7 July , 2008
Reporter: Bronwyn Herbert
MARK COLVIN: There's some serious dissent inside the Roman Catholic Church over the controversial new police laws to crackdown on annoying or inconvenient behaviour during World Youth Day. The prominent Catholic priest and lawyer Father Frank Brennan says the New South Wales Government's new law is unworkable, unjust and contrary to the Catholic teaching on human rights. Today Cardinal George Pell called Father Brennan's input "typically unhelpful" and a "complete beat up". There are calls for the Cardinal to call on the Premier to repeal the laws in the name of civil rights and social justice.
BRONWYN HERBERT: The granting of police powers to arrest anyone causing "annoyance or inconvenience" during World Youth Day is now causing division within the church.
FRANK BRENNAN: It's an unworkable law, it's a bad law, it can't be made operable.
BRONWYN HERBERT: Father Frank Brennan is a professor of law at the Australian Catholic University and a prominent Catholic priest.He says the new laws, which include fines of up to $5,500 don't just interfere with civil liberties, they are contrary to the spirit of Catholic social teaching on human rights.And he says there's already evidence of how unworkable the laws are
FRANK BRENNAN: The funeral event of Mr Packer at the Sydney Opera House, there was a protest and it was said that those protesters were breaching the law about annoyance and inconvenience.How were the police called in? The police didn't make the decision themselves it was annoyance or inconvenience, the general manager of the Opera House made that decision. Now, what are we to expect here? They're going to be church officials making decisions about annoyance and inconvenience and asking police to come in? That would be very unseemly.
BRONWYN HERBERT: His comments have drawn the wrath of Cardinal George Pell, who holds the highest office within the Catholic Church of Australia. He told Radio National Breakfast;
GEORGE PELL: I think Father Brennan, I'm tempted to say it's a typically unhelpful remark. On occasion he shows a conspicuous sort of sense of due proportion, bit of a lack of common sense, it's a beat up.
BRONWYN HERBERT: Cardinal Pell says the Catholic Church had not requested the changes to the laws
GEORGE PELL: I've got every confidence in the good sense and discretion of the police. I recognise the right of people to protest, we've asked for no extra rules or regulations, it's a complete storm in the tea cup.
BRONWYN HERBERT: But Frank Brennan says this should be a conversation among law makers and politicians, not church leaders.
FRANK BRENNAN: I think their have been some ambiguous statements that have been made, and I am a little curious as to why it has been necessary for church leaders to buy into the issue even to the extent of suggesting that a lawyer such as myself is engaged in a beat up and making typically, unhelpful remarks. Let's face it, this is an issue of law and politics, it's not a matter of how best to perceive World Youth Day from church.
BRONWYN HERBERT: Michael Kelly is a Catholic author and educator from Melbourne. He says it's Father Brennan, not Cardinal Pell, speaking in line with current Catholic teaching.
MICHAEL KELLY: Frank Brennan is one of the most respected legal minds in Australia and internationally. He's also a highly respected Jesuit priest both in areas of social justice and as a pastor and as a Catholic priest. What he is saying reflects accurately Catholic teaching on social justice and civil rights.
BRONWYN HERBERT: Michael Kelly says it's now up to the Cardinal to appeal to the NSW Premier to make the changes.
MICHAEL KELLY: What George Pell should be saying, if he wants to tell Sydney that the Church did not request these laws, he should be asking Morris Iemma to repeal the laws in the name of civil rights and social justice and human freedoms.
BRONWYN HERBERT: And Michael Kelly is not the only one protesting against the laws. Two student activists from the No to Pope Coalition, supported by the Council for Civil Liberties, have been in a Sydney court today challenging the regulations. They plan to hand out condoms and leaflets during World Youth Day and argue the "annoyance" law is a breech of constitutional rights to communicate freely on political matters. The case will be heard in the Federal Court on Friday.