A popular Buddhist monk and a controversial Protestant pastor are being probed for possesing large amounts of money
Rajangane Saddharathana Thera was arrested in May for disrupting religious harmony in the island nation of Sri Lanka. He along with the controversial Protestant pastor, Jerome Fernando, is being probed for holding large amounts of money in a bank account. (Photo: Youtube)
Sri Lankan government plans to survey the assets and properties of religious bodies in the country amid investigators probing the assets of a popular Buddhist monk and a controversial neo-Christian pastor.
Vidura Wickremanayake Buddhasasana, minister for religious and cultural affairs, said his ministry has decided to make an inventory of assets of all religious places, including those of Buddhism, the official religion of the island nation.
"The reason for the census is the lack of accurate information about the properties, vehicles, or the means of support. There is also the problem with their administrative committees," Wickremanayake said on July 24.
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The government will record all religious places in the country. A criterion will be decided for religious places that may fall in the domain of government departments, he said.
A senior Catholic priest of the Colombo archdiocese, who did not want to be named, wondered, whether the government was "trying to introduce a new tax on religious places."
“The government has not even made any effort to give basic facilities for religious places,” he alleged raising doubts about what the government was trying to achieve by the new move.
“Hundreds of fundamentalist churches have been built in the last few years, especially after the civil war,” he said alluding to mushrooming neo-Christian churches in the country.
“The teachings in all these places should be monitored,” he said in an apparent reference to the ongoing investigations by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) into the assets of controversial religious figures.
The CID on July 24 said that nearly 12 billion Sri Lankan rupees (US$36 million) had been received by Pastor Jerome Fernando, whose followers include famous cricketers, film stars, and businessmen.
The department said that some 6 billion rupees were set aside to set up the Miracle Dome hall in Katunayaka, 37 kilometers away from Colombo, where Pastor Jerome preaches regularly.
A complaint is pending against him for insulting other religions through his speeches. Pastor Jerome fled the country a day before a court banned his foreign travel on May 28.
The criminal department is also probing some 60 million Sri Lankan rupees (some US$205,400) received in donations by Venerable Rajangane Saddharathana Thera of Anuradhapura.
The CID arrested the Buddhist monk on May 28 for issuing statements on social media against other religions in the country.
Sirimal Punchihewa, a rights activist from Kurunegala, 84 kilometers from Colombo, said that the Buddhist monk has built an almsgiving house and a temple, and started a day-care center for 342 children in the village.
"Some donors living in European countries have given funds to carry out these charitable activities," said Punchihewa, a Buddhist.
Buddhists make up nearly 70 percent of Sri Lanka's 21 million population while some 7 percent are Christian, the majority of them Roman Catholic.
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