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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

Can we all back down please

The Catholic Archbishop isn’t looking very good in this “letters’’ business that has now moved into the realm of mainstream media. As a Catholic, I sympathise entirely with the quandary His Grace Archbishop Nicholas Chia is facing.
He must be sorely regretting having sent that first letter on the Internal Security Act to Function 8 (thank you Today for telling me that it stands for the F8 key to reboot the computer safely). There’s no answer from him on whether it was solicited or un-solicited. It would make a difference I think. If solicited, then the charge that civil society groups were trying to get the church involved in politics would hold some water. He simply “fell’’ for it by replying. If un-solicited, then one wonders what possessed the Archbishop to make such a “political’’ move in the first place.
His Grace can’t have forgotten how pained his predecessor looked when confronted by then-PM Lee Kuan Yew in front of the television cameras during the Marxist conspiracy period. Or the anxious, angry looks of churchgoers who crowded masses at that time. For me, I can’t forget the strain of waiting for two hours for a priest to get off his knees in church when I sought a comment. The drained, strained look on that kindly face who told me that a couple of priests had skipped town during that whole Marxist conspiracy period. It is a period I’d rather forget.
So His Grace changed his mind about the letter – whether because he was strong-armed by the G or had a personal re-think or both. And civil society is having a field day about this. Did the Archbishop intend to let his letter be read out loud at that ISA rally? Or did he think it was a private communication? I think anyone who is lobbying a point would use all ammunition in the arsenal. The right thing of course is for organisers to alert him if they intended to have the letter publicised at that ISA rally. That’s the courteous thing to do.
Perhaps, the Archbishop realises that, whatever his personal views, his letter is a potent weapon which can backfire on the church, especially given its past history with the ISA and the line that is supposed to be drawn between church and state.
What’s happening now?
Now the civil society groups are hitting back at the Archbishop for “unsubstantiated’’ remarks which they said “vilified’’ them. They want the Archbishop to make his letters public. It’s true that it’s not clear who leaked the info to Alex Au who started the ball rolling on his blog. It might well have been members of the church or whoever was on the mysterious “cc’’ on the letter. He shouldn’t have said anything without verification.
Now conspiracy theorists will start saying that the G strong-armed the Archbishop into making such forceful remarks about the civil society groups. The MHA has intervened, chiding the groups for being “disrespectful’’ to the Archbishop. I can hear some chortling among those with long enough memories of the Marxist conspiracy. Can MHA please spare us its high-mindedness…
And what of the future?
Are the civil society groups looking for blood? Are they backing the church into a corner to reveal the contents of the letter? Do they want an apology, or a confession, from the Archbishop?
This is not going to be good. Remember that the church will close ranks to defend their leader and will take umbrage at attempts to take him down, however justified the civil society groups think they are to do so. I know I would. This is just the way it is. It’s religion.
And the way this is turning out, it convinces more and more people, whether religious or otherwise, that they should shut up, because action, inaction, retraction can all be politicised in ways they never thought of.
Some civil, face-saving way had better be found to mend fences.

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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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