Harin earns clergy wrath | Sunday Observer
It’s election time again:

Harin earns clergy wrath

28 June, 2020
Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith
Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith

Once again it is the election phase in Sri Lanka, that comes every five years or so where anything and everything spoken of by politicians is to win THE election.

Hence, to regain lost confidence in the Catholics, Samagi Jana Balawegaya national list candidate Harin Fernando, decided to crack the whip on Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, to take on his comments after the 2019 Easter Sunday terror attack. The comments he presumed robbed the UNP of valuable votes at the November Presidential election.

Unfortunately, once again it proved to be a foot in the mouth case for him. He was in a jovial mood speaking at an election rally in Medirigiriya, when he declared that His Eminence was “playing politics” with his Easter Sunday comments. Fernando said, “I am disgusted that the Cardinal played politics during the Presidential race. He was a figure behind securing the crucial 5% to the winning candidate.”

The same controversial politician once came under public wrath for his childish utterances after the Easter Sunday attack last year.

A Minister himself in the Yahapalana government which failed to prevent the attacks on hundreds of innocent churchgoers, he shamelessly acknowledged at a subsequent press conference, that his ailing father warned him not to attend the Easter Sunday mass for there may be attacks on churches.

Obviously his attempt was to discredit the Cardinal, and perhaps regain the Catholic votebase which departed from the Grand Old Party after last year’s tragedy.

In his own words, Fernando says 80% of the Catholic votes goes to the UNP. His words boomeranged on him and instead of restoring their votebase, political observers say, now it would contribute to lose more. Harin Fernando had been in the media for all the wrong reasons lately.

On the one hand he is getting exposed on alleged extra marital escapades with a former politician’s daughter, providing entertainment for the uncouth type on social media…… while at the same time being threatened by his own party comrades for playing dirty politics. He is accused of developing a sex video portraying homosexual acts of Dr. Kavinda Jayawardena to tarnish the latter’s political career.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Colombo, in a statement condemned Fernando’s statement. “His derogatory comments against His Eminence were totally unfounded and uncalled for,” the statement read expressing shock at his politically motivated utterances.

The SJB Chairman Sajith Premadasa who had always shown great respect for religion and clergy had to do a lot of damage control. He immediately issued a statement clarifying his party’s position on the matter. “If the words caused any disrespect, I will beg for forgiveness,” he said.

However, as usual the oddball duo, former MPs Managala Samaraweera and Ranjan Ramanayake, opted to praise Fernando. Ramanayake not only upheld his comments but added that he had proof to incriminate the Cardinal of his political bias.

Samaraweera in a twitter message praised Fernando for having the courage to say what he said against Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith. The former MP who recently announced his retirement from parliamentary politics, too is famous for making controversial comments against religions and religious leaders.

On his twitter account he wrote,”I am very impressed by Harin F who has the courage of his convictions to challenge the hypocrisy of sections of the Catholic Church who seem to have forged an unholy alliance with the extremist Buddhist clergy supporting this majoritarian/facist regime.”

His earlier comments against Buddhists enraged the community as well as the monks which constitute a fairly large portion of his vote base in the South.

The fallout is said to be the reason behind his sudden decision to withdraw from the election race.

Being pushed against the wall, perhaps by his own party members, former Badulla district parliamentarian who is currently a national list candidate for SJB, issued a clarification later.

However, the clarification caused more damage than his original comments, so much so that some people on the web commented Mangala Samaraweera and Harin Fernando were hired hands of the UNP, who are out to destroy SJB.

Fernando addressing a meeting in Badulla said, “I apologise to the Cardinal if my words caused him distress. I will retract saying, ‘Ada Radaguru’ in place of ‘Aga Radaguru’ but I will stand by my words that he played politics during the Presidential election.”

The derogatory comments and the manner in which it was dramatized on TV cameras before thousands of viewers, came under heavy criticism by all including his own party members as well as the UNP.

In a media release the UNP said it condemns the comments by the former parliamentarian adding that everyone must remember the assistance the Cardinal extended to the then UNP led Yahapalana Government in the aftermath of the devastating attacks attributed to Islamic terrorists.

President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka and Bishop of Diocese of Badulla Rt. Rev. Dr. Winston Fernando, said one should not try to cover his own nudity by stripping other people who lead dignified lives.

He said dignity should not be sacrificed for hunger for power and wealth.

Former Catholic Church’s Spokesperson Father Cyril Gamini said the time has come for politicians to stop disrespecting the clergy for petty political gain and there is a serious need for a new political culture in this country. He said such comments reveal the background of the person concerned.

Father Manjula Niroshan of Katuwapitiya Church, one of the targets of the Easter Sunday attackers where hundreds of devotees died, responding to Fernando’s comments said, after the tragedy the Cardinal visited the church many times to heal the victims and emphasise again and again that they were not alone, therefore if anyone doubts his feelings, that itself is a tragedy.

‘His love for the people is immeasurable, he kept on stressing during all those visits that ‘you are not alone, I am here for you like a father’.

How can one say that seeking justice for the victims of the Easter Sunday bombings and promoting religious harmony and his close associations with Buddhist monks, as playing politics.

Most Ven. Theras representing Siyam Maha Nikaya Asgiriya Chapter, Malwatte Chapter, Sri Lanka Ramanna Chapter and Kotte Kalyani Sri Samagri Dhamma Sabha as well as others expressed disgust and joined in condemning the comments of the former MP. Anu Nayake of Malwathu Chapter Most Ven. Niyangoda Vijithasiri himi said it was unfortunate to label the Cardinal’s genuine concerns as political interests.

Most Ven. Vendaruwe Upali Anu Nayake thera of Asgiriya Chapter said the politician’s comments showed the disrespect he has for his own religion and exposed his background. The theras called for intervention and action by the party leaders.

Most Ven Dr. Kotapitiye Rahula Anu Nayaka thera said he believed a second disaster that may have ignited due to enraged people taking the law unto themselves were averted by the wise actions of the Cardinal at the time and they reject with disgust the ciriticism on him by the former parliamentarian. Chief Sanghanayake in America Ven.Walpola Piyananda Himi, citing from the Wasala Sutta, said the former MP degraded himself by the comments.

Former Army Commander Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka acknowledging the concerns expressed by the Cardinal said his pain was justifiable and the then government cannot escape from the guilt or public wrath.

He said the former government indeed shirked responsibility by letting a disaster like that happen in broad daylight. “We cannot say, he is playing politics. He is expressing his feelings,” he said adding that Harin’s words were not the views of the SJB.

Former MP Udaya Gammnpila said Harin Fernando, with his comments, degraded the entire Catholic community, not only the Cardinal. He said the leader of the SJB Sajith Premadasa must tell the people what action he would take against the MP.

“While mollycoddling extremists such as Rishad and Hakeem, Harin Fernnado criticizes religious leaders who stand against them.

They have alliances with these extremists even today and that is the reason why they lost the election,” Media Spokesman of National Freedom Front Mohamed Musammil said.

Former UNP MP and party stalwart John Amaratunga said, it was Harin Fernnado and not Sajith Premadasa who should apologise for the derogatory comments.

He said Harin as a Catholic himself should not have made such senseless comments against the Cardinal whose actions prevented a major backlash among communities after the church attacks.

Minister Mahinda Amaraweera said it was not the Cardinal who defeated Sajith Premadasa at the Presidential election, it was people like Harin Fernando.