“As Catholics, we have an obligation to raise our voices on behalf of those who cannot, taking action to correct injustices in our society…” – Catholic Archbishop, Nicholas Chia, 14 August 2011. (Catholic News)
Events of the last two days (see here) make you wonder about conviction – conviction in the words you say. To be sure, it is not easy to live by the words one says, at times. And I am sure the Archbishop must be going through some rather serious self-reflection now. His very strongly-worded statement to the media against Alex Au and Function 8 is quite unexpected and rather out of character of the man. It has raised suspicions about the statement itself – issued as it was after a meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister, Teo Chee Hean. Teo is also the security “czar” of Singapore, also known as the Minister for Home Affairs.
Evidently, Teo had met the Archbishop after the Archbishop had sent a letter of support for Function 8’s event in June this year, an event to mark the 25th anniversary of the “Marxist Conspiracy” arrests of 1987.
In a pastoral letter to his flock just before the General Election of 2011, the Archbishop wrote:
“When considering the issues and the candidates that will represent us in the upcoming election, we as Catholics must reflect on our duty to use our free vote to further the common good while remaining true to the Christian values that Jesus has taught us. Human rights and the dignity of the human person must be respected.”
Catholics must take “action to correct injustices in our society” and that “human rights and the dignity of the human person must be respected.”
But such an encouragement does not apply only to Catholics but to everyone, in fact.
Leaders who make such admonishments, however, carry a greater responsibility to lead by example. And one would argue that in this case of the “Marxist conspirators”, the Archbishop has that responsibility. To be fair, perhaps he did try to show his support when he initially wrote and sent the original letter which purportedly pledged support for the June event, which had also called for the abolition of the Internal Security Act under which 22 church workers were arrested and jailed without trial in 1987 and 1988.
But as events turned out, the Archbishop retracted that original statement, and now has lambasted Function 8 and Alex Au for being “irresponsible” for divulging that he had sent that letter.
Three things need to be kept in mind:
1. Function 8 has never and till now not divulged the content of the first letter.
2. Function 8 had NOT solicited the Archbishop’s or the church’s support for the event in June. The Archbishop’s original letter of support was not expected by Function 8.
3. When the Archbishop asked for that letter to be returned to him, Function 8 did so.
What really happened between the issuance of the first letter by the Archbishop and the last letter which asked for the first letter to be returned? Why the sudden apparent change in position by the Archbishop?
Why did the DPM ask to see Chia? Was this really a routine meeting as the MHA statement claimed?
What was said at the meeting? Who was there? Did the Archbishop go alone? Was he asked to go alone? Was the June event mentioned or discussed? What were discussed? What was the DPM’s position on the June event?
Was the Archbishop’s first letter the topic of discussion? Was he asked to withdraw it by DPM Teo?
And what exactly did the Archbishop say to Function 8 in his original letter of support? Did he say he did not believe in the “Marxist conspiracy”? Did he say he supports the abolition of the ISA?
Did the Archbishop himself write the latest press release, rebutting Alex Au’s blog post? Did he receive advice from anyone in writing it?
The MHA and the Archbishop’s lastest statement raise more questions than they answer.
It is not good enough to parade once again the bogeyman of “social disharmony” as the reason for keeping quiet. Singaporeans deserve to know the truth. The former detainees deserve to know the truth.
And the ones who should divulge and explain the events leading up to the Archbishop’s withdrawal of the first letter and now the issuance of the press release by the Archbishop are not, actually, the Archbishop or the church – but the Government, particularly the Minister for Home Affairs.
The issue here is not the Archbishop or the Church. The issue is the way the Government has gone about this whole matter in a very disconcertingly opaque manner.
As Alex said in his latest blog post in response to the MHA and the Archbishop’s statements:
“The issue is not Function 8 or even Nicholas Chia. The issue is the way the government stepped in to block the latter’s support for the rally using methods hardly different from 25 years ago. Don’t let the government deflect attention away from itself. They are the ones who need to answer to the people for their actions.”