Archbishop’s letter harming social harmony in Singapore

From ‘Archibishop slams Alex Au, anti-ISA organisers’, 20 Sept 2012, article by Teo Xuanwei, Today

The head of the Catholic Church here has criticised a blogger and the organisers of a rally against the Internal Security Act (ISA) over a blog post which suggested that he was pressured by the Government into retracting a letter he had sent expressing support for the event. The flap arose from Mr Alex Au’s lengthy critique on his blog – posted on Tuesday – of what he described as the Government’s “arm-twisting” of Archbishop Nicholas Chia.

Mr Au wrote that based on “second-hand” accounts, Archbishop Chia had sent a “warmly-worded” letter to the event organisers – civil society groups Function 8 and Maruah – only to later send a second letter to withdraw his statements, purportedly after pressure from the Government. Archbishop Chia said yesterday that he had decided to withdraw his letter because “on reflection, its contents did not accurately reflect my views on the subject, and if used in a manner that I did not intend, may inadvertently harm the social harmony in Singapore“.

According to Alex Au’s blog Yawning bread:

…In the warmly-worded letter, the archbishop expressed his support for the rally and, I am told, endorsed the call for the abolition of the law in question.

The blogger, who previously was coerced into removing posts for criticising the Law Minister and the AGC’s verdict on Woffles Wu, did not reveal who his sources were, and later claimed in his article that His Grace was called up to ‘lim kopi’ with DPM Teo Chee Hean. No one will know for sure if that ever happened, but it appears that past spats with members of Parliament and the authorites have failed to stop Alex from delivering scoop after scoop of incendiary insider news, undeterred by the possibility of being brought to task for ‘serious allegations’. One can still wonder, though, what exactly the Archbishop wrote that made him do a double-take, failing which his letter, once publicised, would have detrimental effects on our SOCIAL HARMONY. At most, you’d imagine a man of God asking for compassion and enlightenment in meting out hard and swift ‘justice’ on political firebrands, be they Marxists or what not. Nothing wrong with that, and I would expect a religious man to apply the same grace of God whether or not it’s ISA detainees or the man on the street, without ‘crossing the line’ into politics or stirring up a frenzy all over the country.

In the last GE, it was often the POLITICIANS themselves treading the fine line through their visits to places of worship, yet  nobody tells them off for mixing their dirty work with religion. Which makes separating religion from politics like keeping a dog away from a lamppost, especially when you’re giving a sermon on what some might refer to a crime against humanity. The Catholic Church indeed has an embittered history with the ruling party for sympathising with the said detainees, though the MHA refers to the relationship as a ‘long-standing’ one. In 1987, a mass was held for victims at the Church of the Risen Christ, at which, according to some fellow Catholics who were riled by the event for transgressing the political sphere, were supporters wearing ‘T-shirts with slogans’. According to a ST report on the 400-strong event, the shirts were yellow and bore the biblical quote ‘The Truth Will Set You Free’. Nothing will happen to you today if you wore such cliches out on the street, other than a wink and nod from fanboys of conspiracy theories and the X-files. It also sounds like a typical lyric from a K pop song with bits of English chorus in it.

Father Edgar D’Souza, one of the organisers of such masses, caught the attention of then PM Lee Kuan Yew, who had terrifying words for this ’emotional’ show of support for individuals he deemed as violent terrorists.

If this is carried on, it may not be the next mass, it may not be the next statement but if feelings were aroused, if the agitation continued, THERE MUST BE A COLLISION.

The priest, along with 3 others, were later summoned by LKY to the Istana in a ‘closed-door’ meeting and reportedly threatened with arrest under the ISA for seemingly ‘subversive’ activities in invoking the name of God to rouse their clergy. LKY had also complained to the Archibishop Gregory Yong to keep his priests in check and not ‘engage in jousting’ on Government policies. Following the fateful meeting, the Archbishop suspended the 4 priests to avoid a ‘conflict or collision between the Church and State’, apparently under pressure by the PM. It then transpired that LKY had unleashed a litany of criticisms levelled at the Church and the Archbishop, and did not show due respect to the holy chief of churches. When a joint statement was read out by His Grace during the Istana meeting, LKY looked at his watch and asked ‘how long he was going to take’. But losing his frock wasn’t all for D’Souza; he was later embroiled in scandal with a ‘woman lawyer’. A certain Father Joachim Kang who spoke out on how the Archbishop was ‘cornered’ by the PM would be the same priest later arrested and jailed for misappropriating church funds worth $5 million.

So the current Archbishop’s withdrawal could certainly be a change of heart and playing it safe, bearing in mind what the previous Archbishop went through with LKY and the PAP, or, as Alex Au suggests, there was a touch of government nudging to ward off any ‘social disharmony’ that may arise from influential men speaking out on a ‘sacred cow’, a cow so old you could strip its leathery hide off its back and use it to whip people into submission immediately. His Grace later clarified that his first ‘letter’ was intended as ‘private communication’.  You’re the HEAD of the Catholic Church, and you’re writing to an activist group. Unless you’re inviting them to tea at church, anything written in the official capacity of a religious heavyweight to a group that names itself after a button on a keyboard is perhaps too BIG a deal NOT to get leaked, especially if it’s an E-mail. Let this be a lesson to all: If in doubt, use the ‘Recall’ button.

Of course the government understands the power of religion to sway the masses into irrational groupthink. There were probably more prayers whispered for Kong Hee than a decade’s worth of tsunami victims combined, and any force that could propel pastor Sun Ho into superstardom has the power to overturn archaic laws as well. In their fear of whipping up unwanted support for activist groups like Function 8, the Government’s hush-hush sessions with religious leaders on ‘sensitive issues’ have whipped up nothing but curiosity and speculation instead.

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