Last Sunday at the re-consecration of the blood splattered statue of Jesus Christ at the reconstructed Easter Sunday bomb damaged Katuwapitiya’s St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, the Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, turned his religious pulpit into a political podium; and transformed what could otherwise have been a Godly homily into an unholy political sermon.
The Cardinal’s eminent thoughts were less on religion and more on politics, less on forgiveness as his divine creed begs him to exercise and more on casting blame, less on the miracle of God and the mysterious ways of Providence and more on the well known follies and failures of mammon.
And the relatives of those who died in that tragic Easter Sunday carnage who may have come to find spiritual guidance from the Cardinal and come to terms with their unbearable grief, found themselves giving ear to a party political broadcast instead. Rather than assuage their heartbreak with biblical wisdom and love their neighbour, whatever their sin — even as Jesus did on the cross when he expressed love and forgave all who were crucifying him — the Cardinal roused their ire and propelled them to vent their feelings on their fellowmen, whatever their political colour.
Delivering his sermon on that solemn sacred special occasion meant to sooth his grieving flock, the Cardinal spent a better part of his speech on complex international affairs and shabby Lankan politics.
First, he declared authoritatively that the Easter Sunday mayhem was an international conspiracy and not merely the work of Islamic extremists. He said: “The youths who carried out the bomb attacks were used by the international conspirators. Global Muslims have become victims of international forces. However, global Muslims should stand up against the conspirators who use Islamic ideologies to create mayhem all over the globe.
They should join the people of other religions to fight against those forces who insult Islamism to fulfil their aspirations,” the Cardinal continued, “I have seen a report that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al –Baghdadi is in a military camp which is run by the most powerful nation in the world. I won’t mention the name of this country, but clearly, the ISIS leader is in a military camp which is run by this powerful nation. We are worried that the ISIS leaders are being used by this powerful nation to fulfil their vested interests. We question whether this nation knew about the bomb attack. We also question whether some are trying to create a Sinhala-Muslim backslash and create unrest in our country. I don’t believe a group of youths created the Easter Sunday carnage merely because of their ideologies with regard to Islamism. Pope Francis when he met President Maithripala Sirisena had asked him as to why there are so many conflicts in the world today. The President had said he did not know.”
Impressive, isn’t it, that a Lankan Cardinal cloistered in his Archbishop’s House at Maradana, should possess such knowledge of the international conspiracy network and base his findings, as he says I don’t believe a group of youths created the Easter Sunday carnage — purely and simply ‘on belief’.
Whilst it is understandable that belief is indispensable to his calling on matters spiritual, pray say, on what solid evidence did he base his earthly conspiratorial findings on matters temporal.
Now let’s leave the cardinal’s conspiracy theories that abound the world over, and come closer home to hear the profound political dogma he had to offer on this most sacred of occasions – those who had not only lost their loved ones but bled and who still bleed profusely with wounds still raw and afresh. Leaving the international arena, let’s come closer home to the homily delivered unto them on how to deal with the heartache and on whom to place the blame, as if that will lessen their sorrow and ease their pain.
Of course, this is not the first time he has expressed such political sentiments since the Easter carnage turned him into a rock star performing at Madison Square Gardens. Except that he was not playing to a packed stadium of rockers, but addressing a tragedy-hit congregation comprising the relatives of the dead who had clearly come to their bomb devastated church to hear him give utterance to the words of their Lord to reconcile their indispensable loss in their hour of grief. This is merely to caution him that excessive dabbling in biased Lankan politics can dim his papal star, which as the only cardinal from Sri Lanka he can justly set his eyes on.
But, of course this is not the first time he had rushed to fields unknown where even heavenly angles dare not tread.
Consider, for instance, how he blundered and came a cropper exactly a year ago in July when he advocated the death penalty — when President Sirisena first proposed to depart from traditions — and gave it his cardinal blessings.
As the SUNDAY PUNCH of July 15 2018 commented: “The shock lay elsewhere and came like a bolt from the Heavens. When Archbishop of Colombo, without any reason or rhyme, deemed fit to step forth uninvited from his Archbishops’ Palace, to join hands with Sirisena and advocate judicial murder.
“If coming from a politician such as Sirisena held no surprise to the masses when he declared death to those who had been sentenced to hang whom he himself had pardoned and given new lease of life to spend in jail, the call coming from a cardinal in a red cassock representing the catholic church in Lanka, was — to put it mildly — astonishing. And beyond belief. And perhaps against the stated position the Holy See takes on the issue of the death penalty.
“And, perhaps, ill advised like President Sirisena, the Archbishop of the Catholic Church His Eminence Cardinal Patabendige Don Albert Malcolm Ranjith rushed in where angels fear to tread. And perhaps by calling for the death penalty to be revived and the offenders hanged, he hanged his own chances to become the Third World’s first South Asian Pope.
“Two days after Maithripala Sirisena had declared his decision to revisit drug dealers in prison and deliver to them the hangman’s noose, the Archbishop of Colombo, the head of the Catholic Church, in Lanka sauntered in unannounced to give his gratuitous sermon from his pulpit. He said: ‘We welcome President Sirisena’s decision to execute drug traffickers who have been sentenced to death. We will support Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to subject those who organise crime while being in the prison to death sentence.’”
But His Eminence did not agree. He struck back and on July 22, the following week, Sunday Punch answered back. It stated:
THE ARCHBISHOP THEN SAYS: The Holy Father Pope Francis has in fact not accepted the death penalty which is also my own position invariably. I am not for a generalised return of capital punishment.
DON MANU’S ANSWER: Again, does his statement that he is not for a ‘generalised return of capital punishment’ implicitly imply that he welcomes it in certain cases? Does it not revolt again the position of his Pope, who stated not even nine months ago that “it is necessary to reiterate that, no matter how serious the crime committed, it should be the last option, if at all. The death penalty is inadmissible, because it attacks the inviolability and dignity of the person.”
THE ARCHBISHOP THEN SAYS: In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that: “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only way of effectively defending human life against the unjust aggressor”[Catechism of the Catholic Church, revised edition, 1997 No.2257].
DON MANU’S ANSWER: But has it now been further revised? And especially and more explicitly so in view of Pope Francis, who, speaking at the 25th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church at the Vatican in October last year, said “the catechism’s discussion of the death penalty, already formally amended by St. John Paul II, needs to be even more explicitly against capital punishment. Capital punishment, heavily wounds human dignity” and is an “inhuman measure. It is, in itself, contrary to the Gospel, because a decision is voluntarily made to suppress a human life, which is always sacred in the eyes of the Creator and of whom, in the last analysis, only God can be the true judge and guarantor.”
It was only when it was brought to the servant of the servant of the servants of God’s notice that his master’s voice that spoke the new “catechism held that the death penalty was totally unacceptable whatever the circumstances that the Cardinal stay muted thereafter.
The words of Pope Francis, spelling out the new Catholic creed pon hanging was clear:
“The word of God,” he said, “cannot be saved in mothballs as if it were an old blanket to protect against insects.”
The Christian faith, he said, always has insisted on the dignity of human life from the moment of conception to natural death. So, the church has a continuing obligation to speak out when it realises something that was accepted in the past actually contradicts church teaching.
“Therefore, it is necessary to reiterate that, no matter how serious the crime committed, the death penalty is inadmissible, because it attacks the inviolability and dignity of the person,” Pope Francis said.
Now, having turned pink with embarrassment with loss of face for words uttered against the edict of own Papal Father, the Cardinal has gone and put his foot in the muck again, crossed the divide between religion and the secular, even as Buddhist monks have done on countless occasions in the mistaken belief that they have a historical or God given right to do so. What belongs to Caesar let it be Caesar’s. What belongs to the clergy let it be the clergy’s. Are we now witnessing the ‘religionising’ of politics? An assault on the secular, by both Buddhist monks and a Catholic priests?
Since the Easter Sunday carnage, the cardinal could have been forgiven for his many forays to test the political waters. But when he dived deep last Sunday to volatile political waters where before he had been tolerated to only twaddle in the shallows, the question must be asked whether he crossed the Rubicon and made politics an Article of his Faith?
Last Sunday at the re-consecration of the blood-splattered statue of Jesus reconstructed by the Government to which he paid tribute, he also asked no more, he also asked no less than the resignation of the entire government and demanded of it to go home and hand the reins of power to those who can truly govern the state.
Whilst that may well be the common ad lib three wheel drivers frequently use to keep amused and entertained passengers on their metered rides, the question must be raised whether it should have been the subject matter for a cardinal at so sacrosanct an event? Whether they were the appropriate words quoted chapter and verse from the book of his political psalms to soothe and balm the sorrow of his grieving flock?
In his sermon delivered at the sacred re-consecration of the Statue of Jesus Christ at the reconstructed St. Sebastian Church in Katuwapitiya, Negombo, he praised Sajith Premadasa for the toil he took to rebuild the church and then told him that the government he represents must go home. Pronto.
He said: “Leaders of the country were acting according to the whims and fancies of external forces and the government should immediately resign and allow those who were capable of governing the county to take over.”
“The time has come,” the cardinal said,” “to tell these leaders to go home and handover the nation to abled people. They are spineless and they should let those who can govern the country ably, govern.
But whilst there are many who will give echo to his political sentiments, the question must be asked: who is there to take over? Had he called for the resignation of the President, at whose desk the buck stops, it could have been understandable. For the constitution provides for that eventuality. It states that if the office of the President should fall vacant on his demise, resignation or impeachment, the Prime Minister shall become President for a month and if his elevation should be ratified by a majority of the House, he shall continue to be president until the expiration of his predecessor’s term of office.
But the constitution makes no provision for the resignation of the government and is silent on who will replace it. In the best traditions of parliamentary democracy, it is the party that commands the majority of the House.
But the Cardinal forgot to address his mind to the obvious. A man of his eminence should have asked himself first, what the consequences will be if the present government were to resign en masse?
He should have asked his own conscious before making his political views public, why the UNP is the government, however bad it maybe to him, given his well know inclination to lean towards the other side of midnight.
With all respects to his exalted position in the Catholic cannon of obeisance not only to God but to his Pope, we beg pray of the Cardinal to please answer the following.
Why is the United National Party the Government? Isn’t it because it won the majority of seats at the general election held in August 2015, and, with the tacit support of other party members, is able to command the confidence of the House?
So what if the UNP, if at his behest, were to throw in the towel and hand over the reins of government against the mandate of the people who elected it to govern until its term expires, to the SLPP coupled with the SLFP? Will the new Government then formed survive a single vote of confidence?
Will the country that has already been destabilised by the Easter carnage, with its tourism in ruins, with its economy in shatters, survive for long when its political fabric is ripped apart by impracticable caustic comment cast by cardinal tongue?
Doesn’t the constitutional law of the land — and common sense — dictate that it is ill advisable to change horses midstream, merely because the cardinal current causes rip wave?
Or, Heaven, forbid, is the Cardinal, suggesting by any means that a strong spine full military dictatorship should be installed purely because a country that had undergone thirty years of terrorism had seen churches and five star hotels bombarded on a single day? The sort of military rule that Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Burma and Cambodia have suffered under a military jackboot and suffer still, which only India and Lanka have escaped unto now?
Or the sort of dictatorship heaven holds which Milton described in his Paradise Lost “who now triumphs and in the excess of joy, sole reigning holds the tyranny of Heaven”.
Is that all the worldly wisdom the Cardinal has to offer?