By Alex Au –
Sometimes, people respond to a hole by digging a deeper one. Archbishop Nicholas Chia of the Catholic Church issued a press statement at around 10:30 pm last night in response to my post Lunch menu a 4-point letter. I only heard about it from reporters, and at the time of writing this, have not seen a copy of the press statement he issued.
According to the Straits Times:
The head of the Catholic Church in Singapore has confirmed that he wrote to an activist group backing its call to abolish the Internal Security Act (ISA) – but withdrew the letter later fearing it could affect the country’s social harmony.
Archbishop Nicholas Chia, 73, yesterday said he had retracted the letter to Function 8 after he reflected on it and became concerned it could be used “in a manner that I did not intend”.
Last night, Archbishop Chia sent The Straits Times a one-page response, saying the fact that the incident had come to light confirmed his fears. “Au’s article confirmed my fear that the group would use my letter in a manner that I did not agree with, and make use of the Office of the Archbishop and the Catholic Church for their own ends,” he said.
He noted that Mr Au’s account could only have come from Function8, with which he had communicated in private.
He said he had decided to withdraw his letter after reflecting on it, “because if the letter were to be used in a manner that I did not intend, it may inadvertently harm the social harmony in Singapore”.
Function8 acknowledged his decision and returned the Archbishop his letter, he added.
He said: “The article by Mr Au, which has appeared now, months later, confirms the correctness of my earlier decision to withdraw the letter so as not to inadvertently embroil the Catholic Church and the office of the Archbishop in a political event which was being staged by the group.”
– Straits Times, 20 September 2012, Archbishop clarifies retraction of letter to group, by Tessa Wong
Today newspaper reported likewise:
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.
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”.
– Today, 20 September 2012, Archbishop slams Alex Au, anti-ISA rally organisers
“These irresponsible actions can easily cause serious misunderstanding between the Catholic Church and the Government, and damage the long-standing trust and cooperation between the two. It is most regrettable that Au and the group have acted in this manner,” he said in his press statement.
On the contrary, I think it is the responsible thing to do to expose these hidden events to public scrutiny. They show Singaporeans the inner workings of how our country is governed, and transparency is essential to a healthier democracy. The very fact that powerful forces would want these goings-on to be kept from the public eye is itself suspicious.
In addition, I had hoped through telling this story, to generate, inter alia, a debate about where citizens would like to draw the line between religious organisations and politics, and how that line is to be maintained. Going by the comments to the earlier article that have been received so far, I think a very civil discussion has indeed started.
So, when he says the exposure of those events “confirms the correctness of my earlier decision to withdraw the letter so as not to inadvertently embroil the Catholic Church and the office of the Archbishop in a political event which was being staged by the group”, it sounds a bit strange. After all, the point of my article was to raise the very same issue of whether or not a religious organisation should be lending voice to a political position. Do note that not only was the original letter supportive of the rally against detention without trial, his second letter said the organisers were free to tell the rally participants that the archbishop had sent a letter of support. What can he possibly mean when he now says that he was afraid of his first letter being used “in a manner that I did not intend”?
The chronology of events that I published indicated that it was the Internal Security Department that first planted the argument that the Church could be “used” by a group. This amazing possibility arose even when the group had not solicited the archbishop’s support in the first place.
I understand from reporters that nothing in his press statement contradicted my account of events.
Chia wrote about his fears of harming social harmony in Singapore. Is that not misplaced? Did he use offensive language against other religions, ethnic or social groups in his original (now withdrawn) letter? Not that I know of. The only “harmony” that might feel threatened by his now-retracted letter is the silence the government might want over its (mis)use of arbitrary arrest and detention without trial.
Alternatively, one could say the only “harmony” that might be put at risk is the take-for-granted support among Roman Catholics for the ruling party. After they hear of the shabby way the government treated the local head of the faith, maybe the flock won’t be so “harmonious” towards the ruling party anymore? Is that the “social disquiet” one fears? If so, who is it exactly who has reason to be anxious? The Church or the government?
TOC thanks Alex for allowing us to republish an excerpt of her blog post. The full article can be found at his blog Yawning Bread.