5 March, 2024


Anglican Angst: Colombo Or Canterbury? 

By Mario Palihakkara

There is growing unease among Sri Lankan Anglicans that there will not be a just and legitimate outcome with respect to the election of the 16th Bishop of Colombo.

Rt. Revd Dhiloraj Canagasabey

A statement issued by the outgoing Bishop of Colombo, the Rt. Rev. Dhiloraj Canagasabey on Saturday, 29 August to all clergy with the instruction that they should read it to all congregations the next day and the following Sunday (6 September) has heightened speculation that the Bishop and his close advisors wish to ensure that the Rev. Dushantha Rodrigo, the Headmaster of S. Thomas Preparatory School, Kollupitiya, does not become the next Bishop of Colombo. 

Rev Rodrigo obtained an overwhelming majority of 67% of the lay voters and 54% of the clergy voters (63% of the combined vote) in the final round of voting at the special session of the Diocesan Council on 15 August. Rev Rodrigo defeated Ven Perry Brohier, the Archdeacon of Colombo who received 33% of the lay votes and 46% of the clergy votes. Rev. Marc Billimoria, Warden of S. Thomas’ College, Mt. Lavinia, was eliminated in the first round of voting with less than 20% of the total vote.

L to R – Marc Billimoria, Perry Brohier, Dushantha Rodrigo

The Canagasabey statement did not refer to the details of the vote count but rather highlighted the fact that because no candidate obtained the requisite 60% of the vote in both the house of clergy and the house of the laity, an overwhelming majority of the Council voted to request the Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint the next Bishop. In open acts of defiance, many parish priests refused to read the statement while others added details of the vote to give their congregations an accurate picture of what transpired at the election.

A senior member of the church stated that many Anglicans both clergy and laity see the statement as preparing the ground for the Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint someone other than Rev. Rodrigo, on the advice of the outgoing Bishop. This would mark a departure from precedent where the Archbishop of Canterbury considers the “mind of the Diocese” as his main guide in the appointment especially after the enactment of the Church of Ceylon Act 1998 that clearly established the Church of Ceylon is a national church responsible for the management of its own affairs. In 2001, when a similar situation arose the then Archbishop of Canterbury appointed Rev. Duleep de Chickera as Bishop because he had consistently polled first in both the houses of clergy and the laity, though he was unable to obtain the requisite 60% majority in either house. 

Some commentators expressed the view that it would be unthinkable that the present Archbishop of Canterbury would act like a “colonial monarch” and ignore the democratic mandate of the council. They pointed out that the local church constitution set an unusually high bar of 60% whereas in many other Anglican dioceses the bar was a simple majority of 50% plus one. They also wondered whether any defeated candidate or “outsider” would be sufficiently thick skinned to accept such an appointment when 63% of the electoral body had supported the popular and dynamic Rodrigo.

However other persons close to the church were not so confident. They pointed out that Rev. Rodrigo had in recent years often been critical of the policies and actions of Bishop Canagasabey, in church forums such as the Standing Committee and the Incorporated Trustees. Though he had been careful to express his dissent in the appropriate forums and not in public, his independence had irked both Bishop Canagasabai and his close advisors/appointees, the Archdeacons and the Registrar. This small group had launched a discreet and concerted campaign to portray Rev Rodrigo as a troublemaker and polarizing figure in the minds of Archbishop Welby’s advisors.  

Among the issues that Rev Rodrigo expressed concerns about in recent months were the increasing influence of money and financial considerations in the life of the Diocese and the church’s weak positions on national issues including human rights and reconciliation issues in the north and east. He joined a large group of Anglican leaders who questioned the propriety of the  contentious, previously unscheduled, ordination of priests ( where 10 deacons, including a businessman with little theological education, were suddenly “promoted” without completing the usual one-year probationary period) just weeks before the special session of the Diocesan Council to elect a new Bishop. The retired Bishop and Archdeacon Brohier were responsible for the controversial ordination.   

It is ironic that this controversy has arisen following the adoption of the 1998 Act and the adoption of a new church constitution in 2007, both of which sought to strengthen the Church of Ceylon as a national church with the power to regulate its own ecclesiastical and administrative affairs. The outgoing Bishop, his associates and legal advisors, are urging the Archbishop of Canterbury to ignore the unequivocal will of the Diocese and impose the will of Canterbury (which is in effect the will of Canagasabey), by appointing a protege of the outgoing Bishop.

It is left to be seen whether Archbishop Welby will follow such advice and act undemocratically. The concern is that if he were to do so, the dwindling but influential Anglican church will become irretrievably divided and that the battle will then move on from Canterbury to Hulftsdorp.  

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Latest comments

  • 6

    The archbishop of Canterbury has admitted to having doubts about the existence of God and disclosed that…. he questioned why the Almighty had failed to intervene to prevent an injustice. At last he sees sense. Now he can appoint whoever he likes. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/sep/18/archbishop-canterbury-doubt-god-existence-welby

    • 7

      I am told that the real Anglican boss, the lady in Buck House, is not amused by these goings-on and is currently in consultation with the Holy Ghost.

  • 8

    At the risk of repeating myself from Hoole’s article on the same (https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-church-of-ceylon-fails-to-elect-its-bishop-for-colombo/), some of the reasons this topic should remain of interest even in this great ‘Sinhala Buddhist Nation’ (never mind the fact humans roamed this land long before the invention of religion of any sort) include:
    – The Anglican church owns freehold property to the tune of BILLIONS of Rupees all across the country where its churches are located, with significant acreage in Colombo 07 and Colombo 03 (two of Sri Lanka’s most expensive regions)
    -They control a number of leading Schools not limited to Ladies, Bishop’s, TCK, and the four STCs (of which all three young Rajapaksa’s including the president-in waiting Namal are proud alumni, not to mention Sajith P in his formative years)
    -The church has seen decades of corruption stretching back to the 1980s and before (with previous bishops trying to do business with the likes of Conrad Hilton before disposing the entire land on which today’s Cinnamon Grand stands for peanuts to the government) peaking with the arrival of Methodist-to-Anglican convert Dhiloraj C who has run the place like his ‘personal fiefdom’ helping various nefarious financial schemes prosper and thrive.

  • 13

    These guys should be lauded for proving they are as holy as the medieval Malcolm Ranjith, Born Again Loonies, Wahabies, Kalla Saamiyars, and the Saffron Mafia. They serve a useful sociological function of keeping the Anglican Church in alignment with the general tenor of Sri Lankan ethos – though their boss is in Canterbury.

  • 11

    This article must necessarily tie up with the article that appeared a couple of days after the Election was conducted on Saturday, the 15th of August, 2020.
    There have been lots of accusations of cheating at various levels in the Anglican Church, but it would be best if we speak only of what we know personally, and what we can substantiate. This is by me:
    If we go by what others say, then we must make sure that whatever has been said has been substantiated.
    In the case of this article, not many readers will understand what is said about Churches High and Low. I think that you’d better ignore the article itself, but examine carefully what has been said in the comments.
    In today’s article, much has been said about the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is an extremely truthful man:
    Few other people would have been as open as he about something that was certainly embarrassing. But the question is whether he will be possibly able to study the details of all that is happening in this country – where guys sentenced to death sit in Parliament.


    • 6

      Mr SM,
      not only buddhist temples but also churches are highly corrupted. People cant see the difference, because they are not used to see otherway around. In Europe, the corruptions are much less but the kind of corruptions levels would never be treated with total ignorance.

      Yesterday on my way to southern Germany, I was stopped by police, just because I was slow in speed where it should not be allowed. Can you imagine ? Their reasoning was – my behaviour could disturb the drivers on the highway. But they instructed me in a polite manner.

      As you once said, somewhere else, average people dont care much about the facts and figures of the anything in SL, that makes any abusive politicians to manipulate them easily. Besides, how can we expect people to improve their awareness while the level of media mafia would not change at all ? For some reasons, there are lot more info, that have been kept away from the average mindset…. this has been a long term project in SRILANKA , so long Rajaakshes are active in srilanken politics.

  • 8

    Sri Lanka Muslims have Imams to corrupt them
    Sri Lanka Catholics – oh dear stuck with corrupt Ranjith
    Sri Lanka Anglicans – jockeying for power beginning
    Sri Lanka Sinhala Buddhist – they have saffron thugs

    ohm Nama Sivaya – Sivaya Nama Ohm – so peaceful

  • 7

    I consider that religion is an important instrument in which social order can be maintained if there are no inter-religious clashes. Infighting amongst the top rungs of a religious order is bad news to the society. This article portrays factionalism within the religion concerned and if so, will there be harmony within it finally after choosing its head? What baffles is there is the stipulation that one must get 60% of the votes to be elected as the head and if not an authority outside the country decides with the expectation that the outside authority must appoint the person who got the greatest number of votes. If that is the expectation, then why do you need an outside authority to do it when you do away with the 60% rule and simply modify the rule to state that the person who got the greatest number of votes becomes the head. Any outside authority has two choices, either to go by the number of votes or to ask for the views of the predecessor confidentially. The implies that, the latter might take place and the predecessor might recommend someone who did not get the majority. Hence the abracadabra and the fuss.

  • 16

    Rt Rev Dilo Cangasabey should request an early response from the Arch Bishop of Canterbury to end this controversy. Based on precedence, it has to be in favor of the majority vote.

  • 7

    It is reliably reported in church circles that there is a campaign to discredit the clergymen who proposed/seconded the nomination of Dushantha Rodrigo with petitions to that effect being made to Canterbury. As far as church circles report, these clergymen are straightfoward individuals who have rubbed a few of our sensitive Sri Lankan souls the wrong way in the past and are now being dragged through the mud for this. I am just waiting to see the outcome of this farce – whether as I believe the Church of England is an irrelevant entity in this day and age or whether there is some purpose to it after all.

  • 7

    They say sit on the Chair (cathedra) and the power descends!

    What power descends on the Cathedral in Colombo lately?

    Compare our last 3 Bishops including Dhilo with Philippians 2:5-11

    Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

    Dhilo has been a disappointment in terms of integrity and intelligence and has hurt the church for years to come by listening to the schemers around him. “they will heap to themselves teachers after their own desires” so he will not be ashamed to deviate from the right thing to do.

    Archbishop Justin Welby said: “There are moments, sure, where you think ‘Is there a God? Where is God?'”Welby quickly added that, as the leader of the world’s 80 million-strong Anglican community, this was “probably not what the archbishop of Canterbury should say”.

    Not the thoughts of a man of prayer.

  • 10

    All religions in principle are for people to be good and to be a solace.
    But religions have been hijacked and formed into an heirarchical system, with rites rituals rules et al, (none of which were there at the inceptions), so as to perpetuate that heirarchy. Obeisance to the heirarchy (Bishops Cardinals Mahanayakes) is the call to the adherents.
    The Anglicans are fighting for the bishopric while Buddhist monks are fighting to become an MP.
    When one thinks deeply and independently, ALL organised religion is an organised hypocrisy.
    Let religion be a personal thing without these trappings and each one follow their faith alone.

  • 4

    Is there a competition between two clergies? Appoint the correct one irrespective of ethnicity. Religious figures should keep out of politics unless the ruling politicians are acting above the law and injustices are being committed against the inocents. Politicians should not politicise their visit to religious places–by showing off to the media. Monks/clergies should keep away from parliamentary elections.

  • 5

    On Monday 14 Sept the Archbishop had a long discussion with the consultative committee. Fr. Rodrigo recused himself but Fr. Brohier did not. Those who were there said it was a good discussion.

    The Archbishop will have a 45 minute discussion with each candidate I believe on Thursday. There are mixed feelings on this with some people who wonder if the ease of conversation will over-ride the overwhelming vote for Fr. Rodrigo.

    The decision will come soon after that

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