Australia’s Council of Civil Liberties has slammed the idea of having Cardinal George Pell interrogated by a parliamentary committee over his comments on therapeutic cloning and stem-cell research, calling it absurd.
"George Pell is entitled to freedom of speech and to engage in political discourse,'' council president Cameron Murphy said.
"From time to time you get all sorts of religious leaders who make comments that are out of step with the community, whether it's George Pell or Sheik Hilaly, and I think in a democratic society you have to have a degree of tolerance.”
The Greens Party yesterday won approval to have the cardinal interrogated by the parliamentary committee for contempt, reported The Telegraph.
Under the Crimes Act, contempt of Parliament is a highly serious offence punishable by up to 25 years in jail. The move, unheard of in recent history, was swiftly condemned as an absurd attack on free speech.
Cardinal Pell warned Catholic lawmakers last week that they would face religious consequences if they supported a bill allowing therapeutic cloning. The vast majority of MPs ignored the cardinal's warning and supported the bill, but numbers are expected to be closer when it goes to the Upper House later this month.
In an effort to muzzle the church leader ahead of the vote, Greens MP Lee Rhiannon pushed ahead with her contempt claims and yesterday won approval from Upper House president Peter Primrose.
Premier Morris Iemma and Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell, both Catholics who voted against Cardinal Pell's wishes, also condemned the Greens’ push to have the cardinal interrogated.