A court in Sydney
has struck down as unconstitutional a law that effectively banned all anti-Pope
demonstrations and gestures.
The judges ruled that
the law, which allowed the police to fine people protesting Vatican's stance
on various issues, limited free speech. The ruling came as the popular Catholic
festival of the World Youth Day opened.
Pope Benedict XVI, currently on a visit to the country, is
to address the faithful later in the week. The festival lasts up to July 20.
The New South
Wales state law threatened fines of up to A$5,500
(£2,680) against anyone causing "annoyance" to pilgrims.
The law made it illegal to "annoy" pilgrims
and defined "annoy" broadly enough to include having signs, or even wearing
t-shirts, with messages that the Pope or his
followers disapprove of.
The New South Wales state
government introduced the regulations for July only, saying they were the same
sort of powers authorities normally had to quell potential trouble at big
The No to Pope coalition has denounced as
unacceptable the current Pope's utterances on homosexuality, euthanasia,
contraception and abortion.
In 1997 a law was passed by federal
parliament overturning the legalisation of euthanasia in the Northern Territory, despite 80% of
Australians supporting voluntary euthanasia.
Many would like to think Papal pronouncements add strength to such
conservative turns in public life.
Besides, the pope, or Cardinal Josef
Ratzinger as he was known before becoming "infallible" in 2005, played an
active role in the suppression of liberal and anti-imperialist currents within
Catholicism in the 1980s and '90s. In 1981, Ratzinger was appointed head of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the successor to the medieval
inquisition) by Pope John Paul II.
Ratzinger used the powers at his disposal —
banning from teaching, sacking from the priesthood and excommunication from the
Church — to silence those who opposed the drive to extinguish the modernising
reforms introduced by the Second Vatican Council in 1965, his critics charge.
They are also angry over the state
government's handout of $86 million to the WYD organizers.
Protesters will be telling the Catholic Youth - The pope is wrong: Gays are great and
condoms save lives, according to a press release, issued by the Coalition that includes
Atheists Sydney, Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH), the Socialist
Alliance and others.
"This Pope is homophobic and condemns same-sex marriage," says Rachel
Evans, one of the spokespersons for the Coalition. "Pope Benedict also
condemns millions of people to AIDS via his world-wide anti-condom
policy." By calling homosexuality an objective disorder, and saying gay
sex is evil, Pope Benedict nurtures bigotry and violence, not love," notes
organizer Luke Roberts.
"We will hand
out condoms at our rally to young Catholics" said Anthony
Englund. "Young Catholic people are quite capable of distinguishing what
they want from their church's theology and what they don't want. By providing
them with a token number of condoms we're reminding them they can make up their
own minds about what they believe is appropriate behavior in terms of their
personal sexual health, "he concluded.
spokeperson from the Sudanese Human Rights Association said "the Pope's policy on condoms is a death sentence
for millions within Africa. It is an immoral
stance. At the end of 2007, there were approximately 33.2 million people in the world with HIV/AIDS. Over two thirds of these are in sub-Saharan Africa.
More than 25 million people have died of AIDS
since 1981 — 2.1 million in 2007. Almost 70% of people in the Third
World who develop AIDS (as opposed to being just HIV positive) will die due to lack of drugs," Iskander concluded.
the court ruling, Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell said the church had
not asked for the special rules, and had no problem with the right to