.

"I'm certain he's overstepped the mark," said Fred Riebeling, Speaker in Western Australia's Parliament.

Archbishop Hickey said Catholics who did not condemn cloning of human embryos for medical research were acting against the teachings of the Catholic faith.

"Catholics who vote for the cloning of embryos destined for destruction are acting against the teaching of the Church on a very serious matter and they should in conscience not vote that way, but if they do in conscience they should not go to communion," he told the West Australian newspaper.

Archbishop Hickey also said he would consider excommunication, but would rather the issue be solved voluntarily by the politicians themselves.

But Mr Riebeling said Archbishop Hickey's comments were disappointing.

"The Archbishop is a very important person but no matter who he is, it is inappropriate for him to threaten politicians with consequences.

"The issue is irrelevant - it could be the fish and chip act but members shouldn't be threatened."

Archbishop Hickey today said he did not believe he had threatened politicians.

"But on this very vital area I couldn't be silent," he said.

"I had to speak about conscience and I would call on Catholic politicians to examine their conscience before taking communion if they supported stemcell research."

Archbishop Hickey said the excommunication of politicians would be a last resort.

Conscience before church, priest urges (The Australian, 7/6/07)
Minister says Pell as bad as that 'boofhead Hilaly'(Sydney Morning Herald, 7/6/07)
Backlash over Church threat (Adelaide Now, 7/6/07)
Abbott defends Pell's warning to Catholic MPs (The West Australian, 7/6/07)
Anger over Archbishop's stem cell threats (The Australian, 7/6/07)
Pell 'risks comparison with sheik' (Sydney Morning Herald, 7/6/07)
Speaker rebukes Archbishop (ABC News, 6/6/07)
Wendy Kiley, In Support of Cardinal George Pell (Catholic Women's League Australia NSW, 6/6/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Archdiocese of Sydney
Archdiocese of Perth
Cloning (Wikipedia)
George Pell (Wikipedia)
Barry Hickey (Wikipedia)

Catholic pols defy stem cell communion threat (CathNews, 6/6/07)
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)

7 Jun 2007