AN ARTICLE claiming the Pope and Australian bishops treat clergy with contempt and even violate human rights has been censored on a Catholic website on the intervention of a ''higher-up'', believed to be Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart.
Cath News, a popular online and email news service, ran a report on Wednesday about the article by respected Melbourne priest Eric Hodgens, including an internet link to the article itself in Swag, the journal of the National Council of Priests.
Once emailed, the bulletin could not be withdrawn, but by mid-morning the link no longer connected to Swag but to a different article.
In the Swag article, Father Hodgens says priests ''feel betrayed by the pope and the bishops'', talks of pope John Paul II's ''monumental lust for power'', and says power has corrupted the papacy.
He writes that John Paul ''moved against any opinion other than his own'' and says that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly the Inquisition) violates human rights by operating in secret.
The church, in rejecting freedom of speech, becomes poorer and even prone to error.
''All of us are abused by this process. The priest at the coal face is not consulted, yet is contemptuously expected to defend policies he and his people do not believe,'' he writes.
Yesterday, Father Hodgens told The Age: ''This response has made my point. They treat us with contempt, expect us to toe the line and offer us no support … If there's a cri de coeur [passionate outcry] from a large proportion of the clergy saying we've been trampled on, good leadership would be to listen.''
He said many priests ordained between 1955 and 1975 and a large proportion of lay Catholics felt they had been left high and dry, having embraced the 1960s Vatican Council reforms as instructed by then leaders such as Melbourne's cardinal Knox.
''We do feel betrayed by the pope and bishops because they've gone into reverse. Australian bishops have not stood up to Rome - and are chosen precisely because they won't.''
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference general secretary Brian Lucas said the Cath News editorial team withdrew the article ''when some of the content was brought to their attention and they realised it fell outside their guidelines to provide informed opinion. They apologised for their error.''
The online news service has a valued role in keeping the various strands of the church connected and informed, but has to tread a delicate line to avoid offending progressives and traditionalists.
Archbishop Hart did not return calls yesterday.