By Harsha Gunasena –
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith delivered a political speech at the re-opening of Katuwapitiya St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo. Religious leaders can make political speeches, but the issue is, that certain sections of the society think that this is gospel truth. When many Buddhist Bhikkus they speak politics it is visible that they favour someone. The cardinal is careful. His approach soon after the Easter Sunday attacks eased communal tension. He appealed to the Roman Catholic community to stay calm, and he commanded respect for his initial statements and actions. But he lost credibility subsequently due to his political approach. Katuwapitiya speech shows where his political affiliation lies.
In recent past he has given a speech condemning the human rights promoted by the Western states and said that it was not necessary to promote human rights when the religions are in existence. He said that we should be concerned about the age-old culture of this country rather than human rights. Minister Mangala Samaraweera responded to this backward speech by issuing a twitter message. Opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa quickly defended the cardinal’s ‘gospel truth’
He has criticized human rights at the Katuwapitiya speech as well. He alleged that the government has weakened intelligence services. The origin of human rights in the West was Manga Carta signed between King John of England and the barons in 1215. It protected the rights of the Church, then under the Pope and protected the barons from illegal imprisonment. The rise of human right movement in the West was linked to the rise of Protestant movement against the Roman Catholic Church. In 16th century Martin Luther who opposed the Roman Catholic Church was excommunicated from the Church. Church of England was established by Henry VIII in 16th century breaking away from the authority of the Pope. The milestones of the human rights movement were grabbing the power by Oliver Cromwell in England in 17th century by expelling the king of England, English Bill of Rights in 1689, Declaration of Independence by United States in 1776 and the French Revolution in 1789. Human rights in the West were the result of the prolonged struggles against the authoritative kings and against the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. The cardinal cannot place religion ahead of human rights, instead religion should be a source that ensures the human rights of the people.
I quote from Pope Francis, who is widely considered a progressive religious leader, for the knowledge of those who believe in ‘gospel truths’ of the cardinal. “The right to life is the first among human rights” The cardinal is emphasizing this human right of the people who lost their lives at the Easter attack. Therefore, he should talk in favor of human rights rather than talking against it. In our constitution, third paragraph is dedicated to human rights and as a nation we were a signatory to Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
During the last regime condition of human rights of this country deteriorated to a very low level. Lasantha Wikrematunge was assassinated. Several journalists were attacked. Some were kidnapped and were released later. Prageeth Ekneligoda was disappeared. Thajudeen was murdered and they pass it off as an accident. Top police officers and medical officers tried to cover this up. Prisoners at Welikada were murdered in an operation. Officers of Navy kidnapped students for ransom and later killed them. Cronies of Rajapaksa raped women and were engaged in various high handed acts. Law was not enforced against Rajapaksa clan and his cronies.
Intention of the cardinal to condemn human rights is nothing else but to endorse the activities of the previous regime. Pope at that time rejected Magna Carta saying that it was imposed on the king by the barons. The king also rejected it paving the way to a civil war in England. During that time Pope was in the side of the oppressor. Present Roman Catholic Church and the Pope are not in the side of oppressors. Therefore Cardinal should follow suit. His master should be the Pope, not Rajapaksa. His voice should be Pope’s voice not Rajapaksa’s voice.
Police has identified the intelligence officers who were responsible for most of the murders and they were arrested. The story promoted by extremist elements such as Gnanasara Thero and supporters of Rajapaksa that this government destroyed the intelligence services was false. Is it the duty of the intelligence services to kill the political opponents of an existing government? Is it the duty of the intelligence services to kill and intimidate journalists? Is it the duty of the war heroes to kidnap students for ransom and later kill them? The cardinal meant that these arrests weakened the intelligence services since it was the recent rhetoric. This was endorsing the activities of the previous government.
Based on a news item of Divayina newspaper the cardinal said that the leader of ISIS was in the custody of a powerful country and the Ester attack was an international conspiracy. It was not fit for a religious leader to get evidence from a newspaper such as Divayina since we have noticed the impact, they have caused by publishing unfounded story of Dr. Safi. The cardinal indirectly accused the United States. Rajapaksa regime made Sri Lanka aligned with China. United States told us to settle things with India during the time of JR Jayewardene. United States became interested in Sri Lanka after Rajapaksa made Sri Lanka aligned with China. However, in this power struggle it is the policy of Rajapaksa clan to blame the United States in public. The cardinal follows the same.
President Sirisena has responded to the cardinal’s speech by saying that politicians go before the people and they are prepared to go home if the people wants so. However, Cardinals are appointed by the Pope and they are not required to go before the people. would not go before the people and would not go home easily.
We understand the grief of the cardinal. We understand the grief of the Christians who faced this tragedy. We understand the grief of Muslims who lost their property and who were suppressed. We know that the President has betrayed his responsibility. We know that the President and the Prime Minister have not taken prompt action when the communal riots were erupted. The President and the Prime Minister do not utter a strong word in favor of communal harmony let alone the action. We are disappointed with both of them. We also feel sorry that the Cardinal of the country has become a political voice of someone else rather than the spiritual voice of the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope.