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Claim that Sri Lankan cardinal influenced election 'baseless'

Bishops and priests defend Cardinal Ranjith against allegation that he caused the Catholic vote to go to Rajapaksa

UCA News reporter, Colombo

UCA News reporter, Colombo

Published: June 23, 2020 08:37 AM GMT

Updated: June 24, 2020 01:28 AM GMT

Claim that Sri Lankan cardinal influenced election 'baseless'

Bishops and priests in Colombo Archdiocese have leapt to the defense of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith. (Photo: AFP)

Church leaders in Sri Lanka have strongly condemned a politician who claimed Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith influenced the result of the 2019 presidential election.

Bishops and priests said Harin Fernando’s allegation that Cardinal Ranjith engaged in politics ahead of the poll is baseless.

The former United National Party (UNP) member of parliament said he was deeply disappointed with the cardinal’s politics in the election and claimed that his intervention affected the outcome.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa won the election with 52 percent of the vote, while rival Sajith Premadasa got 42 percent. Rajapaksa was the clear victor in Sinhalese-majority areas but Premadasa scored better in the Tamil-majority north.

Fernando told a general election rally in Polonnaruwa that the cardinal’s partisan actions caused the Catholic vote to go to Rajapaksa.

If the Catholic vote had gone to Premadasa, “there would have been a tie and Sajith would have won on the second count,” he claimed.

"I've never said this before because I have a Catholic background. My father was a Catholic and my mother was Buddhist," Fernando added.

The election came seven months after the deadly Easter Sunday attacks when nine suicide bombers affiliated to local Islamist extremist group National Thowheed Jamath targeted three Christian churches and three luxury hotels, killing at least 279 people, including 37 foreign nationals, and injuring at least 500.

In a June 22 statement, two bishops and eight priests of Colombo Archdiocese emphasized that Cardinal Ranjith had never directly or indirectly acted to overthrow or form governments in the country. The Catholic Church is a citizen of Sri Lanka, they said.

"It is therefore obliged to follow and abide by the laws of the state. The Church does not interfere with government affairs and is always committed to supporting the government of Sri Lanka," the statement said.

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The clergy said Fernando’s comments had tarnished the good name of the cardinal, who is still boldly representing the innocent victims of the Easter attacks.

"We urge those concerned to take steps to correct this situation with immediate effect. Fernando must apologize for the comments he made and the allegation must be withdrawn," they said.

The statement was signed by Bishop Maxwell Silva, Bishop J.D. Anthony, Father Jude Samantha Kumara Fernando, Father Freely Muthukudarachchi, Father Francis Senanayake, Father Joseph Patric Perera, Father Daya Sellton Welikadarachchi, Father Nihal Ivan Perera, Father Ciswan de Croos and Father Manokumaran Nagaratnam.

Oblate Father Lal Pushpadewa Fernando, director of the National Commission for Social Communications, called for a halt to the slander aimed at Cardinal Ranjith and for understanding of his mission as a Christian.

"If Harin Fernando fulfilled his public representative duties, the cardinal would not have to intervene in civil matters to seek justice," he said.

Suraj Antony, a Sunday school teacher in Negombo, said all politicians used the Easter Sunday attacks to gain votes during the presidential election.

"One year is over but the Easter victims still suffer without justice for their relatives. Politicians have started the same political game for the general election. Stop misusing their suffering to gain votes," he said.

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