Archbishop Barry Hickey of Perth is under parliamentary investigation for a supposed "threat" against Catholic politicians who vote for embryonic stem cell research. A State Committee will examine remarks made by the pro-life archbishop that support Church teaching on embryonic stem cell research.
Archbishop Hickey told the West Australian newspaper, "Catholics who vote for the cloning of embryos destined for destruction are acting against the teaching of the Church on a very serious matter and they should in conscience not vote that way, but if they do in conscience they should not go to communion."
The archbishop did not say that he would excommunicate anyone. As the Brisbane Times reports, he said, "he would not refuse holy communion and excommunication would be a last resort."
Outraged by these words, Fred Riebeling, Speaker for the Western Australia Parliament, accused the archbishop of threatening politicians and stated that an official investigation would examine his remarks. Catholic World News reports that Archbishop Hickey denied the spurious "threat" charge, but firmly stated, "On this very vital area I couldn't be silent…I had to speak about conscience and I would call on Catholic politicians to examine their conscience before taking communion if they supported stem cell research."
Speaking of Archbishop Hickey, Reibeling told the West Australian, "He has said he didn't make a threat. I think he's the only person in Australia that doesn't think that."
Several prominent Catholic politicians, including Premier Morris Iemma and his deputy John Watkins are remaining in stubborn disobedience to the Church's teaching. The Brisbane times reports, however, that Australian Prime Minister John Howard contradicted Riebeling's condemnation and commented on the archbishop's words, saying, "he does not think they were meant to direct politicians."
Archbishop Hickey supports statements made on Tuesday by Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, who underlined the "serious moral matter" of voting in favor of a new bill that would allow cloning and other immoral, experimental processes on embryos in NSW. Both church leaders have given clear wake-up calls to the consciences of Catholic politicians, telling them not to compromise on some of the most basic moral issues.
Jim Hughes, President of Campaign Life Coalition, Canada describes the situation, declaring, "I am outraged that any politician who calls him or herself Catholic would not support Church teaching. I think it's time for them to make a choice. They are either Catholics or secular politicians with no moral roots. How dare politicians accuse Archbishop Hickey of making threats and subject him to investigation when he is stating the truth. It is intolerable and hypocritical for anyone to tell the archbishop how to run the Church. I ask all Catholics to support Archbishop Hickey and in every way to encourage his effort on behalf of the pro-life movement."