A group of Catholic priests and activists have written a letter to Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith urging him to refrain from using his position to bring the Catholic faith into disrepute, to mislead Catholic faithful and to undermine the human rights framework and discourses which have universal applicability, including to Sri Lanka, and which have been welcomed by successive Popes.
Cardinal Malcom Ranjith
“Instead, please support, encourage and lead the faithful, including the clergy, religious and laity, to become more aware of human rights and get involved in struggles for human rights, in line with the 2013 pastoral letter’s call to “collaborate with God in preserving the dignity and the rights of all,” not to say all the broader Catholic teachings related to human rights,” the letter says.
The full text of the letter and its signatories are as follows:
11th October 2018
Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith,
Archbishop’s House, Borella,
Human Rights are integral to Christian faith. As Catholic Clergy, Religious and Laity from different Catholic dioceses and different congregations in Sri Lanka, we were shocked at some of your recent comments saying that there was nothing called ‘human rights,’ that human rights came recently, that they constitute a new western religion, meant for those without a religion, that they are a myth to be “careful” about, and that those who believe in (and practice) a religion don’t need to talk about human rights.
We have also read the ‘clarification’ you provide to the Daily Mirror and comments by your secretary, Rev. Fr. Subasinghe, which in no way provide a different interpretation of your comments in the homily, and which appear, overall, to be aimed at undermining the human rights discourse and frameworks. We are deeply disappointed that nowhere in the 12 minutes of your speech do you explain the strong Catholic teachings on human rights. While you highlight that “replacing religion with human rights is not what is to be done,” what you seem to be advocating for is to “replace human rights with religion,” despite oppressive and discriminatory past and present practices of religions, including Catholicism, not to mention complicity with perpetrators. We note that even before this, you have implied human rights are a western imposition that might damage our culture.
Human rights is about all human beings being able to live in dignity, without discrimination, want or fear. Which is very much in line with our faith as Catholics that all human beings are equal and were created in the image of God. Human rights play a key role in Catholic Social Teachings. The principle of human rights is universal, insists on freedom of religion and belief for all, captures fundamental teachings of religious and spiritual traditions about human dignity, equality etc., but also challenges discriminatory and oppressive past and present practices of religions including Catholicism.
In 1979, Pope John Paul II described the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as a “real milestone on the path of the moral progress of humanity” and in 1995, that it “remains one of the highest expressions of the human conscience of our time.”
‘Ecclesia in Asia,’ from Pope John Paul II after the Asian Bishops meeting in 1998, recognizes that “(t)he various international declarations on human rights and the many initiatives which these have inspired are a sign of growing attention on a worldwide level to the dignity of the human person,” together with the “need for all God’s people in Asia to come to a clear awareness of the inescapable and unrenounceable challenge involved in the defence of human rights.”
More recently, we are heartened and instructed by many pronouncements of Pope Francis in relation to human rights. (For example, “Let us all work decisively so that no one is excluded from the effective recognition of their fundamental human rights” on 2016 international human rights day). This year, in his annual address to the ambassadors accredited to the Vatican, Pope Francis chose to focus on the UDHR on its 70th anniversary, affirming its preamble that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” He went on to say that “(f)rom a Christian perspective, there is a significant relation between the Gospel message and the recognition of human rights in the spirit of those who drafted the UDHR,” that “they [rights in the UDHR] were proclaimed in order to remove the barriers that divide the human family.” Pope Francis insists that “to speak of human rights means above all to restate the centrality of the human person, willed and created by God in his image and likeness” and that “traditions of individual peoples cannot be invoked as a pretext for disregarding the due respect for the fundamental rights proclaimed by the UDHR.”
We are also reminded that the 2013 Pastoral Letter by all the Catholic Bishops in Sri Lanka, to which you are also a signatory, has a dedicated chapter on human rights, which asserts that “any cases on the violation of fundamental rights need to be courageously looked into” and that “programmes of formation of the general public on fundamental rights and their inalienable value should be priorities for Sri Lanka.”
As Sri Lankan Catholics, we recognize the relevance and applicability of universally recognized human rights to Sri Lanka. And that promoting and protecting the human rights of all is a fundamental and integral vocation of all Catholics, along with others of different religious beliefs and those with no religious beliefs.
We see your comments as your personal opinion. We find it difficult to believe your comments represent the faith of the Catholics in the Archdiocese of Colombo and we are conscious that you don’t represent in anyway the other 11 Catholic dioceses, or the many Catholic Religious Congregations and Lay movements in Sri Lanka.
We appeal to you to refrain from using your position to bring the Catholic faith into disrepute, to mislead Catholic faithful and to undermine the human rights framework and discourses which have universal applicability, including to Sri Lanka, and which have been welcomed by successive Popes. Instead, please support, encourage and lead the faithful, including the clergy, religious and laity, to become more aware of human rights and get involved in struggles for human rights, in line with the 2013 pastoral letter’s callto “collaborate with God in preserving the dignity and the rights of all,” not to say all the broader Catholic teachings related to human rights.
We look forward to a response from you.
Respectfully yours in Christ,
Rev. Sr. Noel Christine Fernando
Rev. Fr. Nandana Mantunga, Director, Human Rights Office
Rev. Fr. J.M. Joseph Jeyaseelan, CMF
Rev. Fr. F. J. G. Croos (Nehru)
Rev. Fr. .V.Yogeswaran,s.j
Rev. Fr. Jeyabalan Croos
Rev. Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda
Rev. Fr. S. Jayawardena
Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Fernando, OMI
Rev. Fr. Eric Lakman, OMI
Rev. Fr. Sriyan
Rev. Fr. Gerard Rosairo, OMI
Rev. Fr. Ashok Stephen OMI, Attorney-at-law, Executive Director, Centre for Society and Religion
Ms. Melanie Pereira
Mr. Aruna Shantha Nonis
Mr. Edward Mariathas
Mr. Herman Kumara
Mr. Philip Setunga
Ms. Deanne Uyangoda
Ms. Marisa De Silva
Mr. Nilshan Fonseka
Mr. Ruki Fernando
Mr. M. Ratnasabapathy
Mr. Johann Peiris
Ms. Kshama Ranawana
Mr. Arjuna Ranawana
Annemari de Silva
Prof Wilfred Perera
A. M. De Alwis
Eshantha Joseph Peiris
P R Canagaratna
Fr Aloysius Pieris
Dulan de Silva, Chairman Give2Lanka (Gte) Ltd
Sandun Thadugala, A Catholic Human Rights Activist
Chandrika Gadiewasam, writer
P Selvaratnam, Women for Justice and Peace Sri Lanka
Rev Fr R Augustine
Dr Mario Gomez
Suren D Perera
Emil van der Poorten, Supporter of Civic and Human Rights
Sr Nichola SCJM
Fr Pan Jordan OP, Coordinator, Pax Christi, Queensland