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MHA: Function 8 disrespectful to the Archbishop

Posted on Sep 20, 2012 6:00 PM Updated: Sep 24, 2012 2:01 PM

The Ministry of Home Affairs Ministry has criticised civil society group Function 8 for being “disrespectful” to Archbishop Nicholas Chia by publicising an incident where the head of the Catholic Church here withdrew a letter he wrote to the group.

It added that the Government valued its long-standing relationship with the Catholic Church and deeply appreciated the Archbishop’s contributions to religious harmony.

The Ministry was responding to media queries on comments made by Archbishop Chia yesterday explaining why he had withdrawn a letter of support to Function 8.

News of the letter emerged on Tuesday in a post by blogger Alex Au. In it, Mr Au said that the Archbishop had written a letter to the group supporting its campaign to abolish the Internal Security Act only to retract it after meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who heads the ministry.

The archbishop released a statement on Wednesday saying that Mr Au could only have obtained the information about the incident from Function 8, which he had communicated with in private.

He explained that he withdrew his letter because he was concerned it would “inadvertently harm social harmony”, and the fact that Mr Au had blogged about it confirmed his fear that Function 8 would “make use of the office of the archbishop and the Catholic Church for their own ends”.

On Thursday, the MHA said the fact that Function 8 had publicised the matter through Mr Au “is disrespectful of the Archbishop, and contrary to his views and intentions as conveyed to the group after he had decided to retract his letter.”

It added that this “deliberate breach of the archbishop’s trust confirms the objective of this group to publicly involve the Catholic Church and the archbishop in their political agenda”.

MHA did not address the alleged meeting between Archbishop Chia and DPM Teo but said that “government ministers meet regularly with religious leaders in Singapore”, which allow a “frank exchange of views especially on sensitive subjects”.

Meanwhile, Mr Au wrote a fresh blog post on Thursday reiterating his stand that what he did was a responsible action. He said he hoped to generate “a debate about where citizens would like to draw the line between religious organisations and politics, and how that line is to be maintained.”

He also rebutted the archbishop’s concern of harming social harmony, saying: “The only “harmony” that might feel threatened by his now-retracted letter is the silence the government might want over its (mis)use of arbitrary arrest and detention without trial.

“Alternatively, one could say the only “harmony” that might be put at risk is the take-for-granted support among Roman Catholics for the ruling party.”

In his original post, Mr Au had drawn a link between the incident and the Marxist conspiracy in 1987.

In 1987, then-archbishop Gregory Yong had met then-Prime minister Lee Kuan Yew to discuss the detention of church workers.

The leadership of the church had stated subsequently that it was satisfied that the Government had nothing against the church. It was a position reiterated by the Vatican in 1989.

MHA’s Statement on Archbishop Nicholas Chia’s Comments

The Government values its long-standing relationship with the Catholic Church and the Catholic community in Singapore, and deeply appreciates Archbishop Nicholas Chia’s many contributions to religious harmony in Singapore.

As part of building trust and understanding and to maintain religious harmony in Singapore, government ministers meet regularly with various religious leaders in Singapore. Such closed-door meetings allow a frank exchange of views especially on sensitive subjects. This is a well-established process that is appreciated by both ministers and religious leaders.

We note Archbishop Chia’s statement yesterday that he had withdrawn his earlier letter as its contents did not accurately reflect his views on the subject. He also expressed concern that if the letter was used in a manner that he did not intend, it may inadvertently harm the social harmony in Singapore. His decision to withdraw his letter ahead of a political event in June 2012, shows his appreciation of the complexity of our multi-racial, multi-religious society, and the need to keep religion and politics separate.

The actions by this group to publicise the matter through Mr Au is disrespectful of the Archbishop, and contrary to his views and intentions as conveyed to the group after he had decided to retract his letter. This deliberate breach of the Archbishop’s trust confirms the objective of this group to publicly involve the Catholic Church and the Archbishop in their political agenda.

THE MINISTRY OF HOME AFFAIRS
20 SEPTEMBER 2012