Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Clerics and State: Still at Odds

After Mexico City's recent abortion row -- which ended up with it becoming legalized in the capital -- the local hierarchy was accused of illegal medding in politics, on which it was subsequently cleared.

Now on deck, however: a campaign to change the law.
[P]relates say they are tired of being challenged over their every word.

"If the Mexican Constitution's articles six and seven guarantee the right of free speech to all individuals ... then any law that limits that speech is like making priests second-class citizens," Carlos Villa, a church spokesman in Mexico City, said Monday.

Armando Martinez, president of Mexico's Catholic Lawyers College, said the church has asked his group to draw up a proposal to be presented in about two weeks to change the laws and allow the church to participate fully in public debate.

"Mexico is one of the countries that most restricts human rights and freedom of speech in religion," Martinez said.

He called for changes that would allow priests to "fully express themselves politically" without supporting political parties or running as candidates.

The current law, passed in the 1990s, forbids clerics from "forming associations for political ends" and bars them from partisan politics or holding political meetings at churches.

Prelates who violate the law can face fines or the closing of their churches....

"The Interior Department rushed to exonerate" Cardinal Norberto Rivera, said Jesus Robles, who filed the complaint against Rivera and other church officials.

"We didn't want to limit their right to free speech. But for historical reasons, which I think are still valid, in our country they cannot be allowed to attack our country's institutions and political parties."
...and in this week's world capital of ecclesio-political sparring -- i.e. Australia -- last week's defeat on an embryonic stem-cell research bill isn't getting Cardinal George Pell off-message:

As well as arguments about whether it is right to destroy early human life for some real or hoped-for gain, another controversy erupted over whether bishops, or the Pope, have any rights to point out Catholic teaching to the public and remind the politicians, especially Catholics, that public acts usually bring public consequences.

Some seemed to suggest that while a football club, a political party or a business certainly could in some circumstances sack or exclude a member or employee, it was totally out of order to suggest a Christian church might even consider a similar possibility.

Certainly, Pope Benedict teaches that an unrepentant abortionist should not receive Communion.

A few intolerant politicians want to ban religious argument in public life, so that the only permissible reasoning will be irreligious or anti-religious.

The views of Barry Hickey, the Catholic Archbishop of Perth, which are similar to Pope Benedict's, have been referred to the WA state parliamentary privileges committee for investigation by the speaker Fred Riebeling, who sees the possible application of Catholic discipline as a "threat''.

The debate also raised interesting questions about what it means to be a Catholic follower of Jesus Christ.

A few politicians trumpeted their Catholicity as they publicly rejected Catholic teachings; this is not good logic.

The Catholic Church is not a duty-free assembly of free-thinkers. Neither is it a group of people who loyally follow their conscience. Every person has to do that.

A Catholic is someone who believes Christ is Son of God, accepts His teachings and lives a life of worship, service and duty in the community. Catholics are not created by the accident of birth to remain only because their tribe has an interesting history.

All Catholics who continue to reject important Catholic teachings - even in areas such as sexuality, family, marriage, abortion, euthanasia, cloning where "liberals'' claim the primacy of conscience rules - should expect to be confronted, gently and consistently, rather than comforted and encouraged in their wrongdoing.

Certainly, every Catholic politician who voted for this bill should think twice and examine his or her conscience before next receiving Communion.

On Sunday -- the same day the above ran in the cardinal's weekly column in the Daily Telegraph -- several of the bill's Catholic supporters within Pell's archdiocese queued up for the Eucharist...

...and not to ask for a blessing, either.
CATHOLIC MPs, including the Deputy Premier, John Watkins, and the Nationals' Adrian Piccoli, ignored warnings from the Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell, and received Communion at Mass yesterday....

Mr Watkins said he went to Mass with his family and received Communion as he does every weekend.

The Transport Minister said he had a discussion with his parish priest, who was happy for him to receive Communion despite Mr Watkins supporting an expansion of stem cell research.

"I wrote to all parishes in my electorate with an outline of the legislation, and explaining why I voted for it. I offered for this to be made public to any parishioners who asked about this issue," he said.

"Within half an hour of sending it I heard back from one of my parishes, saying I was welcome there any time. My office has so far received about half a dozen emails about this issue from people in my electorate, and I expect to receive more. Half were urging me to vote for the legislation, the other half were opposed."

The Premier, Morris Iemma, also backed the stem-cell bill but missed church yesterday because he had bronchitis and was in Newcastle until late Saturday inspecting storm damage.

Mr Iemma has said he did not believe Cardinal Pell had overstepped the mark despite calls for the cardinal's comments to be referred to a parliamentary committee to determine whether they were in contempt of Parliament.