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The Hypocrisy of Religion: Catholic Cardinal threatens State Politicians
by Kingfisher Tuesday, Jun 5 2007, 3:25pm
international / social/political / commentary

SYDNEY -- A comment by Catholic Archbishop George Pell directed at Catholic Premier, Morris Iemma and other Catholic politicians, is clearly an attempt by the church to interfere with matters of State. Is this a case of an insular Cardinal pining for the good ol’ days when the Holy Roman Empire ruled Europe with a corrupt iron cross or is it a case of blatant religious hypocrisy? Perhaps the Cardinal’s comments relating to stem cell issues constitute a clear case of criminal blackmail – legal advocates may find a prime target in Cardinal Pell. A legal action could be interpreted as the State clearly delineating a distinction between matters of church and matters of State – Cardinals may discover they can’t have their cake and eat it with impunity!

Cardinal George Pell
Cardinal George Pell

A believer would consider excommunication or denial of communion a very intimidating threat especially from a person who holds high office in the church. The current Pope, Ratzinger, a former Hitler-youth, confirms the ultra-right wing position of today’s Catholic Church. While Cardinal Pell’s comments may be perfectly compatible with current church views they nevertheless betray a certain nostalgia or even envy, Islam makes no distinction between Church and State -- an unlikely possibility may be that we are simply dealing with a religionist in wonderland.

‘Show me a religionist and I will show you a brazen hypocrite’, a very old and accurate adage. Perhaps we should refer the Cardinal to his saviour’s own words in a circumstance that would have surely elicited a mundane response from most; after enduring inhuman tortures and scorn the saviour responded to challenges of his authority/Kingship by clearly stating that his ‘Kingdom is not of this world’ but life and history have taught us there is no greater hypocrite than a religious hypocrite. The teachings of Jesus Christ have little relevance in today’s ‘Christian’ organisations!

If the Cardinal (deluded or otherwise) is permitted to flagrantly intimidate and threaten individuals and meddle in temporal affairs with impunity then dear readers we should all seek sanctuary in his Cathedral on the very next occasion we run foul of the law.

Another cup of tea, anyone?



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Pell's standover tactics are unfit for a pluralist democracy
by Paul Collins via rialator - SMH Tuesday, Jun 5 2007, 11:36pm

Many people would agree with Cardinal George Pell on the issue of therapeutic cloning. But it is not possible to agree with him about Catholic politicians facing the consequences of voting in favour of the bill before the NSW Parliament.

Presumably he is referring to withdrawal of Communion. This seems an extreme, unjustified stance.

There's a background to this story. In the US during the 2004 presidential election there was a small group of bishops who called for a ban on Communion for Catholic politicians who supported a constitutional right to an abortion or same-sex marriage. The most prominent of them was Archbishop Raymond Burke of St Louis. One of Burke's Episcopal colleagues even threatened Catholic voters who supported pro-choice candidates.

Burke's stance was significant because it was primarily directed at the Democratic Party candidate for president, John Kerry, a pro-choice Catholic. The majority of the US bishops, however, while disapproving of abortion, same-sex marriage and stem cell research, didn't exclude Catholic politicians from Communion when they voted in support of these issues. They understood their complexity.

At first the then cardinal Joseph Ratzinger seemed to support Burke, but afterwards apparently backtracked. In his recent encyclical God Is Love, Ratzinger - now Pope Benedict XVI - says there is a distinction between the roles of church and state, and that Catholic social teaching "has no intention of giving the church power over the state".

"Even less [does it] attempt to impose on those who do not share the faith, ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to faith," it notes in paragraph 28.

This is the nub of the question: Catholic politicians are not elected just to represent Catholics. They make decisions for the whole community on contentious issues such as therapeutic cloning and stem cell research. Allowing that they act with integrity, they must be given the freedom to make choices on these issues according to their informed consciences. The Catholic tradition is that no one, including bishops, can force or determine another's conscience.

This is precisely what the federal Workplace Relations Minister, Joe Hockey, a Catholic, did when the therapeutic cloning bill was before Parliament in December 2006. In his speech he referred explicitly to his Catholic faith and formation: "The Jesuits who taught me at school instilled in me a strong sense of faith and compassion. They also taught me about the importance of a free and informed conscience. Provided my conscience is clear then my decision to support the bill must be based on sound medical reasoning."

Pell also talks about "properly informed conscience" which he, however, identifies with church teaching. He discounts the other operative issues that also play a part. For conscientious decision making is a complex process as Hockey, a member of Pell's archdiocese, indicates. Faith, compassion, church teaching, one's public role and responsibility to others, as well as a weighing-up of the pros and cons of a moral issue, are all part of decision making.

For the Catholic it involves taking papal teaching seriously - and here remember that the prohibition on therapeutic cloning is not part of the fundamental deposit of faith. It is a new issue about which there is contention among Catholic moralists.

But a Catholic politician also has responsibility to the broader community. In that community there are many people who sincerely believe that therapeutic cloning is morally justified because of the good that may flow from it. Catholic politicians have to take this seriously. They then weigh up the issues and follow their conscience.

But rather than respecting their decision Pell threatens them. This is an inappropriate way for a church leader to act in a pluralist society. His job is to outline the Catholic position and let politicians act according to their conscience. In Australia the church has to argue its case, not stand over our elected representatives.

As well, Pell's remit ceases at the borders of the archdiocese of Sydney. Greater Sydney is also made up of the dioceses of Broken Bay and Parramatta. It would be interesting to know if the Cardinal consulted the bishops of these dioceses, or even the other bishops of NSW before he made his statement. If they don't support him he could be isolated and his strictures about Communion will apply only to Catholic politicians in the Sydney archdiocese. Altogether, a most unsatisfactory situation.

A former Catholic priest, Paul Collins is an author, historian and church commentator.

© 2007 The Sydney Morning Herald

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