The Uniting Church in Australia intends to run a state-sanctioned, medically-supervised room to allow drug addicts to inject themselves with heroin after the Vatican told Catholic nuns who were preparing to run the trial project to pull out.

The injecting room will be located in Kings Cross, Sydney's main red-light district.

Harry Herbert, executive director of the Uniting Church's Board for Social Responsibility in the state of New South Wales (NSW), said November 29: "The Uniting Church believes it is a Christian responsibility to care for those in need, and that includes illicit drug users."

However, the decision was vigorously criticized by Uniting Church conservatives. Sydney's Wesley Mission, one of the church's most prominent agencies, said the Board for Social Responsibility had "opted for a path of 'foolish compassion'."

But there was strong encouragement from the New South Wales state government, which decided to support the establishment of a trial injecting room, operated by a non-governmental organization, after the idea was discussed at the "drug summit" of NSW political and community leaders in May.

NSW government minister John Della Bosca welcomed the church's decision, which also had the unanimous support of the Uniting Church's state synod committee. Della Bosca described the church as "the dark horse" in the field of possible operators of the room.

The Uniting Church stepped in after an order of Catholic nuns, the Sisters of Charity, was told by the Vatican in late October to cancel its proposal to run the injecting room. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Edward Clancy, said at the time: "It's a question of unacceptable co-operation in wrongdoing.''

But Sister Mary Cresp, executive director of ...

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