Sri Lanka Catholics slam Cardinal for rejecting secularism and human rights

A group of prominent Catholics in Sri Lanka have heavily criticised the country's second ever Cardinal for his opposition to a secular state and human rights.

Nearly a hundred clergy and civilians have issued a strongly worded statement rejecting statements by Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at a Buddhist festival calling for Buddhism to be given its ‘rightful place’ in the country’s constitution.

Sri Lanka’s plans to draw a new constitution has already come under attack by Sinhala Buddhist extremist forces led by the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as a scheme to do away with the ‘foremost place’ guaranteed to Buddhism in the present constitution.

“We need to give the due place to Buddhism,” said Cardinal Ranjith addressing Buddhist devotees who gathered in Colombo to felicitate Ven. Warakawe Gnanarathana thero who was appointed as the chief prelate to the Asgiriya Chapter, adding that he rejects the concept of secular state.

West and human rights

The Cardinal further said censured human rights as a ‘western concept’.

“Therefore, we won’t allow western countries to bring human rights at their choice and feed us,” he said.

“We note with concern, and reject the recent statement of the Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, saying that he doesn’t recognize the concept of a secular state. We are also concerned about the Cardinal’s statement implying that human rights are a western idea imposed on us, and that it can destroy our cultural heritage,” says the statement issued by the group of Catholics on August 3.

It also draws Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith’s attention to a statement in 2013 where all the Catholic Bishops in Sri Lanka stated "Sri Lanka should shed all those clauses or conditions in its constitution that could be interpreted or read to justify different forms of discrimination against its people”.

The chief signatory to this ‘Pastoral letter’ was Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith as the president of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Sri Lanka.

The Public Representation Committee on constitutional reforms has received two proposals from the Catholic church.

Bishop Valance Mendis on behalf of the Catholic Bishops Conference and Fr. SVB Mangalaraja from the Jaffna diocese have handed over proposals to the committee, which are been considered by the parliament.

War crimes

In an apparent reference to the Sinhala Buddhist majoritarian opposition to Tamil and UN led international efforts to address war crimes accountability, the Cardinal pledged to work in solidarity with Buddhists when the chief prelate said that they are prepared to oppose moves by the government 'without consulting Buddhist monks as in the days of kings'.

“We are happy to say that we are prepared to work in solidarity with your eminence in these problems,” the Cardinal pledged.

The statement by the group of Catholics have cautioned that the Cardinal’s approach might harm the country’s non-Sinhala Buddhists.

“While we welcome Cardinal’s commitment to work together with Buddhists, we underline that such collaboration must be not to discriminate and suppress numerical minorities, but rather, to promote and protect human rights of all, especially of numerical minorities.”

Personal statement only

The statement highlights that the statement by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith who is the Archbishop of Colombo does not ‘represent or lead in anyway the other 11 Catholic dioceses in Sri Lanka which are headed by their own Bishops’.

“There are also many Catholic Religious Congregations in Sri Lanka which the Archbishop doesn't represent. For all purposes, this appears to be a personal statement of the Cardinal and not of the Catholics in Sri Lanka,” emphasizes the statement by Catholics.

Malcolm Ranjith was in the forefront of religious leaders who actively lobbied the European Union during the Rajapaksa regime to revoke restrictions on GSP+ tariff concessions imposed due to the failure of Sri Lanka to honour its human rights commitments.