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Bishop, gay group criticise choice of new Australian cardinal

Mike Corder | September 29, 2003

SYDNEY, Australia — An outspoken liberal bishop and a Catholic gay rights group on Monday criticized the appointment of Sydney's conservative archbishop as a new cardinal.

Archbishop George Pell, 62, was among 31 new cardinals created Sunday by Pope John Paul II.

"I think for him it means it's a great personal honor and certainly I wouldn't want to be a party pooper and try and play that down," Canberra auxiliary Bishop Pat Power told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

"But in terms of what it means for the church, I think it further shows the church to be representing many elements that I think are not doing the church very much good at the moment," he added.

"I suppose what concerns me is that many of the values that I think are dear to Australian Catholics - such as the dignity of the human person, the primacy of conscience, the theology of communion, the need for dialogue in our church, reading the signs of the times – I don't think that they're values that are particularly clearly enunciated by Archbishop Pell."

At a press conference Monday, Pell was unrepentant about his conservative message.

"I preach the truths of the Gospel without apology," he said, adding that, "the modern pagan mix in our society is not making people happier or more productive."

Pell has been a lightning rod for controversy since being appointed Sydney's archbishop in May 2001.

Last year an independent inquiry cleared him of a sex abuse allegation.

Pell briefly stepped down from his position while the claim – made 41 years after the alleged incident happened – was investigated. Pell maintained his innocence and described the allegation as "a smear of the most vindictive kind."

Asked Monday if he feared the scandal would damage his chances of promotion within the church, Pell said: "I never was worried about the problem in those terms. Obviously it was a great concern, I was only concerned to clear my name."

Also last year, Pell was forced to explain comments he made to a conference in Canada, where a newspaper quoted him as saying abortion was a worse crime than child abuse by priests.

He later contended he was quoted out of context and released a statement saying sexual abuse of children was a grave moral scandal, as was abortion.

Pell's appointment as archbishop of Sydney angered the city's large gay community because he has refused to give communion to homosexuals and once called homosexuality "a greater health hazard than smoking."

Michael Kelly, a spokesman for Australian Catholic gay rights group "Rainbow Sash," condemned Pell's appointment and said he did not truly represent the country's Catholic community.

"There is very little question that if bishops ... were elected by the clergy or the people or even by the local bishops of the country that George Pell would have never even been archbishop of Melbourne, let alone archbishop of Sydney or cardinal," Kelly told Sky News.

Kelly said Pell would likely use his extra power to push his conservative agenda, which is "not really about listening to the marginalized or the oppressed or really supporting people who are disenfranchised in Australian society." –Sapa-AP

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