By Jude Fernando –
This week Rt. Reverend Shantha Francis, the Anglican Bishop of Kurunegala, resigned from his position claiming that “he, being a Tamil, was under pressure from Tamil Diaspora groups to toe their line.”(DM, 05/01) According to Bishop Francis the Diaspora is against his support for a unitary state and his lack of speaking for the rights of the minorities. Bishop Francis was never actively involved in a campaign to support unitary state or rights of the minorities. He may have expressed his support for a unitary state. I am not aware of any Bishop who openly rejected the idea of unitary state in their official capacities, even in situations when they have spoken for the rights of minorities.
Bishop Francis is one the Bishops of the Anglican Church in Sri Lanka. He was not appointed by the Diaspora. He is not accountable to the Diaspora. I am not refuting his claim that he was threatened by the Diaspora. If the Diaspora did indeed threaten him, we should not condone such action. But I am not convinced that these threats are the reason for his resignation. To my knowledge, the Diaspora has not officially petitioned the Anglican headquarters in the United Kingdom demanding his resignation. Nor has he made any official complaint to the Anglican authorities about any threats from the Diaspora. The Anglican Sri Lanka Diaspora is a multiethnic community with diverse political orientations. I find it difficult to understand why the Bishop gave into pressures from a few or a section of the Diaspora.
The truth is Bishop Francis did not resign voluntarily. As far as I know, The Kurunagela Diocesan Standing Committee asked him to step down due to ongoing criminal proceedings against him regarding misappropriation of pension funds. Following that The Archbishop of Canterbury has come out with a statement regarding Bishop of Kurunegala’s resignation. ( Click here to read the statement)
We must also assess Bishop Francis’s reasons for resignation in light of his role as a member of the Board of Governors at Trinity College, Kandy.
In this context, I cannot help but think that the Bishop is using all familiar subterfuge of Diaspora threats to distract the public attention away from criminal investigations against him. It is sad that the Bishop has stooped to such low levels as the politicians in the country. In fact, the Anglican authorities should have sent the Bishop on mandatory leave until the investigations are completed. By covering up the reasons for his resignation, Bishop Francis, has brought the church into disrepute and endangers the unity of a multicultural Anglican church in Sri Lanka. I hope that the readers will not hold the entire church responsible for such misdeeds of one Bishop of the church by keeping in mind that the Anglican Church in Sri Lanka is proud of its eminent leaders such as Bishops Lakshman Wickremesinghe and Dhilo Canagasabey.
Bishops are humans and they do make mistakes. I sincerely hope that Bishop Francis will demonstrate the kind of humility expected from Christians by accepting the blame for the irresponsible statement he made to the media, make a public apology, and move on.