COLOMBO: The Vatican appears to disapprove of Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith’s statement of July 25, that it is right to give to Buddhism the “foremost place” in the Sri Lankan constitution and that it is not right to declare Sri Lanka a secular state.
The Vatican Radio’s website carries a story from Colombo dated August 4, in which a group of Sri Lankan Catholics are quoted as saying that the new Sri Lankan constitution should be a secular one and that giving a special constitutional status to Buddhism is a violation of human rights.
Cardinal Ranjith ,who is Colombo’s Archbishop, had said that the status and respect reserved for Buddhism should remain intact in the constitution, He expressed this view while participating in a Buddhist ceremony at the Sri Sambodhi Viharaya in Colombo, Daily Mirror reported.
Justifying his contention, Cardinal Ranjith said that the teachings of Buddhism bring people relief whenever they are confronted with mental pain and discomfort. He then went on to say that Sri Lanka’s prominence rests on Buddhism, and therefore, there should be no change in the “foremost place” which it currently enjoys in the country’ constitution.
“We all live in a country nourished by Buddhism,” Cardinal Ranjith pointed out.
But the Cardinal’s stand received flak from some Catholics who said that he had no right to speak for the entire community. “What he said can only be taken as his personal view,” they said.
It did not take long for the controversy to reach the Vatican in Rome. On August 4, Vatican Radio’s website carried a story saying that Sri Lankan Catholics and human rights activists have demanded that the Sri Lankan constitution, that is now in the process of being rewritten, should be a secular one.
“A secular state does not mean being irreligious. But an equal freedom for people to pursue their spirituality and faith without the obstacle of a constitution that guarantees only one religion which can sometimes assault others," said Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda.
"The constitution should] promote harmony and co-existence amongst different religious communities," the priest told ucanews.com.
Buddhism currently enjoys a privileged position guaranteed by the constitution. But that could change as the newly elected government drafts a new constitution amid calls to create equality for all religions within a secular state.
The Sri Lankan Catholics’ statement dated August 3, said that Sri Lanka should be a secular state that recognizes, promotes and protects all universally recognized human rights.
"To us, a secular state is one that doesn't give foremost place, prominence and privileges to one religion, constitutionally or in practice," the statement said.
In Sri Lanka, 70 percent of the population is Buddhist compared with about 10 percent Muslim and 8 percent Christian.
"True liberty and freedom without harming others is a powerful witness for our short lifespan on this earth and a secular state gives us the freedom to live a spiritual lifestyle," said Father Mangalaraja of Jaffna.
"This should lead to an unbiased government with no hidden agenda, which breeds peaceful thought and behavior among people,” he said.
Father Mangalaraja, who is President of the Justice and Peace Commission of the war-torn Jaffna Diocese, said equality must be given to all religions.
"They [Buddhists] already have an upper hand," he said adding that, in Jaffna, people are predominantly Tamils who might be Hindus or Christians.