By Primus Salgado –
The recent outburst of former Member of Parliament Harin Fernando insinuating that Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith in his speeches prior to the last Presidential election helped Gotabaya Rajapaksa to win by coercing a sizable section of Catholic voters to switch allegiance to the Pohottuwa candidate makes me pen these thoughts.
It is true that the Catholic vote has been the exclusive preserve of the United National Party. There were historical reasons for such allegiance.
It was the United National Party that restored the payments to teachers of the Catholic Schools which was scratched by Sirimavo Bandaranaike during her stint as prime Minister. The late Eardley Perera a lawyer of repute, a Catholic, and an old boy of St Sebastians’ College, Moratuwa lobbied JR Jayewardene to correct the error made by Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike. The Catholic Schools were struggling to meet teacher salaries due to restrictions in charging high fees from students which too was barred after the Schools takeover. The support of Catholics was firmed up along with such move but prior to that the leftist policies of the SWRD Bandaranaike too tilted the Catholic vote towards the UNP. So, how did the Catholics switch allegiance to the Pohottuwa as Harin Fernando says?
The Easter Sunday carnage by Zaharan only cemented a Catholic voter base which was tilting towards Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith prior to being elevated to his present position of eminence became a favourite of Pope Benedict the XVI. Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith is fluent in his Italian and this would have added to the endearment of him with Pope Benedict. There was not a Cardinal in Sri Lanka after Cardinal Thomas Coorey, which was in the 80’s. Time was ripe for another Cardinal to be anointed and Malcolm Ranjith being sent as Papal Nuncio to Indonesia was an indication that the next stepping stone was but a formality. This was soon come to pass when President Mahinda Rajapaksa during his visit to Rome to pay his respects to the Pope making a plea for Cardinal to Sri Lanka as the Catholic flock was now well over a million.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa was the Secretary of Defence at the time Malcolm Ranjith was elevated to Eminency. Gotabaya too was quick to recognise the potential of this captive block and acceded to a request to hand over a block of land adjacent to the St Anthony’s Church, Kochikade to the largest Diocese in the country, the Colombo Diocese. The association did not stop at that but grew exponentially since. A generous contribution was made courtesy President Mahinda Rajapaksa to set up a museum at this location.
The Bolawalana Teacher Training School which was taken over during Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s tenure was given back to the Catholic Church at a request of Malcolm Ranjith to Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Pope Benedict the XVI pleased with this development wished Bolawalana site to be made into a Theological College and so it was to be with the Urban Development Authority and the Defence Forces helping with the construction. The Bolawalana Theological School stands today as an iconic centre built to International standards and the surrounding area beautifully landscaped. The Theological College idea has since developed into a College of Higher Education which is an improvement to the Aquinas University in Borella, also run by the Catholic Church. Pope Francis during his visit to Sri Lanka was to visit to view this wonderful College dedicated to catering to the poor. Rev Fr Quintus, is the current head of this prestigious institute. One has but to visit this centre to experience the wonderful ambience.
Business tycoon Dhammika Perera probably at the behest of a Rajapaksa, made a handsome contribution to Malcolm Ranjith towards the huge cost of celebrations to make the visit of Pope Francis a memorable one, though some Catholics were sceptical of accepting such donation.
Many years ago the roof of the Tewatta National Shrine was in a state of decay and needed urgent repair which was to cost around Rs 30 Million. The Catholic Church was hard-pressed to come up with the required funds but a Chinese Contractor involved in the construction of Port City became the messiah to complete the concrete roof at no cost to the Church. It was UNP member John Amaratunga together with business tycoon Harry Jayawardena who took Malcolm Ranjith to meet with the Chinese Ambassador to facilitate this effort.
Politicians of our land have always cultivated the clergy, be it Buddhist or Catholic. Both denominations are Sinhalese. Buddhist temples and schools too have been beneficiaries of largesse mainly from the SLFP and now SLPP. It is to Malcolm Ranjith’s credit that he has been able to receive considerable support from both Mahinda and Gotabaya contrary to Ranil Wickremesinghe who is aloof at best of times with Church, temple and even his own flock.
Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith and his flock too have shown their partiality to Mahinda Rajapaksa and now more so to Gotabaya Rajapaksa for the benevolence to the Church and Cardinal. A special prayer service and eucharistic celebration were held at the Chapel in Bolawalana when Gotabaya underwent heart surgery in Singapore to seek God’s blessings for a successful operation and speedy recovery. Another similar service was held to thank God for Gotabaya on his birthday recently. It is even whispered along the aisles of the church that Gotabaya Rajapaksa dines with Malcolm Ranjith at Bishop’s House on occasion. If Malcolm Ranjith makes use of his cordial relationship with the Rajapaksa brothers to improve facilities of the Catholic Church and his flock, can one blame him? I think not. The Buddhist clergy does it constantly and his Eminence would be falling short by his flock if he does not.
Given the patronage of the State via the auspices of Mahinda and Gotabaya Rajapaksa it is but a grateful Cardinal who would remind his flock where his loyalty lies. It is the same with a section of the Buddhist clergy though with a slight difference. The Buddhist clergy is one dimensional in their focus. They, demand Sri Lanka to be a Sinhala-Buddhist State with other religions and races simply playing a supporting subordinate role. Malcolm Cardinal Ranjit too has accepted that Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist country. Nothing wrong in that. Well, Harin Fernando, it is time for reflection.
Is it a cardinal sin?