Power Seeking Anglican Antecedents
The Anglican Church is a lot about authority, elitism, and identifying with those in power.
At the Church of England’s very founding Henry VIII of England broke off from the Church founded by Jesus Christ, and proclaimed himself “The Supreme Head of the Church of England.” Henry’s wife Catherine of Aragon, had been married at the age of 3 to his elder brother Arthur who was heir apparent to the English throne, but was widowed 5 months later. Years later, Henry asked Pope Clement VII to declare the marriage null but was rightly refused.
The Archbishops and Bishops of England under their new Supreme Head complied with his wish to divorce his lawful wife proclaiming his marriage to Catherine annulled despite Catherine having been Queen of England for some 24 years and begetting for him the Queen after Henry, Mary I, and some sons who did not live long. The Church of England unbelievably claimed there had been no marriage so that the teachings of Jesus on marriage and divorce may not be seen to be violated, and Henry could marry his mistress without a divorce! Many Bishops and officials of England who refused to accept Henry’s supreme headship and the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine were beheaded – the most notable of these being Catherine’s good friend Sir Thomas More (who is now sainted).
That has unfortunately been the trend in the Church – to make black seem white and vice versa in servility to authority.
The CoC in 1970: Sucking up to Whoever is in Power
The Church of Ceylon (CoC) came here as the Church of England in Ceylon and now is the Church of Ceylon.
In that tradition of sucking up to authority, the Oxford educated elitist Bishop Harold de Soysa who coming on his rare visitation to Jaffna requested of my mother that he be served pies for his meals.
Bishop de Soysa as head of church and by life-style naturally sided with the 1965-1970 UNP’s Dudley Senanayake government, declaring on the eve of the May 1970 elections in the state newspaper The Daily News in bold headline “Do not vote for totalitarianism of any kind.” It was a reference to the communist-Trotskyite-socialist United Left Front (ULF) coalition headed by Srimavo Bandaranaike, challenging Dudley Senanayake’s UNP.
Uh-oh! The ULF swept the polls, winning a 2/3 majority to rewrite the constitution. The Finance Minister Dr. NM Perera promptly declared that the UNP government had wrecked the economy and we were bankrupt as a nation. He started a Save-the-Country Fund.
The hapless Bishop needed to show his loyalties to the new masters of the Church and ordered every parish to donate the next Sunday’s collection to the Fund. My father, then Vicar of Christ Church Jaffna, refused saying that that was for the parish to decide. After some correspondence the Bishop backed off. However, most priests did not dare to challenge their episcopal boss’ authoritarian diktat.
The CoC in 2019: Sucking up to Whoever is in Power
Today we have the same situation. Just before the presidential election, Bishop Dhiloraj Canagasabey as Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Colombo issued a report with words ridiculing former President Mahinda Rajapaksa about “Rajapakshe [sic.] creating history and political turmoil” with regard to the dissolution of parliament in October 2018. Claiming, “With democracy at its lowest ebb” during the crisis of Oct. 2018, the Bishop headlined a section of the report “After Ten Years Back to the Gloom of Terror.” This was to raise the spectre of the return of the Rajapaksas to alter the people’s verdict. Discussing the report on church premises, the Bishop was in violation of the law and has escaped prosecution by a member of the Election Commission arguing that the politically biased words were in a report that was discussed and not “uttered” as prohibited in the relevant Act.
After Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resounding election, Bishop Canagasabey had to do a volte face like Harold de Soysa as Anglicanism demanded, bowing down to whoever is in authority, the state in particular. He did not stop with the courtesy of offering his congratulations. He changed position completely. The CoC said “the victory came at a time when the nation finds itself seemingly lacking in stability, direction, and confidence.” With Anglicans’ clever play with words, the Bishop was suddenly blaming his old masters for lacking in stability, direction and confidence (News First, 24 Nov. 2019) which Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa was promising. Touché.
A regular Assemblies of God church camp at Baldaeus Theological College in Trincomalee for the past several years, in a sign of the times, had police coming and asking questions on 26 Dec.. They took away telephone numbers that left many of us unsettled. It is the direction and stability that Bishop Canagasabey welcomed.
Seeking to be a Province: Jumping the Gun
This is the time the Church of Ceylon is seeking to be a Province of the Anglican Communion. It takes 4 or 5 dioceses to be accepted as a province. However, the Church has been bleeding members to Churches like the new Assemblies of God. With over 100,000 members at independence, CoC lost to rice politics as Rice Christians like the Anglicans JR Jayawardene and SWRD Bandaranaike became Buddhists. Anglicans now number below the Methodists’ 40,000 members although the Anglicans trade in inflated numbers because many who have left for newer churches retain nominal membership for weddings in grand buildings, to be buried with their parents and for school admissions. Many give 25,000 as a more reasonable estimate, well below new-churches.
With waning numbers, and lots of money in trusts established by loyal Anglicans who never foresaw the coming collapse, power is sought through becoming an Anglican Province. The problem is that members do not want this expansion as clearly demonstrated at island-wide consultations. When members want consolidation of what we have and a return to preaching the faith, the Bishops seek to be a Province which brings the title of archbishop and replacement of that waning power through new international Anglican connexions.
Democracy: For the Nation but Not for CoC
Bishop Canagasabey issued a long press release when President Maithripala Sirisena dismissed Parliament in Oct. 2018. But within the Church? A simple resolution asking Anglicans whether they want a diocese was turned down by Bishop Canagasabey before it could even be presented on the advice of Diocesan Registrar Chanaka de Silva, PC, on the grounds that simply asking the diocese if they like another diocese
“is contrary to the provisions of this Constitution and concerns a matter beyond the competence of the Council and is detrimental to the fellowship and unity of the body of Christ in the Diocese.”
The Bishop readily accepted the opinion rendered in servility to the Bishop as many a schoolboy will discern. It was self-servingly accepted by the Bishop as correct. Diocesan Council representatives would not be allowed to express their views by voting on the resolution asking if they want another diocese or not. It is because the Bishop and his Registrar say the church constitution does not allow us to express that opinion, we are not competent to say what we think, and the debate will cause divisions! The recent calls to rethink how President’s Counsel are selected are timely indeed.
The Self-proclaimed Archbishops Canagasabey and Fernando
Fictional Titles as Archbishop – Jumping the Gun
In a drama to show democracy, letters were sent by the two Bishops, Dhilo Canagasabey of Colombo and Keerthi Fernando of Kurnegala, to write in our views on another diocese. We were asked to write to the self-styled Provincial Secretary, Arun Gamlath who really is diocesan secretary. It showed that a decision has already been decided to establish a diocese and make us a Province – the province is a fait accompli. For there can be no provincial secretary without a province.
The Bishops’ letter gave a two week deadline in the busy time of Christmas. Then on 22 Dec., another letter was placed on our church noticeboard in Nallur giving us another two weeks’ notice for a mere 2-hour session in Talawa, Galle (on a Sunday when no one would cut church to go) and Colombo to ask questions. No one from Jaffna or the hill-country where many Anglicans live can realistically go. Colombo was up to its tricks again. A priest asked how he can skip Sunday service to go to Galle. Another dissenting priest said, “I want to go and state my objections but will be transferred in punishment.”
Their Lordships Sign as Their Highest Grace, a Non-existing Title above an Archbishop’s His Grace
And the shocking thing? Both The Rt. Rev. Dhilo Canagasabey and The Rt. Rev. Keerthi Fernando have signed off as His Highest Grace Dhiloraj Canagasabey and as His Highest Grace Keerthisri Fernando.
A soundly educated Anglican would know a Bishop’s prefix is always The Right Rev. or His Lordship; whereas an Archbishop’s is the Most Rev. or His Grace. There is no “His Highest Grace,” elevating them above an Archbishop who would by norms be simply His Grace.
What is going on? Provincial Secretary and two Archbishops even before we are a province with one Archbishop at Most? A Power Struggle for who becomes Archbishop? Or are they living a fantasy?
Democracy: To the Nation but not in Church
The Church advocates democracy and its twin, devolution, for the country but within the Church Colombo is supreme. Lawyers in the service of the Church, like typical lawyers, advance the establishment position without even seeming to believe it and knowing that those listening also do not believe they are being honest in rendering opinions. It does not matter to lawyers. Only their brief matters. If that is pointed out, a cacophony of stooges advocating unethical positions on the Standing Committee suddenly discover ethics: “Withdraw”, “Unethical” etc. they chime in unison. No one thereafter dares speak the truth or disagree with the Bishop.
The Church had outstanding leaders in the past and people respected them for what they were and not for any superlative titles. It is the leaders’ doubts about themselves that is at the root of the problems. The leaders do not trust the membership and try to make up for what is lacking with titles; and democratic norms within the Church are disappearing. One of the healthy practices was to respect local choices in appointments to church bodies. Now all appointments and meeting venues focus power in Colombo.
Hiran Fernando, the son of the late revered Rev. Fr. Celestine Fernando, has researched and detailed alleged high corruption in the CoC – massive trees chopped down from church premises and sold with no accounting, Colombo 7 houses bequeathed to “the Bishop of Colombo” transferred to the person holding the office of Bishop of Colombo, fixed trials of priests disagreeable to the Bishop while all kinds of scoundrels are promoted in office, homosexuality with a driver who is paid to retire, etc.. These matters, coming from a man of high reputation like Hiran Fernando who has been elected to many church offices and withdrew from all except coming on Sundays in frustration, certainly need answers and not silence.
Presently the Church uses its titled clerics and officers to campaign against local choices to the extent of the Bishop delivering harangues against individuals at council meetings to manipulate elections. Many are too afraid for their soul or their purse to decide on their own.
Panini Edirisinghe: Exposing Holy Terror
When it comes to church schools, democracy and consultation are crucial to quality. On the board governing the S. Thomas’ group of schools, practically nine are appointed by the Bishop of Colombo and five are elected. What the dedicated old boy Panini Edirisinghe has told us through the social media is that the Church goes to extreme lengths to ensure that even one or two of the five to be elected to the Thomian Board do not rock the boat and their elections are manipulated. The Church becomes bankrupt when holy terror becomes a substitute for reason and true holiness.