It has become a common pattern for institutions to hide internal scandals in the mistaken belief that the exposure will ruin the institution’s good name. On the contrary, such sweeping of scandals under the carpet is what allows rogues to thrive and convert the institution into their private mafia. Our CMS and the Diocesan Bishops fiddle like Emperor Nero while our institutions burn.
With the Church it has to be different because it is supposed to command moral authority. Unfortunately, it fails to do so. It is perhaps even worse. Here is what Cristian Mendoza Ovando, (“What kind of transparency for the Church?” Church, Communication and Culture, Vol. 5, No. 2, 2020) says of the need for transparency in Church:
“Operational transparency can help citizens see that action is being taken on their behalf and the process is in place. It can help restore an organization’s reputation especially if, from time to time, corruption scandals appear and it seems that little or no effort is made to eliminate them. …
“The challenge is to disclose not only the specific actions in place but also to show all the problems present in a certain institution.
“Society in general expects transparency from the Church. There is an expectation of transparency, and a deliberate sense of trust needs to be increased across the Church. Moreover, the goal of corporate transparency is to keep up with the moral authority of an institution, … The Church, whose mission is mainly spiritual, when she loses moral authority, [has] almost nothing left that legitimates her action in the public square.
Transparency plays a key role for preserving moral authority, as no one would make their corruption transparent.”
(The above is a quotation I extracted from my wife Dushyanthi Hoole’s letter to Bishop Dushantha Rodrigo, written as one of the small minority of elected members of the Church’s Standing Committee. She has demanded Transparency from the Church).
Indeed, as Cristian Ovando says no one is prepared to expose the corruption at St. John’s College Jaffna, just as Panini Edirisinhe has a sustained exposure of corruption at the illegally appointed OBA Board of the St. Thomas’ Colleges. By ignoring him the Church has successfully managed to persuade people to ignore him, allowing the cancer within the Church to grow.
Subsequent to my article of 07 April 2022 I have received numerous complaints against the CMS and the school administration. I have heard complaints from Old Boys in Colombo but few from the parent OBA, OBA Jaffna, even though I live in Jaffna. This is because there is fear of being persecuted for any sign of dissent.
I will cite a deceased gentleman, The Rev. Father Samuel Chandrasekeran Crispus, who invariably sat next to me at Standing Committee meetings in an unspoken bond between the dispossessed. When I asked him if he would second a motion complaining against the horribly written Tamil Liturgy, he begged off – “Aiyoh, they already give me little. If I seconded this, even the little that is given to me would be stopped.” The poor man’s words remain a testament to how the Church operates like a Mafia. According to his nephew Jerome Rasiah who heads Sri Lanka’s YWAM (Youth with a Mission), Fr. Crispus had been promised to be made Archdeacon of Jaffna and was subsequently not.
St. John’s College Jaffna
St. John’s is one of the older CMS (Church Missionary Society) Schools. My entire schooling was in the CMS; grade 5 to University Entrance was at St. John’s. The school’s focus was academic. Extracurricular activities were there but never overshadowing the academic. We always produced high numbers to the university and those numbers were a measure of how good we are. There was always a clamour for admissions, including from Hindus. In fact, besides academic training, it was reckoned that Johnians were trained to be gentlemen, speaking English and being well-mannered.
After Mr. S. Thanapalan our principal died, the school has been downhill. I was slow to recognize this. Believing this dream that ours is a great school, I put my son at St. John’s. Unfortunately, I had to leave suddenly because of an arrest warrant instigated politically, and I needed a school leaving certificate for him to enrol in the US. That certificate I had to edit at least twice for English because producing it in the US would have created the impression that his training is useless if that is the English from the school.
During that momentous year in Jaffna my wife worked as Voluntary AL Chemistry teacher when the school had just started English medium. Her experience was that the students had been given extra-curricular activities during her class time without any intimation to her, and there were no students coming to class or had been sent to some place like Anuradhapura on some activity without telling her that her class had been cancelled. Likewise, my second daughter was asked by the Principal to engage with students in English conversation. On the first few appointed evenings no one was there because the students had some games on. She gave up because every missed class meant wasted trishaw fare for her with no benefit to anyone. We like others did not talk about these problems to sustain the good name of the school, and that made correction impossible. It was a grave mistake.
Today we have husband and wife as Principal of St. John’s and Chundikuli which we refused to hand over to the state. I was thrilled, especially because the Chundikuli Principal is a convert and I saw her as fulfilling our raison d’être to go private so that the schools would nurture Christian values. Alas, today the Principals rarely come to church, preferring to sleep at home on Sundays. They are a bad example to their wards.
Homosexual rape of a minor is never consensual. It is illegal. It plagues all mission School hostels. A very senior medical doctor from Trinity College broke down saying no one stood up for those exploited like him. My own father believed living in a hostel was growing up to be independent. A brother of mine sent to St. Thomas’ Gurutalawa described it as a terrible experience with rape by groups of predators, and our father was clueless about it. St. John’s hostel also was like that, but no gang rape like at Gurutalawa. So too our scout movement.
Once I had to tell our then Bishop that unless he acted on a 2-month-old complaint from St. John’s with a recording of the principal’s homosexual advances, I had no choice but to report it to the police as required by law. The Bishop then said he is beginning an enquiry under a judge. Although that is what he told me, it appears that a woman lawyer was involved. The finding was never released. Was he found guilty? We do not know. The Principal retired prematurely and now volunteers with boy scouts. But he remains a priest, trusted by the faithful who do not know his antecedents.
In the story headlined “These Men Say the Boy Scouts’ Sex Abuse Problem Is Worse Than Anyone Knew,” Time magazine (1 June 2019) says;
“Within Scout headquarters, the list was known as the ‘P Files’ or ‘Perversion Files.’ In January, a child abuse expert hired by the Boy Scouts to analyze the files testified that she found 12,254 boys had reported experiencing sexual abuse at the hands of at least 7,800 suspected assailants between 1944 and 2016. Academics who research child sex abuse tell TIME that number is likely a gross underestimation. Many boys were likely intimidated or shamed out of reporting their assailants, who often held influential positions in local churches, schools, or businesses.”
Will the Church ever talk about these problems? Or will we continue to protect our name at the expense of boys who grow into adults and still cry?
Message from Johnians
After my article on 07 April 2022, two loyal Johnians approached me and thanked me. They gave me information in addition to the many scandals in the Church I had touched on. I judge them to be loyal to the school and men of integrity. So I give here what they tell me because I believe them, and the data is verifiable if you, the reader, are skeptical.
Primarily they say that St. John’s College is in very bad form. When it comes to Grade 1 admissions, choices in Jaffna in order are 1) St. John Bosco’s, 2) St. Benedict’s 3) Hindu Primary, 4) St. Patrick’s. St. John’s is far behind. As in all institutions in deterioration, the head surrounds himself with stooges to spy on the others and get his work done.
There is worrying diminished demand now for admissions to St. John’s. Grade 1 usually had three grades, A, B and C with 35 students each. We have had only 82 students to fill these 105 places.
For grade 6, after the Year 5 Scholarship Exam, there are 60 new places (on top of the three classes that come up from Grade 1). Based on testing, only 40-45 new applicants could be offered places but only 17 paid the fees and joined. Several Johnian students who did well in the Grade 5 Scholarship exam have asked the Principal for their school leaving certificates to go to Hindu College and the Principal has refused. I am aware of other loyal Johnian parents who want to move to Hindu College. One reason they cite is the high fees at St. John’s when it is a free ride at Hindu College.
Short of students, the Principal has now asked people who applied and were rejected to come and do another admissions test because of the empty classrooms. The “donation” to join St. John’s is Rs. 200,000 which a government servant (whose children are usually the most likely to enter the university) with say 3 children can ill afford. Previous Principals offered a break to those who cannot afford it but now no breaks are offered. Instead we are presently building memorial halls and a swimming pool.
Even at a higher level there is a problem. My student at Peradeniya was offered a prestigious place on the St. John’s Advisory Board and has been functioning. His son recently did very creditably in the Year-5 Scholarship exam and had applied to go to Hindu College. The Principal had asked him not to move the son. My student’s response is this: When Medicine is far more competitive than Dentistry for university admission, the Principal’s request is like asking him to give first preference to Dentistry and second to Medicine.
We are bleeding good students. The Old Boys with their funds from abroad are pushing the school towards new buildings and a swimming pool when the priority should be the recruitment and retention of good teachers and students. As they say, the tail should not be wagging the dog. For that we need strong participatory management. We lack that.
Jaffna has always held discipline high. In this regard the two Johnians point to Mr. Paramanathan Rubenthiran, a Member of the OBA Executive Committee who is a close friend of the Principal’s. He unnecessarily interferes in school. In the past 3 days he has gone drunk to the school library and said good morning to a teacher there. When the teacher did not respond as expected, the inebriated Rebenthiran assaulted him. I deliberately did not use the word “allegedly” because the assault is on CCT Camera record. The matter was raised with teachers insisting on a police complaint since Rubenthiran has previous complaints of a similar nature. Two days later, there is still no complaint made to the police with the recording as agreed.
Supervision of the St. John’s Principal
The Principal too needs supervision. St. John’s is an assisted school with salaries paid by the government. As such attendance records need to be sent to the Ministry of Education. Teachers including the Principal are entitled to 21 days’ leave. Staff who took a few days more receive a salary cut for the leave above the limit. That is right and as should be.
However, in his own case the Principal comes to work as late as 10:00 am. His fingerprint-based attendance record shows him taking 80 days off one year. His leave report to the Ministry for 2020 and 2021 shows under 7-10 days’ leave. That report had been returned by the Ministry saying he cannot certify his own leave report. The then Manager, the Archdeacon of Jaffna Sam Ponniah, thereupon certified the attendance ignoring the discrepancy with the fingerprint machine. The Principal’s leave report and the Bishop’s Jaffna representative, the Archdeacon, endorsing that misreporting made the story spread like wildfire in the school.
After I reported that he comes to work at 10:00 AM, the Principal immediately began coming at 7:25 AM. The school office closes at 3:30 pm so he cannot claim to be working after hours to set off his late arrival.
The school has insisted that certain teachers live on school property. A teacher was asked to resign if he did not live in the quarters assigned when he complained of the assigned quarters having snakes. He resigned. Another teacher who has a British Council award for using English immediately asked for 2 years’ leave when the present Principal was appointed and resigned upon being refused.
All that might be excused except that the present Principal who is expected to live in his official quarters or one of the four empty bungalows on campus, lives with his wife who is Principal of Chundikuli. The two Johnians claim that the two principals each claim the Rs. 10,000 allowance for a domestic helper, whereas there is only one servant working in the Chundikuli Principal’s bungalow. They say the two Principals hold that it is an entitlement. The point I make is that with good supervision these allegations can be put to rest or corrections insisted on.
However, the Principal is centralizing powers in his hands. He had already begun getting rid of other influences like the OBA by not holding the AGM for two years by not giving a date. Although he is merely the OBA Patron, he sets the dates for the AGM and attends the meetings, sitting at the Head Table and telling the President what to do during the meeting. The OBA is not independent in suggesting improvements.
The CMS is chaired by Thanja Peiris, a Chundikuli Old Girl and close family friend of the two Principals. The first job to be rid of these problems as seen by the CMS is to get rid of the Principal’s supervision. So for the first time the CMS has appointed Mr. Dhanan Senathirajah as Manager when all previous managers have lived in Jaffna and supervised the principal diligently. Mr. Senathirajah goes as “Dr.” Senathirajah based on his “doctorate” from St. Andrews International University whose website mentions no earned doctoral programme.
By this appointment of a busy man from Colombo who is the Chief Operating Officer of World Vision, the close and careful supervision of the St. John’s Principal has been eliminated.
(Note: A reader told me that Senathirajah and Thanja Peiris must have done well at the A. levels because they got into Law College. If true they would have done a proper LLB degree. Even today one can get into Law College with 3 A. Level passes. In their time O. Level was enough and retiring clerks did law at the Law College. Indeed, to this day Parliamentarians have no minimum requirement for entry. Law College was intended as a production line for Proctors as opposed to Advocates when that distinction was there.)
The CMS’s is a terrible model for a school built on academic reputation. It is not in Ms. Peiris’ reputational interest or of the other CMS Members who did not go beyond school to ask if Mr. Senathirajah ever entered the university system. Most of our Bishops, if not all, are in a similar situation (I believe that of our previous Bishops still living, Kumara Ilangasinghe has a B.Sc. degree and Kenneth Fernando a BA degree from the national university system).
Some of our clergy with unrecognized Serampore BTh degrees manage to sneak into postgraduate Sri Lankan programs. A word is in order. Postgraduate degrees in Sri Lanka are deteriorating as academics are paid a part of the postgraduate fees their students pay. So clergy without a recognized bachelor’s degree are admitted to postgraduate programs. And if university lecturers graduate a person doing a thesis, it counts for their professorship. It is therefore win-win. The student pays and gets a degree. The Lecturer gets paid and earns his professorship. There is little value any more to local postgraduate degrees.
The Bachelor’s degree and entering the university to earn it, on the other hand, are competitive and difficult to manipulate. Especially for Tamils, given standardization, the bachelor’s degree is an unshakeable foundation of claims to scholarly achievement.
Church administrators who did not enter the university will not emphasize this aspect of scholarly attainment.
Accounting and Taxation
The second piece of information from the Johnians is about the Principal’s salary. The point being made is that in a service-oriented job as Principal there is no market pressure to pay huge wages. Here is what the Principal of St. John’s is paid based on his recent pay sheet:
Gross Salary Rupees 86,630.00
GB Allowance (Governing Board) Rupees 160,000.00
NSB Pass Book (GB, 23%) Rupees 36,800.00
Domestic Helper Rupees 10,000.00
Entertainment Rupees 5,000.00
Special allowance Rupees 5,000.00
Total Rupees 303,000.00
In addition, he is paid a monthly fuel allowance of Rs. 10,000 to 15,000, Rs. 2,500 for telephone and issued free quarters which he is yet to avail of. It is believed that the Chundikuli Principal and all the Vice Principals at the two schools receive a similar package; and that the Chundikuli Principal as a senior hand with over a decade as Principal gets a lot more than Rs. 303,000 a month.
Unhappy teachers complain that they get only Rs. 250 as a Board of Governors allowance without change while the Principals get an automatic 10% increase. As the basic salary is from the government and not taxable, is the much larger BG allowance tax free? Previously everyone signed the pay sheet and saw the Principal’s emoluments. With the new Principal his details have been removed from the pay sheet.
Recently the government issued Rs. 5000 for its employees and the tutorial staff who get their salary from the government also received it. The non-tutorial staff complained that they too have cost-of-living challenges. The Principal said that there is no money, and he could give only Rs. 2500. The customary Christmas bonus of Rs. 25,000 to all staff was slashed to Rs. 8,000 pleading lack of funds. The staff, tutorial as well as non-tutorial, were enraged when, after claiming lack of funds, the Principal went and bought himself a Toyota Primio for Rs. 10 million. The CMS is fast asleep, probably hiding behind Trust Funds having stipulated expenses as I was told when I complained that the Archdeacons were assigned Rs. 10 million each for cars. The truth is that trust conditions when inappropriate for the times can be altered with court permission.
The point being made is that such an attractive package is usually only for one of two reasons: either 1) the urgent need to attract someone we badly want who is ensconced in a comfortable position elsewhere; or 2) the market commands the package. Neither condition exists in Jaffna.
In Jaffna the official principal’s salary is Rs. 86,630 from the government. When the St. John’s and Chundikuli Principals are offered a package that is 4 times as much (with allowances), it is very suspicious as to whether friends are being rewarded at Church expense. And tax free too?
The idea of our Church administration is to spread around these exploitative rewards so that those who dispense such rewards can also grab a little for themselves. The archdeacons had been approved Rs. 10 million for a car. The previous Bishop also had a similar car which like retiring government officials he was allowed to take home with him. While that is a clean break in government, I am told that the diocese has accepted the responsibility of maintenance. I was on the Standing Committee and never shown the paperwork. Long retired Bishops also were given vehicles.
The Church seems to be there for everyone to take a bite out of.
So the Hillwood Principal in Kandy was also bought a car for Rs. 10 million say the Johnians. The previous Johnian Principals had declined a car and made do with the old car from Principal Thanapalan’s time. The previous car from Hillwood, in very good condition, was offered on generous terms to St. John’s (Rs. 6 lakhs) but St. John’s under the previous Principal felt it was not a justifiable expense. Yet, the Chundikuli Principal bought herself a car. Now her husband has also bought one. The Chundikuli car idles while the St. John’s car is driven the 100 yards from Chundikuli to St. John’s.
I am reminded that Sir Ivor Jennings of Peradeniya had an old jalopy that he drove himself and walked across the street to Senate House from the VC’s Lodge while the first national VC, Sir Nicholas Attygalle, upon becoming VC, bought himself a Mercedes Benz and had himself driven using an official chauffeur over the 100 yards across.
How do we even justify asking the people to contribute to the Church where many members are very poor but the Rs. 20 billion in investments are used liberally to shower the top rung church administrators with high value gifts and privileges?
The St. Patrick’s College Rector on a government salary (and no CMS allowances like at St. John’s) contributes Rs. 20,000 of his monthly salary to employ a non-cadre teacher to give a good education to his wards. Is that not why the Roman Catholic schools like St. Benedict’s known in my time as a chickencoop for socially underprivileged children, tower over St. John’s today? They have no memorial halls, tennis courts and swimming pools but true to their mission they impart education and high Christian values.
The Bishop and the CMS must wake up from their slumber, stop fiddling, and give their whole attention to resuscitating our collapsing schools, staffing them with people who know education, and stop shutting out good students who cannot pay Rs. 2 lakhs for admissions.
*Ratnajeevan H. Hoole, Vice President, Old Boys’ Association, St. John’s College, Jaffna.