Harin says remarks on Cardinal taken out of context, issues clarification on Easter attacks
ECONOMYNEXT – Former Sports Minister Harin Fernando’s controversial remarks on Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith last Sunday (21) were taken out of context, the ex MP said.
In a clarification issued earlier today, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) candidate said the remarks made were entirely his own and did not reflect the views of his party.
At an election rally held in Polonnaruwa on Sunday, Fernando had accused the Archbishop of playing politics, alleging that last year’s Easter Sunday attacks were used to promote then presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The former MP had also alleged that the Archbishop’s “partisan actions” cost the SJB five per cent of the Catholic vote.
Responding to his speech, the Archdiocese of Colombo charged yesterday that the comments were unfounded and uncalled for and were made for cheap political gain.
“[Fernando] has treated His Eminence with derision when he stated that because of His Eminence, the UNP Candidate Hon Sajith Premadasa had been deprived of the Catholic votes during the last Presidential Election, which is totally a fabrication of his own imagination (sic),” the Archdiocese said in a statement.
“Lest one forget, it was His Eminence who gave leadership to a country wrecked in political turmoil and it was solely due to his efforts that clashes between the different communities were prevented in the aftermath of the tragic Easter Sunday bomb blasts,” the statement added.
The SJB yesterday extended an apology of sorts to the Cardinal over the speech “if it had caused him any distress”. Former MP Tissa Attanayake who is now aligned with the SJB said though the party disagrees with Fernando’s specific reference to the Cardinal, it is a fact widely acknowledged that the Easter attacks contributed to the defeat of presidential candidate Sajith Premadsa.
Premadasa himself issued an apology to Cardinal Ranjith yesterday, calling Fernando’s remarks disrespectful.
Responding to the criticism, Fernando accused some unnamed media institutions of editing his speech in order to create tensions between members of the Catholic community and the SJB, both of which he is a member.
“This is typical of the conduct of certain media institutions. These are the same media institutions that were quick to demonise Muslim minorities in Sri Lanka soon after the Easter Sunday attacks and the same media institutions that went with cameras into houses of COVID-19 patients and shamed victims of a deadly virus,” he said.
“I am a Catholic and will have nothing to gain by insulting or disrespecting my own church and its leadership. The Easter Sunday Attacks are a black mark on the history of our nation. It was an attack against my own people and the church I believe in. My words following that horrific date were, unfortunately, immediately distorted and politicised. At a time when we should have come together as a nation, some were quick to play politics with the suffering of others,” he added.
Since the day of the attacks, on April 21, 2019, Fernando has been on the receiving end of severe criticism for skipping mass that day thanks to a warning he had allegedly received from his father about the impending bombings. In his statement today, the former MP offered clarification on that, too.
The full text of his statement is as follows:
A 45 minute speech made by me at a rally in Pollonnaruwa was edited into a one minute clip and released by certain media institutions with vested interests. The edited clip distorts my message. I have now made my entire speech available to the public, so that anyone wishing to understand my speech in its entirety can do so.
Although the views expressed at the political rally were entirely my own (and not even suggested by me to be a reflection of the views of my party), some media institutions have edited what I said, in order to create tensions between members of my own Catholic community and my party.
This is typical of the conduct of certain media institutions. These are the same media institutions that were quick to demonise Muslim minorities in Sri Lanka soon after the Easter Sunday Attacks and the same media institutions that went with cameras into houses of COVID19 patients and shamed victims of a deadly virus.
*I am Catholic*
I am a Catholic and will have nothing to gain by insulting or disrespecting my own church and its leadership.
The Easter Sunday Attacks are a black mark on the history of our nation. It was an attack against my own people and the church I believe in. My words following that horrific date were, unfortunately, immediately distorted and politicised. At a time when we should have come together as a nation, some were quick to play politics with the suffering of others.
More than an year after that tragic and reprehensible act of terror, I want to share my story.
On Saturday, 20th April last year (2019) I was at my electorate in Badulla to attend a series of meetings. On 21st April, Easter Sunday, I attended church in Badulla alone for mass.
When the news broke of the terror attacks I rushed to Colombo as soon as I could. On my way back, my sister called to mention that our father had told her something to the effect that churches would be attacked, when she had visited him the day before. When I visited him before a press conference, I asked him what he had told my sister. His reply was brief and being his true self said he knows everything. My dear and loving father was dying at the time. He was heavily sedated under a lot of medication. Therefore, no one in my family took him seriously when he had first made the statement. I wish we had. But it doesn’t justify the insensitive comments made by people of my dead father.
I must assure my Catholic and Christian community that if I had been privy to any prior information relating to the Easter Attacks on our churches, I would most certainly have brought it to your attention and to the relevant law enforcement authorities.
I have given my statements to the CID and the Presidential Commission with regard to the conversations that took place with my father.
I remain shocked that if such information had in fact been available with the law enforcement agencies, why the relevant officials did nothing about it? The feeling I expressed at the press conference was just that. How was it that, if a citizen like my father heard this rumour, the President and responsible officers didn’t?
*My conversation with His Eminence, the Archbishop*
After the attacks I immediately tried to contact His Eminence, the Archbishop through an associate of his Dinouk Hettiarachi. I was told that he was in the chapel praying and will contact me when he was done as he too was deeply disturbed with what had happened.
Soon after, His Eminence had stated in a media briefing that “the father saved the Minister’s son”. When I finally spoke to His Eminence, I explained to him the background to my statement (as I have set out above).
It was in this context that I questioned the conduct of the Archbishop in making public pronouncements on the matter.
If I had done something wrong, it was the duty of my Chief Shepherd in Colombo, His Eminence the Archbishop, to confront me (a member of his flock) with it personally. If that failed he could have counselled me along with other leaders of the church.
The Gospel of Mathew (Catholic Bible, Mathew 18:15-17) records this teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ:
“If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you…But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community..”
I do not think it was in keeping with the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ for His Eminence to publicly malign me, without even first verifying the facts from me.
*President Sirisena needs to accept full responsibility for the carnage*
In Polonnaruwa, I expressed my personal opinion that former President Maithripala Sirisena needs to take responsibility as he was the Head of State, Head of the Government, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, the Minister of Defence, and also in charge of Law and Order. It is well known that President Sirisena excluded the Prime Minister and State Minister of Defence with regard to matters of national security, and had not invited them for National Security Council meetings.
I should also mention (though I did not say so in my speech in Polonnaruwa) that the friction that existed in the 2019 Government was due to the failed coup of 2018. All those who tried to unlawfully overthrow our Government in 2018, including those who unconstitutionally and unethically assumed posts in those infamous 52 days must share responsibility for the unprecedented instability and division in Government led by Maithripala Sirisena that allowed for this carnage.
It is a matter of great regret that innocent people including mainly Catholics paid the price for the President’s negligence and greed for power. His shortcomings adversely affected our electoral prospects. But, by a wicked twist of fate (or by design) that Maithripala Sirisena is now the Chairman of the SLNPP and a candidate of the SLPP.
It is my firm belief that all those responsible for the Easter Sunday Attacks, including those whose failed to act, must be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law. At the same time, all these inquiries must be conducted in keeping with due process, and not manipulated for petty political gains.
*Need for a Sri Lanka that is beyond divisions*
The historical truth of our country is that politicians have always divided us to govern. They have promised many things through their politics of hatred and division. But what have we achieved through that?
Today, we still have those same politicians. They are the ones who have been in politics for 40 to 50 years. They are the ones who don’t give younger voices a chance. They are again promising to build a new country. A new country which even after 50 years in politics they have failed to create. The only thing they want to create is an inheritance, not for the farmer, the teacher or the banker. But for their own family. This inheritance is created through their politics of division and hatred. There is a lot of money to be made through division. That is why colonialism was so successful.
I humbly ask the people of this country to look beyond race, religion, caste and other dividing factors, and to rise up as a Sri Lankan community. Believe in and create a better country. A country that values you for your contribution – not who you know. A country that rewards you for your work – not who you worship. A country that gives you opportunity for your skills – not which school you went to.
We can create that country. It is our duty and it is a journey we will complete. (Colombo/Jun23/2020)