Pell slams "stalinist" parliamentary contempt probe

Reacting to a Greens-initiated investigation by the NSW parliamentary privileges committee into his comments on stem cell cloning, Sydney Cardinal George Pell has described the inquiry as a "clumsy attempt" to curb free speech with a "whiff of stalinism".

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Cardinal Pell made the comments after the announcement on Friday of investigation, instigated by NSW Greens MP Lee Rhiannon.

"In a free society, anti-Christians like the Green, Lee Rhiannon, have every right to express their views," the Cardinal said.

"However, there is a whiff of Stalinism or perhaps only of Henry the 8th in her attempt to use this referral as a 'warning' to me.

"I respect parliamentary procedures and would be privileged to appear before the committee if necessary, to resist this clumsy attempt to curb religious freedom and freedom of speech," Cardinal Pell told the ABC.

"Now the church, in many, or most, cases, doesn't take any official action on this apart from saying that such an activity is wrong.

"But those consequences follow inevitably in the heart and the soul of the person who takes actions. That's what religion is about."

Cardinal Pell ignited a debate about religious intervention in politics this month when he said Catholic MPs who supported a bill to overturn a ban on therapeutic cloning "must realise that their voting has consequences for their place in the life of the church".

After the bill was passed with the support of several Catholic MPs, including Premier Morris Iemma, Cardinal Pell said politicians who had voted for the bill should examine their conscience before next receiving Holy Communion.

But in an interview on ABC radio's Sunday Profile last night, Cardinal Pell said his comments - widely interpreted as a threat to refuse Communion to those MPs - had been misrepresented.

"I never outlined that [the refusal of Communion] except as a hypothetical possibility," he said. "I never threatened anybody with a public excommunication and I've stated quite publicly that that's a very blunt instrument and it's hardly ever been used here in Australia."

However, when asked if he would have given Communion to Mr Iemma after the vote, Cardinal Pell was non-committal, saying, "we'd cross that bridge when we come to it".

Earlier the Daily Telegraph had reported that Cardinal Pell could face up to 25 years in prison following an extraordinary move by the NSW Greens to have him investigated for contempt of Parliament.

Hickey apologises

Meanwhile, the West Australian reports that Perth Catholic Archbishop Barry Hickey has made a veiled apology to pro-life Catholic MPs in a letter sent to his priests, saying he acknowledges he may have undermined their independence with his controversial comments on stem cell research.

In the letter, printed in this week's edition of Catholic newspaper The Record, Archbishop Hickey said if his comments had made pro-life Catholic MPs feel compromised then he owed them an apology.

"Unfortunately, I may have placed pro-life Catholic MPs in a difficult position by my stance and undermined their independence," he said in the letter.

"They may feel compromised and be accused of voting at the bidding of the Church. If this is so, I owe them an apology because I have always admired their courage."

Archbishop Hickey came under fire last week after warning Catholic MPs they could be refused Holy Communion and faced excommunication if they supported contentious stem cell research legislation.

Investigation like Stalinism, claims Pell (Sydney Morning Herald, 18/6/07)
Cardinal Pell defends stem cell warning (News.com.au, 18/6/07)
Pell says stem cell vote warning hypothetical (ABC News, 17/6/07)
Pell faces jail for contempt (Daily Telegraph, 17/6/07)
NSW MPs to probe Cardinal Pell's warning (Sydney Morning Herald, 17/6/07)
Pell could be in contempt (Sydney Morning Herald, 16/6/07)
Hickey apologises to pro-life Catholic MPs (The West Australian, 16/6/07)
Stem cell comments misrepresented: Pell (Sydney Morning Herald, 17/6/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Defending his right to speak: Cardinal George Pell (Sunday Profile 17/6/07
Barry Hickey (Wikipedia)
Cloning (Wikipedia)
George Pell (Wikipedia)

WA speaker raps Hickey (CathNews, 15/6/07)
Barry Hickey (Wikipedia)
Cloning (Wikipedia)
George Pell (Wikipedia)
John Buggy, Threats do Church no favours, say reformists (The West Australian, 11/6/07)
Watershed week for church/state relations in Australia (ABC Religion Report, 13/6/07)

Pell sticks to stem cell guns (CathNews, 12/6/07)
WA parliament may reprimand Hickey (CathNews, 8/6/07)
Anglicans, Baptists back Pell (CathNews, 8/6/07)
Coast to coast controversy over stem cell vote (CathNews, 7/6/07)
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)

18 Jun 2007