Saturday, June 09, 2007

Make my day

The Speakers of the various Australian parliaments are a motley crew: too lightweight to get a ministry, but owed a favour by the powers that be for some grubby political hackery. The position carries a higher salary and, often enough, a bit of regalia for ceremonial occasions. They are best seen and not heard.

However, the Speaker of the Western Australian parliament has made the mistake of attracting our attention. As most of you know, Archbishop Hickey's has remarked to Catholic MPs that voting in favour of destructive embryonic stem-cell research would put them beyond the Catholic pale, and that this would jeopardise their fitness to take communion with the Catholic community.

The reaction to this has been ridiculous. These remarks are facts that are the Archbishop's responsibility to point out to the faithful, including to Catholic MPs who do not have a get-out-of-jail-free card to ignore moral law. Catholic members of parliament are Catholics by choice. That choice entails taking pastoral direction from their local bishop. If they don't like taking that direction, then an alternative course is open to them: leave the Church.

Speaker Riebeling (and a few other MPs) has interpreted this statement of bald fact as a 'threat' to MP's independence, and a matter to be referred to the parliamentary privileges committee he chairs.

I wonder how Riebeling plans to enforce his desire that the Archbishop shut up? Send around a gang of toughs to bash him and his priests up? Maybe burn down a few churches? Because these are very real risks that Archbishops run in many countries of the world.

But no. Reibeling is very cross, and plans to send a very cross letter to the Archbishop (which has Hickey trembling in his boots, no doubt).

Someone needs to point out to Riebeling that Archbishops, though generally polite, are made of sterner stuff than Speakers and glass-jawed Catholic MPs. Archbishop Ncube of Zimbabwe is taking enormous risks to defend of human rights of the defenceless in his community, and faces violent retribution in return. Hundreds of bishops around the world run similar risks, even making the ultimate sacrifice like Archbishop Romero. Hickey would do no less if put in a corner, and Riebeling holds no terror for him.

I am sorely disappointed that Hickey won't have the opportunity to confront Riebeling and cronies in the committee room. Hickey could hand them back their well-toasted arses. And then they would have to consider imprisonment as retaliation. How I would love to see Riebeling go down in history as the first man to threaten a churchman with prison for preaching to his flock.

I can just imagine Hickey: " ... I know what you're thinking... is he prepared to go to prison, or isn't he... well, I guess it depends if you're feeling lucky... are you feeling lucky? Are you ? Punk?"

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