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Sri Lanka offers to discuss Easter attack probe with bishops

Catholic Bishops’ Conference writes to president for undermining ‘collegiality’ of the collective body
This picture taken on Aug. 29, 2019, shows Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (center) and Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith (right) paying homage to the victims of the Easter Sunday bombings during a visit to St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, north of the capital Colombo

This picture taken on Aug. 29, 2019, shows Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (center) and Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith (right) paying homage to the victims of the Easter Sunday bombings during a visit to St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo, north of the capital Colombo. (Photo: AFP / UCAN files)

Published: October 09, 2023 11:37 AM GMT
Updated: October 09, 2023 12:32 PM GMT

The Sri Lankan government once again ruled out an international probe into the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings while offering to engage in discussions with representatives from the bishops’ conference.

“We cannot endorse the idea of international investigations into Sri Lanka’s internal matters,” a statement from the President Media Division said on Oct. 7.

The statement from the government came hours after an editorial was published by Gnanartha Pradeepaya, a Sinhala Catholic weekly, demanding an international probe into the 2019 terror attack that claimed 269 lives including 45 foreigners from 14 countries.

The government elaborated that “the Constitution of Sri Lanka and all other existing laws do not provide for conducting international investigations. Consequently, carrying out such investigations would be in violation of the law.”

Sri Lanka's top Church leader Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo also has been demanding an international probe into the terror act.  

The statement claimed that Minister of Public Security Tiran Alles had a telephone conversation with Bishop Harold Anthony, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, recently.

The statement further said that the president is preparing to engage in discussions with representatives from the bishops’ conference once the bishops have thoroughly reviewed the 48,909-page report from the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the country’s worst-ever terror attack.

However, Anthony denied discussing the report and said the conversation was private.

Instead, the bishops’ body on Oct. 9 wrote to Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe pointing out that his stand of “only dealing with Catholic Bishop Conference, not with Cardinal” undermines the “collegiality” of the collective body comprising bishops of 12 dioceses and three auxiliary bishops in the county.

“It should be noted that the cardinal being the Archbishop of Colombo is not ‘sui generis’ [existing alone] but an integral and most vital member of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Sri Lanka. Hence, any reference to the Cardinal by Your Excellency in a singular manner undermines the collegiality of the conference,” the letter said.

It also referred to Wickremesinghe’s claim during an interview with a German broadcaster that foreign investigation agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), British police, the secret services of Australia, India, Pakistan, and China had given their reports on the attacks.

The bishops’ body requested the president to share copies of the investigation reports “since it is the first time this information is revealed in public,” the letter added.

The Gnanartha Pradeepaya editorial published last week indirectly referred to the interview of Wickremesinghe telecast by Deutsche Welle.

During the interview, the president told the interviewer that he was “only dealing with the [Catholic] bishops' conference" and does “not deal with the cardinal,” suggesting unlike Ranjith, the bishops are fine with not initiating an international probe.

“We must emphasize that if he [Wickremesinghe] tried to show that there is a division in the Catholic Church through the false and misleading statements he made in that interview, it was a ridiculous, absurd and unsuccessful attempt,” the editorial said.

The 75-year-old cardinal has repeatedly rejected the commission’s findings for failing to identify the masterminds.

The Catholic Church has been vocal in pointing out the tardy progress in the probe and has also rejected the government's move to initiate further probes by appointing another commission and a parliamentary committee.

It reiterated the demand last month after the UK-based Channel Four claimed that the Easter bombings were engineered to create insecurity in the country and to influence the result of the 2019 election in favor of Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

A documentary telecast by the British broadcaster on Sept. 5 claimed links of senior government officials with the bombers.

The government denied allegations as baseless and untruth with a hidden agenda to discredit its senior security officials.

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