Australia Cardinal Defends Right to Speak on Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 18, 2007   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Australia Cardinal Defends Right to Speak on Embryonic Stem Cell Research

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
June 18
, 2007

Canberra, Australia ( — A top Catholic Church leader in Australia is defending his stance on embryonic stem cell research and comments he made that he may excommunicate Catholic elected officials who support a bill forcing taxpayers to fund it.

The legislature of the province of New South Wales is considering such a bill and several Catholic MPs have said they will support it.

Last month, Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell, threatened to deny communion to them because the bill would fund the destruction of human life as scientists obtain the cells from days-old unborn children.

Since then, he has come under fire for the comments and some members of the province’s parliament have indicated they think its wrong for a top religious official to speak out on political issues.

Pell called those elected officials "intolerant parliamentarians" for trying to silence him. They have asked the State Parliament’s privileges committee to determine whether his comments about Catholic politicians was in contempt of Parliament.

He specifically singled out Greens MP Lee Rhiannon for seeking to limit the say of the churches but defended his right to speak.

"None of us as religious people should co-operate with that or oblige them in any way," he said of efforts to shut down church leaders. "We must insist on our right of expression of public views."

He said Australia legal principles protect religious officials like him from "interfering government and over-enthusiastic parliamentarians."

Rhiannon told the Brisbane Times that she thinks Cardinal Pell should be able to speak but not use an MPs religion against him.

"I’ve consistently said Cardinal Pell has a right to participate in debate but he did cross the line when he used people’s religious life as a point of leverage to gain support for a no vote in the stem cell bill," she said.

"Cardinal Pell is learning there [are] boundaries in the way he conducts himself," she added.

About the bill, Pell previously said, "It is a serious moral matter and Catholic politicians who vote for this legislation must realize that their voting has consequences for the place in the life of the Church."

"I don’t think that any Catholic politician, any Christian politician, any pro-life politician who has properly informed his or her conscience should vote for these changes," the bishop added.

Pell told ABC he’s not suggesting politicians will be excommunicated, but is leaving open the option of denying communion.

"I don’t believe in crossing bridges before you get to them and I am hoping all the Catholic politicians here in New South Wales will do the right thing," he said.