MPs divided on church's stem cell threat

By Alex Easton

CATHOLIC Archbishop of Sydney George Pell is out of step with his flock and his threats of 'consequences' against Catholic MPs backing a stem cell research Bill are offensive, Lennox Head-based MLC Catherine Cusack says.

Local State MPs Catherine Cusack, Thomas George, Don Page and Steve Cansdell had varying opinions on Cardinal Pell's warning to Catholic politicians.

Cardinal Pell did not spell out the precise consequences of backing the Bill. He ruled out excommunication, but hinted he might refuse communion to the State's Catholic Premier, Morris Iemma, who firmly backs the Bill.

"It is a serious moral matter and Catholic politicians who vote for this legislation must realise that their voting has consequences for their place in the life of the church," he was reported saying.

The Bill passed the NSW Parliament's Lower House yesterday 65 votes to 26.

Catholic MLC Catherine Cusack, who says she will back the Bill in the Upper House, attacked the comments, describing them as offensive and disrespectful.

"The issuing of religious fatwas is something you expect to have happen from Islamic fundamentalists in Iran, not in NSW," she said.

However, speaking before yesterday's vote, she said Catholic MPs would ignore the warning and follow their conscience.

Anglican Don Page, who voted for the Bill, said he was concerned Cardinal Pell was attempting to breach the separation of Church and state that underlay Australian democracy.

"You can have a Christian in Parliament; you need people with values, without a doubt," he said.

However, if Parliament went out of its way to conform to the laws and beliefs of the Catholic Church, then it would have to do the same with all religions, he said.

Catholic Thomas George and non-denominational Christian Steve Cansdell, who both voted against the Bill, had no problem with Cardinal Pell's comments.

"I didn't take exception to it," Mr George said. "He feels very strongly about it."

Mr George said the pressure exerted by Cardinal Pell was no different to the pressure put on MPs by many groups on many issues.

Mr Cansdell conceded Cardinal Pell 'could have phrased his argument in a different manner than he did', but defended the Archbishop's right to lobby MPs on an issue he felt strongly about.

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